Tuesday, March 15, 2005

LRC picks
Jeannette Rankin
Who voted against US entry into both World Wars

Language and empire
The rise and fall of several

There is Latin itself, which ultimately failed to outlive the imperium and which slowly transmuted into the vernacular Romance languages.
True except it did long outlive the imperium only not as a first language: it survived well into the ‘Enlightenment’ as the prestige language of learning (as the book says of Greek in Roman times), Western Europe’s scholarly common second language, because it is the language of Western Catholicism.

Not only was Greek the prestige language in the western Roman Empire (as Catullus’ witty little poem about the slave Arrius — Chommoda dicebat cum vellet dicere commoda — implies!) but it was the common working second language throughout the eastern half of the imperium, which is why its absence in Mel Gibson’s Passion is both glaring and unscriptural, why the New Testament was written in it by both Jews and Greeks, why it became the first language of what was left of the imperium there for 10 centuries after the Germanic tribes overran Rome and thus why it became the first language of the Orthodox tradition. (Slavonic and its close sister Russian, while also Indo-European, aren’t directly related to it but of course eventually adopted a modified version of its alphabet and a slew of church words just like the Germanic languages including this one did with Latin.)

While many Latin American countries to this day speak Spanish, in another former colony, the Philippines, the linguistic legacy remains marginal. The Dutch, via the Boer settlers, bequeathed Afrikaans to South Africa, but in their largest and most populous colony, the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, the Dutch language was never widely spoken.
Both in Asia, both Malay peoples and languages. The reason European languages didn’t take in both cases was, unlike Latin America and South Africa, few Europeans moved there as the article goes on to explain. The Filipino languages including the main one, Tagalog, have thousands of Spanish words in them (such as Filipino!) but understanding them is still hit-or-miss, largely miss, if you know Spanish.

Of course thanks to the British and their designated successors the Americans English is the first really global second language.

What could happen to it in a millennium? I can see it ending up like Latin, dying off as a first language and breaking up like the Romance languages, accelerated by the rise of creoles (like Tok Pisin, ‘talk Pidgin’, in New Guinea), maybe with standard English as an world scholarly language like Latin was in Western Europe for so long... though there are some who say that thanks to modern technology the kinds of English are becoming more alike. British English has more Americanisms now, due also to American ascendancy. And thanks to television, Valley Girl talk spread in 20 years (I watched it) from a joke to, like, the real accent of white middle-class American girls. Estuary/Mockney’s doing the same thing to many people in England as listening to Tony Blair shows.

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