The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet?

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at
Wed Jan 26 15:25:02 UTC 2005

Fellow contributors,

In response to Roland's brave comments about Europeans' national
languages remaining the national languages of their respective
citizenries "for ever", I have little to offer. Certainly this is the
wish of many Europeans. I am more interested, however, in his comments
with regard to the meso- and acrolectal aspects of the English language
in Europe.

If I have properly understood the notions of baso-, meso-, mesoacro-,
and acro-lectal varieties of a second language, they refer to their
level of comprehensibility across demographic boundaries. In all
honesty, I find these notions a little contrived and only very useful
in an abstract sense. This is because they have both a horizontal and
vertical dimension to them. The horizontal dimension exists, because
low-level competence in the English language becomes so mixed with
competence in the local language or dialect that what results is only
understandable -- not necessarily very useful -- to those speakers of
the local dialect. Thus, in a large country there can be many
basolectal varieties of the same second language. It is vertical in the
sense that second language competence is used as a linguistic filter to
rise through a nation's education system. Thus, only those with good
passive and some active competence ever make it into a local
university. In fact, it is this phenomenon that makes universal second
language requirements nonsensical in nations with little or no need for
a second language within their national borders -- such as Hong Kong
and Japan.

In this regard, Malaysia lies somewhere between Singapore and Hong
Kong. Demographically it is more homogeneous than Singapore, but far
more heterogeneous than Hong Kong. Moreover, if the Chinese population
in Malaysia is anything like the Chinese population in Singapore, it is
far more heterogeneous than the statistics provided by the Malaysian
government would have the world believe.

Returning now to the use of English in Europe and Malaysia and the Far
East. It appear to me that Europe's approach toward language -- not
necessarily the English language, is far healthier both from a cultural
and linguistic point of view. One learns the languages of one's
neighbors, not the languages of former, distant colonial powers. This
reduces the formation of basolectal varieties, because their acquirers
rid themselves of them automatically as soon as they realize that they
are of little use. Moreover, there is no need for mesolectal varieties,
because the national language of each country already serves this
purpose. I believe this is the point that Roland was making. Thus, only
the national languages, and the mesoacro- and acrolectal varieties are

In effect, Far East Asians are chasing after a pot of gold at the end
of a rainbow that does not exist and are destroying the utility of
English as a world language as a result. In contrast, Europeans are
preserving cultural and linguistic traditions that in the end will
contribute to the preservation of our world's ecosystem and help to
keep rampant globalization in check.

So, why are the Brits in favor of the whole world learning English, if
not imperial vanity -- what a bane for humanity.


On 26 Jan 2005, at 18:51, Roland Breton wrote:

> le 26/01/05 0:13, R. A. Stegemann à moogoonghwa at a écrit :
>> In 2001 Business Week wrote: "While English is fast becoming a
>> prerequisite for landing a good job in Europe, only 41% of the people
>> on the Continent speak it -- and only 29% speak it well enough to
>> carry
>> on a conversation". (Gill 2001, 117). I wonder how Europe's 29% match
>> up against Malaysia's basolectal and mesolectal varieties of
>> Malaysia's
>> so-called Malaysian English?
>> Hamo
>  The difference is that for most Europeans who are not English
> native-speakers, English is not in position to become acrolect or
> mesolect,
> but a simple business subsidiary language. As their their national
> language
> is staying for ever their acrolect and culture language.
> Best regards
> Roland Breton
> ——————————————————————————————
> Roland J.-L. Breton
> Professor Emeritus of Geography
> University of Paris 8
> (Vincennes-St Denis)
> <breton-roland at>

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