Fantastic Features We Don’t Have In The English Language


Most monolingual speakers think that other
languages are basically just their language with different words in a slightly different
order and maybe a different way of writing. Turns out, though, that there are lots of
interesting features in other languages, some of which English would really benefit from
having. I’m going to talk about four of them. Number one: Time independence. If you want to describe an activity in English
you have to say when it happened, or when it will happen. You have to. That’s how verbs
conjugate. I danced — past. I am dancing, I dance — present. I will dance — future.
There is no way in English to describe the concept of a person and dancing, but not to
mention anything about time. Chinese, on the other hand? Verbs do not conjugate. In most cases, the meaning is obvious from
context. I don’t mean to imply that Chinese doesn’t have a tense system, just that it’s
not a requirement. It’s not baked into every single sentence. Side note: tenses aren’t as simple as past,
present and future, and there’s some lovely subtle tenses in other languages. More on
that in a later video. Anyway, if you want to write poetry with a
more vague sense of time: Chinese is one of the languages to choose. Number two: Clusivity. The word “we” is confusing. Imagine going
up to someone and saying “we’ve just won the lottery!” There are two possible meanings there. Number
1: “we” refers to the speaker and the listener. We’ve just won the lottery! Brilliant! Number
2: “we” refers to the speaker and the speaker’s friends… but not the listener. We’ve just
won the lottery! But you haven’t. In languages with clusivity, there are different
words for “we”, depending on whether you’re including the listener or not. It shows up
in languages in South Asia, Australasia, and all over the world… apart from Europe. And
I really wish English had clusivity, because once you describe it, it’s a blindingly obvious
missing thing that we — er, we all — could really use. Number three: Absolute directions. This isn’t all that useful, but it is cool.
In a few languages, notably a couple of Australian ones like Guugu Yimithirr — that’s the one
that’s been extensively studied — there are no words for left, right, forward or backward.
Instead, you always use cardinal directions: the equivalent words for north, south, east
and west. In this studio, north is that way, so right now, I have a north foot and a south
foot. If I turn, I now have a west foot and an east foot. I think. I’m having trouble
tracking something simple like that: but if you’re a native speaker of a language with
absolute direction, your brain just handles it. You always know which way you’re pointing
— and if you don’t, you have trouble speaking. As a language feature, I’d say relative
directions are a lot more useful, particularly for those of us that go on the London Underground
often — but it’d be great to always know which way was north. Number four: evidentiality. In the same way that time is baked into English
sentences, there are languages all over the world where evidence is baked in. If you’re
reporting something that happened, you have to include whether you personally witnessed
it or not. You can do this in English, of course: “I saw that”, “I heard that”, but
it’s not required. Some have five or more different categories of evidence, based on
whether you saw it with your own eyes, experienced it firsthand but it didn’t involve seeing
anything, whether you’ve inferred it from something else, whether you’re reporting what
someone else said… all these concepts, which are complicated to explain in English, are
expressed just by how you change the ending of a word. These fantastic features are one of the reasons
why keeping minor languages alive is important. If English had dominated the world and stamped
out every other tongue, then we’d lose not only these rich languages, but we’d lose the
insights that we gain of what the human mind’s capable of. So here’s my question to you: can you think
of a brand new language feature. Something that every language should have, but doesn’t. Next time: why things aren’t always black
and white. Or blue and green. [Translating this video? Add your name here if you’d like credit!]

100 Replies to “Fantastic Features We Don’t Have In The English Language”

  1. Absolute direction might make it tricky in surgery- which foot did we need to amputate again? The west or the east? Neither Dr, it’s the north one.

  2. I'd suggest looking at the Welsh numbering system, especially compared to the English and cough cough french one, over 68

  3. saying something or describing an action you'll do without saying "I" at all, for example in Croatian we say napraviti ću – do(in the future) will ,tho ću doesn't really have a definite meaning if trying to translate

  4. In Chinese 聞 can mean smell (the literal meaning of the character), hear, see and know depending on the context. Each character's shape gives it meaning and it's very interesting in general

  5. I’ve been learning Korean lately and I wish all languages had one sound for each character. It’s mostly English that I know of that has this problem but it’s confusing and I’m a native English speaker

  6. In my language, shona, we have a verb for boredom that also means "to freak out." (Im not very good with the language but i think it's spelt, kuBoikana. Said how its spelt.) We also like to be very specific when it come's to relatives, like we have a word for "my aunt on my mom/dad's that is older than my mom/dad" and "my uncle on my dad/mom's side that is older than my dad/mom" that is different from the words for the younger aunt/uncle. We also like to add in a bit of english here and there, so if you don't know a word in the language, it's safe to just say the word in english but with a heavy accent. But we don't have a few letters in our alphabet, like for some, their l's become r's. A rule of our language/ Our words are also similar to japanese, interestingly. Like how theres a Nani in japanese which means what there is a nhani in shona which means who.

  7. It’s the same in Japanese. Verbs aren’t necessarily conjugated from present to future tense so “I’m eating a sandwich” and “I’m going to eat a sandwich” are said the same

  8. You know the a feature I've always thought English could use was some form of conjugation or something that allowed for the understanding of sarcasm (or tone in general really) without the use of audible tone or the other weird text rules we use to convey tone on the internet. A proper modifier you could put on words or sentences that would convey tone without the need for assumptions. I guess it could work out something like how most English already has a tense assigned to it that we understand because of the form the word takes (ex. Dance, Dancing, Danced, will Dance). I feel like it would make written conversations much less open to misinterpretation and even intentional twisting of meaning and on the whole, just save a lot of time and effort.

  9. Regular spelling. It makes things much easier. We don't have spelling bees here in Finland, because we would all be champions in it😁

  10. Feature all languages should have: brackets. As in something to explicitly define the start and end of clauses and subclauses, for example "eats shoots and leaves" could be "eats (shoots and leaves)" or "(eats shoots) and leaves" or "eats, shoots, and leaves".

  11. If we could all speak in binary, then there would be no reason for natural language processing nor middleware. An entire industry (coding) and possibly a country (India) may crumble. We could speak directly to the machines, which would make us Neo?

  12. I'm brazilian, I miss so much the difference between "you" (plural) and "you" (single). I can't help but use "you all" everytime I wanna use it in plural.

  13. I think absolute direction is cool, but also dumb if it's your only way to navigate. What if you get abducted or something, and have no idea which way is north? I like that we have both absolute direction and relative direction.

  14. If you're gonna count something in japanese, the ending of the numbers depend on the shape of the object that you're counting, like pencils (long), apples (round) and so on. So counting different things sounds different. Can't say it's a "fantastic feature", but it's funny though.

  15. Good thing in my native language we only have past simple, present prpgressive and simple future equivalents for english

  16. I hate that we don’t differentiate father’s family side from the mother’s family side. In arabic there’s basically a word for aunt from the mother or dad side (and also for uncle)… which is like so helpful bc making a long sentence to say basically my dad’s brother (but respectfully) is annoying.

  17. I always wanted words like “it”, “they”, “them”, and “that” to be able to differentiate separate “its”. For instance, if I said “It rained outside. It was cold.” There’s an ambiguity with the second “it”. Does it refer to the weather? Outside? The rain? There could be less ambiguity if I could say “It1 rained2 outside3. It2 was cold.”

    Or, for instance, “They1 helped them2 get to their1 house.”

  18. I have always wanted to have a tense that makes it easier to clarify when something was true in the past and is still true in the present. If we are responding to something that was said in the past, we will usually respond in the past tense as well, but sometimes that makes it sound like are implying that it is no longer true.

  19. In Swedish they differentiate to which grandma / grandpa you refer: there is mormor (mother's mother) and farmor (father's mother).

  20. I miss a neutral third person pronoun. Swedish invented one only a couple of years ago. How often does a language gain a pronoun? So cool!

  21. “There is no way to convey time independence in English.” – Tom Scott

    Goes on to convey time independence using English.

  22. Absolute direction is so cool! There's no confusion like if you're facing someone and they have something in their cheek, "your left cheek. No, my left. The other left."

  23. English desperately needs differentiation between singular and plural second-person pronouns. A difference between "you" (the individual) and "you" (a group of people). We used to have "thee" as singular and "you" as plural, but that's no longer an option, and I'm kinda bummed that we have to resort to supposedly coarse-sounding versions such as "youse" or "y'all".

  24. “Can you think of a feature every language should have but doesn’t?” I fairly often use ‘and/or ‘ in sentences like ‘Invite Tom and/or Jenny” when I’d like to convey this sense: Tom is invited to attend. Tom and Jenny are invited to attend together, but Jenny is not invited to attend without Tom.

    Phraseology which doesn’t work:

    ‘Invite Tom or Jenny’

    ‘Invite Tom and Jenny’

    ‘Invite Tom or Tom and Jenny’

    Invite Tom and/or Jenny.

    Is there a simple way to express this?

  25. I want to know how a team of Australian Aboriginal astronauts would refer to the different sides of their space craft whilst in deep space away from Earth or other planets where the concept of north south east west would not be relevant.

  26. One nice thing in English would be the ability to distinguish different types of love.
    "I love my dog"
    "I love doing this thing"
    "I'm in love"

    "I love my dog" has the potential to be taken very wrongly. Or "I love this person X" could also be taken wrongly. You can absolutly adore a person and not be in love with them in a sexual manner.

    The Welsh language recognises "Cariad" (romantic) and "Caru" (non-romantic) but even this is fairly limited. It would be great if we had multiple words for "love" which arn't romantic. Like the love a parent has for their child, or a freind has for another freind they have known a long time.

  27. I had to stop the video because you were shouting and yelling so much, without a reason, that it was annoying.
    It does not make what you say more interesting, it makes you appear hysterical.
    Stay calm.

  28. I speak a few languages but the one thing that I love about Russian is how grammatical aspect works. As in they have two verb pairs. One denotes the perfective and the other, the imperfective. I find it to be clear and less vague than aspect in other languages.

  29. Brackets should be used similarly to parentheses to cluster clauses and phrases in a way that disambiguates confusing sentences, like where it's unclear which adjectives apply to which nouns, when the object of the sentence can be interpreted differently, and more cases. I've thought of this idea for a while and I notice so many cases where this would be incredibly useful that I am convinced it should be a feature added when English 2 drops.
    For example, this sentence:
    "This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas"
    could be explained clearly two ways using brackets:
    "This morning I shot [an elephant] in my pajamas"
    "This morning I shot [an elephant in my pajamas]"
    In this case it seems like the antecedent changes, but "an elephant" is the object, not the subject. Bracketing the object in both cases clarifies the ambiguity in the sentence.

  30. w'all (or Wal' – may you'd say it Wol)
    would work for we all I guess – or just say We All… Though i'm not sure that actually helps unless it's 100% inclusive.

  31. I think every language should have the Italian word “boh” which means “I don’t know”/“I have no idea”. It’s so short and simple !

  32. As for the new language feature, it would be handy to be able to easily distinguish between what happened "in the real world" and what happened "in the virtual world" (or in a dream or fantasy).

  33. In Japanese, there are individual words for “the day before yesterday” and “the day after tomorrow” although I can’t remember them right now.

  34. In Bisaya, (Philippine dialect) we use a lot of contradictory and phrasing in just one single sentence,
    Sometimes we use a lot of preposition in just one phrase.
    Sometimes shortcits and slangs are considered as formal.
    Sometimes we (kami) and we (kamo) are both inclusive but we (kita) we (kayo) are exclusive.
    We don't have a formal determiner.
    We always subconjugate.

    A long sentence to summarize all:
    Gi adto taka diri kay naako tanawn sa imong balay.
    (I went here because I wanted to see something on your house)

    Usually, gi is the most used word as for phrases, preposition, conjugate, noun, and determiner but in this sentence its used as a helping verb
    Adto
    Must be adtohan (adtara (archaic))
    Taka
    Intensifier, but mostly used as (for you) or something close to that
    Diri
    (Clear, no mistakes)
    Kay
    (Clear)
    Naako
    Supposed to be naa ko or nako'g (gramatically wrong but its slang anyway)
    Tanawn
    (Tan-awn) we dont usually use hyphens
    Imong (can also be imohang)
    Balay
    (Tagalog for balay is bahay and is similar to each other)

  35. English should have a pronoun to refer to the second person but in plural, instead of saying "you guys" when you talk directly to more than one person

  36. I can think of 2 off the top of my head, definitely different forms for "you" and also, a very interesting feature from Spanish and Portuguese which is the 2 different forms of the verb "to be". It is absolutely bonkers that is grammatically correct to say that you are a person, you are hungry and you are in the city centre. It sounds so primitive.

  37. Fantastic features we don’t have in the English languages…

    Plural yous

    In French there’s tu and vous …the English keep trying to say you and then add an « s »

  38. English doesn’t have this and I don’t know if other languages do but we need a word to exaggerate thirst. We have “I’m hungry” and “I’m starving” but for thirst we only have “I’m thirsty” or “I’m really thirsty” we need a word for really thirsty

  39. Some foreign features I wish English had (and sometimes try to use anyways even though they don't fit in well with standard English)

    1. A question particle that always goes right after the word that is actually being questioned rather than just generically put at the start or end of the question (like Agirowen's "verm")
    2. The upside-down question mark that comes at the start of questions in Spanish (since I like having forewarning that something is a question)
    3. Honorifics (such as -san and -sensei in Japanese, or like the moral virtue based honorifics used in Agirowen, the latter of which I use in English anyways)

  40. A verb form that describes a probable outcome would be handy for weather reports. I think Japanese can express the difference between definite and probable outcomes in a way many European languages can't.

  41. A way to let know that your are lying and that you want the other person to pretend you're not lying. You'd have to only use it when it's appropriate, though. Like:
    "How are you?"
    "~Fine, thank you.~"

    It would soon become mandatory for new year resolutions I guess. 😀

  42. A way to spell different types of grunt. The tone of the same "word" expressed in a grunt can change the meaning dramatically. In written English, it would need to be desribed to give the contextual or intended meaning. In spoken English, it is little more than a sound. Like the aural equivalent of a facial expression.

  43. The idea of lefts & rights never really made sense to me. Didn’t understand why they changed so much. I like the compass directions waaay better.

  44. Chinese is great for poetry cause it only has like 150 different words (at least from a pronunciation standpoint) so it super easy to find rhymes

  45. If I could add one word English needs is a way to say "you" but referred only to the person you're speaking to, or else a way to say "you" as "you and your friends".

  46. Japanese has different words for 'that' (near the listener) and 'that' (over there)
    Also:
    X ga suki desu (X is liked)
    X ga daisuki desu (X is liked a lot… or "loved" as in how Americans say they "love" avocado toast)
    X o aishiteru (I love X… where X is both a person and someone you actually love.
    X o koishiteru (I am in love with X… where X is, well, that one person with whom you are in love)

    'suki' and 'daisuki' are adjectives modifying X
    'ai' and 'koi' are nouns meaning different types of love, with 'shiteru' (doing) added.
    In Japanese, you 'do' love like how in English you 'do' a crossword puzzle.

  47. English already has absolute direction. You said them in that section. North, east, south, west. Perhaps it's the other languages that need to adapt relative directions.

  48. I feel like one day the ways we express vocal inflections and mood in spoken English might one day end up becoming standardized parts of written/typed English…At least I hope that'll be a feature one day. Right now I can convey certain stuff by typing in caps lock, using an emoji, etc….But it would be cool if I could just change a word ending somewhere to convey the same idea or to emphasize a word. Sometimes you can do the latter with fonts, but a lot of times texting or commenting doesn't give you a bold or italic option and being able to add a diacritic would be the next best thing

  49. Something that English desperately needs is a different way to speak to people you respect, like elders, strangers or teachers. In English there is only the word "you" to address everyone, but in many other languages, there are more polite ways of saying "you". Personally, I always feel uncomfortable calling teachers '"you" in English.

  50. how you experienced something: "so then I said" is different than "so then I was like" or even "so then I went all" – all different, very easy

    What the English language needs is consistency fOR ONCE

  51. If languages die, they die. They are no more important to keep around than every species that has ever lived on Earth. Not everything will survive against all eventualities in nature, and nor should they. For us, IF there is some value to take out of a language, then we can study them, but if they become dead languages, nothing has been inherently lost.

  52. Portuguese is my mother language and it has somethings that English doesn't have. One of them is: in Portuguese we have two equivalent verbs for "to be" and the mean different things.

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