English not Suitable as the Language of International Law

English not Suitable as the Language of International Law

In the name of Allah, the Merciful to all, the Compassionate

Article 50 of the Rome Statute allows any of the six UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) to be used as a working language if the court case dictates. Currently, English is one of the two working languages of the United Nations (UN), the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and ad hoc UN-backed tribunals. At these courts and tribunals, documents and oral submissions may be presented in French or English and must be translated into the other language, at great expense. Although there are approximately 1.5 billion English speaking people, English itself has fundamental flaws that make it unsuitable to be the language of international law.

English has a vast collection of words for various objects and techniques, with an estimation of over one million words and definitions. That makes it relevant as a language of trade and technology. but when it comes to concepts, English has little to offer. For example this sentence has 7 different meanings depending on the stressed word:

I never said she stole my money.

For an international law written in such a language, the expectation that every nation will interpret it similarly is quixotic.

English Speaking people do not take a good care of their language

Every language need some TLC (Tender Loving Care) to stay relevant with the passing of time. English speakers do not do that as much as they should. For example someone in 16th century wrote “GOD B W YE” as an abbreviation for “God Be With Ye”. Eventually it appeared as “GODBWYE”, which was then read as “GoodBye”. Nowadays, people use this phrase without thinking what kind of wish this is.

The same thing is still happening right now, at an even faster pace. This means that in 50 years, English will have transformed drastically from the language we know today.

Pronunciation of words has no consistency

Many pronunciations in the English has nothing to do with their spellings. for example the word “Queue” has 5 letters, but only the first letter is pronounced. A womb is pronounced “woom” and a tomb is pronounced “toom”, but a bomb is just a “bomb”.

Yes, English can be weird: It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.

Terms with opposite or contradictory meanings

The other fundamental flaw is that many English words have more than just one unique meaning. There are even many words and phrases that are their own antonyms. This category in the English language is called contronyms (also spelled contranyms, or referred to as autoantonyms) — terms that, depending on context, can have opposite or contradictory meanings:

Sanction

(via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean ‘give official permission or approval for (an action)’ or conversely, ‘impose a penalty on.’

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you:

“Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.”

Does that mean, ‘Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression’ or does it mean, ‘Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default’?

Oversight

Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee,” from Old English ofersēon ‘look at from above,’ means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin for the same thing: super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’). “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’

Left

Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)

Dust

Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.

Seed

Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.

Stone

Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).

Trim

Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning ‘to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange,’ “trim” came to mean ‘to prepare, make ready.’ Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: ‘to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance’ or ‘to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of.’ And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?

Cleave

Cleave can be cleaved into two “homographs,” words with different origins that end up spelled the same. “Cleave,” meaning ‘to cling to or adhere,’ comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. “Cleave,” with the contrary meaning ‘to split or sever (something), ‘ as you might do with a cleaver, comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: “cloven,” which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”

Resign

Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. “Resign,” meaning ‘to quit,’ is spelled the same as “resign,” meaning ‘to sign up again,’ but it’s pronounced differently.

Fast

Fast can mean “moving rapidly,” as in “running fast,” or ‘fixed, unmoving,’ as in “holding fast.” If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning ‘firm, steadfast’ came first. The adverb took on the sense ‘strongly, vigorously,’ which evolved into ‘quickly,’ a meaning that spread to the adjective.

Off

Off means ‘deactivated,’ as in “to turn off,” but also ‘activated,’ as in “The alarm went off.”

Weather

Weather can mean ‘to withstand or come safely through,’ as in “The company weathered the recession,” or it can mean ‘to be worn away’: “The rock was weathered.”

Screen

Screen can mean ‘to show’ (a movie) or ‘to hide’ (an unsightly view).

Help

means ‘assist,’ unless you can’t help doing something, when it means ‘prevent.’

Clip

Clip can mean “to bind together” or “to separate.” You clip sheets of paper to together or separate part of a page by clipping something out. Clip is a pair of homographs, words with different origins spelled the same. Old English clyppan, which means “to clasp with the arms, embrace, hug,” led to our current meaning, “to hold together with a clasp.” The other clip, “to cut or snip (a part) away,” is from Old Norse klippa, which may come from the sound of a shears.

Continue

Continue usually means to persist in doing something, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.

Fight with

Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean “They argued,” “They served together in the war,” or “He used the old battle-ax as a weapon.”

Flog

Flog, meaning “to punish by caning or whipping,” shows up in school slang of the 17th century, but now it can have the contrary meaning, “to promote persistently,” as in “flogging a new book.” Perhaps that meaning arose from the sense ‘to urge (a horse, etc.) forward by whipping,’ which grew out of the earliest meaning.

Go

Go means “to proceed,” but also “give out or fail,” i.e., “This car could really go until it started to go.”

Hold up

Hold up can mean “to support” or “to hinder”: “What a friend! When I’m struggling to get on my feet, he’s always there to hold me up.”

Out

Out can mean “visible” or “invisible.” For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”

Out of means

“outside” or “inside”: “I hardly get out of the house because I work out of my home.”

Bitch

Bitch, can derisively refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.

Peer

Peer is a person of equal status (as in a jury of one’s peers), but sometimes it refers to a person of the nobility, like the members of the peerage, the British or Irish nobility.

Toss out

Toss out could be either “to suggest” or “to discard”: “I decided to toss out the idea.”

Apology

A statement of contrition for an action, or a defense of one

Bill

A payment, or an invoice for payment

Bolt

To secure, or to flee

Bound

Heading to a destination, or restrained from movement

Buckle

To connect, or to break or collapse

Consult

To offer advice, or to obtain it

Custom

A common practice, or a special treatment

Dike

A wall to prevent flooding, or a ditch

Discursive

Moving in an orderly fashion among topics, or proceeding aimlessly in a discussion

Dollop

A large amount (British English), or a small amount

Enjoin

To impose, or to prohibit

Fine

Excellent, or acceptable or good enough

Finished

Completed, or ended or destroyed

First degree

Most severe in the case of a murder charge, or least severe in reference to a burn

Fix

To repair, or to castrate

Garnish

To furnish, as with food preparation, or to take away, as with wages

Give out

To provide, or to stop because of a lack of supply

Grade

A degree of slope, or a horizontal line or position

Handicap

An advantage provided to ensure equality, or a disadvantage that prevents equal achievement

Lease

To offer property for rent, or to hold such property

Let

Allowed, or hindered

Liege

A feudal lord, or a vassal

Literally

Actually, or virtually

Mean

Average or stingy, or excellent

Model

An exemplar, or a copy

Presently

Now, or soon

Put out

Extinguish, or generate

Puzzle

A problem, or to solve one

Quantum

Significantly large, or a minuscule part

Quiddity

Essence, or a trifling point of contention

Quite

Rather (as a qualifying modifier), or completely

Ravel

To entangle, or to disentangle

Refrain

To desist from doing something, or to repeat

Rent

To purchase use of something, or to sell use

Rock

An immobile mass of stone or figuratively similar phenomenon, or a shaking or unsettling movement or action, like a rocking chair

Sanguine

Confidently cheerful, or bloodthirsty

Scan

To peruse, or to glance

Shop

To patronize a business in order to purchase something, or to sell something

Skin

To cover, or to remove. When something is skinned, it is overed with skin, or its skin is removed.

Splice

To join, or to separate

Stakeholder

One who has a stake in an enterprise, or a bystander who holds the stake for those placing a bet

Strike

To hit, or to miss in an attempt to hit

Table

To propose (in British English), or to set aside

Temper

To soften, or to strengthen

Throw out

To dispose of, or to present for consideration

Transparent

Invisible, or obvious

Trip

A journey, or a stumble

Unbending

Rigid, or relaxing

Variety

A particular type, or many types

Wear

To endure, or to deteriorate

Wind up

To end, or to start up

Peruse

To look or to read (something) in an informal or relaxed way; or to examine or read (something) in a very careful way

Chuffed

Delighted, pleased, satisfied; or annoyed, displeased, disgruntled

Many of the points in this essay are shamelessly plagiarized. I did not mention the sources, because I think they plagiarized too. Anyway, I am not going to claim any credit for any of the above definitions; they are just for information.

 

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