Friday, 26 August 2011

La mort du français

It's not all bad news after all.  I'm not surprised that French is losing out to English as the (pardon me) lingua franca.  I think that it has a lot to do with how snobbish the French are about their language.  Last time I was in France, even little babies would speak nothing but French to me.


eon said...

English was the de facto lingua franca of the developed world by the mid-twentieth century. World War Two had a lot to do with it, as did international civil aviation. But the main reason is that, for all of its nonsense with "phonics" (which ignores the fact that many common English words are not spelled phonetically), English is still the easiest language to learn on Earth, and the one which can transmit detailed, often technical information with the least effort.

The artificial "world languages" of the 1800s, like Volapuk and Esperanto, were noted for complexities that delighted their creators with their "beauty", and declensions that would make a Latin scholar blanch.

Other tongues have similar problems. For instance, terms like "rocket motor", "video recorder", and even "gun" are next to impossible to convey in anything less than a full sentence in most of the "romance" languages, or even German, the supposed "default" technical language of chemistry, etc. (The word "gun" does not even exist in German, for one thing.)

English, for all its "mongrel" origins, is the most adaptable tongue on earth. and the only one that conveys maximum data in minimum verbiage.

No other language even comes close. Not even binary.



David said...

Too true. I had an Italian colleague who said much the same thing: Italian is hard to learn, but easy to master while English is easy to learn, but hard to master. People who go around declaring things like Mandarin will be the language of the future never tried to learn it (I have and failed). No, give me something like English where anyone of reasonable intelligence can learn enough to at least speak pidgin in a couple of weeks.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is because when there is fog in the English Channel, Europe is isolated from Civilisation!

Ironmistress said...

I must disagree. As a Finn, the Japanese has been by far the most easiest language for me. The grammar and syntax in Japanese are pretty similar as in Finnish. The only really difficult thing in Japanese is the writing system. Likewise, the Japanese consider Finnish as a "childishly easy language". Hai, hontou desu-yo.

Fenno-Ugric languages do have similar means of expression, such as Finnish "rakettimoottori" (rocket motor), "videonauhuri" (video recorder) and "pyssy" (gun). The German expressions would be Raketenmotor, Videogerät and Gewehr.

Bill Chapman said...

I'd like to see wider use made of Esperanto. Do you agree?

There are a lot of Esperanto books on eBay at the moment.

David said...

Bill: Esperanto has its merits (William Shatner once did a film entirely in it), but the problem is that more people speak Norwegian than Esperanto and Esperanto doesn't even have the utility of being a trade language like pidgin. Worse, which Esperanto do we use?

No, English may be as sloppy as all get out, but it's easy to learn, is spoken by more people (if you count second languages) than any other and is the language of science, commerce, computers, aviation, and the wealthiest, most powerful bloc of countries on Earth. That's a hard combination to beat.

eon said...


"Gewehr" actually means "rifle". In German, the various meanings of "gun" are subsumed by specialized terms such as "Kanone", "Maschinengewehr", "Maschinenpistole", "Muskete", etc.

The word "gun" itself does not exist; the nearest you can get to it is "Geschutz", which is actually a term restricted to artillery pieces.

I don't "speak" German, but in my specialty (ballistics) I've become fairly familiar with its technical lexicon re weapons over the last thirty-odd years. ;-)



Ironmistress said...

...where we come to another issue: English does not have a genuine word for a long groove-bore firearm but instead use the word which describes the grooves inside the barrel. Likewise, a cannon barrel is a "rifle" in English if it is not smoothbore. Chicken and egg :-)

The word "Gewehr" itself comes from "wehren", "to arm" (hence Wehrmacht, Armed Forces or Bundeswehr, Arm of Union). It means pretty much the same as "gun". There is also the word "Büchse" meaning any firearm, but it is usually used in historical context. The Finnish word for gun, "pyssy", stems from "Büchse".

Und wir können immer auf die Feuer- oder Schusswaffen sprechen, ja?