“Is the world’s focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages?”

Reply Wed 20 Feb, 2013 06:30 pm
I recently watched an interesting segment, “Don’t insist on English,” conducted by English teacher, Patricia Ryan, and I thought she brought up an interesting question, “Is the world’s focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages?” In addition, I prompted to go even further to say, “Can forcing English on individuals from other countries, stunt the growth of other languages altogether?”
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Reply Wed 20 Feb, 2013 07:30 pm
Interesting question.

I don't know enough to answer wisely.
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Reply Wed 20 Feb, 2013 08:37 pm
I don't think English is being forced on anyone. People who look to a career in international commerce choose to learn English because is the language of the largest consumer economy in the world--the United States--and the language of three of the world's largest financial centers--London, New York and Los Angeles. As for whether it prevents the spread of "great" ideas in other languages, i think that's a red herrring. If those ideas are truly great, and the language in question is not marginal (not that many people speak Tagalog, for example), it will be accessible to many non-English speakers. Spanish, for example, is widely spoken in the world, as are French and the Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of Chinese. For that matter, any truly great idea can be translated into other languages.
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Reply Wed 20 Feb, 2013 09:39 pm
A few things to consider, even though you probably won’t want to:

English or American, as you wish, has only been a dominant language and only in some academic or functional areas for a relatively short time. For example, historically in the modern world (circa A.D.) the dominant language was Latin.

In fact well into the 20th century a science, medical, or theological degree was impossible without being fluent in Latin (totally fluent in some disciplines, and at least as far as reading and writing in other disciplines).

In the 19th and first part of the 20th century important work in any field of science was far likelier to be written in German, Russian, French, or even Hungarian or Polish than in English. Many of the autobiographies of American scientists working with the great names from Europe discuss how they were required to bone up on German to be allowed into conversations.

During the Manhattan project since many of the scientist “movers and shakers” were Hungarian, even Robert Oppenhimer (the man in charge) had to keep up with his strong German and modest Hungarian abilities to talk to his consultants.

Where English is used today has more to do with practicality than some devious plan. One example should suffice; Aviation uses English as a standard for communication. But when standards were deemed necessary and for years after the aviation industry *was* America. A pilot flying into your country had an extremely high probability of being American. Since most pilots and mechanics and everything else were heavily American-based it would be easier for the 20% (a guess) non-English speakers to learn English than the 80% who spoke English some other language.

From my profession background I know that compared to most languages English takes fewer words and so less text space to convey the same information. The same can be said for speed of verbally passing information. There also tends to be less ambiguity in communications. So there are good reasons to choose English.

Lastly, fear not, as with the last election here in the U.S. we seem to be on a certain course of becoming a bi-Lingual country. And since native Spanish speakers could never be forced to speak English (politics will not allow it, even the suggestion makes one a racist) and don’t seem to want to in any case, more and more we will be native English speakers that become Spanish speakers. One obvious reason for this will be employment, as more employers will not hire non-Spanish speakers.

I do consulting and I’ve seen more and more jobs in Florida, Texas, California, and New York being closed to me because I don’t speak Spanish. So it may be that the language you need to be most concerned about may soon be Spanish or Mandarin for that matter but English, not so much.
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