Re: [langue-fr] L'anglais est-il une langue universelle ?

From: Elliotte Rusty Harold (
Date: Tue Jan 02 2001 - 12:15:36 EST

At 4:53 AM -0800 12/31/00, Michael Everson wrote:
>Ar 07:48 -0800 2000-12-30, scríobh Patrick Andries:
>>> School curricula are quite crowded
>>> already. Every extra language you add is less time for math or
>>> history or science or the native language. And where do you find the
>>> teachers for all these extra languages?
>>I would like to see any statistics tending to prove that pupils learning
>>more languages have worse results in maths or science than the unilingual
>>ones (let's say a comparison between HK pupils and the US ones ;-)).
>There won't be. All evidence (and there's lots of it here in Ireland where
>we have English-medium and Irish-medium schools) shows that, in general,
>children who are bilingual do BETTER in school than monolingual children.

I don't dispute that, and I do approve of teaching children a second
language from a very early age. Bilingualism is a very good thing.
The question is, can you teach them a third? a fourth, a fifth? At
what point does the system overload? In my American high school we
took two languages plus English (nothing in grammar school
unfortunately), and the third language demonstrably came at the
expense of science. Other schools may do better or make different
trade-offs. But, at best, you might expect typical students to learn
two languages besides their native tongue. If those three languages
are English, Spanish, and Chinese, they can still talk to less than
half the world's population in their preferred language. Some people
on this list can handle ten languages or more, but even in these
extreme cases; there are probably more people they can't talk to than
they can.

When I was in Denmark, one evening I ate dinner in the hotel next to
a couple of French businessmen. They communicated with their Danish
waiter in English, quite easily, then went back to conversing in
French. Scenes like that are repeated around the world thousands of
times every day. That simplicity is possible when everyone shares a
language. Now imagine what happens if the waiter, instead of learning
English in school had happened to learn German and Norwegian. And the
French businessmen had learned Spanish and Italian. They'd have been
reduced to a lot of gesturing and trying to decode a menu in not
particularly comprehensible Danish.

As has been pointed out, this list could not exist if we all spoke
only our native tongue and a few other randomly chosen languages.
It's because we have English in common that we can communicate
despite our different backgrounds and education. Having English (or
any other language) as a common medium of translation makes life

This is actually a very common pattern in software design. When faced
with a tangled mess of many-to-many connections between objects, you
can clean it up by creating one intermediate object and letting all
the other objects communicate only with the central object. However,
creating a new language is much harder than creating a new class.
People have tried, and the world rejected their creations. Rightly or
wrongly English has succeeded and Esperanto has failed.

In order for the world to communicate effectively and cheaply, there
needs to be a lingua franca. At this moment in history, that language
is English. In the future it will probably be something else. But
having a universal language makes it a lot easier to travel, conduct
business, do science, create art, and take part in any other activity
that involves many participants from many different cultures and
languages. A universal language should not supplant other languages,
but it is a good thing, and it does make life simpler and more
pleasant than it otherwise would be.


+-----------------------+------------------------+-------------------+ | Elliotte Rusty Harold | | Writer/Programmer | +-----------------------+------------------------+-------------------+ | The XML Bible (IDG Books, 1999) | | | | | +----------------------------------+---------------------------------+ | Read Cafe au Lait for Java news: | | Read Cafe con Leche for XML news: | +----------------------------------+---------------------------------+

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