Jespersen's views on the logic of English language

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Otto Jespersen's view on logic of the English language

No language is logical in every respect, and we must not expect usage to be guided always by strictly logical principles. It was a frequent error with the older- grammarians that whenever the actual grammar of a language did not seem conformable to the rules of abstract logic they blamed the language and wanted to correct it. Without falling into that error we may, nevertheless, compare different languages and judge them by the standard of logic, and here again Jespersen thinks that, apart from Chinese, which has been described as pure applied logic, there is perhaps no language in the civilized world that stands so high as English.

Look at the use of the tenses; the difference between the past he saw and the composite perfect he has seen is maintained with great consistency as compared with the similarly formed tenses in Danish, not to speak of German, so that one of the most constant faults committed by English-speaking Germans is the wrong use of these forms ('Were you in Berlin?' for 'Have you been in (or to) Berlin?', 'In 181 5 Napoleon has been defeated at Waterloo' for 'was defeated'). And then the comparatively recent development of the extended (or 'progressive') tenses has furnished the language with the wonderfully precise and logically valuable distinction between 'I write' and 'I am writing', 'I wrote' and 'I was writing'. French has something similar in the distinction between le pass6 defini (j'ecrivis) and I'imparfait (j'6crivais), but on the one hand the former tends to disappear, or rather has already disappeared in the spoken language, at any rate in Paris and in the northern part of the country, so that fai ecrit takes its place and the distinction between 'I wrote' and 'I have written' is abandoned; on the other hand the distinction applies only to the past while in English it is carried through all tenses. Furthermore, the distinction as made in English is superior to the

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