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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Helping the Chinese

According to an article about China's difficulties in communicating with people of other economies because of language, two-thirds of the people in the world are bilingual.   But that's not all.  Unless I have misunderstood the unclear writing in that part of the article, it also suggests that people who can speak three or more languages are more common than those who confine themselves to only one.

If true, this information is absolutely crushing to this definitely monolingual American, and it is no consolation to know that I am far from alone in this glaring deficiency.

After all, I can both read and write till the cows come home.   I can puzzle out the instructions to computer equipment.  And unlike 99.999 percent of all the people in the world, I know the best ways to play the Nimzovich Variation of the Sicilian Defence, a chess opening.   Yet close to three-fourths of the people in the world have with seeming ease learned how to speak more than one language, while I have managed to learn only one.

It's not because I haven't tried.   At various times I have taken what I thought were serious stabs at French, German, and Japanese, but each time I was soon forced to fall back on good ol' warm, comfortable American.   Not English.   American.   The language spoken by people in London and nearby is merely a dialect of American.

Maybe if I had ever had a French, German, or Japanese girl friend, or if I had been cast ashore somewhere in Europe or Asia at the age of five, things would have been very different, but alas, such was not to be, and it wasn't till just now, with this article, that I've let it bother me.

  The moral of the old story about the Tower of Babel is that everybody should speak the same language, isn't it?   And just by chance I was born in the same 20th Century country that a little later fancied itself -- but secretly -- to have become the empire of the world.  What then was the point of having spent all those trillions of dollars to reach such an exalted state if not to have everybody speaking American, which we are assured is a noble, rich, colorful, and living language?   It is the language of -- well, not Chaucer or Shakespeare, and I am glad of that -- but of Mark Twain after all!

Meanwhile, how are we to help the Chinese out of their dilemma?    

I fear that, unless the Chinese are ready to get themselves together for an effort at least as drastic as damming up the  Yellow River, they are already doomed to go down the same road of failure to stay on top for long as the Japanese earlier.

It's all because of the ideograms.

Those things are beautiful and great for the fine and wonderful art of calligraphy, but for communications purposes -- when the Japanese and then the Chinese suddenly discovered to their horror that they were not alone on the planet -- those mysterious little sketches should have long ago gone the way of the hieroglyphics.

"Fat lot of good that did for the Egyptians," someone can argue.   But that's another story.  Their day was already long gone.

For the Chinese today there still might be time, and meanwhile it's simplicity, simpleton!


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