Where English meets Linguistics
“Able was I ere I saw Elba.” – Napolean
Poetic as it may sound, “able was I ere” is not a sentence we may normally use, even if we forgive the archaism of the expression. When you introduce yourself to someone, it is customary to say ”My name is Thomas” rather than “Thomas is my name”. Grammatically speaking, there is nothing in particular that forbids you to say that. The verb ‘to be’ is a so-called copular verb, which means that it acts like an equal sign, signifying that the two nouns or adjectives surrounding it are equal (or at least that is the simplistic view). For an equal sign, then, which one of the two arguments comes first should not be a matter of concern, because they are, after all, equal. But we know that is not true.
Homographs are words which share the same spelling but are nevertheless different in meaning and possibly also in pronunciation. An example is the word ‘bank’, which can either refer to a financial establishment in which you can do a lot of things to your money, or an edge of a river. In this case, we say they are two different words which happen to share the same spelling and the same pronunciation.
English is a Germanic language, it shares a common ancestor with languages like German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic. However, despite this Germanic origin, English has been heavily influenced by two other languages, namely Latin and French, due to the ruling of England by the Romans in the first century and by the Normans, who spoke a dialect of French, in the 11th. It is estimated that about 70% of all English words ultimately have their roots from Latin or French (which is itself a descendant of Latin). As a result, Present Day English (PDE) is vastly different from other Germanic languages such as German.
We all know that the final ‘e’ is almost always not pronounced, so ‘bite’, ‘ripe’, tape’ and ’shote’ are all monosyllabic words – there is only one vowel. Nevertheless, the ‘e’ at the end of all these words is definitely not useless, as it helps us pronounce these words correctly, and distinguish them from ‘bit’, ‘rip’, ‘tap’ and ’shot’ respectively.
People have a general tendency to be lazy, so they find whatever way they can to save time and energy. In the case of speaking English, they try to compress chunks of words as much as possible to minimize the effort required, and maximize the meanings expressed.