Just Plain English? (no, non, nein, nyet)

In contrast to my earlier post on the importance of having a common office document format for communication, the same logic doesn't apply to human or natural languages...

A recent Forbes article muses "Must not a superstate of a score of nations have a common language?". I agree that any form of rich communication requires a language in common, but that is not the same as a single common language.

Anyone who immerses themselves in another language discovers not merely a different vocabulary and grammar, but a unique medium for communicating in the mode of a people. The most compelling example I can give of this is the turns of phrase, quotes, sayings and cliches that each language possesses. The simple fact that we love to use these because of their flavour, conciseness and expressiveness demonstrates that they are important; they are also unique to each language, reflecting the history, concerns and ideas of a people.

By accidents of history, birth and travel respectively I speak English, Gaelic, French and German in that order. English happens for me to be the most used among those langages, but it is a unique joy for me to hear and speak a different language. I have had the very great pleasure also to hear and in part to understand Italian, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, and Spanish along with several dialects in their native lands. Each of these languages has a unique flair - a different pace, a sound, a fundamental emotion or world view - and because it is often heard in a certain place, it is part of the mood and atmosphere of a different land. Language is a standing carrier wave for shared events, beliefs and culture.

There are some who view foreign languages as somehow primitive or harsh or comical simply because they are alien. I will never forget how my view of the German language changed when I had the opportunity to live in Munich for 5 months (I actually lied that I could speak German just so that I could get a job there close to my girlfriend, now my wife, and I went through 3 weeks of intense immersion in the language with books and tapes so that I could start on day one with a modicum of understanding ;) - how the experience of an initially odd word like "Schmetterling" changed when it really sunk in that this word represented "butterfly" and that when said with something approaching a native accent it could even sound beautiful - how it felt when I actually dreamed in German; how astonishing to travel on a U-bahn 6 weeks after that initial learning period and actually understand the intense conversations of German teenagers or the traditional insights of a homegoing Opa and Oma commenting on youth's vigour and blindness.

As a citizen of a country (Ireland) that has all but lost it's historic language through conquest, I can only hope that this world's rainbow of languages (including Russian for example which appears to be one of several synthetic languages under threat) never succumbs to the pale monotony of a single colour, even in the limited context of business or statercraft. That would be, hmm... double-plus-ungood.

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