I learnt from this website that the above quote was an adapted version of another quote by a certain James Nicoll who wanted to point out that English itself is not a pure language but rather is a syncretic language that borrows, adapts or infuses elements from other languages or dialects from other cultures.
I suppose James Nicoll could be attempting to paint an imagery of English colonialism with his quote, likening the general attitude of English colonialists who had in times past sought new lands and taken their resources, at the expense of the natives, though they also contributed to developing the lands, to some extent.
My understanding of the history of the English language is that it evolved from the Germanic language in medieval Europe – according to this article, “the obscure Germanic dialect which transcended its humble origins to become a global lingua franca used by more people in more parts of the world than any other language in history.”
The English spelling itself goes through a continual transformation, as it borrows extensively from French, Latin, Greek and other languages. People of various cultures continue to coin new spellings, depending on how they use the words and how popular these words are used over time. According to this article, English dictionaries tend to feature the more popular spellings to reflect their relevance.
So in retrospect, English is dynamic, not static, as it is a living expression of the ways people communicate with one another. It is a syncretic language, just as Christianity is a syncretic religion – both are not pure but rather a mishmash of ideas and traditions that have borrowed, adapted or infused from other cultures over time, and both are still evolving today. Different countries have also adopted their own versions of colloquial English in daily conversations – Japanese use Japlish, Singaporeans use Singlish and Canadians use Canadian English, and so on. Interesting, eh?
- Spell it Out, by David Crystal. The whole story of English Spelling. (johnbald.typepad.com)
- The oddest English spellings, part 21: Phony from top to bottom (oup.com)
- Uncovering The Logic of English – Review (joleneybean.wordpress.com)