[Paleopsych] English

Paul J. Werbos, Dr. paul.werbos at verizon.net
Thu Mar 10 22:45:08 UTC 2005

Hi, folks!

Certainly there are times when the US is like a blind elephant that really 
needs to work
on its vision. And there are areas of science where Brazil offers 
opportunities to US folks
just as much as vice-versa.


The English language is a totally different matter!

To begin with, the US doesn't own that language.

There was a time when Latin was the lingua franca of
intelligent work in Europe. It wasn't because of the great pressure
exerted by dead Roman emperors. It was because standards
and conventions are critical to universal communication.
It is often said these days that "Bad English is the universal language
of science."

Have you seen people in Budapest who complained why all Americans did not 
Hungarian? And then turned around and used English themselves to talk to 
Rumanians or Chinese? We can't learn all the languages.


On the other hand, I personally believe that Arabic (not counting the 
alphabet) does
have a kind of special logical status. The Russian linguist Sapir had some 
very deep and
valid empirical insights into the evolution of language. Like Freud, he 
didn't frame his
concepts in the most precise mathematical way, and he did hit a few 
distracting hot buttons
(like Freud and like E.O. Wilson.) But we are deeply impoverished when we 
do not
learn what we can from his observations -- and reinterpret it in a more 
modern context.

Basically -- the modern western European languages are really very, very 
close in terms
of the world view they impose. Some US theorists imagine that Western 
structures are hard-wired into the genes of all humans -- but I hear that 
the Chinese
Academy of Sciences has had some very intense discussions about the weirdness
of "scientists" who postulate that English grammar is wired into even their 
(I have heard a lot more about those discussions...). Yes, there is some 
special colorful vocabulary in
each Western language, but the  underlying structures are very similar, in 
a way that Sapir noticed.
And, as Max Weber suggested... these structures of thought may owe more to 
Plato than to DNA.
We underestimate Plato's influence (and Socrates'..) because of how 
thoroughly we have absorbed it, in the West.

But... for humanity as a whole... Arabic and Chinese represent a major 
flowering of a different
way of phrasing things. If we were trying to be truly cosmopolitan, maybe 
everyone would
learn English, Arabic and Chinese. But maybe we would have computers and 
courses to make this easier for
people, and do some other fixes in the meantime. (Maybe enlarging some 
vocabularies a bit?)

Long ago, I remember suggesting... that in a rational world... we would make a
Great Bargain, perhaps in the European community or even OECD. English 
would get greater
status as a common official language... IN RETURN for fixing up the spelling,
to make it truly phonetic. And the English would agree to drive on the 
right side of the road,
and the US to fully adopt the metric system.

And with Chinese, computers would have a very special role...

But... long enough, this email is already.

On the Irish side of my family, there were people who fought very hard to
resist English imperialism. Their feelings about it were not restrained.
But they never fought the English language. They felt that they could speak it
and write it better than the English, and that doing so would be a stronger 
for them. (They spoke some Gaelic in school... but never tried to take it 



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