Marqués de Tamarón || Santiago de Mora Figueroa Marqués de Tamarón: No Getting Around It: English Is Global Tongue

miércoles, 12 de noviembre de 2008

No Getting Around It: English Is Global Tongue

By the Marqués de Tamarón
Published: THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 1995
In the International Herald Tribune

     MADRID: Linguistic problems are not the least cause of worldwide bewilderment as this century draws to a close. Most of us feel that our own language is an essential part of our national identity, yet at the same time we realize that in the emerging global civilization we need a world language, a sort of lingua franca.

     Without a world language, plus several regional ones, international relations would succumb to the old curse of Babel. This, of course, has always been the case. Over the centuries, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Malay, Swahili and other languages have been used as international instruments for trade, diplomacy or religion. Many of them are still used in that capacity.

     But three new elements have complicated the situation. The first is the rise of English to the hitherto nonexistent position of world language. This makes life easier for many people, but it irritates others. Many speakers of less widespread languages feel threatened by English. To use the old political metaphor, it is like sleeping next to an elephant; regardless of its intentions, the sheer size of the animal makes it dangerous.

     As to speakers of minority languages, they quite rightly fear the disappearance of their cultural identity. According to Michael Krauss of the Alaska Native Language Center, nine out of ten of the 6,000 languages that still exist in the world will die out within the next century.

     This is the second new element in the linguistic situation. Tongues have always evolved, but never has their death rate been even remotely comparable to the present. We worry about the decline of biological diversity, but we also should not forget the risks of a radical linguistic impoverishment of our planet.

     The third, more subtle and potentially dangerous novelty is the modern reluctance to accept multilingualism. I am not talking about the fragmentation of a nation-state into different monolingual groups, a highly risky situation. But the multilingual capacity of individuals is a desirable thing, helping soften conflicts. Why shouldn't a Corsican use Corsican in some cases, provided he canand will use French in others? Indeed, why should a Frenchman feel dishonored using English to sell Camembert to a Japanese?

     Historically, such qualms were rare. Two thousand years ago, people of every race and religion used Greek, not their own mother tongue or Latin, within the eastern half of the Roman Empire whenever dealing with people from other nations. Greek was the normal trade language for an Egyptian grain dealer, as it was for a Cypriot wine merchant or a Phrygian marble exporter. Indeed, the Jews often used it in the synagogues of the Diaspora, as Paul did when preaching Christianity.

     Such common sense prevailed even after the birth of modern nationalism. The Russian field marshal Barclay de Tolly in 1812 gave the news of the French retreat to the czar in French. In 1940, when Germany and Japan were preparing their alliance against the hated "Anglo-Saxon powers," Ribbentrop and Matsuoka negotiated in English.

     Nowadays, linguistic rivalry is the third most common cause of conflict, after race and religion, and is often mixedwith the other two.It need not be so. Many political fevers would cool if we all accepted certain obvious facts.

     The main one is that everyone is right in trying to preserve his or her vernacular tongue, without which one feels deprived of roots and identity. But this should not exclude other languages. Immigrants, to prosper, must learn the language of their new country. Speakers of minor languages will also have to learn a major language to profit from the expanding world economy.

     Even speakers of major languages such as Spanish, French and Chinese have an interest in learning English for practical reasons. In fact, native English speakers themselves should start learning that peculiar language known as international English, as Mikie Kiyoi recently exhorted them to do in these pages.

     A reasonable approach to language policies and politics requires two more things —a little hard work to learn extra languages and the insouciance to dare to use them clumsily. We either accept the linguistic effort or the impoverishment of standardization. Or else mutual assured incomprehension.

The writer, director of the Instituto de Cuestiones Internacionales y Politica Exterior, contributed this comment to the Herald Tribune.

2 comentarios:

  1. Completamente de acuerdo con el Marqués de Tamarón.

  2. Una lengua es global cuanto más lingua franca resulte...