{[ promptMessage ]}

Bookmark it

{[ promptMessage ]}

Harlow - Language Myths their speakers want 0 understand...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–4. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: Language Myths their speakers want 0 understand ach other and be understood. If ! ~ there is any danger o misunder ending, speakers and writers will l . ard against it by avoiding synonyms, ax the well—known l 1 I mean fim ~ha, not fimny peculiar: ' r about the fact that some words ing their meanings. There is nothing at all nny~pec in modern English ar currently ch I would like to than Malgorzata Fabiszalc, ean Hannah and Ian Kirby for their comment and advice on earlier ve 'ons of this chapter. Source Lars Andefrsson and Peter Trudgill, Bad Language ( 0rd: Blackwell, 1990;?nd London: Penguin, 1990). 75ch Lax/Wit: Cur/tel PULL!” [WM/L34“ (feats) Wall Law/wry,” Via/$9“ "Rests, Wig. T MYTH 2 Some Languages are l l I f , just Not Good Enough Ray Harlow ijwe look at the languages spoken in the world today, we notice very de differences' in the use to which they are put. Most languages are first language of some community and serve the everyday functions ’of that community perfectly well. A few languages have a more restricted range of uses, for instance, until recently, Latin was restricted to certain uses within the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the conduct of services and formal communication internationally within the Church. Now its use is even more restricted and it is really only now used by a few people to read the literature originally written in that language. On the other hand, some languages have wider functions than that . of everyday communication and are used as official languages in the administration of whole states and nations, in education to the highest levels and in literature of all kinds. Yet other languages enjoy an international role, English perhaps being the best example of this at the moment. English is the language of international air traffic, business communication, scientific publication and the lingua franca of tour- ism. Unfortunately, the differences in the range of roles that languages play frequently lead some people to believe that some languages which do not fulfil a wide range of functions are in fact incapable of doing so. In the view' of some people, some languages are just not good enough. Not only do they not act as languages of science, of inter~ national communication, ofhighliterature, they are inherently inferior and could not be used in these ways. ‘ This sort of opinion can be seen particularly strikingly in societies where a minority language is spoken alongside a major language. A case of this kind is the situation of Maori, the indigenous Polynesian Mm_cg.._w . MM... F. Language Myths language of New Zealand. Linguists estimate that English is the first language of some 95 per cent of the New Zealand population and the only language of about 90 per cent. People who‘identify themselves as Maori make up about 12 per cent of the New Zealand population of just over 3 million, but-although the Maori language is regarded as a very important ’part of identity as a‘ Maori, it is spoken fluently by perhaps 30,000 people. Because of social changes in New Zealand within the past five decades or so, Maori has seen its uses increasingly restricted till in many 'places it is now only used at formal insti- tutionalized events. Over the last twenty years or so, there have been a number of initiatives in the areas of politics, education and broadcasting to try I to reverse the trend and, as a result, Maori is now an official language of New Zealand, is used in radio and television broadcasting and is not only a subject of study but also the language in which teaching is carried out at a number of schools and even at one university. As these initiatives have progressed, it has been possible to notice in the reaction of some people the very attitude I have been referring to, that Maori is simply not capable of being used as an official language or as the language of education beyond the very basic level. Sometimes, the expression of this opinion reveals that it is in fact not based on logic. I recall a comment in a New Zealand newspaper some years ago, which tried to make the point that Maori was no good as a language because it had to borrow words from English in order to express new ideas. English on the other hand could be seen to be a very flexible and vital language because it had throughout its history been able to draw resources from all over the place to express new ideas! However, it is not only in this sort of situation that we can encounter the idea that some languages are just not up to it. Cicero, the Roman orator,’ politician and philosopher of the first century BC, composed his philosophical works in Latin partly to make Greek philosophy available to a Latin—speaking audience, but also partly to show that it could be done. This was because some of his contemporaries were sceptical about the possibility of Latin being able to express the ideas and trains of thought of the Greeks! In their view, Latin was just not 10 Some Languages are Just Not Good Enough good enough. However, this was a language which went on to be the language of scholarship, science, international diplomacy and literature for well over a millennium! Sir Isaac Newton, the famous scholar of the seventeenth century, published his ideas in Latin. The same sort of thing occurred again in Western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, as the so~called vernacular languages took over functions that had previously been the domain of Latin. At this time, there were people who believed that the emerging languages like ,French, English, Italian, and so on were too unpolished, immature and lacking in resources to be able to convey the abstract thought and breadth of knowledge usually expressed in the ancient languages of Latin and Greek. Why are some languages not good enough? Let’s look briefly at the ways in which languages are supposed to be inadequate, 1n what respects they are not good enough and also at the question: ‘Not good enough for what?’ In some instances, it is features of the structure of a language which are picked on as the reason why another language is to be preferred for a particular function. In the south-east of Switzerland, many people still speak a language descended from the Latin of the Roman colonists. It is called Romansh and is still the everyday language in a number of villages and regions, though German has been making inroads in the area for centuries. -As with Maori, which I mentioned above, there has been a push in recent decades to increase the areas of life and activity in which Romansh is used. Now, German is a language which can very easily combine words into what are called ‘compounds’. Romansh is a language which cannot do this so readily and instead uses phrases as a way of combining ideas. Some speakers of Romansh have reacted to this structural difference by believing that Romansh is not good enough to be used in really technical areas of life because ‘German is able to construct clearly defined single words for technical ideas, Romansh is not.’ This notion ignores the facts that other languages such as French and Italian are in exactly 11 Language Myths the same boat as Romansh yet obviously have no problem in being precise in technical areas, and that Romansh had for centuries been .the language in which all the aspects, some of them very ‘technical’, of an alpine agricultural society were dealt .with. This kind of View is not unlike the ‘myth’ discussed in Myth 10: Some Languages Have No Grammar, the myth that because languages differin the way they work structurally, they also differ in the extent to which they can express logical connections between words and ideas. In other instances, the reason why a language is ‘just not good enough’ is that ‘it is ugly, rude, barbaric.’ This is one of the reasons why some people felt that the vernacular languages were incapable of assuming the roles that Latin played. As one scholar has put it, the common languages were redolent of ‘the stench of dung and the sweat of the warrior’. Even Dante, who was a champion for the cause of the use of vernaculars and is credited with the establishment of modern Italian, in his survey of Italian dialects in search of a suitable one for his literary purposes, ruled out the Roman dialect because ‘of all Italian vernaculars, their wretched savage noise is the most foul —- and no wonder, since it matches the depravity and'coarseness of their ways.’ These two examples in fact point to what is really going on here. This is a matter which is taken up more fully in Myth 11: Italian is Beautiful, German is Ugly. It turns out that people will often transfer to a language or dialect their opinions of the people whose language or dialect it is. Thus, Dante saw the Roman dialect as savage and wretched because this was his opinion of the Roman people of his time. - ' The third reason given for the view that a language is not good enough is ratherlmore serious; it is the argument that ‘X is not good enough because you can’t discuss nuclear physics in it.’ The implication is that English (or some other language like German or Russian, for instance) is a better language than X because there are topics you can discuss in one but not the other. At first glance this seems a very telling argument. There are things you can do in one language but not another, therefore some languages are better than others, therefore some languages are not good enough at least for some purposes. 12 l l l i l a . l Some Languages are Just Not Good Enough However, this View confuses a feature of languages which is due just to their history with an inherent property of languages. That is, this opinion concludes that because there has been no occasion or need to discuss, for argument’s sake, nuclear physics in Maori, it could never be done because of some inherent fault in Maori. A little thought, however, will show that this argument cannot be maintained. Computers were not discussed in Old English; Modern English is the same language as Old English, only later; it should follow that Modern English cannot be' used to discuss computers. This is clearly absurd. What of course has happened is that through time English has developed the resources necessary to the discussion of computers and very many other topics which were simply unknown in earlier times. In order for us to discuss some topic in a particular language, that language must provide us with words to refer to the various aspects of our topic; it must have the appropriate vocabulary. Of course the language must also provide ways of combining the words to form statements, questions, and so on: But all languages have these ways. This is a theme which will be taken up below in other chapters, especially, Myth 10: Some Languages Have No Grammar and Myth 4: French is a Logical Language. Essentially, languages may differ as to the way various aspects of structure are handled, but they are all capable of expressing the same range of structural meanings. Not all languages have the same vocabulary though. It is true that some languages have developed vocabularies to deal with topics which are just not discussed in some other languages. And ‘developed’ is the crucial word in this matter. English can discuss nuclear physics because, over the centuries, as scientific thought has developed, it has acquired the vocabulary to deal with the new developments; it has not always been there as an inherent feature of English. Rather, English expanded its vocabulary in a variety of ways Over the centuries so as to meet the new demands being made of it. All languages are capable of the same types of expansion of vocabulary to deal with whatever new areas ‘of life their speakers need to talk about. If one looks at the words which are used in English to handle technical subjects, and indeed many non-technical ones as well, one sees that in fact the vast majority of these words have actually come 13 Language Myths from some other language and been incorporated into English. This process is usually called ‘borrowing’, though there is no thought that the words will be given back somehow! All languages do this to some extent, though English is perhaps the language which has the highest level of ‘borrowed’ vocabulary, at least among the world’s major languages. . ‘ However, this is by no means the only way in which a language can develop its vocabulary; there are many cases where a language’s vocabulary is developed ‘from within’, that is, by using its own existing resources. Sometimes, but by no means always, this path is followed by a language and its speakers, if there is a notion that borrowing will hurt the language. Another reason why a language’s own resources may be used in the expansion of its vocabulary is because a writer wants his/her work to be readily understood by its intended audience, who might be put off by too much borrowing. This is what Cicero did. In order to write in Latin about the ideas of Greek philosophy, he had to develop a Latin vocabulary which corresponded to the ideas he wanted to put across. Most of the time he did this by taking a particular Latin word and deliberately assigning it a technical meaning. A particularly important example of this was his use of the Latin word ratio to mean ‘reason’, a usage which has come down to us today in English. On other occasions, he invented new words made up of Latin elements, for instance, the word qualitas, Which became of course ‘quality’ in English, was deliberately coined by Cicero to correspond to a Greek idea. Minority languages, like Maori and Romansh, are today doing very much the same thing as Cicero did for Latin, constructing vocabulary out of existing resources within the languages,'precisely so that they can be used to talk about areas like computers, law, science, and so on, for which they have not been used so much in the past.- These two languages are unlikely ever to become international languages of science or diplomacy, but if history had been different, they could have, and then we might have been wondering whether perhaps English was ‘just not good enough’. 14 'do your bit for MYTH 3 1he Media are Ruining English lean Aitchison English is sic maybe even fatally ill, judging from complaints: ‘The language the w is crying out to learn is diseased in its own country,’ moaned one . « ous worrier. ‘Oh, please, English-lovers everywhere, - language. Let’s stop this slide down the slippery slope . . . before c-a munication becomes a frustrating exercise we are unable to face,’ ged another. This morbid conce ’- ,, for the health of English is not new. In every - decade, language ‘deié uers’ pop up like sentries before old castles. They behave as- if they : one are preventing the language from crumbling into dust. As ’3; writer Thomas Lounsbury commented in 1908: ‘ the English tongue is always in the . that arduous efforts must be put f0 , and put forth persistently, in order to save it from destruction. The delusion that our language is sick is therefore a recurring one. What changes are the culprits of this supp ed linguistic slide? These vary. Parents, teachers, the press, have all h n blamed. But in recent years, the media — television, radio, newspa rs - have been widely criticized as linguistic criminals. To take a typi example: . . . what I find . . . hard . . . to stomach these days ' the pidgin being served up more and more by television and radio as we as the press . . . Only Canute’s courtiers would deny that language is a Ming thing . . . ( 15 ...
View Full Document

{[ snackBarMessage ]}