On the Permeability of Borders

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Although scholars differ in their estimation of the number of words and phrases that Shakespeare introduced into English, they all agree that he transformed the language tremendously. He referred to himself as “a man on fire for new words.” As Melvyn Bragg wrote in The Adventure of English,

“Comparisons are entertaining: the King James Bible of 1611 used about ten thousand different words. The average educated man today, more than four hundred years on from Shakespeare with the advantage of the hundreds of thousands of new words that have come in since his time, has working vocabulary of less than half that of Shakespeare.”

In the world in which the tendency is to close borders and build walls, languages know no barriers; quite the contrary, they are in flux and rather permeable, no matter the efforts of regulatory bodies. Shakespeare’s language borrowed heavily from French, Spanish and Latin, at…

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