A worldwide second language does not imply the death of other languages

Thursday, June 11, 2009

And it's very easy to see why, even before the success of a worldwide auxiliary language, hopefully a constructed IAL. Many oppose the idea of a worldwide auxiliary language on the assumption that it would somehow result in the death of other languages as they find themselves less and less useful compared to the world's common tongue. This is false for a number of reasons, and here is a look at one of them.

Take a look at this blog for example. It's a blog called Korea Beat, run by a friend of mine, and I write there too every once in a blue moon. The idea for the blog first emerged when he noticed that there is a LOT of news in Korean that never gets published in English. If you take a look at English versions of Korean newspapers only you will find yourself with a completely different impression of the country than if you are capable of reading the news and blogs in Korean, uncensored. Korea as portrayed in English newspapers is generally pretty tame and boring - GDP growth blah blah blah, some new product blah blah blah, President says this, Korean drama is popular, etc., and you end up with the impression that Korea is a culturally conservative country, which isn't the case at all.

Taking a look at the news in Korean or on a blog like Korea Beat though, you end up with a much different (and more accurate) impression of the country. It turns out that Korea is a normal country after all - in addition to the positives (which are many, that's why I live here) there's infidelity, bribery, spousal abuse, racism, all the issues that normal countries struggle with every day. The blog doesn't focus entirely on the negatives, but it doesn't make any efforts to avoid them either, and as a result Korea comes across as a more vibrant and real country.

Back to the subject of IALs: simply being able to use a second language to tell the world about one's country doesn't necessarily imply that this information is going to be complete and without bias. It's normal to want to portray one's country in the best light possible, and due to this even with the instatement of a worldwide IAL the only way to really understand a country will be through knowing its language and being able to read what people are writing without having to rely on them as translators. At the same time, the CIA's "mission critical" languages (Persian, Russian, Urdu, Arabic, etc.) aren't going to change either - terrorist groups aren't going to suddenly conduct their business in the world's common tongue just because it's there.

And on top of that, certain things just aren't funny or interesting once they've been translated, and these areas can't be intruded upon by an IAL. Take this video for example.

This was on tv last night. There's a school in Gwangyang (in Jeollanam-do in the southwest of the country) that has a rooster that seems to have learned the word for teacher (선생님, seonsaengnim). This video doesn't show the full story but in the latter part of the story on tv last night they compared the voice of this rooster with a normal one, and this rooster has definitely picked up the students' intonation - start low, then draw out the last two syllables. Compare it for yourself with this normal rooster.

Now that the video has been explained it's a bit more interesting, but it's funniest when you yourself have heard students actually saying the word enough times that you recognize it right away when the rooster crows like that.

On the other hand, that's also why stand-up comedy (Seinfeld-style observational humour) just doesn't seem to be popular here. Even when translated it's generally not as funny as it is to those in North America. It's funny enough, but it's just not the same. Shows like this one are just better for most.

The other reason has to do with the ease of learning a constructed IAL - assuming a constructed IAL without any grammatical exceptions takes anywhere from two to ten times less time to learn (depending on your linguistic background) than a "natural" language, that also means it can be learned without even having to go abroad. While learning a language like English or German fluently would take years of time in another country, this language could be learned without ever leaving one's home, and without the required time abroad there is now less of an economic benefit to emigration. Why pack up and leave home to make a better life for your family (by learning another language and culture) when you already have the tools to communicate with the rest of the world? There's simply no need to. Emigration then becomes a matter of actually liking a country itself, not simply a means to learn another language to get ahead.


sabroso164 said...

Bravo! Adopting an IAL or lingua franca does not affect your country, culture, patriotism, national security, or anything about you personally. It just helps one group of people communicate with another group, nothing more. I have recently been blogging this same concept to the Spanish-speaking world. In Latin America I see little acceptance of IALs at the present time, mostly because the focus is on English, period. But I'm working on it!

Brian Barker said...


I'm organising a petition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown to ensure that the British Ambassador in Poland will attend the Esperanto "Universala Kongreso" in Bialystock this year.

We need to reach 100 signatures by the middle of July!

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