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By: Inoljt,

Imagine you're a tourist planning on visiting India. Determined not to be seen as culturally ignorant, you've decided to learn Hindi, the official language. As the plane lands in Bangalore, you are confident that you can speak in the native language.

Except when you get out onto the street, the people aren't speaking Hindi. They're talking in a dialect of Kannada, and you can't understand them.

Eventually, after several painstaking months, you learn Kannada as spoken in Bangalore. Now you're really confident that you've got this thing down; you know both Hindi and a very local dialect of another Indian language. You fly to Mumbai.

Except in Mumbai the people on the street don't speak Kannada, Hindi, or English. They speak Marathi. And a fair share of the elite speak English.

Might as well have stayed with English.


More below.

Or imagine you're visiting China. Once again, as a culturally competent individual you've mastered Mandarin, and blast into Shanghai completely prepared.

In Shanghai, however, it turns out that the local language is Shanghainese. You didn't even know that existed, but when local residents talk to each other you don't understand any of it.

A local friend you've made later, born and bred in Shanghai, confides to you that he feels uncomfortable going to other provinces. In Guangdong locals speak in Cantonese; in Sichuan they speak in Sichuanese; in Tibet they speak in Tibetan; he can't understand any of it. True, locals can switch to standard Mandarin when talking with non-locals, but he still feels like a foreigner outside Shanghai.

The next day you board a plane back to the United States, where everybody understands and speaks the same exact language. Every word that a person says in Seattle can be comprehended by a person in Houston; every word that a person says in Houston can be comprehended by a New Yorker. With the exception of the South and a few inner-city ghettos, there is even no difference in accent.

This achievement is frequently understated. Many Americans simply assume that things are like this in other countries - everybody in the Middle East speaks Arabic (true, but the regional dialects are mutually incomprehensible), everybody in Nigeria speaks "Nigerian" (definitely not true).

In truth, as the examples of China and India show, it is actually quite strange to think that in a continent-stretching nation with hundreds of millions (or billions) of people, it would be the case that the language would be so uniform. Few countries can claim to have done this. Brazil is one. Russia is another - but remember that Russia is the descendant of the Soviet Union, which tried and failed to impose a Russian common language upon the tens of millions of its non-Russian citizens.

Some conservatives complain that nowadays, there are too many Mexicans who don't know English. Yet of the Hispanic immigrants who enter the United States, only 6% of their grandchildren will speak Spanish at home.

The extent to which the United States has succeeded in establishing a common language, across a continent and through three hundred million people, remains an amazing, if much-ignored, accomplishment.

Originally posted to Inoljt on Thu May 12, 2011 at 10:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (163+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Free Jazz at High Noon, twigg, sceptical observer, rmonroe, TX Freethinker, Youffraita, verasoie, AgavePup, Nulwee, ZhenRen, justalittlebitcrazy, oldpunk, majcmb1, AaronInSanDiego, debedb, koNko, Crashing Vor, BachFan, Burned, Louisiana 1976, Emerson, maf1029, tomephil, swaminathan, coppercelt, marykk, cdreid, camlbacker, temptxan, Josiah Bartlett, HylasBrook, Executive Odor, MKHector, SpamNunn, Powered Grace, WarrenS, nannyboz, spooks51, PBen, Persiflage, ban nock, Nowhere Man, Aidos, Orinoco, antimony, OIL GUY, ipsos, exlrrp, gizmo59, aravir, commonmass, rb608, US Blues, nominalize, not4morewars, Cassandra Waites, mattc129, whaddaya, peterj911, dotsright, Steveningen, Dexter, figbash, Subterranean, plumbobb, seeta08, MKinTN, Sharon Wraight, GenXangster, worldlotus, Matt Z, elfling, eeff, Timaeus, rhubarb, Debby, legendmn, frsbdg, Sean Robertson, amojave, Rei, pixxer, Scioto, weelzup, kyril, nickrud, fidel, Its a New Day, JanetT in MD, janmtairy, Dem Beans, zbbrox, kevinpdx, sullivanst, Caribou Barbie, mwk, NotGeorgeWill, greycat, abarefootboy, karmsy, Odysseus, CajunBoyLgb, Sun Tzu, Railfan, ColoTim, Thinking Fella, Debs2, Tookish, mrkvica, yaque, peteri2, James Allen, klompendanser, opoponax, roystah, lexington1, science nerd, SteelerGrrl, Dom9000, sargoth, Andhakari, sarvanan17, greengemini, Hope08, millwood, jimreyn, The Harry, native, wildweasels, murphy, alguien, DvCM, immigradvocate, jolux, cpresley, Temmoku, dewtx, grollen, ogre, yg17, spaceshot, Mimikatz, Dvalkure, hayden, vcmvo2, TBug, CT yanqui, terrypinder, Catte Nappe, RichM, vacantlook, illusionmajik, birdboy2000, PeterHug, unclebucky, Perry the Imp, phenry, boriquasi, hankmeister, Jantman, Shockwave, on the cusp, varro
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    by Inoljt on Thu May 12, 2011 at 10:49:05 PM PDT

    •  That's becausse it isn't true (58+ / 0-)
      The extent to which the United States has succeeded in establishing a common language, across a continent and through three hundred million people, remains an amazing, if much-ignored, accomplishment

      The lingua franca of a time period is that of the dominant power in the world.    Throughout Europe from the fall of Rome until around the 17th century,  people who wanted to communicate across language boundaries used Latin.  The Roman Catholic church spoke Latin, its priests and monks did, and most educated men were taught Latin when they attended school.
      THE latin that the educated elite spoke was called ‘Church Latin’ since it evolved  over time to accommodate new words and usages.   (Latin was a dead language because there were no longer any native speakers of the language.
      In the 17th century. France became the common language for communicating across national boundaries because French had begun to dominate Europe culturally.  (Beginning with Peter the Great, the nobility in Russia spoke French because they didn’t want to seem backward.)
      Then, starting in the mid-18th century with Britain’s establishment as a world power (“the sun never sets on the British empire”) English became the common language.  Some of the countries England colonized – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US – were populated by native speakers of English who displaced the indigenous peoples.
      In other commonwealth countries – South Africa, India, Kenya, etc.   English was the” official language” – the language used in government bodies, such as law courts.  In these countries the natives had to be bilingual – speaking their native language and English.
      A good example of this is South Africa.  Settled first by the Dutch, the white natives speak Afrikaans, a language that evolved from Dutch.  The official language is English, but the Dutch descendants speak Afrikaans and English.  (Side note – the work ‘trek’ comes from Afrikaans – it means ’travel’
      Eventually, the torch of a world power passed to the US.  People around the world didn’t ‘pick up’ English, they were already speaking it as a second language.
      On a final note,  the 19th century saw an incredible outburst in scholarship in Germany – archeology, art history, science, etc.    As a result, up until the 1970’s many graduate students in those and related disciplines learned German so they could read books written in German that had not yet been translated.
      Perhaps in 150 years’ time Mandarin will be the lingua franca – we just won’t be around to observe it.

      (Sorry for typos & missing words – I’m late for work + apologies for no props to Spanish)

      HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

      by HylasBrook on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:03:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  While the educated spoke Latin for hundreds (47+ / 0-)

        of years (and French afterwards, then English), the common people certainly did not. So someone traveling to another country during that time may have been able to converse with diplomats and priests, I doubt they could have ordered dinner in a tavern.

        You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union - Woody Guthrie

        by sewaneepat on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:51:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And most of them had people: (9+ / 0-)

          Even the elites relied on scribes and such to translate: most of the "latin speakers" couldn't get past a memorized liturgy.

          If you want a link, I'll look for a link. If you really want it. Just ask.

          by Inland on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:24:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Through the Middle Ages it was possible (26+ / 0-)

          to speak, read and write in English, German and French and still be called "illiterate" because, at the time, to be literate meant you could read and write in Latin.  

          By the 15th century, the merchant class was actively acquiring Latin--in England, anthology manuscripts of the period (paper manuscripts that anthologized a variety of writings and were owned by the middle- or merchant-class) featured Latin grammars.  They were books meant for family reading--so you'd get some prayers, maybe a sermon, a romance, and a lesson in declension.

          One of the most moving manuscripts I've ever seen was a Book of Hours owned by a priest during the 1348-49 Plague.  The Office for Burial of the Dead had been read so many time it was entirely worn out, so that the priest copied it into the blank back of the book.  And then, he wrote that, although he thought the world was ending, in case it did not, he wanted learning to survive, so he copied a Latin grammar into his Book of Hours.

          "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

          by DrLori on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:50:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My point was that the vast, vast majority of (13+ / 0-)

            people (who were peasants) did not speak

            You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union - Woody Guthrie

            by sewaneepat on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:13:59 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Exactly (12+ / 0-)

              The Latin was for the educated masses, the common "serf" wasn't very well instructed in it. Most went to mass but did not understand the Mass. Most were not educated at all, except what little mom and dad knew. This was a way to keep them in the "servatude" state. That is how the dominate class keep them down.

              For a long period of time Norman French was the elite language in England. If I remember right many "English" kings only spoke French. English was considered a punny poor person language. So while the few wealthy merchants, and the few nobles being able to speak Latin or a "trade language" does not disprove your point. My memory isn't as it use to be but I am certain of this.

              •  English (12+ / 0-)

                Except that it wasn't the elite speaking Norman French and the peasants speaking English.

                The peasants spoke Saxon, or some other Germanic language. The elite -- and a good many imported soldiers -- spoke some form of French.

                English was a compromise. In France, peasants herded porc and nlbles ate porc. In Saxon England before 1066 peasants herded swine, and nobles ate swine. In English, peasants herded swine, but nobles ate pork.

                One reason that English has such a large vocabulary is that various Germanic words, Latin words of the educated, and French words of the nobles (when these are greatly different from the Latin) are all accpertable roots. Nobody decided which words were officially Engilsh.

                Corporations are people; money is speech.
                1984 - George Orwell

                by Frank Palmer on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:54:50 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Sloppy at best (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Temmoku, grollen

                We know that the peasantry of west and southwest Europe and areas in the East including Romania, spoke an evolving form of Latin from early times to now because they still do, after all the various dialects of Spain, France, and Italy even now show some of the same regional differences they did before official, classical and Church Latin in various ways standardized and froze the overall language.

                For that matter even the Low Latin spoken in the immediate vicinity of Rome at the height of the Republic probably had little to do in structure and vocabulary with your typical Ciceronian Letter.

                Over a period of centuries the variety of Latin used by the Church had grown enough away from that used by peasants who even spoke Romance languages that it became effectively estranged, and certainly this was a useful feature rather than bug for the Church, but it was not a preconceived design.

                And it is doubtful that any but the highest of the nobility could get by without a working knowledge of English or the local regional version of that Romance language depending. after all they were interacting with fairly low level servants all the time, and once again except in the highest ranked households grew up in the company of the other children of the house of all statuses.

                Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

                by Bruce Webb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:07:38 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  Got a cite for this? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Temmoku, david78209

            "to be literate meant you could read and write in Latin"

            The question is complicated because 'literatus/illiteratus' covered a whole range of contrasting positions ranging from what we would call 'illiterate' up to 'functionally literate' (which might be defined as reading at a sixth or eigth grade level), but I know of no time that actually mastery of the technology of writing was the dividing point.  

            I like to point out that under this definition many a CEO and College Professor would have been considered illiterature, not having direct access to the actual means of production, i.e. the typewriter, and often with handwriting only decipherable by a handful of confidents and secretaries.

            Nor is reading a clear cut example. In the days before vision correction and in a reading environment that might well be a torch lit reception hall, it is not at all surprising that kings and princes handed letters off for a scribe to read off, after all you don't look very kingly squinting and holding a letter up to the candle. No doubt much to most of the upper nobility knew enough Latin to understand a diplomatic missive read in front of them, this doesn't mean they could grab that missive and read it for you.

            To repeat I know of no context in Northern Europe anyway where literacy was strictly equated to 'ability to read AND write', not at least after learning your earliest lessons, after that the actual mechanical production of text and much of the public reading thereof was in the hands of clerics.

            Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

            by Bruce Webb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:51:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Writing was a craft in the middle ages (0+ / 0-)

              To write, you not only had to find feathers -- quills -- and sharpen them to a good point with a pen knife, you also had to be able to mix up some good ink -- or at least have a friend or servant who could make ink.  And parchment and paper were expensive, so if you didn't have good handwriting, it made sense to hand off the job to someone who was good at it.  

              I think there were a fair number of people who could read but who wouldn't try to write any more than adults today who aren't artistic would try to sketch or draw.

              We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

              by david78209 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 02:27:47 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  small quibble (24+ / 0-)

        Catholic Church all spoke Latin because 1) the common language ensured all their adherents could understand each other regardless of geographical location and 2) because the locals did not understand Latin it was ideal for communicating sensitive information without having locals twig onto the Church's machinations into local politics.  Most royals and nobility were illiterate for centuries and even as late as King James of England (James VII of Scotland) remained abysmally educated though not illiterate.

        RE: the predominance of English, Goethe wrote his diary in a secret language which he felt few people would be able to read and understand: English. Kind of funny in retrospect

      •  A point that might have been missed (25+ / 0-)

        in this is that American English has incorporated many words from many languages into it. We have Native American words, French words, German words, Spanish words, Russian words and probably most, if not all, the rest of the languages in our language.

        Our English is a fluid language that keeps changing.

        The other missing piece in this is that English is the technical language of the world. You say the word television or telephone anywhere in the world, and whoever you are talking to knows what it is.

        I think, as people around the world become educated, the planetary language will end up being a mixture of most of the languages we have today.

        Downwardly Mobile on purpose.

        by KatGirl on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:30:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Both Greek words of course (5+ / 0-)

          Well at least based on Greek words

          •  Languages have always evolved and cross (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            greengemini, HylasBrook

            pollinated -- a great example is that Spanish has as many words borrowed from English as English has borrowed from Spanish, if not more. Just one example: one of the most popular sports of many of the Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean -- La República Dominicana and Cuba for example -- is the great American sport of beisbol.

            What's different now compared to even fifty years ago is that globalization, with easy international travel and commerce, television and perhaps more than anything, the Internet, has exponentially accelerated the process of languages borrowing from each other, evolving and growing.

            Of course, along with the incredible opportunities for breaking down the barriers of distance, language and intolerance, technology also carries a great threat. A frightening percentage of people under the age of thirty of all countries, even amongst those who are ostensibly well educated, write terribly, have horrendous spelling and often little understanding of basic grammar -- in their native languages. Spell check and texting have combined to make our younger generation functionally illiterate in terms of being able to write well. Perhaps, in practice, that really doesn't matter, since when needed, just about everyone has access to spell check. But I find it sad, that we have lost something. It depresses me, for example, to find that when I correspond with my Spanish speaking friends from all over the world, very smart, well educated people, that their orthography is often worse than mine, and for me, Spanish is very much a beloved but definitely second language.

            "But there is so much more to do." - Barack Obama, Nov. 4, 2008

            by flitedocnm on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:26:57 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I meant to say -- (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              asterlil, HylasBrook, Temmoku, hayden, Jantman

              with my young, Spanish speaking friends.

              There truly is a generational difference in how people write, especially with respect to spelling, and in Spanish, the use of tildes (accent markings) which are often regarded as superfluous affectations. They aren't, though -- the tildes change the meaning of many words, including making clear the tense of many verbs. So one is often left with figuring out what is meant from context, which mostly is not a problem, but not always. Here's an example:

              "Roberto me dijo que tomo demasiado". Standing alone, that could translate either as:

              "Robert told me that I drink too much." Or,

              "Robert told me that he drank too much."

              -- which if written correctly as, "...que tomó demasiado", would remove all uncertainty. But those are clearly two, very different sentences, and without the tilde, you're left guessing which one was intended.

              (When spoken, there is no uncertainty, because the two forms are pronounced differently -- "tomó" is accented on the last syllable, "tomo" on the first.)

              It's worth noting that a large part of the reason for not using tildes is that typing them can be a pain. Spanish keyboards make that somewhat easier, but if you have a standard English keyboard, try figuring out how to type á or ñ. It's pretty easy if you're using a Mac, but with a PC, you have to memorize absurd key combinations, so nobody bothers.

              Not too hard if you're texting with an iPhone (don't know about others), but it's still an extra step, altho auto-complete may add the accent if it's the only option.

              Like I said, I think we've lost something. But maybe I'm just an old purist.  :-)

              "But there is so much more to do." - Barack Obama, Nov. 4, 2008

              by flitedocnm on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:47:21 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Not "television" (8+ / 0-)

            TV isn't a Greek word, it's pure mongrel.

            The Greek for far, is 'tele' and the Greek for see is 'scope.'

            Since 'telescope' already had a meaning, they took the Latin for see, 'vision.'

            One weirdness is that you can see the antiquity of English words by whether the English and the yanks use the same word. Recently we do, back in the 18th century we did -- we shared a common culture.

            In the period around 1900, the emerging technology of the automobile and the wireless led to quite different words in the two countries -- boot-trunk, mudguard-fender, etc.

            Corporations are people; money is speech.
            1984 - George Orwell

            by Frank Palmer on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:01:12 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  "The thing about Russia is, (5+ / 0-)

          you don't have your own word for entrepreneur."

          Television and telephone, of course, are straight derivations from Greek and Latin. That's why the French and Spanish use the same words. The Germans, who were never fully colonized by the Romans, use their own word for TV based on the identical construction (far + sight = fernsehen).

          Much of the reason there are so many influences of other languages on English is the number of times England got invaded - Romans, Norse, Normans, Angles, Saxons. And then in reverse, when the English were stealing the wealth of colonizing other lands, little tidbits of the native tongues crept in too. English has always been a mongrel, there's never been any purity to preserve by not stealing words from other languages.

        •  One of the adorable senior citizen at (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          a Unitarian church I frequented was a proponent of Esperanto which was developed after WWII (I think) and was meant to be a universal language anyone could.  It never got far, so now English is the lingua franca.

          HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

          by HylasBrook on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:39:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Manderin MAYBE (10+ / 0-)

        English as the International language of commerce may be hard to unseat.  Mandarin is somewhat difficult to speak and really hard to read and write.  Try typing in Chinese sometime.

        In order for a language to unseat English, there would have to be an emerging "second language" that everyone is compelled to learn.  For a while, it seemed like that should be Japanese, not it seems like Chinese (Mandarin).  In our own hemisphere, the obvious choice is Spanish — unless you do business in Brazil or Quebec.

        The official language [of ZA] is English, but the Dutch descendants speak Afrikaans and English.
        Afrikaans is a shibboleth of the Apartheid regime.  Its use will decline.

        Harboring resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

        by The Red Pen on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:33:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Mandarin is mostly hard to read and write (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dave925, HylasBrook, Temmoku

          because we were raised with a completely different system.

          There's a billion-something Chinese who probably don't consider it that hard.

          As for typing, it's rather surprising that no-one's come up with a completely different kind of keyboard designed from the ground up for Oriental script, rather than trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole with layouts created for typing the Latin alphabet. Hell, the QWERTY layout's anachronistic even for English, being a hangover from the days of mechanical typewriters and the need to avoid jams.

          English is only the international language of commerce because of the dominance of England and America since the start of the Industrial Revolution. English fortunes have long since faded, and it's getting increasingly difficult to see a future in which the USA preserves the degree of primacy we've enjoyed since WW2. We can't stop the growth of the BRIC nations, and I don't see why we should.

          •  No, Chinese is hard. (17+ / 0-)
            Mandarin is mostly hard to read and write because we were raised with a completely different system.
            No, Chinese is hard to read and write.

            That's why Chinese and Japanese children spend childhood to adolescence learning how to read and write.  Children learning to read and write in other glyph systems can be basically literate by age 5-8, but in China or Japan, there are many more years of drill to learn the glyphs.  

            Each pictogram must not only be memorized, but when you write it, the stroke order is supposed to be the same.  That's why handwriting recognition works really well as an input method.  While there's no official way to write the letter "A", there is an exact correct way to write "金".

            This is why the Communist Chinese created the "simplified character set" to make it (a little) easier to learn how to read and write.

            As for typing, it's rather surprising that no-one's come up with a completely different kind of keyboard designed from the ground up for Oriental script, rather than trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole with layouts created for typing the Latin alphabet.

            Various approaches have been tried over decades.  Your post suggests that you've done exactly zero research on the topic.  It's a hard problem.  

            Japanese had advantages over Chinese in this regard because it has a phonetic alphabet and a well-defined transliteration for roman characters.  Nevertheless, almost all Japanese business correspondence was hand-written well into the late 90's because typing it is such a hassle.  This was fine in the age of the fax machine, but now that the Internet has taken over, Chinese and Japanese are facing a steep barrier of entry.

            Harboring resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

            by The Red Pen on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:14:55 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  I had a job working for a global (5+ / 0-)

          corporation that required working with people all over the world.  No matter what country they were in, the communication was always in English.

          "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou

          by ahumbleopinion on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:40:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm not surprised (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mythatsme, Jantman

            English has a limited character set (not many languages can be written with only 26 characters), relatively simple grammar, and can be comprehended even when spoken badly.

            There are lots of synonyms, so if you can't find exactly the right word, chances are you can find one that will get your point across.

            That's a large part of the reason it's become the de facto universal language. Basic English is pretty easy.

            Advanced English, correct grammar, and various local idioms make it a bit harder. But you can still learn enough to get by in a few months.

            That's not usually the case with most other languages.

      •  Actually, even in the 90s when I studied chemistry (13+ / 0-)

        some professors advised me that it would be nice to learn some German to read old papers in the field (a huge percentage of pre-WWII chemistry literature is in German).

      •  To add to this the (6+ / 0-)

        Royal lines in Europe used French as a common language to facilitate breeding.

        Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

        by Horace Boothroyd III on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:49:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  True... (5+ / 0-)

        The élite status of the major linguas francas remains to this day.

        I had a graduate advisor back in the day-- a refined Argentinian scholar-- who told me in no uncertain terms that I was to study French and achieve fluency in it because "la gente educada siempre habla francés, ¿entendés?" 'educated people always speak French, understood?'

        Even with China being such an economic juggernaut, Mandarin is proving to be a hard sell as a lingua franca. English is still more popular. It's certainly easier...!


        by CajunBoyLgb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:59:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  More popular (5+ / 0-)

          may simply mean "more entrenched" at this point. And since we now mean "globally" when we discuss these things, there's a lot of the world that would have to change. For example, English is the language of international pilots and air-traffic controllers, all over the world. How easy would that be to change?

          The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

          by sidnora on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:26:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I find that fascinating. (0+ / 0-)

            I heard that even when a German pilot takes off from one German airfield, and lands at another, communicating with a tower manned exclusively by Germans, they still use English.  How interesting is that !

            •  Fascinating - (0+ / 0-)

              and I didn't know that it holds true even for intranational flying. I wonder how many non-commercial American pilots would still want to fly if they had to learn another language to get their licenses!

              The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

              by sidnora on Sun May 15, 2011 at 09:15:11 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting analysis, thanks. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        OK, in what sense did Latin "die" as a language? As you point out, it was still being spoken under certain circumstances, and new Latin vocabulary was still being devised, long after the demise of the Roman Empire. When they say it "died out," they mean that it died as a vernacular tongue--surviving only as a scholarly language--following the Roman occupation of Europe?

        We are going to lose French and German outright as vernacular tongues, imo. At a point in the not-too-distant future, perhaps not long after you and I are gone, French, German, and languages like Italian will still be studied at universities. But they will no longer be spoken in the streets and in homes. Of European languages, chiefly English and Spanish will survive in robust vernacular form.

        No, I don't think Mandarin is ever going to replace English as a lingua franca, although it will continue to grow in popularity. This is true because of the alphabet, and the relative ease of writing English. We have a standardized set of phonetic characters to represent our language, the Chinese don't have any such thing. Yeah, there are simplified Chinese alphabets for the internet and so on, but I wouldn't know if they're much good. Too, since Chinese is such a complex language, I don't have much faith.

        It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

        by karmsy on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:16:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm not too worried about losing French (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mnemosyne, Simian

          for a long time yet, not only because the French are so protective of their language, but (maybe more) because of the extent of the former French Empire. Some quite populous countries in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are still Francophone today, not to mention Quebec.

          Same with Portuguese, which you'd think would have little relevance in the 21st century, but there's this other up-and-coming country of 200 million people that also speak it.

          I don't think complexity has anything to do with the unlikelihood of Mandarin becoming the lingua franca; it's just that Western languages have had far longer to become established, via colonialism, over the rest of the world.

          The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

          by sidnora on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:37:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Interesting point about Latin America, (0+ / 0-)

            and other colonized locales. If anyone will, perhaps, THEY will keep several European languages alive in day-to-day spoken form.

            Now, English may well be as complex as Chinese. We have our own, highly distinctive grammar and syntax, a huge, eclectic vocabulary, and highly inconsistent, maddening rules for usage. English is regarded as a nightmare to learn as a second language. Yet, English is a lingua franca, very much.

            No, complexity, alone, doesn't disqualify a language from becoming universal. I was saying that what might well prevent Chinese from becoming universal, is the difficulty of writing that language. Zero--or only a recently devised and probably rudimentary--alphabet (finite and standardized phonetic characters) is a handicap I just don't see them negotiating around.

            It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

            by karmsy on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:57:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  English grammar (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              HylasBrook, karmsy, Fonsia, mmacdDE, mythatsme

              is actually much simpler and more streamlined than that of most other European languages. It does have a huge, rich vocabulary, which is what makes it one of the world's great languages, because it has had so many successive "inputs": a Celtic root that is all but invisible in today's English, overlaid with Germanic, Latin, Greek, Arabic, Scandinavian, and French additions, not to mention useful individual words that have been appropriated from many other languages.

              It's those multiple inputs that cause its biggest problem, which is orthography. The inconsistencies of English spelling and pronunciation has been the bane of ESL students and teachers alike. The famous example: "ghoti" could be pronounced "fish" - if you use "gh" as in "rough", "o" as in "women", and "ti" as in "motion". I work with many immigrants, and I've seen how much grief this causes them.

              As to the challenges of written Chinese, I'd agree with other comments here that it doesn't seem to have stopped the billion-plus Chinese people. It's an ideographic, rather than an alphabetic, system, so it requires more memorization, which could be more difficult for adult second-language learners whose memories are less plastic than childrens'. But it has an advantage that, to my knowledge, no other written language does.

              Chinese speakers, whether their language is Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, Min, or any of dozens of other smaller subdialects, are mutually unintelligible to each other; even though their spoken languages are related, they can't understand each other any better than, say, an English speaker could understand a German speaker. But written Chinese is the same for all of them. That's why Chinese-language movies all have Chinese subtitles. And it's an certainly something that could be very useful in a lingua franca.

              The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

              by sidnora on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:32:49 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Not only do non-native speakers have trouble with (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                English pronunciation, English speakers have a hard time remembering that in other languages, just about every combination of letters is pronounced almost exactly the same - no rough, cough, through - confusion.

                Another interesting point is that because of this, English is the only language where people have spelling bees, because you can't always figure out the spelling of the word from how it's pronounced.  

                Some of the vagaries of spelling comes from our adoption of words from other languages.

                HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

                by HylasBrook on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:02:49 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sorry I got back here too late to tip (0+ / 0-)

                  but your point is a good one. Some languages have a few more pronunciation subtleties than others. For instance, French has some complex vowel combinations that are very similar (though rarely identical) in pronunciation, as well as numerous silent letters and even syllables. But in most other languages that use the Roman alphabet, orthography and pronunciation are rigidly consistent.

                  I'm not an expert in this, but I've always assumed that the vagaries of English spelling came from its wide variety of sources.

                  The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

                  by sidnora on Sun May 15, 2011 at 09:39:41 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  And English has unlimited idioms (0+ / 0-)

                We're constantly inventing new idioms, so non-native speakers just can't keep up.

                In German, for example, you can (eventually) learn all the idioms. Never in English.

                Enjoy the San Diego Zoo's panda cam.oo!

                by Fonsia on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:02:16 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  English difficulty (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Simian, mmacdDE, karmsy, Jantman

              It need not be so difficult to communicate in English. It would be difficult to communicate in English and sound like you grew up in England or America, but you can get the point across without getting caught up in the minutiae of the language. Tripping over such things may prove difficult in a contractual context, for example, where word meanings are very precise; but just getting around from day to day doesn't require the familiarity with the language that comes with studying the language and its literature as a native speaker at the university level.

              -5.38 -4.72 T. Atlas shrugged. Jesus wept.

              by trevzb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:49:31 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  The biggest drawback (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              karmsy, Jantman

              is the character set.

              English uses 26 characters. Some punctuation marks, sure, but most people can get by with 4 - period, comma, question mark, apostrophe.

              So with 30 characters, and 10 digits, you can write almost anything you need - in English.

              What number of characters would you need in Chinese?

              English is only a nightmare to learn as a second language because it's inconsistent. It doesn't have a truly complex grammar (not that gets used, anyway).

              What it does have is maddening inconsistencies. Why is rough pronounced the same as ruff, but ghost is pronounced goest? Shouldn't gh be pronounced the same? Why doesn't enough rhyme with cough? And if the possessive of it is its, why isn't the possessive of he hes?

              Why is the plural of deer deer and not deers? And why is the plural of mouse mice and not mouses? The plural of house is houses...

              That's why English is so hard.

              But to be fair, if you said ANY of those 'wrong' things, people would STILL understand what you meant.

              Which is why English is so widely used.

        •  Classical Latin vs Vulgar Latin (6+ / 0-)

          Even in Roman times, there were two distinct versions of the Latin language.  Classical Latin was a highly structured literary language which was rarely actually spoken (the Roman elite often spoke Greek instead), while Vulgar Latin was the everyday language of the common people, which varied across the Empire even from its earliest days.  It was the latter that evolved into the Romance languages, while Classical Latin evolved into Church Latin which was also used primarily for writing, while priests conversed in the local language.

          The Chinese family of languages - comparable not to any one European language but to families like Romance or Germanic - historically incorporated a similar divide.  The probable reason for the persistence of Chinese characters is that they do a lot to overcome the spoken language divide.  A person who speaks Mandarin can write something down that can be understood perfectly by someone who speaks Cantonese, while even closely related European languages look as different as they sound, in that the written language directly expresses sounds rather than ideas.

          •  Fascinating point about (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            asterlil, HylasBrook

            written Chinese--thanks. Years ago, I worked at a job with a Mandarin-speaking coworker and a Cantonese-speaking one. I once saw the co-worker from Beijing start to address the Hong Kong native one in her native tongue, and the guy said, "Hold on, I speak Cantonese. English, please." But you're saying they could have written notes to each other!

            It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

            by karmsy on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:05:09 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  passing notes across all of East Asia (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              The aristocrats of countries like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam that fell into Imperial China's sphere of influence also used Chinese characters for writing.  This allowed them to read books written in China and arguably facilitated the transfer of religious, political, and artistic ideas from China across East Asia.

              It worked less well because while the various Chinese languages have most of their grammar in common with each other, these other languages didn't just sound different from Chinese.  The fact that these countries have since developed distinct writing methods is a testament to this.  Even Japan, which still uses the Chinese characters, has to combine them with native phonetic symbols in order to fully transcribe the Japanese language.

        •  A language is considered 'dead' when there are (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          karmsy, vacantlook

          no native speakers of it -- that is, children who no longer learn the language naturally because their parents and community speak it.

          Latin evolved into Italian, and heavily influenced  'Romance" languages - French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian.

          Latin wasn't "lost" like Native American languages and other languages of people whose culture died out.

          It was kept alive because it was used by the Church.  There were also new Latin words introduced into Church Latin to accommodate new meanings and new concepts.

          That's why there's a distinction between Latin - Classical Latin, and Church Latin.

          Also, part of the Renaissance scholarship was reconstructing classical Latin from original Roman texts, not by using Church latin.

          HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

          by HylasBrook on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:56:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  You're both ignoring late (11+ / 0-)

        19th and early 20th century activities which essentially outlawed other languages.

        Until 1920, Cumberland county, North Carolina had a Gaidhlig and speaking Scottish population maintained by Gaidhlig Laguage schools. The schools were shut down in 1906, and the last Gaidhlig language church service was in 1960.

        North Carolina made it illegal for the Ghaidhlig polyglots of North Carolina to teach their language in schools.

        Similar activities took place around the country, and we are culturally poorer for it.

        An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail.

        by OllieGarkey on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:18:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  part of the reason (4+ / 0-)

          that English sounds similar in most parts of the US is from the homogenizing effect of mass communications -- first radio, then and especially television.

          You can still hear strong regional dialects in places like Eastern Maine, the Appalachians, parts of the South (and accents, as I'm sure you know, differ widely there). Although even those will probably be mostly gone in another generation.

          I live in North Carolina, and it took a couple of years for my ear to become attuned to the local dialect. I've found it easier at times to understand people in rural Scotland and in France.

          Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why. -- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

          by Mnemosyne on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:19:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I live in Central IN (7+ / 0-)

            and I can tell the difference between the accents of someone 100 miles north of me versus 100 miles south.  I don't think regional accents are as suppressed as many people think they are.

            It is what it is. It will be what I make it.

            by Alexandra Lynch on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:58:19 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I can hear the differences (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Alexandra Lynch, cpresley

              between eastern New England and western New England. The divide is pretty much along the Connecticut River. And then there's Maine . . .

              But the regionals are fading. Listen to the older people, and then listen to the kids who've grown up getting all their news from the talking hairdos on the tube. For that matter, listen to the talking hairdos -- they're pretty much studio standard.

              Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why. -- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

              by Mnemosyne on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:19:43 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  It's true - but there are still some regional (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mnemosyne, hayden

            characteristics of English that can be picked up.

            I can always recognize a Canadian speaker on the phone - how they pronounce words and have a slight lift in pitch at the end of a sentence.

            Other regional clues are terms they use for common items - 'pop' from the MidWest, 'tonic' in Boston for 'soda'

            I think some those regionalized common terms have diminished with the advent of mass media.

            HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

            by HylasBrook on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:09:44 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  I swear that I typed "Gaidhlig and English" (0+ / 0-)

          speaking there.

          Oh well.

          An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail.

          by OllieGarkey on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:38:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Just like the way the English tried to suppress (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Gaelic, and Americans tried to suppress Native American languages.

          HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

          by HylasBrook on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:04:48 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  That's not where "trek" is from or what it meant. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        deli lama

        "Trek" is from Dutch proper (Afrikaans is a creole largely originated in Dutch as well, but it only became a true taal after 1900).  It did not mean "travel" originally, but obtained that meaning because of its actual definition circa the 17th century (and today): the imperative form of trekken, to pull.  That command ("trek!") was given by Dutch-speaking freeburghers (and people of mixed descent who had similar lifestyles) to their oxen trains and as a signal to companion drivers when they set off on journeys to occupy new chunks of territory.  These individuals became known, over time, as "trekboers" or "trekkers," and the word "trek" became shorthand for long journeys or migrations which is how it entered into English.

        English is also today only one of eleven official languages of South Africa.  English and Dutch had parity until 1925, when "Afrikaans" as a newly codified language replaced high Dutch.  If you do research in South African history before the 1920s, knowing Afrikaans is less helpful than a mastery of high Dutch, including the archaic cases and usages.  After 1994, the number was expanded to the current 11.  English is actually only the fifth most widely spoken language in the country.  If you go to the rural Transkei or KZN, you will be in a bit of a pickle with only English.  The majority of Afrikaans home-language speakers, by the way, also aren't "white" people (as classified by the old government and self-identified).

        While these may seem like nitpicks, my doctoral fields are the history of southern Africa and comparative settler history so correcting such errors kind of falls in my wheelhouse.  It's also important to understand the social dynamics at work in such a word and in language more generally.  In a way, it actually underscores your point even more, because the speakers of proto-Afrikaans absorbed the speakers of various Khoisan-related languages to create the creole that became the proto-Afrikaans of the Cape hinterland.  Today, most speakers of Bantu S-group langauges want to learn English, even though instruction is never widespread enough for anyone's liking.

    •  blame the railroads (13+ / 0-)

      the railroads by establishing a then amazing speed of
      30 MPH travel across long distance, allowed
      the people to move across long distances and
      fostered commerce that needed a commercial language.

      George Bush is Living proof of the axiom "Never send a boy to do a man's job" E -2.25 S -4.10

      by nathguy on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:25:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Think this is right . . . (0+ / 0-)

        High levels of mobility aided by technological innovation -- ranging from the railroads, to steamboats, to telegraph; etc, etc, etc. -- mixed with an immigrant population.

        Even putting aside the idea of a single nation state where multiple languages are spoken side by side -- you could look at a place like Europe where a three to four hour train ride in any direction is likely to put you in an area where another language is spoken.

        •  this continent was still repopulating (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sidnora, NotGeorgeWill

          after the 16th century indian plagues had reduced their society to rubble and the european colonists came as the canals and railroads were driving commerce under a trade language.

          Brazil is huge and all portuguese.

          latin america is huge and all spanish.

          same effect

          George Bush is Living proof of the axiom "Never send a boy to do a man's job" E -2.25 S -4.10

          by nathguy on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:58:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Good points . . . (0+ / 0-)

            there was clearly a convergence of a number of different factors that resulted in the transformation.  The process is ongoing as well globally too.

            One estimate says two languages die off every month -- and that we've moved from a peak diversity of perhaps 20K languages to 6K today.

    •  "English only" an accomplishment? (6+ / 0-)

      I know the anti-immigrant haters on the right praise an "english only" nation and seek to ostracize everyone who speaks Spanish but I'm at a loss to understand why so many kossacks are reccing this ignorant diary.

      I'm a Native American man so I understand full well how the Americans violently stamped out native languages in order to distroy our nations cohesion and mis-educate our children. But I sure as hell wouldn't list it as an "accomplishment" unless one believes genocide is an accomplishment.

      America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

      by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:01:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  why I HR'd this diarys tip jar (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenInCO, TiaRachel, cai, icemilkcoffee, Ritter

        I was a victim of the hate filled "english only" movement as were my nation and millions of other Indian people in the USA. I was sent to a BIA boarding school where our native language was forbidden and we kids were punished severly for speaking our language. My parents and Grandparents also suffered the same fate before me.

        It took the Americans many generations of violent suppression to distroy most native languages and my people still have not recovered from it. Our children were stolen and taken to far away boarding schools and forced to speak "english only' by beatings and other violent methods. Our hair was shorn too
        and now most Americans have uniformly short hair. Would you and/or the diarist call that a great accomplishment.

        Just what kind of "accomplishment" is that?

        America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

        by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:14:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  you've totally misread the diary (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        it's discussing how odd it is that we have an english-only mentality in this country and examples like india and china are cited as countries that have numerous languages spoken and how no one thinks it's weird at all in those places.

        please read the diary again.  i think you'll be surprised.

        i have to go uprate it now to counteract your HR.

        hope springs eternal and DAMN is she getting tired!

        by alguien on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:55:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think YOU misread it. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TiaRachel, cacamp, luckydog, Ritter
          The extent to which the United States has succeeded in establishing a common language, across a continent and through three hundred million people, remains an amazing, if much-ignored, accomplishment.

          That is one of the most offensive and ignorant statements I've ever read in a recommended diary. The United States "succeeded" through the genocide of the Native American population.

        •  Other countries, with multiple other languages, (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cacamp, KenInCO, Ritter

          also have multiple indigenous populations which developed in roughly the same place over many generations.

          In the US, many of these populations were wiped out (both deliberately and through the spread of various diseases, which were themselves sometimes deliberately spread). And those which weren't wiped out were driven into isolated reservations, where even then their native language/cultures were forcibly suppressed.

          On top of that,  immigrant communities were pressured to lose their original languages, not that that practice has stopped any.

          Any nation in the world could achieve a similar unilingualism -- if they were willing to wipe out most of the people involved and pressure the rest to abandon their ancestral languages & the culture that goes along with it. (Something that is happening here and there, if you look for it.)

          •  franco tried to do that in spain (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TiaRachel, KenInCO

            from the 1930s until the 70s when he died.

            but there are still about 3 or 4 different languages spoken there besides castillian (which is the spanish language we're familiar with in north america)

            hope springs eternal and DAMN is she getting tired!

            by alguien on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:37:12 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  we are nowhere near the only (0+ / 0-)

            nation on this planet who has tried to wipe out native populations or otherwise homogenize their society.

            •  so what? (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              KenInCO, TiaRachel

              are you saying genocide is good if several countries do it?

              America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

              by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:20:10 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  I thought I'd implied that. (0+ / 0-)

              But we're certainly among the more successful.

              And this particular diary celebrates something which is a result, if not entirely, of that.

              •  proof please (0+ / 0-)

                there are millenia of such acts going on and you somehow think we've cornered the market in 200 plus years? Give me a break. The Spanish conquest of Central/South America alone was more brutal, killed more people, took more land and wealth.

                •  'Among the most successful' (0+ / 0-)

                  Key word: "Among". I'll point you here:

                  World English Dictionary
                  among or amongst (əˈmʌŋ) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

                  1.      in the midst of: he lived among the Indians
                  2.      to each of: divide the reward among yourselves
                  3.      in the group, class, or number of: ranked among the greatest writers
                  4.      taken out of (a group): he is only one among many
                  5.      with one another within a group; by the joint action of: a lot of gossip among the women employees; decide it among yourselves

                  •  now try the definition for most (0+ / 0-)

                    and successful and then look at history and you'll see your snark is woefully misplaced.

                    •  It wasn't snark. (0+ / 0-)

                      I chose my words carefully.

                      The US, which this diary is about, is one among in the group of nations which owe their existence (among along with several unique characteristics, such as linguistic unity), to the brutal treatment of indigenous/minority groups. And among within that group of nations, it's among one of those in which those brutal actions were the most successful (in terms of their generally deliberate intent to wipe out/eliminate variant ways of life). See: the assertions of this diary.

                      Saying that the US is "one of the most successful" isn't asserting that other nations haven't also been successful. It also isn't saying that others haven't been more successful. There's an odd kind of American Exceptionalism in which the US is *always either the very best or the absolute worst, which I suspect is informing your reactions here. I don't buy into any of that.

                      •  for the love of... (0+ / 0-)

                        calling something among the most successful means it does something better than most, it's among a group that have been "most successful."

                        It's almost impossible to find a nation that wasn't created in the last 75 years or so that DOESN'T have a brutal treatment of elements within it's borders or during it's expansion.

                        It's laughable when you consider the scale of death, looting, and misery done by the Spanish, and Portuguese in Latin America blows away anything we've done.

                        The French, British, and German atrocities throughout their history in the Americas, Africa, and IndoChina/India also makes us look like neophytes.

                        Russia's treatment of indigenous folk was horrendous.

                        The interloping of European powers in the middle east has directly led to the death, killing and conflict there today.

                        Japanese raping and killing in Manchuria and the rest of China is at least as horrendous on a human scale as our entire history.

                        This isn't about "as successful" it is the fact that our period was not only short compared to many of those nations, but involved much fewer deaths, misery, etc.

        •  no I didn't misread, it's just wrong (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenInCO, TiaRachel

          the diarist fails to explain either how his so-called "accomplishment" was accomplished or how in fact it's an accomplishment at all. You and the diarist choose to conveniently ignore the murder and genocide that took place. Just like the "english only' wingnuts choose to ignore their racist motivations.

          America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

          by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:18:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Up to a point, could be honest ignorance. (0+ / 0-)

            So much history (past & current events) has been hidden, forgotten, gone unreported... and that which is taught is often intellectually segmented. The links between now/then, here/there/that other place, have been left out.

            By which I mean, that 'convenient choice' you mention might well be unconscious, a response to/result of the choices of others.

            That excuse only works up to a point, of course.

      •  No, genocide is not a positive accomplishment... (0+ / 0-)

        but it is accomplished by genocidal maniacs.

        We finally "accomplished" the demise of the passenger pigeon, the large mammals of North America, and in Tasmania, they finally "accomplished" the demise of the thylacine (Tasmanian Wolf).

        I think by the use of the word, it means that those who did it tried very hard to get it done in as little time as possible. Maybe that is in the author's mind, I dunno.

        And once something/someone living is gone, you can never get them back again. I don't truly believe that technology will solve the sin of purposeful extermination.

        Ugh. --UB.

    •  It would be strange if english (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      developed here. As it was imported through colonization, and considering that there has always been an english only mindset in this country what I find more interesting is a place like Miami, FL where you never need to learn english. I guess you've never been there though or you would have immediately realized how wrong your premise was.

    •  "The Story of English"... Great Series! (0+ / 0-)

      Teaches you tons of how and why English got to be the way it is and where it is... Somewhat dated, but not in terms of the research. Simply does not cover the time from the 1986 series. The book HAS been recently updated.

      Wiki article:

      YT of episode 1/7 part one, and you get linked through to the others. Sit back, it's a long ride!
      (The series is NOT available for sale!!!!)

      Episode list:
      An English Speaking World
      The Mother Tongue
      A Muse of Fire
      The Guid Scots Tongue
      Black on White
      Pioneer O Pioneer
      Muvver Tongue
      The Loaded Weapon
      Next Year's Words


      Ugh. --UB.

  •  I have learned a bit of Spanish over the years (33+ / 0-)

    enough to know that while mutually intelligible, there are still some major differences between Spanish spoken in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Argentina, Puerto Rico or Central America.  Much more difference than in English across the US, oe even between the US and UK.

    Politics is like driving. To go forward, put it in "D". To go backward, put it in "R".

    by TX Freethinker on Thu May 12, 2011 at 10:58:13 PM PDT

    •  Indeed. In the Caribbean countries, Mexico, (25+ / 0-)

      Central America and Colombia, it's called Español. But in all other Spanish speaking countries, including Spain itself, it's called Castellano. And because more than half of the populations of Argentina and Uruguay are of Italian descent, the Spanish spoken there has intonation more closely related to the Neapolitan dialect of Italian than other kinds of Spanish. The use of "vos" instead of "tú" also makes Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and most of Central America stand out. But everyone can understand each other (for the most part) and even with funny regionalisms, they're often widely known in other countries (think of loo and lift, for example.) Interesting stuff, for sure.

      Ladrões do povo, fora! Corruptos, fora! Assassinos, fora! Gritem comigo pra essa gente ir embora!

      by bozepravde15 on Thu May 12, 2011 at 11:17:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think you're forgetting indigenous folks... (29+ / 0-) Central and South American countries. Lotsa indigenous folks speak little or no Spanish. Spanish is not ubiquitous.

        Same is true worldwide in regards to the language of the colonizers, of course.

      •  "Vos" (5+ / 0-)

        is a more familiar "Usted" and used almost exclusively in Spain
        I checked my spanish here:

        The forms are:

        singular                            plural
        I - yo                          we - nosotros

        informal you - tú         informal you - vosotros     

        formal you, he, she - usted, él, ella         formal you, they - usted, ellos     

        "My case is alter'd, I must work for my living." Moll Cut-Purse, The Roaring Girl - 1612, England's First Actress

        by theRoaringGirl on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:03:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  i live in argentina where 'vos' is used by all (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kyril, Tookish, mrkvica

          "Kill 'em with Coupons: Paul Ryan's Road to From Medicare to Manslaughter"

          by memofromturner on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:08:44 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  That's 100% Wrong (8+ / 0-)

          Vos is equivalent to -- both meaning 'you' and used for one familiar person-- and used in parts of Central America (Costa Rica, for one) and South America (Argentina, Uruguay and Chile).

          Vosotros-- a plural 'you' used with familiar people-- is used in Spain exclusively. The rest of the Hispanic world has leveled the plural 'you' to one word: ustedes.

          The differences in regional dialects in the Hispanic world can be dramatic-- certain phonetics, vocabulary items (usually reflecting the native languages spoken around the Spanish colonizers back in the day). However, the language itself doesn't differ essentially from country to country. I can go out in Spain with my own Puerto Rican/Mexican accent (I'm gringo but fluent in Spanish from living in PR, Spain and CA) and be understood in any Spanish-speaking country. Maybe not in the parts of Spain where Spanish isn't the first language (Cataluña, Galicia, parts of the Basque Country).

          Not so easy with Portuguese. The differences between the Portuguese spoken in Portugal (nominally the mother country, but it has completely lost control over the development of the language) and that spoken in Brazil (where the vast majority of Portuguese speakers lives) are so extreme that the two dialects are almost mutually incomprehensible. Not just phonetic (although the differences are big) and in vocabulary, but in actual points of grammar. I can get by pretty well in Brazilian Portuguese-- it would take a few days to get up to comfort if I were there, but I could do it--, but I think I'd have real problems trying to get by in Portugal.

          French in France and French spoken in Québec are fairly different-- mostly in pronunciation; the French find the Québecois accent a bit comical. The French dialect we speak (in diminishing numbers) in Cajun Louisiana is very, very different; the pronunciation is close to Québecois, but the vocabulary and grammar reflect Spanish and English influences and, according to some grammar historians, 17th-century French. I studied French in college and can get by in Québec (with the strong Cajun accent of my relatives); I wouldn't even try in France. I'm a coward that way...!


          by CajunBoyLgb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:51:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm fluent in Brazilian Portuguese (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            CajunBoyLgb, Sychotic1, cpresley, luckydog

            being half Brazilian myself, and I had no problem understanding European Portuguese after some exposure to it. European Portuguese is similar to Brazilian Portuguese in that what people speak on the street is vastly different from the stiff, proscribed literary language, which uses so many archaic verb forms that are hardly ever used in spoken language anymore. Problem is, most Brazilians never have any exposure to other dialects of Portuguese, but instead are more exposed to Spanish. Angolan Portuguese, for example, shares many similar features to Brazilian Portuguese, but other Lusophone culture and music isn't very popular in Brazil, because they have such a large domestic music scene and so much culture. That may be changing, though, as Brazil takes the lead among the few Portuguese speaking countries in the world.

            Ladrões do povo, fora! Corruptos, fora! Assassinos, fora! Gritem comigo pra essa gente ir embora!

            by bozepravde15 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:24:53 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  I've heard that Quebecois French is (4+ / 0-)

            somewhat analogous to the French spoken in pre-Revolutionary France. From what I can tell (and genuine linguists can correct me), the way in which words like "roi," or king, are spelled in the old 17th-century documents (like "roy") seems to jibe with an accent in which words like "toi et moi" (you and me) are sometimes pronounced "tuay et moay."

            Acadian French in eastern Canada is interesting, too. Its accent is probably closest to Cajun French, as the two groups were separated during the period of the Expulsion. But the interesting thing is the way in which Acadian Francophones will often switch seamlessly back and forth -- sometimes in mid-sentence -- between pitch-perfect English and French. I don't mean a few English words dropped in here and there, but rather switching from one to the other halfway through an idea.

            Incidentally, I'm noticing how difficult it is to talk about language without talking about cultural conflict. the Great Expulsion of Acadians in eastern Canada; the systematic erasure of indigenous languages in English-speaking schools; the imposition of English as the lingua franca of the elite in countries like India... there's no getting away from the relationship between linguistic divisions and historical antagonisms of class or race.

            Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of non-thought. -- Milan Kundera

            by Dale on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:14:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  switching back and forth, mid-sentence, requires.. (0+ / 0-)

              ...being able to think in both languages. At least, it seems so based on my experience.

              That's a real cool point in becoming multi-lingual - that point when you realize that you're thinking in this second language, you're no longer thinking in your native language and translating as fast as you can into the second language.

              'Course, when you wake up from a dream, and realize that you were dreaming in your second or third language...pretty amazing, the human mind.

              'Course, again...I recognize that if someone is forced to shed their native language for a second, what I'm describing as a positive experience is actually more like torture for the person being forced.

          •  Schools Don't See the Difference Either (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            My daughter has been studying Spanish for three year and every teacher has been from a different Spanish speaking area. The first year her teacher was from Mexico and she learned Spanish with a Mexican accent, then the next year the teacher was from Spain, so she learned a new acccent and the various regional differences. This year the teacher is from a different part of Mexico then the first year teacher and she is learning regional difference that exist within Mexico.

          •  Haitian Kreyol retains some anachronistic... (0+ / 0-)

            ...phrases that have dropped out of current French usage, similarly to Cajun French and Old French in Louisiana. I enjoy that sorta texture and dimension.

            I highly recommend that you give a go at letting go of your inhibitions concerning speaking whatever version of French you're most comfortable with while in France.

            Me? with my range of accents? In France and other spots, it's interesting and fun to experience the wide variations of interpretations that folks make about my background based on circumstance and conversation...


          •  Then, (0+ / 0-)

            the site needs to be corrected.

            My spanish is very rusty, and I relied on that site.

            "My case is alter'd, I must work for my living." Moll Cut-Purse, The Roaring Girl - 1612, England's First Actress

            by theRoaringGirl on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:01:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  You were thinking of vosotros (0+ / 0-)

          Getting confused between vosotros and vos is a very common mistake, though.

          Ladrões do povo, fora! Corruptos, fora! Assassinos, fora! Gritem comigo pra essa gente ir embora!

          by bozepravde15 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:26:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Accents (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        There is differences in the accents but quite minimal, considering the distances and multitude of countries, in vocabulary. There is more distance in vocabulary between US and UK English

        •  Noticeable differences (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kyril, Tookish, Odysseus, cpresley

          I learned "Mexican Spanish" which is what is taught and used in California where I grew up.
          I now have family in Chile, travel there frequently, and am learning the difference betwen Chilean Spanish and Mexican Spanish.
          Chileans use aca and alla instead of aqui and Alli.  They drop the end of words a lot. (Ex: 'Porfa" for Por favor.)There's quite a few vocabulary changes, like palta for aguacate and pavo for guajolote. The term gringo was unknown to Chile untill recently. A lot of Mexican Spanish words come from Aztec and Mayan cultures---in Chilean not so much having come from Inca and MApuche cultures

          I've traveled in Britain and I didn't have trouble understanding the language, tho its hardest in Scotland.

          Happy just to be alive

          by exlrrp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:06:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sure (0+ / 0-)

            That's why Oscar Wilde said "The Americans are identical to the British in all respects except, of course, language."

            Mexican Spanish as I said up thread may be the most different, particularly the dialect developed in the Usa full of Spanglish. On all the other forms of national Spanish dialects the difference is lesser than between English countries

            In fact there is a common language academy fr all Spanish speaking countries

          •  "Mexican Spanish" (0+ / 0-)

            As I travelled across Mexico on a couple different occasions, i became abundantly clear to me that Mexico has as many dialects as the USA or UK do.

            Several times, when I told someone I was from San Diego, near Tijuana, their response was "oh, I can barely understand those people."
            I finally asked one man what he meant, and he said, they talk too fast and it's like they're singing their words. Who can follow that?

            I knew I communicated less easily in some areas than in others. But I figured it was just my gringa brain not keeping up.

            It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... - C Dickens.

            by grover on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:51:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Untrue (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      saluda, rhubarb, kyril, Simian

      Spanish between different Spanish speaking countries maybe be more diverse than English inside the US. That is only logical, but the difference between British or Irish English and American English or South African English or Aussie or Kiwi English are far greater than between the Spanish spoken in Colombia, Argentina, Cuba or Spain.

      Mexican Spanish is maybe the most different to the others for several reasons: the influence of the native languages, still very much alive and with a good number of speakers, and the creeping influence of Spanglish

      •  I'm not so sure about that. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kyril, Catte Nappe

        We had a guy from Argentina living with us for a while, and let me tell you, his Spanish was quite different from what I was exposed to in Costa Rica.  Probably the most noticeable difference was that the ever-common "ll" was pronounced "sh" instead of "y".  Eg, "ella" is "e-sha" instead of "ey-ya".  

        •  That's accent (0+ / 0-)

          not really a change in vocabulary. Argentinians and Spaniards have the most distinctive accents in the Spanish speaking populations, but still the vocabulary, the grammar, is all pretty much the same.

          Any Spanish speaker can understand very clearly an Argentinean or Spaniard. How many people in the USA can't understand a Scott, or a Brit from Liverpool or London 14.

        •  i grew up w/ mexican spanish and now live in (8+ / 0-)

's hard to get used to saying "po-zho" for chicken and "ka-zhay" for street

          i forgot the other day and asked for a servilleta...i was met by a blank stare until i said "servi-zheta"

          "Kill 'em with Coupons: Paul Ryan's Road to From Medicare to Manslaughter"

          by memofromturner on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:12:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  But the Cadence of Argentinian Spanish... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Catte Nappe

            That Italian rhythm is quite seductive to my ears.

            I find it fun to compare conversational speed between countries. Colombian Spanish tends to fly, as does Cuban and Andaluz. Mexican Spanish is more relaxed. Castillian Spanish is somewhere inbetween. The ceceo in Castillian (pronouncing capaz as "capath" or especie as "espethie") still takes some getting used to...!

            OT, but is anyone else as excited as I am about a new Almodóvar film coming out? La piel que habito, which is premiéring in Cannes, looks awesome...!!! A Venezuelan blog says that we might see it in the U.S. in September. ¡Qué gozada!


            by CajunBoyLgb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:12:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I asked my friend from Mexico City about this, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Iberian, Catte Nappe

        and he said he understands all Spanish speakers from other countries just fine, be they from Argentina, Spain, or the Dominican Republic.  Even though those accents and usages of Spanish are quite distinct, they all fall within the range of validity to any native Spanish speaker.

        Having a policy does not mean receiving care. -- Tzimisce

        by Miggles on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:44:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  There's more consistency (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      outside of Spain than within. Castillian Spanish was what was exported. When I lived in Spain, it was always amazing to see the different languages: Catalan and Basque, of course. But also, Galician, Aragonese, Valenciano. Many websites there have five languages on them. Everyone knows Castillian Spanish, however.

  •  I like to say that it's (24+ / 0-)

    only an historical coincidence that Americans speak English. We could just as easily be speaking French, Dutch, Spanish, or Portuguese, not to mention German, or Iroquois.

    •  English is a germanic language, not celtic. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The celts were the indigenous people of England and were supplanted by European nobility.  The lingua franca of any country does not percolate from the bottom-up, but is imposed from on-high as a method of organizing a society.

      I was born in Slovenia.  We spoke Slovenian and Prek Murski regional dialect.  Prek Murje was once part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, so Prek Murski is liberally sprinkled with both German and Hungarian.   In the Gorica region of Slovenia which shares a border with Italy, the Slovenian is spiced with lots of Italian!

      "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal" ~Albert Camus & "Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted" ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

      by Aidos on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:17:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You calling Britons Celts? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I recall that Celts from Scandinavia (distinct from native Britons) invaded after the Roman occupation, followed by Normans/Saxons.

        •  Actually Celts (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fisheye, Aidos

          were scattered over all of Europe, Germany and France mainly. They were a big tribe. I do not remember the Celts being in Scandinavia.

          Scot also was from Irish invaders ( the actual name "Scot"  actually means something along that lines), Britons were one of the oldest exstablishment if I remember correctly. You also have the Pics around with the Britons.

          You later have the Juts, Angles, Danish, Norse, then of course the Saxons, Normans (many feel Normans should be classified way from France in an odd way), a smather of Spanish genes can be from the Spainish from the armada washing up.

          For such a little island they have many genetic, languistic, culture makeups. I am not even going into the Mercia, Wales, Cornish, Yorkshire, Devonshire, Etc make up of different tribes that were formed from the mixture of above.

        •  Scandinavians aren't Celts (6+ / 0-)

          They're Norse. The Celts came from (more or less) France, and were more-or-less the original inhabitants of the British Isles. The Norse, Germanic (Angle and Saxon), and Roman waves came later.

          TooFolk, "rectums" my thesis is on rectums. The medical, psychological, sociological, and legal consequences. -Aidos

          by kyril on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:13:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  What about the lingua franca of Denmark? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        For hundreds of years the nobility of Denmark spoke French only and could not understand what their citizenry said.  Finally, a Danish king finally learned to speak Danish, so in a sense the language did percolate up.  Now to turn the tables, the current queen of Denmark married a man from France.  And he had quite a struggle learning to pronounce Danish properly.  Once when he attempted to say that he was going deer hunting, he instead said that he was going donkey hunting!

        Having a policy does not mean receiving care. -- Tzimisce

        by Miggles on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:49:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Also... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Look at Francoist Spain. To quash rebellion in the provinces where Spanish was not the main language-- Galicia, Cataluña, the Basque Country--, and to unite the Iberian Peninsula linguistically, Franco basically imposed Castillian Spanish on the populace of Spain. Castillian was taught in the schools in place of the local languages (Galicia's people speak gallego, a dialect of Portuguese, which is actually the mother language of Spanish), and more importantly radio, film and TV personalities were expected to speak Castillian. Foreign films were dubbed into Castillian (instead of being subtitled); this also powerfully pushed Castillian into public conversational use. The other languages went underground, more or less, supplanted by Castillian.

        Catalán never died, thankfully, and since Franco's death it has had a bit of a renaissance. Gallego is still spoken in Galicia, and gets a lot of linguistic support from Portugal. Basque is a very fragmented language; as I understand it, the main dialect is euskara batua but there are many linguistically distinctive variants, to the extent of actual separate and mutually incomprehensible versions in remote areas of the País Vasco. Young Basque people are reviving the language, thankfully; it's the only pre-Indo-European language still alive in Europe.


        by CajunBoyLgb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:35:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Cajun, I've heard that Basque may be African... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          it's such an old language that predates all the other European languages and is a linguistic isolate.   Some have posited that its roots go back to Africa.  Which is interesting.  I wonder if there is a discipline that combines linguistics with genetics as a scientific and direct way of studying migration of humans as well as the spread of language.

          I'm thinking out loud.

          A grad student just phoned me to ask permission to meet with me, for my help her to pick a thesis and to develop that thesis.  

          So I'm thinking academically today.  

          There is a discipline I recall as "comparative linguistics" that uses history compared with linguistic change.

          But I don't think anyone, as yet, has tried to study genetics and linguistics, comparing how language changes due to migration and assimilation of genes.

          "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal" ~Albert Camus & "Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted" ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

          by Aidos on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:28:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Basque Is a Wild Child Language (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Someone had told me years ago that they thought it was a Cro-Magnon language, since all the words for tools were derived from the word for 'stone'...!

            I've since heard that this was ridiculous, but still...!

            A teacher I had once in Spain stated in class that the Basque terrorist separatist group ETA had to hold all of its official meetings in Spanish, not any Basque dialect (even the "official" euskara), since so few of them spoke any common dialect well enough to hold conversations. Again-- I don't know that for certain (this guy was a bit of a nationalist). But it's not impossible to picture.

            Your idea of genetic linguistics is interesting. There used to be a discipline called sociolinguistics that took a socio-historical view of the development of languages and dialects (dialectology itself was a sub-discipline)-- point-in-time and over generations. Adding a genetic overlay would certainly enrich the field. Or confuse it hopelessly.

            Oh well-- I'm not in linguistics any more, having fallen into institutional finance. Less syntactic sentence diagramming, more statistics!


            by CajunBoyLgb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:00:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Cajun, and more $$$. Ciao! n/t (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal" ~Albert Camus & "Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted" ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

              by Aidos on Fri May 13, 2011 at 01:15:58 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  So other than trolling here, you also don't know (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        anything about the English language. Awesome. English is a melange of Latin, Anglo-Norman, and Anglo-Saxo (ie. Old English, which had its roots in Germanic languages as well as in some Scandinavian ones like Norse).

        Now you're on my turf.

        And I am so sorry but that turf has nothing to do with my rectum. I hope you're more qualified to write about that than you are about the history of the English language which you've botched.

        The lingua franca of a country is always in flux. It is both imposed as a type of power structure from the top-down and then too, always in flux due to fissures in that structure from the bottom up (pun intended, but it's true in this context as well). An example of this kind of resistance would be current flows of Spanish prepositional idioms permeating contemporary vernacular in California, as well as many, many other examples.

        Trolling for mojo to offset your HR's by making completely false propositions about the origins of the English Language, are we?

    •  missed the point (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ian Reifowitz, exlrrp, kyril, fidel, martydd

      the actual language is not the point.  the point is a
      common language that united a country of immigrants.

      an amazing feat in itself.  and the reason this country
      has florished.  and until recently was a pretty cohesive
      society without hypens until the media created them.

  •  well, not so much... (26+ / 0-) version of English understandable by all Americans.

    All Americans who speak English, I mean. 'Cause there's a buncha Americans who don't speak English. And I figure they're still Americans.

    Tho' those folks aside...

    Nah, there's more than one English language at play in the US. I mean, afterall, we have public figures who routinely use words that aren't even really English. Like "refudiate".

    We have other figures who have talked about Americans "working hard to put food on their families" - a phrase that many or most English speakers would have problems understanding.

    And we had this recently-popular exclamation out there in the public conversation - "Keep your guvmint hands off my Medicare!" Lotsa folks not saying that were trying to figure out what the phrase really meant.

    And 'course, that speaks to all those code words that mean different things to different people. Here in the US, we even have a television network that seems to hyper-specialize in alteration of the understanding of English words like "truth" and "fair" and "balanced".

    Yeah, it pretty much does seem like there's more than one English language at play in the US.

    Just saying and all.

    •  and if someone has mastered Mandarin... (11+ / 0-)

      ...which is an endeavor that takes considerable effort (especially for a Westerner) and time, someone would have certainly been exposed to the fact that putonghua represents the effort to bridge regional dialects in China. Or perhaps it represents the effort to impose Northern Chinese dialects on the whole country.

      And that someone who has mastered a Chinese dialect would have also learned that in Chinese, no matter which dialect, the change of tone indicates not different emphasis as it does in English. That tone change on a syllable changes the meaning of the syllable.

      Which is why the Chinese syllable "ma" - by itself - can be pronounced in different ways to mean mother, or grandmother, or horse, or tagged onto the end of a phrase to indicate a question mark.

      'Course, the syllable "ma" may also be incorporated into a multi-syllabic word, which can further confuse conversation.

      However, it should be noted that Chinese folks tend to compensate for this effect - they tend to communicate context for conversational ease, especially early in a conversation.


      •  I'm surprised (5+ / 0-)

        you didn't add the most useful meaning of "ma" in Chinese: marijuana. :)

        by Inoljt on Thu May 12, 2011 at 11:49:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  perhaps useful, tho' a rare reference... (4+ / 0-)

 the China of my experience.


        •  I would debate that. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ban nock, Oh Mary Oh

          Given the fact it is the particle that changes a spoken statement to a question.

          But complicating matters, it is also a balance particle in some dialects placed at the end of a phrase, so the subtle tonal inflection preceeding it can be pertty importiant to differentiate statement/question as is context.

          "ma", "la", "ah", interchangeable but dialect-specific. Or worse: depends what flavor or Cantonese, Mandarian or Fujianese you are speaking.

          As a general rule, Cantonese is the most tonally complex and difficult to decode. More than 20 tones.

          My Cantonese is really terrible and full of code-switching errors - one of my HK collegues calls it "Mandanese". True.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:12:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Well, "hemp" literally. nt (0+ / 0-)

          If you want a link, I'll look for a link. If you really want it. Just ask.

          by Inland on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:28:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Partly true (15+ / 0-)

        See my comment elsewhere on Chinese.

        But I want to correct one point. Although Mandarian was originally synthesized using Beijing Dialect as a base, it includes quite a lot from other dialets (particularly Wu) and the preferred "official" accent of standardized Putonghua Mandarian is definately NOT the Dongbei accent native to Beijing but the Central-Eastern Anhui accent (which, incidentally, was transplanted to Beijing by Anhui Opera from which Peking Opera evolved).

        I would add that the linguists tasked with creating Putonghua (modern, standardized Mandarian) very purposely chose the Anhui intonation for it's relatively nutral and pleasant tone, although Mrs koNko who is native to Anhui (and a humorously entertaining Anhui Opera singer when the occassion arises) quite prefers the Suzhou dialect which I agree is actually much more elegant and pretty at least for female speakers. In fact, whenever we vist Suzhou she spends hours listening and practicing to sound more sweet and cultured and is a fan of Suzhou TV dramas. So there you go!

        Regarding context in in Chinese, the spoken and written forms are actually quite different with the latter very formal and flowery to the point of inpracticality, and in common spoken usage it is quite necessary to state subject and context because this may not be repeated in down-stream conversation which can be a challange for non-Chinese learning the language to master since the form of Western languages dictates complete sentances and paragraphs, which we find rather inconvenient - heck, if you have stated subject, why does it need repeating? LOL

        Some other points I think learners find difficult are classifiers, balance particles (ah and ma being examples) and the fact that so much of Chinese is highly idiomatic '(including the frequent use of like sounding words to replace the words that should be properly used) so if you dont know the idiom you may get quickly lost.

        This diary makes a very good point: English, because of it's broad vocabulary base and relatively straight-forward struture, is a fairly flexible and functional language, kind of a common-denominator if you like.

        And now compulsary in China.

        Now if I could only learn to spell it correctly ......

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 04:06:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Ah, the old "malleable meaning" phenomenon. (5+ / 0-)

        In America we can also mean at least half a dozen things by the way we enphasize and speak the words "Dude."  :)

        Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

        by bigtimecynic on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:47:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I studied Chinese in Chicago and it was a pain.... (6+ / 0-)

        when I got to China in 1981, as a newly-graduated RN going to the UThant United Nations Teaching Hospital in Ningbo, my Chinese was practically useless.

        I learned Mandarin Chinese at the Chinese-American Friendship League in Evanston,  and Ningbo is near Shanghai.  Very different and very confusing, to try to transact.  :)

        Additonally, the Wade-Giles romanization I had studied, was being converted into Pinyin!  So Peking had become Beijing!

        "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal" ~Albert Camus & "Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted" ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

        by Aidos on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:23:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Reminds me of Japan. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wolf Of Aquarius, mrkvica, Aidos, cpresley

          We went from Tokyo to Yamagata at one point during our trip back in 2006; all of us had been taught Tokyo-ben.  We got a hint of what we were in for when we had a native Japanese speaker from Tokyo make our reservations for us, and they had trouble communicating.  And it got worse -- at one point, we were on a ferry to sado ga shima, and there were two guys we were talking with who were not only from Yamagata, but drunk and slurring, too  ;)  My god, it took us forever just to make out the word "kotoba" (word)  ;)

          •  I live in Chicago, I've learned Midwestern (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TX Freethinker, luckydog, cpresley

            English.  I sound damn good!  LOL, I even got asked to do voice-overs ... for various parts and products.

            But I was born in Slovenia, a part of the former Yugoslavia, and my parent's speak a regional dialect of Slovenian called Prek Murski.  The Prek Murje was once part of the Astro-Hungarian empire, which used it as its Lippizan stud, so Prek Murski is rife with German and Hungarian words.  Prek Murski's sentences are structured in a germanic way, as opposed to traditional Slovenian.

            All that is almost moot, since Slovenia has joined the Eurpean Union and modern Slovenes are using English as their secondary language.

            "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal" ~Albert Camus & "Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted" ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

            by Aidos on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:09:38 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  And then there is Scottish English. (12+ / 0-)

      Arguably, mutually unintelligible to 90% of the English speaking world, rather like Wixi dialect in China.

      Without the magic decoder ring you may not get past the first sentance.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:01:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mumbai & Hindi (16+ / 0-)
    Eventually, after several painstaking months, you learn Kannada as spoken in Bangladore. Now you're really confident that you've got this thing down; you know both Hindi and a very local dialect.

    Kannada isn't a dialect. It's a language. It's a language of it's own.

    You fly to Mumbai.

    Except in Mumbai the people on the street don't speak Kannada, Hindi, or English. They speak Marathi. And a fair share of the elite speak English.

    Mumbai/Bombay is in the state Maharashtra. The local language of Maharashtra is Marathi.

    However, Mumbai is the one place in Maharashtra where you can manage very well without knowing Marathi. Hindi is as prevalent in Mumbai as Marathi.

    Pune is another city in Maharashtra where you can manage with Hindi, but probably not as easily as in Mumbai.

    •  Thanks for the corrections. (9+ / 0-)

      I don't know a whole lot about India, so when I was doing the research I was extra judicious about trying not to say something that turned out to be wrong.

      I am curious about Mumbai, though. You say that you can "manage" with Hindi. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the language that "the people on the street" speak. That, at least, was what I garnered from researching this. I've corrected the Kannada thing.

      For instance, using the example of the United States, you can manage very well in the South with a non-Southern accent. Or, using the example of China, you can manage very well everywhere in China speaking standard Mandarin; everybody understands it. That doesn't mean, however, that it's the language that "the people on the street" speak.

      Is that the case for Mumbai or not?

      by Inoljt on Thu May 12, 2011 at 11:44:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Afraid I disagree. (6+ / 0-)

        As I explained elsewhere, Mandarin is not really universal everywhere in China and the pronounciation of Putonghua, although standardized, is not universally used.  

        Establishing Mandarian as a universal, national language is one goal of the the Chinese education system, but at street level it is hardly universal amoungst people 40 or over and pretty weak in many areas.

        Generally in China in a mixed group Mandarian is commonly used but when local join together they immediately revert to local dialect (as you noted), and in marjority minority areas, the level of Mandarian is pretty uncommon as it has really just come into the primary education system for the past 20 years or so and not preferrred to local dialect.

        The remarkable thing I found about the US is that by second generation, it seems most people mainly speak English, ie, the Immigrant to First Generation familly unit speaks native tounge at home but the First to Second Generation unit may speak English or a mix.

        Partly this seems to be due to the education system but also to social mobility from First generation onward.  In other countries, less mobility reinforces native language use.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:27:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Agree, even in the most rural parts of China, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        you will find someone, yes someone, that can decipher enough Mandarin to be understood.  And furthermore, the writing system of Chinese characters is consistent, so if you can write down what you want to say, then the person speaking that other dialect will understand.  Ten years ago, my cousin trekked through some remote parts of China as part of an organization giving out micro loans to family farmers and businesses.  Yes, there were issues of being inter-dialect understanding, and despite some amusing signal crossing, she was always understood in the end.  Anyone going back today to do what my cousin did ten years ago would probably be even better understood, now that Mandarin is becoming even more ubiquitous.

        Having a policy does not mean receiving care. -- Tzimisce

        by Miggles on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:30:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You can more than manage with Hindi. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Alice in Florida, Catte Nappe, Inoljt

        Just about anywhere in the northern half of India, just about everybody speaks Hindi with good to excellent fluency.

        In the southern half, where the languages and dialects are of the longer-established Dravidic family (Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Tulu, Konkani and a few more), they're somewhat resentful of Hindi, which is officially the national language. Yet even they can sustain a decent conversation in it.

        This is because
        a) Hindi is mandatorily taught in all the schools, even if the main medium of instruction is English
        (b) Bollywood movies (i.e. those from 'Bombay's Hollywood') are wildly popular in all parts of India, and they're all in Hindi  
        (c) National broadcast and cable TV carries Hindi-language programming all over India. This includes live coverage of test cricket matches, which have a nationwide following, and carry live commentary only in English and Hindi.

        I hope that answers your question.

        One more thing. The city is Bangalore. I think you confused it with Bangladesh, which is a neighbouring country. Bangladore doesn't exist.

        Would make a great fictional location, though.

        Lay off the footwork and throw a punch! ~ Joe Bageant

        by gotgat54 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:32:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Hindi in India (0+ / 0-)

        Generally its good enough to get you by.  Don't expect it to help in South India as much, at least not Tamil Nadu, where English is far better.

        "Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau -6.38, -4.15

        by James Allen on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:36:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  the dialect thing is true for china as well (7+ / 0-)

      except for sichuanese, which is actually a dialect of mandarin, in contrast to the southern languages like fujianese, hakka, cantonese, hunanese, etc., which are only dialects because of the fierce jealousy of nationalism, which dictates that it must have one people, one language, one nation-state.

      •  And then there are the odd sub-dialects (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Oh Mary Oh

        I like to use the examples of Wuxi (East) or Chuchow (South) as these geographical/cultural abbertions where people is a certian area of from a certian clan/social group speak certian dialects.

        Have youevery noticed all of the bosses in Singapore speak Fujianese? Tight group. And in the Textile industry you are no one unless you speak Wuxi or Suzhou dialets, because these were the big competing textile centers of the Yangtze Delta and "so close yet so far away".

        F'n secret code. Seriously.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:43:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the thought that came to my mind one day (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          looking at one of those impotent little 请说普通话 signs by the bus stop in shanghai, was that the CCP could get children to beat their parents and teachers, could get farmers to melt down their tools and starve themselves to death, but it couldn't get these people to abandon their language.

          •  Humans 'R' Us (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            wu ming, luckydog

            Funny thing is 20 years out China is likely to be  trikigual society: Local, Mandarian & English, rather like Taiwan, Hing Kong and Singapore.

            That's good.

            Chinese give up their "Nationality"?  Not a chance. "My Country".

            What about my Daughter's future?

            by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:39:59 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  i suspect that eventual democratization will lead (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              to greater regionalization, which will take place, as in taiwan, in a bilingual putonghua-local manner.

              i don't see english becoming very meaningful much beyond the white collar population.

              •  Already happening (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                wu ming

                There are already language preservation movement in some areas esp. Guangzhou and Shanghai such as this and this. 天啊!根据外国人攻城!

                "The popularization of Mandarin doesn’t equal to the ban of dialects. It doesn’t make Mandarin a more civilized language either. " - Qian Nairong, professor and linguist

                So Shanghainese is civilized? Mrs koNko begs to differ - 高档女士们讲苏州话 ... 上海女士们妓女!

                What about my Daughter's future?

                by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:34:56 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  wu dialects trip me out (0+ / 0-)

                  they really sound very very different from other chinese languages.

                  it is kind of funny when shanghainese try to forge connections with ancient chinese regional history, given that most of the city was underwater back in the 春秋 period, and basically swampy wastes before the tang-song beginnings of serious flooded wet rice agriculture.

                  the mass protests against shutting down the cantonese-language station in guangzhou were interesting as well.

      •  A language is a dialect with a flag. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Oh Mary Oh, whaddaya, gatorcog, trevzb

        that's the way it works, generally.

        •  Or you could say a language is a dialect with (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          an army and a navy behind it.  Look at Spanish and Portuguese which have a lexical similarity quotient of 0.89 -- meaning that the languages are almost 90% similar by that measure and with maybe a few hours of training can be mutually intelligible to the speakers of each language.  Now take Mandarin and Hokkien (Fujian / Taiwanese / MiNanHua).  I would consider the sounds of these far more distinct from one another than are Spanish/Portuguese, yet they only garner the classification of being dialects.

          Having a policy does not mean receiving care. -- Tzimisce

          by Miggles on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:38:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  How long will the minor dialects survive though (0+ / 0-)

        A dialect can only survive if it's taught in schools and used in media/ cultural outlets.  Due to the gravitation force of Canton - Hong Kong - ShenZhen, catonese is unlikely to die out. Tawianese/Fujianese will likewise survive because of the cultural force of Taiwan and the political power of the greens. But what about the minor dialects? Like Hakka - unfortunately associated with a rather disadvantaged group of people who are dispersed as well.  How long will it survive? Despite the recent 'mini revival' of cantonese and other regional dialects, I still think the long term outlook is dim for dialects.

        •  i totally disagree (0+ / 0-)

          languages can survive state attempts to get rid of them, and they do not necessarily depend upon states propping them up. what matters most is that there is a social function that a given language (or dialect, or accent) fills, and it will persist through pretty serious attempts at suppression. unless the chinese state tried the impossible task of taking children away from parents and putting them in boarding schools in order to crush the dialects - as america, australia and others did - the dialects will persist as long as there's a use for them.

          the guomindang tried pretty damn hard to crush native and minnan/hakka languages in taiwan for decades, and they lost, because people still spoke it at home, and with friends, and in business. school and media are less powerful than assumed.

  •  I blame TV (22+ / 0-)

    True, when I moved to NYC I strove mightily to have that TV non-accent.  (Everyone thought I was Canadian, at first: nope, PA.)

    If you want to be taken seriously in this country, you must speak TV English: that is to say, a generic American accent such as almost all newscasters have.  Your accent is too southern?  Cracker!  Too midwestern? Hick!  And so forth.

    I suppose being mistaken for Canadian was a step up....

    Over the past 30-odd years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital. --Bill Maher

    by Youffraita on Thu May 12, 2011 at 11:26:09 PM PDT

    •  Ive moved a lot (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mightymouse, Oh Mary Oh, Youffraita

      grew up in 5 or more different states and time as a trucker and my accent changes.

      Right now it is very very southern (NC southern.. there are some VERY different southern dialects). At times ive lost most of it.. in most of florida "southern" isnt really spoken. That "TV english" is what californians Think they speak. I find it is what people in michigan and a lot of the center of the country speak. But we all self correct. In the US if someones accent gets too bad they work to "correct" it. So i think basically americans all choose to continue to speak the same language and while being proud of their accents will change the entire dialect to stay in the mainstream.

      A man is born as many men but dies as a single one.--Martin Heidegger

      by cdreid on Fri May 13, 2011 at 04:36:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Discernment (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It's interesting to me, having grown up and lived in several places in South Carolina, that I can almost tell what county someone is from by the sound of their dialect, particularly if they're from Chaaaahllstn or anywhere down near the big wartuh.

        -5.38 -4.72 T. Atlas shrugged. Jesus wept.

        by trevzb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:09:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ditto (0+ / 0-)

          Same with georgia. SC, Charleston, Ga are the accents the movies use for southerners.. particularly upperclass southerners. There are counties near here in nc i swear they based the most gooberish  stereotypical southern accents on.

          A man is born as many men but dies as a single one.--Martin Heidegger

          by cdreid on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:19:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Unless you are in the South (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh, saluda

      or the Midwest or...  But (with some exceptions) I can understand any of those accents without much difficulty.  Really our common language stems from the immigrant nature of our nation.  Bunch of Europeans arrive and had to do business with each other to survive.  As was pointed out it could have been any European language - although I would think that it would have been French as the most likely alternative.

      And as someone else pointed out, indigenous people's certainly used different languages.  And that is your answer.  Just about everywhere else the languages stuck because the populations established and grew into each other.  Once in place and successful there was minimal need to speak a common language to survive.  That accounts for the commonality of Spanish dialects in S America.  

      "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

      by newfie on Fri May 13, 2011 at 04:45:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  TV has a lot to do with it... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh, SLKRR, varro, sullivanst

      ...but more in that TV—and other forms of long-distance voice transmission, as well as widespread transportation—operates as a counterforce to the things that would turn the various American dialects, over a matter of a few generations, into their own distinct languages.

      If there'd been a TV network in Europe for the past two thousand years, we wouldn't have Spanish or French or Italian; they'd all be much less distinguishable from one another as regional dialects of Latin.

      The USA has one language, in part, because it's a young country—and one that arose during revolutions in transportation and communication.

    •  TV results in words and phrases being common, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MySobriquet, varro, Sychotic1

      but there is some evidence that regional accents actually increase, at least in places where people hear the voices on TV as something "other" and to be counteracted.  While there might be a softening of extremes, some local characteristics are used as a shibboleth.  If I say "wooder" for water, anybody can know I'm from the Philadelphia area, and there are times I might want that, consciously or not.  

      "This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind[.]" -- Robert F. Kennedy

      by Loge on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:53:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  But the pilots are cowboys. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      milkbone, cpresley

      Have you noticed that?  And when Japanese pilots speak English they all sound like the DJ's on Tokyo-FM.

      Very funny.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:21:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  So I was at a conference once (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      socalmonk, Sychotic1

      and went to lunch with a group of guys, one from Chicago, one from Wisconsin, and one from the outer boroughs of NYC. And they started talking about some of the other attendees. There was a large contingent from a single company somewhere down south--let's say Tennessee--and these guys, in their own regional accents, mind you, start talking about how funny this group sounds. Then they turn to me, standard Midwestern no accent, and want to know if I agree. I was so tickled by this I just laughed and said, "You all sound odd to me!" I did not get invited to lunch with this trio of gentlemen through the rest of the conference. Sheesh!

      There's a reason Democrats won massively the last two cycles, and it wasn't because people were desperate for "bipartisanship". --kos

      by Debby on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:47:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Funny. I went to work on a drilling platform in (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Debby, Youffraita

        the Gulf of Mexico back in the late 70's. I am from Pennsylvania, originally, and though I have actively tried to lose the Philly sound, it still leaks out. Everybody else on the rig was from the same town, Jasper, Alabama. After about two minutes of conversation with another roughneck, a guy got right up in my face and blurted out, "Hey! Y'all not f'om aroun' he', huh?" How ever did he guess?

    •  In contrast - from the west with very few regional (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sychotic1, Youffraita

      I grew up in the west in a small town and it was pretty clear that we needed to be aware of any regional oddities the RURAL FOLK, our neighbors, might use.  There seriously weren't very many and they usually involved water movement and irrigation.  

      I once was in the deep south as a child and the cashier told me she couldn't understand me because of how strong my accent was.  I was dumbfounded by the experience.  The conversation in the car with my family went something like this, "how could she not understand me?  I speak like they do on the radio and  television?"  

    •  It's not TV as much as the surroundings.... (0+ / 0-)

      ...that determine your accent, and not even the accent of your parents.

      Two examples from friends - one friend has parents who speak flat Iowa newscaster English, but he grew up in Chicago.  He sounds like one of Da Bearz guys.

      Another was born in the U.S. of Chilean and Russian parents in Toledo, and she talks just like any native of Toledo or Detroit.

      And I'm probably going to keep my Pittsburgh accent....not a huge Yinzer, but it does come out.

      9-11 changed everything? Well, Katrina changed it back.

      by varro on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:50:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In agreement, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, Youffraita

      my mother and my favorite professor (from Mobile and Baton Rouge respectively) had to deliberately train to mimic the local accent in New Jersey - it didn't matter how many papers they had published or how ground-breaking the work was, because they sounded like Southerners they were treated with scorn and their intellectual accomplishments ignored.

      "But there's one thing that gives every Marine the willies, and anyone saying otherwise is a liar. Drop pods. That shit is terrifying, son."

      by Shaviv on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:16:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I agree that it's easy to communicate (32+ / 0-)

    across the states but I'm not so sure about this.

    With the exception of the South and a few inner-city ghettos, there is even no difference in accent.

    I traveled the states for years and picked up regional accents as a hobby. A few examples that I can identify and/or mimic: Boston, Maine, NY/Philly, the U.P., Minnesota, Chicago/Midwest, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, S. Texas and the West.


    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Thu May 12, 2011 at 11:30:41 PM PDT

  •  Just one more chere, OK? (7+ / 0-)

    I am far from perfect, but y'all deserve extra kudos, if ya know what I mean.

    G'night, friends.  I have to go to work again tomorrow.

    Over the past 30-odd years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital. --Bill Maher

    by Youffraita on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:32:28 AM PDT

  •  30% of native-born Arizonans don't speak English (15+ / 0-)

    as their first language, they speak Navajo or Spanish.   Until WWI/WWII, Wisconsin had several German-only newspapers, and communities dominated by German speakers.

    The general monolingualism in the US today isn't an accomplishment so much as a failing.

    •  well put... (4+ / 0-)
      The general monolingualism in the US today isn't an accomplishment so much as a failing.

      Cheers. Salut. Pol go'ap. Gambei.

    •  Monolingualism is a failing, sure... (13+ / 0-) that it's an indictment of an educational system that still sees the world in American exceptionalist terms.

      But I'd suggest that the fact that most Americans speak English as either a first or a second language is, on the whole, a positive thing for the country, in that it means that we can communicate with one another. I don't have to worry if I go to another part of the U.S. that I'm going to have to bring a phrasebook with me.

    •  Ohio and PA both had large German pops too. (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Loge, Aidos, Oh Mary Oh, Matt Z, skrekk, cpresley

      German newspapers, German radio stations, German churches...

      Penna is the likely source of the apocryphal story about German almost becoming the official language of the US, from back in the time when they had about 33% German folks in the state, and a bunch of the politicians happened to be German speakers.

      I'm still sad we finally lost Gepheardt Ehrler's German Sunday Concert, but you can still get some German radio programming out of Batavia, although the radio signal is pretty weak here.

      •  English is a germanic language. (0+ / 0-)

        Just like the House of Windsor, the current royal family of England, are Germans, not the English.  :)

        "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal" ~Albert Camus & "Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted" ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

        by Aidos on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:01:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Bring back the English kings! (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Aidos, Matt Z, milkbone

          Can we find a male descendant from the line of King Harold, before the French took over and brought over all those lousy-ass Latin loanwords? Old Anglo-Saxon for old Anglo-Saxons! :-)

        •  That's oversimplistic (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          English is a hybrid of Germanic and Romance influences.

          And the House of Windsor may have felt the need to change their name in WW1, but they were only Gotha-Saxe-Coburg because Queen Victoria married a German. Prince William, say, was born to parents who were both born in England, his father was born to a mother born in England who was born to parents both born in England, and whose father was born to a father born England... well, you get the picture. Saying they're not English is just plain silly.

          Besides, they're almost completely irrelevant to English as a language.

      •  Yep part of my ancentry is from Germany (0+ / 0-)

        They landed in Phildelphia in 1732. The whole family settled first in Berks County PA -- parents with some grown children and some younger children.  When the older generation died, a number of their children who now had growing families of their own, moved on to Guilford County,  North Carolina.  There they were part of the founding of the Old Brick Church.

        One of the first churches founded was a union of the Lutheran and Reformed faiths in SE Guilford Co. near the present site of Laws Church along the old road from Hillsboro to Salisbury. In 1813 the congregation constructed a brick church using local clay. It is said to be the first brick church in N.C. and used until 1967 when a modern building was built next door. The "Old Brick Church" is located six miles south of Burlington. Records at the church were kept in German until 1813 when the State decreed that English be spoken and taught in all public schools.

        When the generation that decided to make the move to NC died, the next set of young families moved briefly on to Campbell County, Tennessee,  and then many of them on to Preble County, Ohio.  (I think some stayed in Tennessee and later went west into Kansas and Missouri.)  Again when the oldest generation died, the family headed by my great great great grandfather moved on to Howard County, Indiana. That was in 1849. He was Rev. William Albright. The Albright chapel and the Albright Cemetary in Kokomo are named for him.

        At this point the family still spoke German at home in addition to English.  I think it was mostly a language of special intimacy and prayer.  My grandmother told me that German wasn't completely dropped as a second language inside the family by the older people until World War I broke out.  

        They all quit using it then because they didn't want to be thought unpatriotic. The whole family though -- me included --still says "gesundheit" as the response to someone's sneeze.

    •  I'm very happy we've got... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whaddaya, SLKRR, Sychotic1

      ...monolingualism -- in general.

      You think this economy is fucked now - what if nobody could understand each other?

      With each moment of worry we give up a moment of living.

      by dov12348 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:25:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        skrekk, MaikeH, mrkvica, sullivanst

        Like the fucked up economy of multilingual Switzerland or CHina

        •  Nice dodge. (0+ / 0-)

          Let me know whan you have an actual answer.

          With each moment of worry we give up a moment of living.

          by dov12348 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:09:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think the point is that multilingualism (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            isn't predictive of a bad economy.

            Maybe it would have been better for us, if Wall St. weren't all speaking exactly the same language, don't you think?

            •  That's too abstract a proposition. (0+ / 0-)

              A Mcdonald's manager wants to order beef from a vendor.  Should they speak the same language or not?

              The state wants to issue a Medicaid flyer.  What language should it be in?

              With each moment of worry we give up a moment of living.

              by dov12348 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:42:40 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  What State? (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                In New Mexico, it'd have to be English and Spanish by law.

              •  Having a lingua franca (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                TiaRachel, dov12348

                and being monolingual are different things.

                And plenty of governments around the world do fine with multilingual government communications, including the US, or haven't you phoned the SSA recently? (Para Español, oprima numero dos)

              •  People learn more languages. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                skrekk, TiaRachel, dov12348

                I'm a non-native Spanish speaker. I started taking classes in 7th grade and contined through college. When I graduated, I was at an interview and the VP looked at the manager and circled "fluent in Spanish" that was on my resume.

                I got that job, and I've always been one of the few go-to people at my other jobs. Its not THAT hard to learn some basics of another language. But most people don't try. I would get called to speak to a "foreign" person on someone else's phone. The person would often be Korean or Persian  or Russian, but they spoke acceptable, if accented, English.

                It kills me that these days, people who speak English with foreign (or even heavy regional) accents are almost always subtitled o television (except PBS).  Are Americans so intellectually lazy that we can't even lean forward, engage our brains and actively listen?

                Communication is a two-way street. People have to try. And yes, sometimes that means leaving your comfort zone. If you don't, you'll be left behind.

                It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... - C Dickens.

                by grover on Fri May 13, 2011 at 01:42:31 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Btw, many states issue official documents (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                skrekk, dov12348

                In numerous languages. In California, their driving test can be taken in around 20+ languages (I can't put my fingers on the exact number). Their drivers handbook is available in 9 language.

                California easily has the largest economy of any of the 50 states.  Obviously, the additional languages don't slow it down.

                In my state, WA, which has far less diversity, voting ballots come with instructions written in Spanish and numerous other languages that explain how to obtain a ballot in that language if one so desires (we only vote by mail).  Most other documents in these states are easily or even automatically provided with Spanish translations, and other languages are available if one asks.

                It's not a big deal. We just do it. Diversity makes us a richer community. Accommodating our neighbors makes them more involved in our community. There is no "official" language. There's a dominant language, but we want everyone to be included.  

                It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... - C Dickens.

                by grover on Fri May 13, 2011 at 02:06:23 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Texas did too (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cardinal, skrekk, MaikeH

      The German communities there used German from settlement in the 1840s up through WW1, when they stopped transmitting it to their children.   However, even today in the diners and cafés of places like New Braunfels or Fredericksburg, you can sometimes hear old-timers chatting over coffee in Texas German.

    •  It wasn't long ago (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skrekk, sullivanst

      and maybe it is still up and running. Milwaukee had a German language radio station, or at least a good portion of its programming was spoken in German.

    •  Not failing (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skrekk, mrkvica, TiaRachel

      but imposition.

      Intentional cultural genocide was practiced against most of the native cultures, including Hawaiian.

      The other colonial languages are still present in several areas, but have suffered the natural cultural assimilation. Spanish, particularly, and French were generally lost to regular not imposed majority-minority assimilation, but there were instances of intentional forced assimilation and rules forbidding the use of those languages.

      Certainly I will not call USA nearly monolingualism an accomplishment and it is not that strange you can see it in nearly all other ex-colonies.

    •  I always find it interesting that (7+ / 0-)

      my grandmother didn't speak English when she started school (and the nuns beat her for it) even though her family had been in the country for a hundred years. When my husband--who got his translator's certificate in German--met my great-grandfather, he thought he was an immigrant. It was actually his great-grandfather who'd come over. When I was a kid, that generation always spoke German together at family gatherings. This is in southern Indiana.

      There's a reason Democrats won massively the last two cycles, and it wasn't because people were desperate for "bipartisanship". --kos

      by Debby on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:58:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My husband and I (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        speak what we call "Deutslish" between the two of us.

        "Hey, liebchen!"
        "Wo ist my "Native Pride" hat?"
        "Weiss nicht.  Did you look in the bedroom?"
        "Nooo...." (I sigh, for I know what's coming. "Kannst du? Bitte?"


        It is what it is. It will be what I make it.

        by Alexandra Lynch on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:31:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  they still speak german (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xanthippe2, skrekk, Alexandra Lynch

      in some parts of PA, especially where I live, although they call it "dutch."

      It's mainly the Amish, and older non-Amish.

      "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" -Prof. Farnsworth

      by terrypinder on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:13:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Go Back Two Generations in My Family... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      All of my grandparents spoke English as a second (or third) language.

      Father's father, English last name: French first, English second.

      Father's mother, English last name: French first, English second.

      Mother's father, Spanish last name: Spanish first, French second, English third.

      Mother's mother, French last name: Cajun/Continental French first, English second (Spanish third, thanks to her husband).

      My father was the fourth of seven and the last to learn French at home. His older sister was a public health nurse with the highly-prized skill of being literate and fluent in both Cajun and Continental French. My mom never learned to speak French herself, but she understands it pretty well when she hears it spoken.

      The point is: You're right. Monolingualism in the U.S. is the result of one generation abandoning their "mother tongues" for English. You can't blame them, but still....


      by CajunBoyLgb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:11:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  We still have a Portuguese radio station here (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      in San Jose CA!

      Back when this area was all orchards, there was a large Portuguese population here back in the pre war days. I remember they interviewed an old lady in the newspaper here in Milpitas, and she said that while growing up, all her school mates spoke portuguese (she was anglo herself).

      BTW, now the Portuguese radio station only broadcasts part time. The rest of the time is shared with a mandarin and a vietnamese broadcast.

  •  it has a lot to do with being a settler colony (18+ / 0-)

    of recent settlement. all of the other examples you chose were of ancient countries where the language has evolved for thousands of years in the same place (albeit with significant input from other language groups).

    the correct comparison with america's english is analogous settler colonies with relatively small surviving indigenous populations such as latin america or australia.

    •  Or Manchu (0+ / 0-)

      Became rulers and assimilated rapidly, within 200 years the language was in serious decline and now is almost dead.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:13:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  settler colonies (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Beg to differ in one respect: In most parts of Latin America there are large indigenous populations, some so fully assimilated now that they no longer know their indigenous language.  I find it actually more impressive that Spanish and Portuguese have managed to become general there, where there were large populations speaking another language.  In North America (Quebec excluded), English speakers were always in a majority.  Hence, new arrivals had to learn English.    Quebec is an interesting example (comparable to South Africa, where Dutch is still very robust): it is not just French (or Dutch) stubbornness which has caused survival of these languages.  They were community languages, spoken by people scarcely different from the dominant colonizing population.  They were self sufficient, were not dependent on the colonizers, and had no need of them.  Language shift is almost always a function of advantage--economic or social--on the side of the "upper" language, the one in political or economic control.  If you are satisfied with your "disadvantaged" state, you stay in the same language group; if you are not, you join the other group and adopt its language and (probably) its values.  

  •  It's not unusual in China (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    To revert to English in some circumstances because it's a common 2nd or 3rd language and more commonly spoken by people from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan (although Taiwanese Mandarian is mutually intelligible for the most part but Singaporian or Malasian Mandarian less so).

    There are actually 292 different languages spoken in China.

    Mandarian, part of the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetian language group dominant in Asia is actually the product of several major historical dialects and a sythetic invention rooted in Beijing dialect but with preferred pronounciation based on the central Chinese accent (Anhui, to be precise) and spoken Mandarian will sound quite different in different areas or countries and even Chinese unfamilliar with a local accent may have difficulty (if you compared, for example, Beijing, Taiwan and Singapore spoken you might conclude there were different languages).

    To get an idea how complex this is these excellent Wikipedia articles summarize well:

    Sino-Tibetan languages
    Chinese language
    Languages of China

    So yes, the questions you pose in this diary are excellent and if I could tip it 100 times I would.

    My parting comment is this: it is not unusual in Asia for people from a village on one side of a river to speak a different dialects than those on the opposite side, which makes for much cultural diversity but also some definate disadvantages when it comes to communication and social unity.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Fri May 13, 2011 at 03:23:10 AM PDT

    •  World English is dominant because... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whaddaya, SLKRR, Sychotic1, koNko

      it's a "NEUTRAL" language. The Chancellor of Germany won't speak French and the President of France won't speak German, and they don't want to have a translator to slow things down.....same for most other countries.

      French plays this role in West Africa.

      Language is used to communicate. A common language is inclusive. Tiny minority languages aren't.

      That's why "standard" languages predominate, and "dialects" are considered mostly slang.

  •  well... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, amojave

    Even if I can understand the words most of my fellow Americans use, I quite often see the opposite meaning of those words manifested in their actions. So I don't put much power in words anymore.

    A four year old's limited communication regarding the need to go to the bathroom is unmistakable and true in any language. I like that sort of clear, simple messaging. I think we should all grab our crotches and move that form of communication forward as soon as possible.

    Education is too big to fail. Truth is too big to fail. Justice is too big to fail. Peace is too big to fail.

    by Burned on Fri May 13, 2011 at 03:26:32 AM PDT

  •  Dialects develop and change (4+ / 0-)

    There were (and indeed still are) significant differences between regional dialects of English in the British Isles. Before modern communications the differences were greater and could make dialects mutually unintelligable.

    The tendency is for there to be a high status dialect, used by the actual and aspiring upper classes ('the King's English' and now 'Received or BBC English'). For example the Scottish nobility do not sound like Scots to the rest of the population, because they tend to speak in the upper class south eastern English dialect.

    If the dialects of a language are sufficiently isolated, they will eventualy develop into different languages, as happened with the romance languages after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Fri May 13, 2011 at 03:30:15 AM PDT

  •  We have a common language... (8+ / 0-)

    ...and the cost to get it was brutal and bloody.

    Settlers killed millions of Native Americans who didn't know English. Slaveholders tortured Africans as punishment for trying to speak their native languages.

    This Diary presents an interesting look at history though.

    Lastly, we need to ask if a common language is a big advantage. Many countries in Europe speak multiple languages. This doesn't interfere with their economies or culture very much.

    •  Belgium. (0+ / 0-)

      They've been without a government for nearly a year - over a year? - over what is basically a linguistic dispute between the French and Dutch communities.  To an extent the language dispute is also a proxy for economic disparities, but at the end of the day it really is primarily a linguistic dispute that has silently grown into something bigger.  Look to see Belgium split into two countries sometime this decade; the looming preeminence of the EU makes that a less-scary proposal, given the monetary union and the fact that the EU is slowly but gradually assuming a lot of powers that national governments exercise.

      "What Washington needs is adult supervision" - Barack Obama

      by auron renouille on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:47:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Teaching the Tea-Bag Party. (5+ / 0-)

    The language debate offers a chance to help your local right-winger learn more about the Constitution.

    Whenever one of them asks for Federal "English-only" laws, ask them: "What specific section of the Constitution gives the Feds the authority to enforce a common language?"

    The results are always fun.

  •  Ahem - (10+ / 0-)

    In Navajo land, most people still speak Dine.
    Same goes for Oglala, where most speak Lakota.
    That does not ignore the central observation that native languages have been under assault for 500 years.

    In a similar vein, Cajun is still the first language of the home in many parts of rural, southern Louisiana and Spanish the language of the home for many New Mexicans.  And then there are the Hutterites and Amish who retain German in their communities.

    So it is not as uniform as some perceive.

    PS - Although there was, certainly, Great Russian chauvinism under the Soviet Union, official Soviet policy was to promote local languages as a means of defusing the "nationality problem".  In fact, the official line was the the Soviet system had eliminated the petty bourgeois issue of nationality.  It was the old Russian Empire - and the new one, too - that pursued a blatant linguistic dominatioin.

    •  Often by explicit policy (4+ / 0-)

      A lot of Native American communities stopped transmitting their languages to their children after the US government, under their 'education' policy meant to make them more White, they shipped Indian children off to boarding schools where they were beaten or humiliated if they dared to speak a word in their own language, dress in their own clothing, or pray to their own gods.

      When these children had children of their own, they only spoke English to them, so that they wouldn't have to endure the same education, the same shame, the same torture.   Now, of the hundreds of American languages, many have died out, and most are now endangered.  

    •  Interesting point about the Soviet Union. (0+ / 0-)

      I didn't know that was the official policy; I thought it was actually the opposite.

      Thanks for the information.

      by Inoljt on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:10:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Except that those people in India (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock, ybruti, Sychotic1

    ...also speak English, in addition to their state and local languages.  Many of them, anyhow.  The ones involved in business anyhow.  Because English is regarded as an international language of business.

    Wisconsin is closed for political maintenance.

    by Subversive on Fri May 13, 2011 at 04:44:25 AM PDT

  •  In Mumbai... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    ...people speak almost every language to be heard in India.  So-called "Bombay Hindi" is one of the most macaronic tongues anywhere.  A Hindi-speaker would be understood in Mumbai, no problem.

    BTW, it's "Bangalore," not "Bangladore."  Although now it's more and more often called "Bengaluru."

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:10:34 AM PDT

  •  Americans think (8+ / 0-)

    the way they do because it is part of a shared American experience. Immigrants arrived in America individually or in small groups and had to fit in order to get their piece of the pie. The exemplars for these folks were for the most part the WASPS and who would not think that to become one of those folks you had to emulate them in so many respect not the least of which was speaking English.  People going to a nation, in a manner of speaking, rather than a nation going to the people. China and India, on the other hand, are examples of a nation going to the people. The concept of nation superimposed on existing societies.


    Only in America! - Don King.

    by nomorerepukes on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:19:28 AM PDT

    •  You read my mind on this. (0+ / 0-)

      Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

      by bigtimecynic on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:56:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, and many parts of Europe are like this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Germany comes to mind as an indigenous people whose culture and language grew organically, so to speak, from common ancestry endemic to the land they are located on, and have been since before recorded history.  Same with portions of France and all of England.
      Quite the opposite for the US which, by comparison, has very recent, if any, history at all that could compare.  The North American native tribes would be analogous to the European tribes that still reside in their homelands.

      Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by "equal justice under the law." - Bushy McSpokesperson

      by gatorcog on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:03:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If you're interested in the relationship... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, srkp23

    ...between language and nation, I recommend Benedict Anderson's groundbreaking work on nationalism, Imagined Communities.

  •  Language is how India was divided. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    India divided the country into language-based states, and thus, you have English as the "Lingua franca" and the state language. Language is an ethnic touchstone, at least it is in Most places.

    The US isn't that old. Plus, we have TV, radio, and other forms of mass communication which tend to dampen down accent differences. If you look at Southern Europe, all of the nations speak a form of "debased" Latin. Romance languages have different inflections and vocabulary, but the grammar is the same. The division of Spain is based on language, as are all the problems with Quebec within Canada.

    •  Hmmm.... chicken or egg? (0+ / 0-)

      Are the divisions in Spain and Canada caused by the language differences, or do the minority groups embrace the different language in order to emphasize their uniqueness?

      Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

      by bigtimecynic on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:59:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Easily explained (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aidos, mrkvica

    The English speakers won all the wars.  In India and China, you had various groups sweeping this way and that, spreading their culture and language only to be swept back by the next wave.

    That any pockets of French and Spanish survive is a tribute to how pervasive those cultures were before the English speakers blew through.

    You'll notice the Dutch didn't fare so well.

    If we don't stop them here, then where? If not now, then when?

    by nightsweat on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:52:17 AM PDT

  •  That's because our country was founded... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    saluda, TiaRachel, petral

    ...and expanded via violent, genocidal conquest and colonization!  So while I'm happy with our relative (and it's always relative) linguistic unity, it sure didn't happen nicely.  

    It's better to curse the darkness than light a candle. --Whoever invented blogs, c.1996

    by Rich in PA on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:02:07 AM PDT

  •  Actually, early on, many people in the US (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    spoke languages other than English, in their own areas. Asians, Europeans, people from South America, even religious groups such as Jews....they often lived in communities where few people spoke English. thing that I think was interesting about America was the idea that everyone had a right to education, and that education should be paid for by the government, whether that government was a town, city or state. So even children in remote areas had free access to schools and in most of these schools, since the language of government was English, English was the language used. While many groups originally had schools in their own language, the lure of free (and often mandatory) education in government run schools made English a language that the majority of children in this country eventually learned.  

    Had the French won the French/Indian war and taken over the original 13 colonies, we might all be speaking French......

    Freedom has two enemies: Those who want to control everyone around them...and those who feel no need to control themselves.

    by Sirenus on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:05:02 AM PDT

  •  That leaves open the question (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    saluda, sullivanst, TiaRachel

    ...of what kind of an accomplishment it actually is, when you consider the lost cultural resources of having a nation of linguistic diversity.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:06:29 AM PDT

  •  It is not strange (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    h bridges, mconvente, mali muso

    that a large majority of Americans can speak English, if you compare the history of the U. S. A. to that of India or China.  Both of those Asian nations are ancient, and the people who live there have roots going back hundreds of generations, when travel was not easy.  Hence, each region developed its own language.

    The same story could be told of the indigenous people of the U. S., Native Americans.  I suspect there are great differences between the languages of the Navajo and the Zuni, for example.  But then the Europeans came and settled the continent with lightening speed (on the timescale of language development).  While there was some contingency regarding which European language would be the one to dominate, it's pretty clear that, ultimately, one would win out over the others.

    Having a single language spoken in a large country, I think, has been an advantage, in that it has given us a shared culture.  It is part of how the U. S. has come to political dominance in the world.  You can immediately identify and relate to other Americans abroad, for example, where that may be less likely for different language speakers from the same country.  It also has its disadvantages, making for a dominance of parochial attitudes towards those who don't speak English or partake of much of our shared culture.

    -5.13,-5.64; EVERYTHING is an approximation! -Hans A. Bethe

    by gizmo59 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:10:55 AM PDT

  •  In New England, there are a variety of dialects (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    saluda, Matt Z, TiaRachel

    Even within my state of Maine there are regional variations and the old-school "down East" dialect, which is rapidly disappearing, can seem totally incomprehensible to a Bostonian, for instance (linguistically, apparently it is a "drawl", like Southern speech). Then, of course, there are the Franco-Americans who's first language is French and depending upon the generation, their English may be French-accented.

    While it is true that most English speakers can understand "TV English" having lived all over the country, I can tell you some terms are region-specific.

    In Texas, for instance a small stream is a "Creek" (often pronounced "crick", but in parts of Tennessee and Kentucky it's a "branch" while in New England it is a "brook".

    I suspect people in the Pacific Northwest think something altogether different when someone from New England says something is "wicked" (it means it's "cool" as in awesome) or even "wicked pisser" which, strangely, means it's really awesome. In Michigan, you have a front yard, but in Maine you have a dooryard--which may be in back if that is the door you use the most!

    Regional differences, while disappearing rapidly, are still with us. Come to Maine, you'll find out!

    Craft is what emerges when you hit inspiration over the head with a stick.

    by commonmass on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:12:22 AM PDT

  •  Small quibbles: (0+ / 0-)

    English is the second language of an enormous number of Indians, regardless of what's spoken on the street.

    Sichuan dialect really is Mandarin:  Cantonese is as similar to Mandarin as French is to Spanish.

    And gravitation to a single standard language is a function of modernity or nation building.  Langue D'oc is gone, shanghaiese is dying out, Manchu languanges are gone.  It's not an accomplishment, it's a choice or a coercion.

    If you want a link, I'll look for a link. If you really want it. Just ask.

    by Inland on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:27:57 AM PDT

  •  bet public education has a huge hand in it (0+ / 0-)

    making it so

  •  Ironically enough, (0+ / 0-)

    it seems the widest gap in understanding between English speakers is between the US and England.  I swear, sometimes I'll listen to a British person speaking, and I'll struggle to understand what they're saying.  Then again, it's not necessarily the words but the idioms.  (and don't even throw an Irish or Scottish accent in there.)

    You can't spell CRAZY without R-AZ.

    by rb608 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:28:46 AM PDT

  •  Actually Europe is the same way as Asia (6+ / 0-)

    I'm glad you point out the rich linguistic diversity of Asian countries.  I would like to add that Europe is actually the same.  We also think of European countries as having "one" language, but that's rarely true, even in places like France, or Germany.  Spain is the most obvious example--- Catalan and Basque are two strong languages spoken there, that are not at all intelligible with Spanish.  

    In France, up until WW1, not even half the population spoke French. They spoke Celtic languages like Breton, Germanic languages like Alsatian, Basque, or other Romance languages like Walloon or one of the many varieties of Occitan.  It wasn't until universal compulsory education in French became widespread (and using your mother tongue in school was cruelly punished), that French became common outside of the Paris region and the halls of government.  

    German dialects are so different from each other and the standard that studying German doesn't help you understand a lot of (High) German dialects at all. Differences in Italy are so pronounced that linguists just consider minority 'dialects' to be different languages altogether.

    None of this counts wide variations in dialects when speaking the standard language, as well.

    Honestly, the idea that 'everyone' speaks 'standard' Spanish, French, German, or Italian is not only factually wrong, but a major source of problems for Americans who learn these languages.  You might get by (everyone understands the standard, thanks to education), but you'll always be an outsider, and you'll always get frustrated.  


  •  As a linguistics minor in college (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    outspoken82, rhubarb, mconvente, ybruti

    I've grown increasingly interested in world linguistics and language. Even though linguistics has no direct involvement in my career, I'm simply fascinated by languages, so I wanted to get some formal education in them.

    Of all the things that could go wrong in my relatively short life thus far, not knowing a second language is my biggest regret. I wish our country would be more accepting of foreign languages. I've never been to Europe, but I've always heard that so many European youth know 2 or 3 languages by the time they are college aged. All I know are English and HTML. ;)

  •  Stewardess, I speak jive... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    amojave, MaikeH, slampros, Sychotic1

    Well, most Americans speak english, but sizable portions of immigrants don't.  Of course, compared to a place like India, we really are linguistically homogenous.

    Funny thing, when try to converse in english with some of the rednecks out here in rural MI, I get so frustrated I want to shout "ENGLISH MOTHERFUCKER, DO YOU SPEAK IT!"  Apparently there is a new dialect of english, called "Teabagger", in which fluency can only be achieved with years of indoctrination by the TV Machine.  

    "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

    by Subterranean on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:09:37 AM PDT

    •  Similar Experience with Airline Flight Attendant (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sychotic1, Subterranean

      In what seems a bazillion years ago (namely, when I was an undergraduate), I asked a flight attendant on a flight between the Midwest and the East Coast for a glass of water.  OK, I do come from Maryland and "water" is pronounced with a slight liquid glide between the "a" and "t" so that it sounds more like "wa'r'ter."  It's pronounced similarly in Philadelphia and other regions in the Middle Atlantic states, but clearly I was dealing with a yound lady born and bred in the flat-vowel regions of the Midwest.  After asking the question three or four times and getting the same look of incomprehension on the flight attendant's face, I remembered that some regions of the country only recognize that very flat broad "a" in some words and corrected the pronunciation.  She understood very quickly at that point.  I only found it strange because I was dealing with someone who should have been familiar with a broad range of dialects inside the US.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:38:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Colorado (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Arizona, Florida, Texas.... Those are not English names....

  •  Go to downtown Miami (0+ / 0-)

    & try to talk in English!
    Dade County is a Spanish speaking community.
    there are still Americans trhere that speak English only, but I wonder why they stay sometimes.

    •  this is not 100% true (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      my fathers entire family is native to and still lives in Dade County and there are plenty of english speakers.

      in fact it's a fairly distinct accent (well the one they speak, not the newer one that sounds more Spanish). I was able to tell one of my coworkers was born and raised in Dade County and she was kind of surprised I was able to pick it up.

      "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" -Prof. Farnsworth

      by terrypinder on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:29:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is an impressive feat (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And the fact that immigrants, of every background, continue to express a strong desire that they and especially their children learn English (check out the Pew Hispanic Center surveys), is a strong indication that this trend will continue going forward, despite the fears being hyped on the far right that we are becoming 'balkanized' linguistically or culturally. We are becoming more and more one people, if fitfully and with a lot of noise from the rejectionists. Sorry if this is muddled. Gotta head out.

    E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one.

    by Ian Reifowitz on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:26:09 AM PDT

  •  British Colonialism (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, mconvente

    English is the common language in America for the same reason English is the common language in India.

    I asked an Indian coworker one time, "When you are socializing with your fellow Indians, why do you speak English?"  He informed me, "Frequently, when you have a group of Indians, English is the only language they have in common."

    Similarly, you might have a Mexican immigrant who speaks mainly Spanish, and a Korean immigrant who speaks mainly Korean, but when they meet at WalMart, they speak English to each other.

    Thank you, British Empire!

    Other examples: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Malta... and many more.

    Harboring resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

    by The Red Pen on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:26:51 AM PDT

    •  Command Language in All Unified States (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Red Pen

      English is the command language in the US and even in Britain.  Parisian French is the command language in France, which didn't expect its citizens to speak French until after the French Revolution.  The Tuscan dialect of Italian didn't become "Italian" until after the unification in the mid-1800s.  The Austro-Hungarians used German as the command language in their ramshackle empire, even though it had multiple recognized languages being spoken inside it.  

      Almost all of the nations which have mulitple languages inside them were created through conquest and occupation of territories where the locals spoke a different language but where most of the locals continued to live.  English is the predominant language in North America because the English-speakers not conquered the territory and spread througout the area but alsom managed to wipe out most of the local residents in the process.  At the very least, they reduced, through an unusual concatenation of biological and economic factors, the local populations to such a level of insignificance that the indigineous local languages just faded into the mists of time.  That could not happen in Asia or Europe or even in the more heaviliy populatied portions of South America.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:47:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Are you suggesting (0+ / 0-)

        ...that English will fade in popularity in India?

        I would think that maybe among the uneducated, but English-speaking has been a valuable economic asset for them.

        Harboring resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

        by The Red Pen on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:08:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm reminded of the apocryphal story (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, amojave, TiaRachel, Inoljt

    of the Texas governor in the 1930s who said, holding a copy of the King James Bible, that if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for Texas.

    It is a do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

    by Timaeus on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:29:35 AM PDT

  •  New World vs. Old World (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think a lot of the linguistic uniformity in the US occurs mainly because its new world. The New World basically speaks English and Spanish, with significant numbers of Portuguese and French speakers.

    India and China are the most common examples of countries with many languages, but these are also countries with over a billion people each. In these cases, the country borders were drawn around all these languages.  800 million Europeans also speak many different languages, though country borders dont cross linguistic borders (with some exceptions). Africa also has numerous languages and dialects, though the country borders were drawn pretty haphazardly by colonial powers.

  •  But then you can point to Belgium, (0+ / 0-)

    Czechoslovakia and to a way lesser extent (it should barely be on this list), Canada as instances where even speaking two languages causes inner political turmoil.

    Certainly, Ben Franklin's arguments about English as a National Language are well received, but that certainly doesn't mean that a societal recognition that some type of a lingua franca is a positive is somehow immoral.  

    Dude, you lost a debate to Herman Cain. GOPfail (the "p" is silent).

    by AZphilosopher on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:46:29 AM PDT

    •  Lest one think that this is a nativist (0+ / 0-)

      point, data shows immigrants agree that English is the lingua franca and are learning English at rates commensurate with previous immigrations.

      Dude, you lost a debate to Herman Cain. GOPfail (the "p" is silent).

      by AZphilosopher on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:04:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "The Story of English" by Robert MacNeil (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    (of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report) was an outstanding series studying how and where English is spoken around the world. (How: every which way; Where: every which place ;) The series starts with an all-Italian crew of an Italian airliner flying from one Italian city to another Italian city, speaking English to the tower. The immense flexibility of the language (stemming in part from having grabbed multiple words for everything from different languages) and the subtlety and nuance therefore available, must have something to do with its massive utility. However, the dominance of the US in the world also must also have a lot to do with it.

    Pollan's Rule: Cook! What two people eat for dinner: My 365 Dinners 2011

    by pixxer on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:54:14 AM PDT

  •  Asia is ancient. People settled there (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    outspoken82, mconvente

    several tens of thousands of years ago and the languages likely grew up locally. The same thing happened on this continent, but more recently (only about 13-15 thousand years ago, give or take a bit). There were many local languages. However, the takeover of the continent was largely by one power, England, whose speakers spread from sea to shining sea. In that sense, it's not surprising that this continent, settled by English speakers in the last couple hundred years, all speaks English.

    Pollan's Rule: Cook! What two people eat for dinner: My 365 Dinners 2011

    by pixxer on Fri May 13, 2011 at 07:58:19 AM PDT

  •  ITs not unusual at all (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, mconvente, TiaRachel

    For several reason

    What has become the US was sparsely populated by other European powers. The French didn't have alot of poeple living in the Louisiana Territory and the Spanish/Mexicans didn't have alot of people living in the Mexican Cession when we took over.

    And of course we (Europeans of all stripes) ran roughshod over the larger native American populations that were in place so that they too were relatively small or outside of the scope of mainstream American society (even if your area had more Native Americans than Europeans, the chances of you needing to do business with them was relatively small).

    So there was little competition from existing residents when new immigrants came to town as to what would be the local lingua franca. A German immigrant moving to California after the 1850s would likely not have had to learn Spanish or some Native American language to get by.

    The second is that most of our immigration happened in the age of compulsory education and mass communications. Both, worldwide, have tended to standardize language.

    So while the US is unusual compared to the rest of the world - the reason for that are quite obvious.

  •  not that strange, really (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thestructureguy, mconvente

    India is not a good comparison - the history of the two countries are totally different. Come back after a thousand-year period of no electronic communication among the different parts of the country and see how we're doing.

    Russia is a much better comparison point for the US - I would bet that most in Russia speak Russian.

    Like the US, the Russian language spread when Russian speakers spread east and took over.

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:05:32 AM PDT

  •  Except most other countries don't have (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    this language issue that India (and to smaller extent China) has. South and Central America the language is all Spanish or Portuguese, in Russia and most former Soviet Union countries Russian still works to variable extent. Even in EU you can mostly get by with English.

  •  Well, even though only 6% of the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    socalmonk, TiaRachel

    grandchildren of hispanohablantes might speak Spanish at home, the big number is that there are close to 50 million Spanish speakers in the US right now.  That would make us the 2nd largest Spanish speaking country in the world after Mexico and just ahead of Colombia, Spain, and Argentina.  In fact, the US is a member of the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española which means that the US makes a contribution to the evolution of the Spanish language standards such as new words and grammatical uses.

    IMHO, I think that the US is monolingual to its own detriment.  More of our citizens need to get out there and learn second languages and open the doors to understanding other cultures.  Nothing in our Constitution says that we have to be English-only.  Furthermore, English-only is just a bigoted, pipe-dream, Republican meme used to foster anti-immigrant sentiment.  Finally, while English may be the language of today, it is pretty clear that the languages of the future are going to be Mandarin and Spanish.

    Having a policy does not mean receiving care. -- Tzimisce

    by Miggles on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:21:42 AM PDT

  •  I am curious...does anyone know, or have a good (0+ / 0-)

    idea, of what this linguistic homogeneity might have to do with the violence and anger of the English only movement. The "Eo"s are particularly rabid here in Southern California, where the language associated with the land goes back to the Conquistadors and the priests that followed.

  •  same with france (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There's a wonderful book, 'The Discovery of France' by Graham wit, Racine & Moliere would have been just as lost trying to speak with the locals as your Indian traveller, if they strayed too far from Paris..the linguistic unification of France occurred in the 19th century, much prodded by Napolean & later the railroads

  •  Many folks in the US don't speak English (0+ / 0-)

    Our farmers' market has as much Hmong and Spanish as English. (But that doesn't persist as a dominant pattern across generations, which was your point.)

    I've heard that some parts of Appalacia have preserved old Scottish in ways that have died in Scotland.

    Anyway, interesting diary.

    If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people. --Tony Benn

    by rhetoricus on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:38:53 AM PDT

  •  American Dialects (0+ / 0-)

    This map is good. Different linguists label the regions slightly different.

    A lot of people tend to think of accents in broad terms. My relatives in southern Ohio think their accent is Midwestern. It is not, it is Appalachian.

  •  Don't know what sheltered corner you are from (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    But where I grew up people spoke Spanish, Philippino, Vietnamese, German and a plethora of other languages as their primary language. Including public signage.

    Where I live now there is the inclusion of Russian as well as those previously stated languages.

    Not to mention the first peoples languages I've encountered..

    Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:48:13 AM PDT

  •  Philippines (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Land in Manila, and Tagalog (aka Pilipino) will do you fine, as will English. Travel 100 km to Angeles City, and it's Kampampangan on the streets, go to the island of Samar, and it's Waray-Waray (aka Visayan), and on Cebu, Cebuano. Very little remains of Spanish besides place names, very few people speak Spanish now and those are mostly the very wealthy--the same few families who have always dominated the country. The most unifying languages there are English and Pilipino, with English the one that will land that desirable job as a call center worker, or working in a retail shop, at least in the big cities. In the countryside, though, there are many languages and dialects.

    No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. H. L. Mencken

    by jim0121 on Fri May 13, 2011 at 08:54:58 AM PDT

  •  A better comparison with India isn't the America (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of today, which was colonized very quickly by Europeans, but the America of 1500 AD-- with its myriad languages. California alone, I believe, had 500 different languages, all linguistically unrelated to each other. India's many languages are the result of a thousands-year-long complex history of invasions and gradual development, not a story of one dominant culture coming in very quickly and destroying all the indigenous cultures and languages.

  •  Founder effect (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    [...] it is actually quite strange to think that in a continent-stretching nation with hundreds of millions (or billions) of people, it would be the case that the language would be so uniform.

    It's not that strange -- just another manifestation of the Founder effect.  True of the USA, Brazil, etc.

  •  I'm not so sure it's strange. I guess it (0+ / 0-)

    would take an anthropologist or expert in linguistics.  But I would imagine a large part would have to do how a country is formed and develops.

    Preemptive war is like committing suicide for fear of death

    by thestructureguy on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:19:06 AM PDT

  •  You don't even have to leave the country to (0+ / 0-)

    experience it.  Just observe the differences in Spanish between South American, Central American like Guatemalan, Puerto Rican, and Mexican dialects.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:31:06 AM PDT

  •  American assumptions. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TiaRachel, grover

    In the USA, many people assume that:
    1) Each country has its own language
    2) Everyone in the country speaks it.

    Considering that we speak English, the first assumption is very strange.

    While Indai is an outlier, (There are two language families in India. That means that Bengali, for example, is closer to English, Franch, and German than it is to Tamil.) many countries have multiple languages. Switzerland has four official languages, only one of which is confined to Switzerland. Belgium has two, one of which is French.

    One thing which is weird about the USA is that we are mostly mononlingual. The rest of the world thinks that's quite limited. I knew a woman who spoke Assyrian, Arabic, Armenian, and Turkish before immigrating to thei country and learning English. Those four languages crossed three language families.

    Corporations are people; money is speech.
    1984 - George Orwell

    by Frank Palmer on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:43:07 AM PDT

  •  one language (0+ / 0-)

    Having been a gringo who during his life worked/lived in westside San Antonio, TX; Grand Isle LA; Miami Florida, and South Philadelphia-you have not the slightest idea what you are talking about.  One language my fat white ass-it is just another gringo myth.

  •  diarist fails to explain why its an accomplishment (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TiaRachel, indubitably

    why was the violent suppression of native languages an accomplishment? I myself was reeducated in an BIA boarding school and punished for speaking my Ponca language as were my parents before me. Now our nations are struggling to retain their history and culture and to reestablish our languages all across the nation.

    Of course this is a big anti-immigrant talking point among the haters on the right but it's hard for me to understand why so many kossacks are tipping it.

    America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

    by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:53:24 AM PDT

    •  I tipped it because I couldn't (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, phenry, grover

      understand why someone would HR this diary.  Yes the diarist has failed to explain why it's an accomplishment.  It's probably apart of the relative cohesiveness and success of the country as a whole but not sure if was a planned accomplishment.  

      I think your points are valid and should be a part of the discussion but not a reason to HR this diary which might be overly simplistic but is not malicious.

    •  so you hid the diary? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      just because something has negative aspects in its development doesn't mean that it can't be an accomplishment as well.

      Mutually-intelligible language across an entire content of multi-ethnic populations is impressive.

      why'd you hide the diary?

      •  only if you admire genocide (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I explained my Hr when I did it. go read it. As for your statement that...

        Mutually-intelligible language across an entire content of multi-ethnic populations is impressive
        Its according to how it done, if it's done by murder and genocide it isn't so fucking impressive unless you come from the hitlerian school of thought.

        America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

        by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:11:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The deaths had nothing to do with language (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Zero. The mass deaths of indigenous people occurred long before the BIA and like-minded language suppression programs were enacted. By the time those programs emerged the decimation of the native population had essentially ended. The fighting was all but over by that point, and the natives had adapted to the diseases brought over by the European. In fact, as you know, most of the deaths came from disease spread before the first English-speaker (but after the first Spanish-speakers) set foot on the continent.

          E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one.

          by Ian Reifowitz on Fri May 13, 2011 at 12:48:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Deaths are still occurring (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ian Reifowitz, TiaRachel, cacamp

            Yes, it's true, untold millions died from disease.

            However, deaths are still occurring. If, like me, you worked with people who still speak these languages (including many young people), you'd know this is far from a done deal, much to the discomfort of the federal government and many, many Americans.

            What was it Mark Twain once said? Rumors of my death are ...

            •  I'm curious (0+ / 0-)

              What deaths of natives in the US are occurring today that qualify as genocide? Either I'm woefully ignorant (possible) or your definition of genocide--which was the original post's topic--is much broader than anything I'd recognize. Genocide is mass murder, intentionally inflicted with the specific goal of wiping out a population. Are you really arguing that the U.S. gov't today intends to wipe out the American Indian population? That doesn't mean there aren't problems and that discrimination doesn't exist, but let's call things by what they really are. Still, if you got some evidence of genocide I'm all ears.

              E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one.

              by Ian Reifowitz on Fri May 13, 2011 at 02:43:05 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  here's where your wrong (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                you're wrong when you say the deaths had nothing to do with genocide, zero. But in truth the genocide had very much to do with erasing our culture as well as killing us by the millions. It became a government policy very early on to steal Indian children and murder their culture. It began with the earliest colonies and lasted until my own experience in boarding school in the 1950's. It was a ongoing plan over centuries to eradicate us in several ways including death, taking away younger generations, killing our food sources and driving us from our ancestral lands. Eradicating our languages was very much a part of that genocide whether you're able to understand it or not. I lived it as did several hundred years of my nation and family.

                And yes I'm very much aware of the deaths by germs and all other excuses given for genocide. And no I don't think this government now has genocidal intensions towards my people. We are now part and parcel of this nation. But I also know the effects of past policies still have lasting effects on my people and even people like you who can't believe the history of what they see as a benevolent nation. That's also why the diarist made such an ignorant mistake in his discription of the USAs monolingualism. I doubt it was racist in nature, it was the same ignorance that prevails among most Americans in regard to native peoples.

                America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

                by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:49:17 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  You misread what I wrote (0+ / 0-)

                  I said the deaths had nothing to do with language. Your first sentence misread me. The gov't policy toward natives, as awful as it was, had little to do with language until at least the late 19th century, long after virtually all the killing by English-speakers took place and way long after most of the death from disease. Eradicating the native languages was a terrible thing, but a separate thing from killing. That doesn't make either of those things less bad. The point is that the phenomenon of English becoming the predominant language among those living here is distinct from the mass deaths of natives, which obviously was a huge and awful event.

                  E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one.

                  by Ian Reifowitz on Sat May 14, 2011 at 08:05:15 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  still wrong (0+ / 0-)

                    the genocidal killings and the eradication of our people were simultaneous and began as soon as the invaders had a strong foothold in the 1500's. Children were stolen and "christianized" which meant banning their native languages from the earliest days of colonization. Native languages were called "heathenish" in even Columbus visits, how much earlier can you get?

                    That's the history, but the real question to me is why you deny the very obvious truth that a large part of the genocide was the distruction of our culture including languages? Why is that point important to you and how do you think you know about it. I know my peoples history because I've lived it and it's very important to me as an native leader. But you just seem to be looking for a small excuse to excuse a major aspect of the American genocide. I find the curious.

                    America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

                    by cacamp on Sun May 15, 2011 at 08:37:08 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  well, I suppose there are lots of things (0+ / 0-)

          that are often seen as generally positive outcomes that involved some pretty ruthless practices in the

          like, say, the United States.  Or understanding the nucleus of the atom.

          Associating my point with the 'hitlerian school of thought' shows the level of discourse you're capable of handling.  

          •  not really (0+ / 0-)

            the level of my answer just matched your remarks. I explained the nature of what happened in my peoples history and only one who accepts the hitlarian concepts could possibly claim those events as an "accomplishment".

            In fact my words are proven by your comparision of my peoples genocide to "understanding the nucleus of the atom". I think that shows the level of your thinking on the subject very well, Hitler would probably applaud.

            America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

            by cacamp on Fri May 13, 2011 at 09:55:53 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  The assumption that all Nigerians speak "Nigerian" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    made me laugh.  Ignorance is not funny, but damn.

    My boyfriend is Nigerian and he speaks Igbo.  Which is one of the three main languages (tribes) in Nigeria.  There are hundreds of other languages as well.  As well as a common language amongst people who speak different languages, it's known as 'pidgin english'.

    I always admire people who speak more than one language.

  •  Universal Translation (0+ / 0-)

    From the "Everything you need to know, you learned from Star Trek" dept. The prospect of a Universal Translator that translates languages in real time is fast becoming a reality by none other than

    Google set out to provide a service that creates translations based on real world information it gleans from its search and information collection activities. The result is passable to fairly good translations of text and just recently they have released a voice API that hopes to provide near real time voice to text translation.  

    If ever a company could be nominated for a Nobel prize, this singular achievement should qualify.

    --Mr. President, you have to earn my vote every day. Not take it for granted. --

    by chipoliwog on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:02:08 AM PDT

  •  interesting diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hope08, dirtfarmer, TiaRachel, Catte Nappe

    But ...

    Isn't the unity of language primarily an artifact of the youth of the country, and the speed with which it was occupied, combined with the ever increasing availability of common sources of spoken language such as radio, television, as well as all kinds of text shared at a national level?

    I don't see it as an accomplishment (as was the standardization of French, mentioned by another commenter), as much as a possibly temporary condition brought about by historical factors.  Europeans have been in North America for only hundreds of years, not thousands, and they primarily displaced previous occupants as they quickly spread across the continent.  Conditions which ought to favor a common language.

    Your primary example, India, has had much, much longer to differentiate than has the US, and over most of that time speed of travel was much slower than that available today, and most of the territory occupied today was continuously occupied. In addition there are cultural barriers in India that tend to keep population groups more insular.  These conditions would certainly favor language differentiation.

    Should we survive a thousand years, North America will almost certainly have marked regional "street" dialects alongside one or more "common" languages.

    The best part of the book [Al Gore's Our Choice] is the graphs. -- Mark Sumner

    by jotter on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:21:09 AM PDT

  •  I wouldn't say everything spoken in Alabama (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    figbash, Catte Nappe

    would be understood in New Jersey, and visa versa.
    But that said, I expect part of the ubiquity of English in America - and fairly similar dialects at that - is the prevalence of radio, films and TV in America for much of the last century.
    Further, English is an international language. I live in Europe, and its perfectly normal for most young people (and a great many of older generations) to speak English -- frequently better than many folk back home in Georgia.

    "I almost died for the international monetary system; what the hell is that?" ~ The In-laws

    by Andhakari on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:23:24 AM PDT

  •  Dialects... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    ...I once read that there are areas of Europe where people in one village can understand the residents of adjacent villages all the way along a road, but can't understand residents of villages at the far ends of the road.

    Dialects are very powerful differences in language. Not many people can go to Charleston and understand the African-American population there, for example, even though they're speaking a pidgin English. The strong Southern accent is not yet completely a thing of the past, but it's going away.

    Most people in the South would look at you funny if you told them that at one time, most everybody that was in S.C. spoke Spanish. What's amazing is that there aren't more Spanish-speaking people across the South, but that's changing rapidly. That puts the fear of God into people around here, but it's a fact of life that isn't going to change. What you describe is amazing, but I don't suspect it will last much longer.

    -5.38 -4.72 T. Atlas shrugged. Jesus wept.

    by trevzb on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:40:22 AM PDT

  •  I still wish the Italian side of the family (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    had passed on some of the language. I feel like an idiot when I go to Italy and my vocabulary is limited to being able to read a menu. Sort of.

    And it's so damned frustrating not to be able to understand a single word on Italian television !

    I must be dreaming...

    by murphy on Fri May 13, 2011 at 10:55:05 AM PDT

  •  EU, European Union has 23 official languages, inc (0+ / 0-)

    cluding my native tongue, Slovenian.

    All work is done in all 23 languages of the EU's member Nations.  However, the most commonly language at the EU is English!  With almost 60% of the EU member Nations citing English as either their primary or secondary language.

    "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal" ~Albert Camus & "Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted" ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by Aidos on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:13:06 AM PDT

  •  This has been a great discussion - since we're (0+ / 0-)

    talking language I want to give a shout out to "Indo-European' which as the name suggests was an antecedant to the languages of India and Europe.  (Except for Basque which is completely unique) and Finno-Ungaric.  (Can't remember if that is not Indo-European or just on its own branch not related to other I-E languages.

    HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

    by HylasBrook on Fri May 13, 2011 at 11:14:00 AM PDT

  •  Not So Strange... (0+ / 0-)

    ...if you know a little history.

    May I suggest the The Forgotten Founding Father by Joshua Kendall?

    I heard a wonderful interview with him on the Bob Edwards Show earlier this week.

  •  Still plenty of American regional accents (0+ / 0-)

    Media saturation has made everyone think we all talk like the Kardashians, but that's not actually true, as seen in this simple quiz:  Link

  •  Not amazing at all. America is only 225 years old (0+ / 0-)

    India and China are thousands of years old

  •  Language often follows the flag (0+ / 0-)

    The six languages of the UN correspond to six of the seven largest empires of human history.  (The seventh, the Mongols, were a short-lived empire and assimilated by the peoples they conquered, instead of the other way around.)  These empires became big through military conquest and strongly pushed assimilation at best; at worst, they violently forced it.

    And yet for all the brutality of old, I think it's good that we're able to understand each other.

  •  With regard to languages spoken at home... (0+ / 0-)

    In many places of origin, including the US "South", the language spoken at home is often thought of as rural and uneducated -- not urban and educated. Therefore, when people come to urban areas, there are two things that bother their children and grandchildren, I think.

    That the old folks were not educated, coming from a small town somewhere, and that being "caught" speaking this uneducated mother tongue might identify you also as an unsophisticated, unschooled person. Can't you hear it? "Ai, mami, por favor, ya e'tamo' en AMÉRica, no hable' más el e'pañol, bueno? Come'on, Ma!"

    But-- if the people coming from other places, and I include the US "South", were educated to BE educated in their regional dialect/language, they could be more proud of it, as well as being proud to be bilngual even trilingual. Now the joke:

    What do you call a person who speaks three languages?

    Yes, now what do you call a person who speaks two languages?
    --Bilingual, of course!

    Fine, so then what do you call a person who speaks only ONE language?
    --OH, I know that one! American.

    Ugh. --UB.

  •  Your statement would hold true... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...if one visited what is now the United States before European settlement.

    Many various groups of people with different languages.

    It is hardly surprising that English is spoken here.  Or Australia.  Or New Zealand.  It is the language of the dominant settlement group.

    If North America was as densely populated as India was when major contact was made, perhaps it would be different.

    "Wisdom comes by disillusionment." George Santayana

    by EvilPaula on Fri May 13, 2011 at 02:30:19 PM PDT

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