Tuesday, February 28, 2006

America's Linguistic Empire

During my linguistic studies, I came to understand the plight of lesser-spoken languages. I just heard about an ongoing program, The Rosetta Project, that is attempting to catalog the world's languages and provide a means of resurrecting them when nearing, or after the point of, extinction.

Unfortunately, American English is quickly becoming the world's lingua franca, and I'm not too pleased. News like this only makes American schoolchildren more adamant that they do not need to learn a second language because "everybody speaks English".

The thing to remember in all of this is that every dominant language eventually falls. Look at Ancient Greek & Latin. French is gradually declining as a dominant language, although this does not mean that its study should be forsaken. It takes many generations of increasingly declining usage to lessen the dominance of a language.

In short, the Anglo invasion of the world will eventually become a fallen empire, leaving room for a new language to usurp it. I'm betting on one of the Asian languages (Chinese? Japanese?).

English is now dominant, but it will not remain so. I am reminded of Thomas Cole's series of paintings entitled The Course of Empire that shows the path that all empires take, from pastoral beginnings to fire-and-brimstone decimation and back to nature once again. This, too, shall pass.

Photo: Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Desolation 1836. From his series The Course of Empire

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Great Moments in Linguistic Confusion

In my never-ending quest to stave off worktime boredom, I came across a website that truly lives up to its name: Damn Interesting. They posted a story on the Halifax Disaster a few days ago. This piqued my interest for two reasons: 1) Who doesn't love an exciting story involving two captains staring each other down, men jumping overboard, and exploding chemicals? and 2) Lack of bilingualism resulted in higher casualties:

"As [the crew] rowed to shore they cried warnings at the people gathered there to watch the bright flames and oily black smoke erupting from the Mont-Blanc. But none of the Frenchmen spoke English, so their warnings were not understood."

What I think this should have said was, "None of the Nova Scotians spoke French, so the crew's warnings were not understood." I think there is just no excuse for that--a Canadian province's residents not being able to understand basic communications in one of their country's official languages! If I saw a sailor abandoning ship and then coming ashore screaming Spanish at me, I would probably get the hint. I don't understand Spanish, but I would think the body language would give itself away. Maybe the fumes from the burning benzol rendered these people temporarily unable to save themselves. I guess we'll never know.