The English language is a story of invasions, thefts, sloth, caprice, mistakes, pride and the inexorable juggernaut of change. In its broadest strokes, these problems come down to people being greedy, lazy and snobbish.
First, the greed: invasion and theft. The Romans invaded Britain in the 1st Century AD and brought their alphabet; in the 7th Century, the Angles and Saxons took over, along with their language.Starting in the 9th Century, Vikings occupied parts of England and brought some words. Then the Norman French conquered in 1066 – and replaced much of the vocabulary with French.
首先是贪婪：侵略和盗窃。罗马人在公元一世纪侵略了不列颠，带来了他们的字母表；7世纪，盎格鲁和撒克逊人连同他们的语言，一并接管了不列颠。 9世纪开始，维京人占据了英格兰部分地区，又带来了一些词语。然后是1066年诺曼法国人征服了不列颠 -并把大部分词汇替换成了法语。
Once the English tossed out the French a few centuries later, their words stayed with us. Then the English started to acquire territories around the world – America, Australia, Africa, India. With each new colony, Britain acquired words too - something we call“borrowing,”even though the words were kept. Our language becomes a museum of conquests.
几个世纪后，英国人扔掉了法国人，但法国人的词汇却留了下来。然后，英国人开始在全世界攻城略地、开疆拓土 - 美国、澳洲、非洲、印度，无所不及。每获得一块新殖民地，英国也获得新的词汇 - 我们称之为“借用”，虽然是有借无还。我们的语言成了征战的博物馆。
Adding to the greed is the laziness – or, as linguists call it, “economy of effort”. Sounds tend to change to save effort for either the speaker by dropping sounds out, or for the listener by making sounds more distinct.
除了贪婪，还有懒惰 - 或如语言学家所称的“省力”。 发音倾向于为了说话者省力而改变，如省略一些发音；或者为了听者而改变，如把发音变得更加清晰易懂。
Tongues and ears aren’t the only lazy things. Scribes and typesetters can be, too. If you bring over scribes from France or typesetters from the Netherlands and Belgium, they will tend to the standards they’re used to.
What really made sure that English spelling was a losing game, though, was snobbery. It started in the 11th Century, when French became the high-class language and loaded up our culinary, legal and poetic vocabularies.
But the snobbery kicked into top gear in the Renaissance, when scholars developed a crush on the ancient classics. Many of our scientific and technical terms come from Latin and Greek. But they also decided that words that we already had ought to display their classical heritage, too. English speakers therefore started borrowing Latin and Greek words wholesale - or changing words we already had to show their ancient heritage.
但势利眼在文艺复兴时期才被挂入最快档，当时的学者们疯狂迷恋上了古代经典。我们很多的科学和技术词汇都来自拉丁语和希腊语。但学者们还决定，我们本来就有的词语，也应当展现它们的经典传承。因此，讲英语的人，开始批发式地借用拉丁和希腊语 - 或改变我们既有的单词，以显示他们的古老传承。
One more layer of snobbery has added further complications across the Atlantic over the last couple of centuries: national pride. The relatively few American simplifications of spelling largely owe their existence to Noah Webster’s desire to create a distinctive American English.
过去几个世纪中，在大西洋的对岸，又一层面的势利眼更是增加了问题的复杂化：国家自豪感。数量相对较少的美国简化拼写，很大程度上要归功于诺亚·韦伯斯特 - 因为他渴望创造一种美国特色的英语。
Greed started the problem of our language and laziness entrenched it, but snobbishness lionizes it. The history of English is a tale of human vice… and that is a word, by the way, that we got from the French – even if we can’t blame them for the vices themselves.
贪婪是我们语言问题的发端，懒惰使其根深蒂固，而势利则使问题趋于浮夸。英语的历史，就是一部人类恶习的传说......顺带说一下，恶习一词，我们取自法国人 - 尽管我们不能把恶习本身归咎于法国人。