American English, the hardest language to learn

My father was an Italian Jewish Holocaust refugee. He arrived in New York on the eve of World War II. He spoke three living languages and read two dead ones. He learned English in the American army and said it was hardest language to learn because “it has no rules.” In America we park on a driveway but drive on a parkway. Cargo goes by ship but shipments go in cars. There are three meanings for “to” – to, to, two and some words are spelled the same but pronounced differently: lead. Then there are words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same but have two completely different meanings: dissipate – and there are 645 different definitions for the word “run.”

His words came back to haunt me when I wrote an article on reindeer for an Outside magazine. (If you are an Alaskan, “Outside” means the “Lower 48”) The article included a photograph of caribou. Maybe. They could have been a reindeer. This is because a caribou and a reindeer are the same animal. Well, if they are the same animals, why do they have two different names? Because reindeer were imported into Alaska during the Alaska Gold Rush and given to Natives as a source of income. Since the reindeer were IMPORTED AND DOMESTICATED, their meat and hide could be sold. But caribou, the same animal, were NOT IMPORTED, was a game animal and, to this day, no part of a caribou can be sold. But if the reindeer and caribou mix on the range, how do you know which particularly animal is a reindeer, and which is a caribou?  Good question. What do you call the calf of a union of a reindeer and a caribou? Another good question. Can the meat of that animal be sold or is it wild game? An even better question? These are all very interesting questions and harken back to what my father said, English was the hardest language to learn because “it has no rules.” [See my books at]

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *