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English In The World Today

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Britain has no formal written constitution.

There is no penal code, only case law or jurisprudence.

There is no “ English Academy ” equivalent to l’Académie Française and no legislation to protect the language from corruption or foreign influence.

Britain is a Protestant country. The reformation of 1539 ended Papal authority. Protestantism is not a unified movement. Each denomination has its own liturgy. The accent is placed on individual responsibility in the presence of god.

In Britain the philosophical tradition of empiricism is preferred to the rationalist tradition as exemplified by Descartes.

Empiricism sees knowledge as emanating from the senses. Rationalism sees knowledge as emanating from thought.

Schoolchildren in Britain and the USA never study the grammar of English as French children do.

The forms of a verb in English number from 3 to 5. In French there are from 30 to 40.

There are no televised dictation quizzes in Britain equivalent to La Dictée de Bernard Pivot.

Content seems to be more important than form : la forme ou le fond ?



L'Académie Française was founded in 1636 to provide central directives and norms for the French language. In Britain, this job fell to "The Royal Society", created in 1660, which was an essentially scientific institution whose only concern, under the presidency of Sir Isaac Newton, was to make English clear for scientific purposes, and not to interfere in popular usage. The idea of an academy to regulate usage was debated in the USA a century later. It was described as “ a public institution for refining, correcting and ascertaining the English language ”, but was never created.

Britain has a constitution, but it is not written. It is simply a corpus of traditions, agreements, bills, charters and tacit acceptance of basic principles of moral conduct, which have served it well, even though this arrangement seems very informal to an outsider. Its strength is in allegiance, not forced compliance to the norm.

The first document in a long series, The Magna Carta of 1213 can still be seen at Runnymede in Britain. The parliamentary tradition dates back to Simon de Montfort, the remonstrance of 1264.

The law of England is "Common Law" which means jurisprudence. There is no code. The law evolves from test case to test case, as does the language.

The Protestant tradition, especially in its extreme forms, insists that no man can place himself between another man and his God. Worship is a question of individual conscience and choice. In certain forms, “ The Society of Friends ” (Quakers) there is no imposed liturgy. One says what one feels.

Britain is a constitutional monarchy. The monarch has no power to intervene in politics and the extent of their right to pronounce on important issues is a delicate and complex question. Their rôle is to represent the state as a figurehead and offer protection to the people against overpowerful elements by maintaining a balance.


It is said that France has a rationalist and Britain an empiricist philosophical tradition. The first starts from a mental construct of the world, the second from experience of the world. There are implications of this in language. The French language adopts the formal tone of concept and conclusion, whereas English seems more concerned with describing immediate experience.

In comparison with French, English seems to be strangely lacking in link words. This is because very often the links between statements are thought to be intuitively apprehended.

Example :

"The snow fell. The points froze. The next morning the trains were at a standstill and the commuters grumbling as never before."

"La neige n'a cessé de tomber à tel point que les aiguilles ont gelé. Par conséquent, le lendemain matin les trains étaient tous immobilisés, ce qui a provoqué la colère des voyageurs."

In French we say "l'objet de cette étude", in English we have "the subject of this study". In French the world is object. In English the world is subject. In English we start with the world and we place our "self" in it. In French we start with the self and place the world around it.

It is interesting to note that the word "self" has the equivalence in French "moi". So we have a subjectivisation of the ego and an objectivisation of the world. This objectivisation explains why there are so many reflexive expressions in French: "Je me lève, je me lave, je m'habille etc.".

In such expressions the actor or subject becomes his own object. He cannot then come into direct relation with the outside world, but has to pass through an intermediate step: Je -> me ->

These attitudes have immense repercussions on style and register. They explain why "being" gives way to "having" very early in French


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