Paul J. Werbos, Dr.
paul.werbos at verizon.net
Thu Mar 10 22:45:08 UTC 2005
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
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
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
learn what we can from his observations -- and reinterpret it in a more
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
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
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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