December 24, 2001 11:17 AM   Subscribe

English It's the language of Metafilter, Internet, eveything. Everybody happy? I'm a native speaker but I don't live in an English speaking country. Apart from the it's inevitable/ I couldn't give a crap, it's my language stuff, is anybody out there ambiguous? (More inside)
posted by Zootoon (62 comments total)
First of all I'd just like to say I don't see the dominance of English as a USA dominance thing. I truly believe it's mainly because of the flexibility of the English language (of course along with movies / rock n roll etc). Being a native speaker, I know I didnt learn any foreign languages until I emigrated and I wonder how much is lost to people who don't speak foreign languages. I keep telling people here (Barcelona) to find the word in English before they use Google. I actually teach English, so it's giving me a living but I'm still not at ease, as it's not really my language (know what I mean). This may seem over the top to people who have never had to speak another language to get a job but I think this is one of the major issues of our times, and one of the least talked about.
posted by Zootoon at 11:26 AM on December 24, 2001

It is, in short, a thoroughly dubious triumph. But then who's for Esperanto?

I'm for Esperanto, dammit. And when I'm Prime Minister of Earth it will be taught to every child in every school in addition to (not "in lieu of") thier native tongue. I will also requisition a pony.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 11:34 AM on December 24, 2001

Shadowkeeper, I don't know (or maybe I do) if that was tongue in cheek or not, but Zamenhof has a (well deserved) street named to him in my city.
posted by Zootoon at 11:37 AM on December 24, 2001

There's no denying that the prevalence of English in the world is due in part to imperial influence from America and Britain. Between the colonial adventures of the English and the entertainment exports of the Yanks (not to mention the way the internet developed), it's no wonder people the world over know a few words.

I will allow that English makes nearly as much sense as any other language for the world to agree to use as common. A chair has no gender in English and for this I'm thankful. Nor is it written in tens of thousands of pictograms. But I think that learners of English have their complaints. It's quirky and given to exception, as temperamental and arbitrary as the English measurement system at times.

Still, if you simply consider that the US, Canada and Australia all use it as the official language, and add in the English colonial influence on the populous Indian subcontinent, English is already more than halfway to ubiquity. But let's not jump the gun here. English isn't the only language to achieve a wide usage. Spanish will get you quite a ways in the world, as will Arabic and French.
posted by scarabic at 11:37 AM on December 24, 2001

Mmmm, so you are a native English spealker, posting to metafilter from Barcelona....

I'd be your mirror if I were in the UK or the USA, as I am a native spanish/catalan speaker posting to metafilter from Barcelona.

Anyway, this is my first writeup here in Metafilter after so many months lurking (not to mention the "no more allowance" period just months ago...).

It's nice to see fellow metafilters here in Barcelona...

Mmm, I am going to see this zootoon thing of yours...

Oh, back to the point:

I consider English as a sort of modern Latin. The day I decided to learn English well (not in those horrible do-it-yourself schools) I gave my career (freelance writer, teacher, etc) a boost, that is for sure.

I also consider the web an amazing place to learn languages, do you know Everything? I've been a member since May 2000 and although I am not posting anymore, it was a challenging writing exercise.

Well, I think I've rambled enough,

(i demano perdó pel meu anglès trencat!)
posted by samelborp at 11:44 AM on December 24, 2001

Not tongue in cheek. (Well, perhaps the pony part.) I am a native English speaker who had to learn Spanish and Quechuan when I became a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia. I was sent down to do environmental work, but nearly everyone I ran into wanted me to tutor them in English. When I would ask they way, they would say that English was pretty much a requirement if you wanted to get anywhere in South America. (At the time, even the President of the country spoke fluent English and poor Spanish).

So it seems clear to me that we're going to wind up with a Universal Tongue one way or another, but I don't think English should be it. I think it should be an artifical language (like Esperanto) specifically designed to be easy to learn , easy to use and cross-culture -- three traits that English sorely lacks. I'm also worried that English is going to replace native languages in a lot of places, but it seems to me that an artifical language would be more of a compliment to native languages, rather than a replacement.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 11:46 AM on December 24, 2001

Perdonat samelborp i perdona que Zootoon estigui només parcialment en català.
I agree about the internet being a great opportunity to learn English. I download all the trailers I can find and my kids(students, by the way I teach in a normal primary school, not a language school) are glued to them. Catalan actually has more pages per speaker than Spanish and is invaluable to expat Catalan speakers who have less access to their language than Spanish speakers.
Sabadell actually!
posted by Zootoon at 11:54 AM on December 24, 2001

Since the Dollar is the common desired capital, English just follows.
Esperanto won't get adopted until the world begins trading in Esperantars and airlines vie for flights to the rich Esperanto speaking cities. (i.e. give it up already!)
posted by HTuttle at 12:14 PM on December 24, 2001

Videogames are also very good to learn English, specially text/graphic adventures, where you have to type (and type well) or where you have to make choices based on understanding what the game is saying to you visually and literally.

Zooton: nice site, a lot of browsing needed, Sabadell is cool (and I mean cool this days!!). I lived there for a couple of summers when I was a child...
I am from the very BCN downtown, but I hope to "go to pagès" soon.
posted by samelborp at 12:15 PM on December 24, 2001

Of the world's 6,000 or 7,000 languages, a couple go out of business each week. Most are in the jungles of Papua New Guinea or in Indonesia.

Let's hear it for creolization.
posted by rschram at 12:16 PM on December 24, 2001

Htuttle, if it isn't English, most people would like it to be a sort of International English, with limited phrasal verbs, weird local speak etc. People here say they're great speaking English to a German, Russian, Japanese, etc because they speak slowly and avoid the weird stuff. The problem of course ¡s getting people to avoid weird stuff as they learn more English and for native speakers to "talk down" for want of a better expression. English is Esperanto, we have to live with that, some to our benefit, others to our cost (native speakers of English are so unaware of the money/time/bullshit they have saved just by having being born in an English speaking country). I think there could be some give on the part of everybody as to making things easier on none native speakers until there are perfect babelfish. Anybody who's ever wanted to really listen is dying for the day of the Star Trek Univeral Translator (and that it will always be necessary).
rschram, while I was posting, just what I'm asking for. Look at India!
posted by Zootoon at 12:30 PM on December 24, 2001

Yum. Creole cooking/speaking. *smiles*
posted by allaboutgeorge at 12:31 PM on December 24, 2001

Videogames are also very good to learn English

I've got seven words for you:
posted by jozxyqk at 12:33 PM on December 24, 2001

I consider English as a sort of modern Latin.

Yet, in some ways, quite the opposite. Rather than a dead, rigid language, English changes daily to accommodate the frenetic rate of accelerating change in the world. Until a language comes along (and, seemingly, it would have to be created) that does this better, English will probably win out by default, barring cataclysmic sociopolitical changes in the world that render such considerations moot. Despite its difficulties, English absorbs, borrows, and adapts from other languages (and the worldviews behind them) better than any other language I know. This, alone, will take it far.
posted by rushmc at 12:35 PM on December 24, 2001

First it was the Latin language. Why? Rome ruled the then known world. Then it was the language of the Church and the educated, no matter what other languague one had. Then French became the language of international diplomacy (and the preferred langauge of the upper classes in Russia). At present it is English, used as language of diplomacy and just about everyting else because of American dominence--yes say it--and globalization. But I have read in a number of places that it may well be Chinese that is the next big language and that Chinese may replace or at least rival English for universality. But luckily I am old enough so I won't need to bother learning a new language.
posted by Postroad at 12:40 PM on December 24, 2001

Zootoon, International English? Have you visited a US city recently? Or for that matter read any online boards? English is transforming itself by the minute.
Notice the end of contractions, for example. When was the last time you saw anyone use the 'correct' version of 'should of', 'would of' or 'could of'? These are now so common that I imagine they'll be adopted as official English fairly soon.
posted by HTuttle at 12:44 PM on December 24, 2001

Amiguous? Native speaker? I think you mean ambivalent.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:53 PM on December 24, 2001

posted by ParisParamus at 12:53 PM on December 24, 2001

The standard short versions are "should've", "could've" and "would've" and have been that way for years. It may sound like "should of" but no native speaker would write it that way.
posted by dydecker at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2001

I've frequently wondered if there are any non-english based programming languages out there.
posted by DBAPaul at 12:56 PM on December 24, 2001

Htuttle, no I haven't. I know the inherent problems (a business student of mine told a Japanese visitor his mother had died instead of his own) but learners of English would undertand would've and could've. It's the things like "cool" which have an equivalent but not an exact translation in most languages which have to be agreed on, even though we're not talking about some WTO here. As far as the home front is concerned, I think Americans should just keep on being as creative as they can with the language. Travel is a godsend. What I want is for americans to travel even more. I know from experience that (reasonable) people who travel know a lot more about how languages work and communication works that if they hadn't. I'm sure this is true even as regards travel within the USA. In multilingual states my general impression is the more you speak the more you listen.
posted by Zootoon at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2001

Where do people get this rubbish idea that English is more "flexible" or "dynamic" or "adaptable to the modern world" than other languages? You can say most things in most languages if have ability and the chance.
posted by dydecker at 1:11 PM on December 24, 2001

The standard short versions are "should've", "could've" and "would've" and have been that way for years. It may sound like "should of" but no native speaker would write it that way.

Native speakers of English should not write it that way, but increasingly, they do! Google reports: "should of" 86,700; "could of" 113,000; "would of" 211,000; and "must of" 130,000.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:11 PM on December 24, 2001

HTuttle: When was the last time you saw anyone use the 'correct' version of 'should of', 'would of' or 'could of'?

I have never seen that, not even in old texts, probably because the contractions you're talking about stand for 'should have,' 'would have,' and 'could have.'
posted by bingo at 1:16 PM on December 24, 2001

Of course I have to warn people goin gto Ireland that if they say such an innocuous sentence as "I wen to the pub the other night" that they may be greeted with "Oh, you did, did you?" JUst ignore us I say (except for 'You wouldn't, would you?'). English is flexible in that verbs can be nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc (eg set) and according to the patience of your listener a few words can go a long way.
posted by Zootoon at 1:28 PM on December 24, 2001

re: adaptable languages

i'd have to say the japanese system of informally annexing foreign 'loan words' is extraordinarily powerful... that power is, unfortunately, neutered by the cultural fixation on abbreviation and truncation, and the often bizzare [to non japanese speakers] syllabic deconstructions forced on loan words by katakana.

hell, the fact that japanese has an an entirely seperate syllabary for loan words has always amazed me. very much in keeping with the institutionalized doctrine of assimilating the optimal components of non-japanese cultures, whilst maintaining a clear divorce from local culture.

then again, i always thought the german system for neologisms was cool: got a new word? combine any and all nouns, verbs and adjectives that litterally describe it, and poof, new dictionary entry.

english ain't got nothing on that...
posted by gangcandy at 1:36 PM on December 24, 2001

English is flexible in that verbs can be nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc

True, but it this is not unique to English.

Other languages are flexible in ways that English is not, eg--politeness levels and nuances which connote respect; dropping subjects, verbs and objects; word order (English has very rigid word order rules); lack of tense; case markers; gender etc etc.
posted by dydecker at 1:40 PM on December 24, 2001

dydecker: I'm with you on the dropping subjects and objects, and I guess you're right about respect levels, e.g. Usted vs. tu in Spanish...but I'm not sure it's a weakness that our second person pronoun defies a politeness category. And I think our lack of case markers is not a weakness. It's a trade-off, of course, between declining nouns and rigid word order. But I think it's nice that in English, an object is what it is, the sign for it doesn't change depending on whether it's the subject or object. And as for gender...is English inflexible because it doesn't give a gender to inanimate objects? Since the reality is that inanimate objects don't sexually reproduce, it seems to me that lanuages that give such objects gender are forcing speakers/writers to add an attribute that they might not want, or agree with.

And how does English have a "lack of tense"?
posted by bingo at 1:54 PM on December 24, 2001

point taken dydecker but some flexibilities are better than others as regards being more international. English's rigid word order actually makes it easier to learn for non-natives. Having had contact with both, Spanish is defintely an easier language to learn than English but they will take 20 years before they will (officially) accept spam as a verb and until then everyone who has to do official translations (as is sometimes my case) is fucked. I would just like to apologise for appearing so much on a thread I started and hereby withdraw (unless any of you get smart).
posted by Zootoon at 1:55 PM on December 24, 2001

Spanish is defintely an easier language to learn than English but they will take 20 years before they will (officially) accept spam as a verb and until then everyone who has to do official translations (as is sometimes my case) is fucked.

Seems simple enough:

inf. spamar (to spam)

yo spamo
tu spamas
el/ella/Ud. spama
nosotros spamamos
vosotros spamais
ellos/ellas/Uds. spaman
posted by bingo at 2:01 PM on December 24, 2001

que te spamen!
posted by Zootoon at 2:08 PM on December 24, 2001

posted by Zootoon at 2:21 PM on December 24, 2001

Flexible? How about "easier to construct correct simple sentences in than Russian, Arabic or Hindi, given a year's competent instruction".

Having spent some years studying German (and then forgetting it again) I remember an odd phenomenon: it was hard to get simple German right. There were whole tribes of grammatical inflections that don't exist in English. But once you had these mastered, complicated texts weren't that hard. Whereas it seems to me with English, you can speak correctly fairly quickly, up to a point: but then ambiguity and nuance make life even harder than in a language with fewer syntactical possibilities.

English has one other unbeatable advantage - if you live somewhere with any kind of media access at all, you can immerse yourself in examples of current spoken English very easily, thanks to film and television. That's harder with do, with, say, Swedish, or Russian.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:36 PM on December 24, 2001

This word, which in Esperanto means "a person who is hoping".
What is the meaning of the word "English"
I am wondering?
posted by Eric Lloyd NYC at 3:12 PM on December 24, 2001

Eric, if you're serious, English doesn't mean anything. It comes from the Angles, one of the German tribes, along with the Saxons, the blending of whose languages gave form to the first Beowulfish English. English, as any of my 6 year old pupils will tell you, means absolutely nothing, as does any of the words.
posted by Zootoon at 3:25 PM on December 24, 2001

Yeah, have to agree with you on that English media is omnipresent. I spent some time in France this summer. I was surprised to walk into a bookstore and find that even in a smaller one (not the Fnac), you could frequently buy a few books in English. Unlike the foreign language section in Borders, where one may find Sartre or Racine in the original, but little contemporary, you could get say, Patricia Cornwell books (untranslated, and also translated). From an American perspective, it's kind of sad that we don't get to learn more about other countries from absorbing their popular culture.

As for Chinese, I somewhat doubt that a language based on ideographs (right word?) can become more popular than one with an alphabet. It takes too long to become literate in Chinese unless one starts early. I know some people who speak Chinese fluently (language spoken at home with parents) yet would require extensive instruction in order to know enough to read a newspaper.
posted by Charmian at 3:47 PM on December 24, 2001

Charmian, the difficult thing about chinese is not that it's a diificult language to write but that it's a difficult language to speak. It's a tonal language and one small drunken nuance and your mother is a horse. If it weren't for that, ideographs wold be the perfect international language - they already are amongt the differing languages in China.
posted by Zootoon at 3:57 PM on December 24, 2001

Difficult to speak? Depends. There are plenty of tonal languages out there, some of which have systems more complex than Mandarin. And lots of people find English sounds hard: "th" and "w" are difficult for just about everyone.

And now that I think about it, difficulty don't enter into it, my lad. Latin is famously "hard", but was widely adopted. Maybe those who learned it didn't speak it well, and mutatis mutandis, that goes for Greek and the koine, but that's beside the point. If there is a big enough economic or political incentive, your kids will learn Chinese, and find it easy.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:20 PM on December 24, 2001

hell, the fact that japanese has an an entirely seperate syllabary for loan words has always amazed me. very much in keeping with the institutionalized doctrine of assimilating the optimal components of non-japanese cultures, whilst maintaining a clear divorce from local culture.

Though it was originally used mainly by women, simply because they were not taught Chinese, the language elite men used. Katakana was a shorthand, based on parts of the Chinese characters, and is known as the "women's hand". Only later did it become used by all for foreign words...
posted by valerie at 5:31 PM on December 24, 2001

How could a language like Chinese become more popular than one based on an alphabet? Am I wrong, or aren't there presently more people speaking Chinese than there are speaking any other language?

Chinese has easy grammar, and learning to pronounce it is just a matter of getting used to its nuances, just like any other language. It's also more efficient. With characters, which are made up of components that clue you in to the meaning and pronunciation, you can fit a lot more information in a smaller space.
posted by Poagao at 5:36 PM on December 24, 2001

"English, as any of my 6 year old pupils will tell you, means absolutely nothing, as does any of the words"

I had not a clue, but now I do and I thank you.

Tell me about these 6 year olds, what do you feed them?
posted by Eric Lloyd NYC at 6:58 PM on December 24, 2001

It's interesting to note that Spanish is gaining more influence in Texas as each year passes. Some government officials are being required to study Spanish and even some legislation is being discussed under a Spanish abstraction. Rick Perry, for example, is studying the language as are many corporate executives. It's being taught earlier in school and, overall, is becoming much more influential in our society. I bring this up simply to contrast the statement that English will become a global language. While I don't argue with the statement, I'm also pleased that Spanish (and not just border-culture) is an increasing cultural aspect of our society.

Feliz Navidad, Ya'll.
posted by bloggboy at 9:17 PM on December 24, 2001

Criticism of Esperanto

Gentle: Why Esperanto is not my favourite Artificial Language
Myth: Esperanto is very easy to learn, hear, speak and use.

Reality: Unless you are familiar with at least two or three European languages, Esperanto will clearly contain many unnecessarily complicated and awkward features. The more European languages you speak, the easier you will find Esperanto; but the less you will then actually need it!
My contention is that Esperanto... is
  • Obscure - full of assumed rules and unadvertised usages.
  • Complex - with cases, adjectival concord, subjunctives etc.
  • Parochial - designed to appeal primarily to Europeans.
  • Clumsy - full of hard sounds, odd letters and absurd words.
It looks like some sort of wind-up-toy Czech/Italian pidgin...
posted by otherchaz at 12:09 AM on December 25, 2001

Tell me about these 6 year olds, what do you feed them?
Just a joke on my part as regards my teaching skills, as I teach six year olds English as a foreign language.
posted by Zootoon at 1:25 AM on December 25, 2001

I have never seen that, not even in old texts, probably because the contractions you're talking about stand for 'should have,' 'would have,' and 'could have.'

bingo, you must not read many message boards. I have seen it too many times, even here on MF. Fact is I rarely see 'should've' and it's associates used anywhere on the net. True that it is still written correctly by professional writers, but everyone else goes for the 'of' sound-alike.
posted by HTuttle at 3:56 AM on December 25, 2001

I've seen "should of" in books from major American publishers. It passes spellcheck, which is all the editing many books seem to get these days.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:25 AM on December 25, 2001

Not just in the US Southwest but in many major US cities (I live in DC): Spanish is very prevalent in bus ads and instructions, right along with English. Show's how demographics are changing here.

That being said: look at these signs and you can see one reason why English is so widely used: you can say the same thing in a much shorter sentence. American cultural domination is surely a more major reason for the language's defacto global use. But being an "economical" language doesn't hurt it's chances.

And, while other languages might be easier to learn and speak, who ever said the "best" always wins (beta vs vhs). There's just no accounting for global standards! -grin
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:05 AM on December 25, 2001

I looked up "should of" in Google and the first entry that came up is informative--Common errors in English

Bingo, regarding politeness, I was thinking of languages such as Japanese, Korean and Javanese have different constructions which express the status relationship between the speaker and listener, something European languages pretty much lack. Whether this is flexible or rigid of course depends on your point-of-view--native speakers can naturally play with their language like old pros and so tend to think of their language as "flexible", where for foriegn language students any new feature seems like an awkward and forced nightmare.

Likewise male/female language or articles or tenses (I was thinking of Chinese as a language that lacked tense), or pretty much anything across languages--whether you see it a plus or a minus depends on whether you can use it. I betcha there are little wordplays in French punning off the gender of things, likewise in English we can have fun with our interchangable verbs and nouns. To the foriegn language student they multiplicity of meanings of say for example that word "set" is tough.

In general the difficulty of languages depends a lot on how different it is from your native language. Joes_Spleen wrote:

In English it is easier to construct correct simple sentences in than Russian, Arabic or Hindi, given a year's competent instruction

which may be true for a Frenchman or a Spaniard, but it is much easier for a Ukranian to speak correct Russian than English simply because the two languages share many common features. It may take a Korean student five times as long to pick up the basics of English as a German.

I think the major difficultly of English is it's pronunciation--the subtle differences in vowels confounds many non-natives (eg; work and walk, they are and there are, ball and barn) as well as unusual consonants such as th, r, v. If your brain is not wired to hear them these subtle differences can cause havoc to your comprehension.

(Sorry for the long post. Merry Xmas!)
posted by dydecker at 7:30 AM on December 25, 2001

Oops, bad link. I hope this works
posted by dydecker at 7:33 AM on December 25, 2001

Your link works, but it robs the webmaster of hits and you miss his faq.

"If your first encounter with my site was through a link to the list of errors, please go to the introductory page and read that first. If you are creating a link to my site, please link to that page at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/ otherwise users will miss important introductory remarks and fail to trip my counter. "
posted by otherchaz at 10:18 AM on December 25, 2001

Look. English won. Other languages' best bet is to find another planet to colonize and make sure the first settlers speak another language. OK?
posted by ParisParamus at 10:52 AM on December 25, 2001

Well... English certainly was the language of the Internet in its beginnings. I remember when I started on this back in 1995 it was really tough to find some web page in Spanish (my native language) or any other non-english language for that matter. About 3-4 years had to pass before web users in Latin American countries would reach some sort of critical mass and, therefore, having web portals, personal pages and the such appear.

The way I see it, I think the foreseeable future of the multilingual web would be that of easily distinguishable community hubs united by common languages (you know what I mean)
posted by betobeto at 11:33 AM on December 25, 2001

How could a language like Chinese become more popular than one based on an alphabet?


I speak English because my parents do. I wasn't taught it as such. At least, what rules I know and can articulate I only learnt to articulate after I largely knew them already. I reckon your average Chinese 28 year old came about their own language skills in much the same way.
posted by vbfg at 12:05 PM on December 25, 2001

The Economist appears to be down at the moment. It looks like the capitalist pig-dogs gave the man who shovels coal in to the web servers the day off for Christmas.

Anyhoo, English was very much a world language before the advent of the internet. This is doubtless speeding the process up, and if it has changed one thing it has probably made the progression towards a 'world language' irreversible, but the process itself was already under way.

The suitability or individual merit of the language I believe is immaterial. It's the position the language has held over a very long time that has put it where it is. English has been (or started to become) the language of international business since the English themselves created the Bank of England and the concept of a national debt to finance and build the Royal Navy. From that time to this the ships that carry the trade of the world have largely been insured in London. They've been largely financed there or in the financial centre that replaced it (NYC) as the dominant centre. The goods shipped in them were often traded in markets in these two centres. Many of the technical innovations that became the source of new goods to trade were financed by these centres. Obviously this isn't the whole story, but has often and largely been the case for nearly three hundred years now. Enough to tip the balance mightily in favour of English at any rate.

As this has become the case less and less we find that really it has become the case more and more. Those markets haven't diminished as much they've continued to grow whilst others have sprung up, and as those others have sprung up they've found a need to communicate and trade with the already existing centres.

I'm no world systems expert, I only speak English, and this is all on the spot conjecture from me but explanations along these lines make more sense to me than the ease with which you can conjugate a verb.

Will it ever change? Any other language has a lot of catching up to do, even now when the speed of change is potentially much greater than it has been at any other point in history. China is in the WTO now, is more a part of the "world system" than it has ever been, and probably has more native speakers of either Mandarin or Cantonese each than the world has of English. What they don't have is an alphabet in use by many other languages. They also have those native speakers pretty much all in one place (Asia - bottom right).
posted by vbfg at 12:47 PM on December 25, 2001

One reason why French (a previous frontrunner) never really had a chance: their refusal to invent possessive contractions. Matt's Mefi = the Mefi of Matt in French: 60% longer and slower.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:47 PM on December 25, 2001

Paris, if that's true, we should all switch to Welsh: Mefi Matt.

Any article in The Economist about the consequences of globalisation should be taken with a pinch of salt. It's assumed that the dominance of English is somehow natural, that English is more suitable for certain purposes, that it's more adaptable etc. All rubbish.

The dominance of English has nothing to do with the superiority of the language, but rather the superior firepower of English -> 'British' -> American imperialism

If the Spanish had had a better navy than the Elizabethan Brits, we'd be having this conversation in Spanish.

The article also misrepresents the successes of Francophone Quebecois in reversing language shift, and says that the existence of a Welsh language TV channel was a result of 'Government interference' (rather than the result of 20 years of civil disobedience, prison sentences and hunger strikes).

As for the 'monoglot internet', the times they are a-changin'.
posted by ceiriog at 5:16 AM on December 26, 2001

I speak english as a second language. My native language is Portuguese (I'm Brazilian). Reading all these posts about language, I found many ideas that I agree with, such as:

1) One can easily achieve basic communication in english. After that, it takes more and more effort to acknowledge the subtle differences. But I think that this is true to most languages.

2) Yes, your use of nouns, verbs, adjectives makes english a rich language, in the way that it can change very fast, adapt, if you will. This might be hard for an english student, but you also won't have the time of your life trying to understand the different articles you have to use in Portuguese (or any other Latin-originated language) due to gender.

3) Yes, pronunciation sometimes is a bitch (or a beach). :-)
I've had a good time with a friend of mine (he is American and he lived here in Brazil for one year), remembering the subtle differences between beach and bitch, sun and son and so many other examples.

I've studied english for almost 10 years and I do think that I read and write quite well (because I'm constantly doing it), but after almost 5 years without any chance of speaking it, I managed to loose almost all my ability to speak it properly. So the keyword is PRACTICE.

By the way, my friend's Portuguese was very good and only got better (even after he went back home), because he married a Brazilian woman. See? Practice. Also, he helped me a lot with my english because he was not worried about my mistakes and he would correct me only if I asked him to do it in the first place. As long as he could understand it, that was fine.

He managed himself in a foreign country without any previous contact with the language. And he did it because he was always open to interaction in his poor Portuguese or in someone's poor english. If you were going somewhere with him, you'd see that he was known by the waiters, the taxi drivers and so on.

Language is a very interesting matter to me, because some of our congressmen think that they can protect our Portuguese from foreign words by passing a law that forces people to use the Portuguese word, whenever there's one. They seem to forget that a language is a living entity and that the day you start restricting it is the day you kill it (see Latin, that changed into Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and Romani). The use of foreign words is common to most languages. There are many foreign words that end up becoming english words.

So, let me apologize for the long post and state the basic idea: I think that languages can handle themselves quite well without us messing around trying to protect it or simplify it. An artificial language might be very useful, but first we have to start using it.

My 2 cents...
posted by rexgregbr at 9:53 AM on December 26, 2001

One reason why French (a previous frontrunner) never really had a chance: their refusal to invent possessive contractions. Matt's Mefi = the Mefi of Matt in French: 60% longer and slower.

If that's not a joke, it's incredibly stupid. So, OK, it's probably a joke.
posted by rodii at 10:15 AM on December 26, 2001

>>Latin is famously "hard"

Is it? Maybe you're just assuming it's difficult because it was the common language of scholars - Latin itself is no more difficult than any of the languages that evolved from it & quite possibly easier as a) no pronunciation issues and b) irrational changes due to accidents in usage etc, never took, since only those rational scholar types were using it anyway.

In the end of course, any language is "easy" to learn if you start simply and are continually surrounded by it - any two year old can do it after all.
posted by mdn at 2:53 PM on December 26, 2001

It can also be said that (the) French lost its/their chance by falling behind upon obsessing over an academic/official approach to their tongue rather than an organic one; analogous to the dirigiste approach to the economy which has only losened itself over the last 10-15 years: rigid minds create rigid languages. Or vice versa.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:52 PM on December 26, 2001

Regarding the French language and the Internet in North America, here's the concluding paragraph of "It's Not Email, It's "courriel": Can Linguistic Nationalism in Québec Survive the Web? by Aimée Morrison, PhD Program Department of English, University of Alberta.

"Can linguistic nationalism in Québec survive the Web?... In real space, Québec has implemented a French Language Charter to ensure that its cultural policy goals are met; in cyberspace this agenda is complicated by a confusion in terms, by a tendency to try to associate the real to the cyber (ie, with the street address), by a lack of laws written specifically to address information technologies, and by unresolved questions regarding the legality of asserting jurisdiction. Even with a dirigiste approach, and assuming for the moment that Menthe’s theory of cyberspace as an international space becomes adopted, there is still the question of whether it would even be technically possible to police the vast amounts of content involved."
posted by Carol Anne at 4:45 PM on December 26, 2001

english IS easy, i've learnt many languages (german - dutch (and flamish) - spanish - italian - arabic - provencal - latin) and english is the easiest of all - maybe that helps
and DBAPaul, prolog and lisp are programming languages that do not use english (lisp only uses ( and ), and "func" but you can easily replace this with for example "fon" - and prolog only uses : and -)
posted by aureliano buendia at 3:31 AM on December 27, 2001

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