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Saturday, February 03, 2007

It Can't All Be Oral, Is What I'm Saying 

I was talking to a guy outside the library, and he said he was studying something and had been positively impressed by the something or other, but the interesting part of our conversation had to do with the future of foreign languages. There is a possibility, for example, that the use of French in Canada will decrease as more young francophones end up using English in education or at work. It's use that's the big thing. The impact of books and movies in English is wide but not too hefty, as it involves only a passive knowledge of the language. But what might be a threat is the growing number of people who use English all the time. Languages that aren't used die out, and they are not used unless a sufficient number of people need to use them.

Think of the example of Irish. “Buanú pobal, buanú teanga”, so to speak. I would bet that no one can accuse the Irish government of dragging its feet in this matter, and since the 1890s, at least, there have been serious efforts at promotion and preservation by all kinds of people. But as long ago as the 1960s Myles na gCopaleen was able to pretend that he was the only man in Ireland capable of writing competently in the language. There are now, of course, valuable websites and whatnot. But the problem is the same. I'm afraid that could be the future for a lot of languages, and it would be a kind of intellectual disaster, because there is inestimable value in having alternate ways of thinking and conceptualising information.

Of course, in the event that only one language survives, then speakers of that language will quickly find themselves reduced to a tiny, crappy vocabulary and nothing but tired catch-phrases and unversatile syntax. And it will be the end of intelligent life on Earth, which was a pretty cool experiment for a while there.

(I actually met Joe Neil MacNeil, author of Tales until dawn = Sgeul gu Latha ages ago, and he was an old man then and probably one of the last natural Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia. I think you would have to have been born before the Great War for that.)

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Watching TV is a good way to tear yourself away from the computer.