Tuesday, July 10, 2007


A common language

In developing her theme on why Americans can't afford to lose their common language, Peggy Noonan lost me with this phrase:
    "She's one of a small army of advertisement giver-outers in New York."
Giver-outers? Surely a professional writer can do better than that. "She's one of a small army which gives out advertisements in New York," or "She's one of a small army of advertisement distributors in New York." And she used the phrase twice. Ah, New York, New York.
    "Europe is lucky: All those different cultures and languages are bundled up all close to each other and next to each other. They learn each other's languages with ease."
Oh really? "Close to and next to." With ease? In Denmark, I had to use my hands to order a cup of coffee in the airport; in Estonia, I found people who spoke Russian much better than Estonian. In Finland, the Vietnamese and Somali immigrants can speak Swedish because Sweden controlled the country for so many years and it is still required in the schools. But the Finnish Laplanders (Sami) aren't necessarily happy about speaking Finnish since their people reside in four countries.

I personally think it is great to learn several languages-- the children in Haiti learn four, not that it has stopped endemic corruption or built a decent infrastructure. But which languages should they be? Do our illegal immigrants speak decent, educated Spanish, let alone understandable English? Yes, a common language would be great. Starting with our best known writers.

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