The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet?

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at
Fri Mar 25 04:09:14 UTC 2005

Dear list members,

In the following I provide a response to a message dated 25 January 
2005. I found it while trying to rekindle the discussion that was so 
rudely interrupted by personal circumstances. I have squelched the name 
of the author.

> Dear R. A. Stegemann,
> . . . I didn't
> agree with the idea that the "magic of English" IS a false prophet, and
> wanted to steer the subject in a different direction. But apparently 
> any
> direction other than the one you choose is not to your liking.  I have
> tried to introduce a different direction here; I also wonder, since you
> seem to think that English is oppressive, why you even use it? If 
> there is
> something you could do to change the direction the world is going in, 
> why
> not post your messages in another language, and see how many people
> respond.  It seems to me you can't have it both ways.

Before responding, however, I would like to provide you with a copy of 
a poem from La Fontaine, a 17th century poet, with whom some of you may 
already be acquainted. A brief explanation of the poem, written by me, 
is also provided in English for those of you who are not well 
acquainted with the language, but participate regularly on this list.

Au fond d'un antre sauvage
Un satyre et ses enfants
Allaient manger leur potage,
Et prendre l'ecuelle aux dents.

On les eut vus sur la mousse,
Lui, sa femme et maint petit:
Ils n'avaient tapis ni housse,
mais tous fort bon appétit.

Pour se sauver de la pluie,
Entre un passant morfondu.
Au brouet on le convie:
Il n'était pas attendu.

Son hôte n'eut pas la peine
De le semondre deux fois.
D'abord avec son haleine
Il se réchauffe les doigts.

Puis sur le mets qu'on lui donne,
Délicat, il souffle aussi.
Le satyre s'en étonne:
«Notre hôte, à quoi bon ceci?

-- L'un refroidit mon potage;
L'autre réchauffe ma main.
-- Vous pouvez,dit le sauvage,
Reprendre votre chemin.

Ne plaise aux dieux que je couche
Avec vous sous même toit!
Arrière ceux dont la bouche
Souffle le chaud et le froid!»

Fables choisies de la Fontaine.
Collection fondée en 1933 par Félix Guirand.
Nouveaux classiques Larousse.
Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1971.

This a tale of a satyre and his family who invite a stranger in from 
the rain only to refuse him lodging, when they discover that he uses 
his breath to warm his hands and to cool his food. A satyre is a 
mythological figure that apparently served in La Fontaine's time as a 
metaphor for crudity and brutality among the refined and educated of 
17th century France. We are told little of the social status of the 
stranger in the poem.

The title that I selected for this thread was not the "magic of 
English", because I find little magical about the English language that 
I cannot find in the other languages that I know. Each language has its 
own magic that is best understood by those whose culture forms the 
basis for the language.

One of the problems with lingua francas is that most speakers of them 
have little appreciation of the cultures that form their basis. As this 
does not seem to be the case with our host, I will not dwell on the 
issue here, however. Indeed, the title of this thread has nothing to do 
with the magic of language; rather, it has to do with ignorance and the 
way in which the governments of the Far East are exploiting their own 
citizenry's ignorance _about_ the English language for personal gain. I 
distinguish carefully here between knowledge about and knowledge of a 
thing. As I have outlined the issue of ignorance in excruciating detail 
in the HKLNA-Project's, first, interactive, Quicktime movie, I will not 
explain the mechanism by which this exploitation takes place here.

The second part of the title "English a false prophet" has to do with 
the fact that most will never benefit directly from its acquisition. 
Although there are indirect benefits that these hapless polyglots will 
certainly enjoy, there are also extraordinary direct costs that must be 
paid. In contrast, the direct benefits to those who eventually acquire 
sufficient competence in the language to offset the costs can be 
substantial. It is these latter, in tandem with today's 
neo-imperialists, who are promoting the language.

In order to understand how this plays out in society as a whole, you 
must be well acquainted with the concept of expected value -- an 
economics and financial notion that is employed in risk analysis and 
which forms the basis for wise investment decisions. I will explain 
this concept more thoroughly in Part III of the HKLNA-Project's 
Quicktime movie series.

That the question "I also wonder, since you seem to think that English 
is oppressive, why you even use it? If there is something you could do 
to change the direction the world is going in, why not post your 
messages in another language, and see how many people respond?" was 
even asked touches on the very heart of the problem and the issue of 
this thread.

Firstly, English is my TRUE mother tongue, and it is the one that I 
think in best.
Secondly, English appears to be the dominant language of this forum, 
and I can reach the most people through its use in this forum.
Thirdly, just because the language is used by others to oppress them, 
is no reason for me not to use the language to liberate them. Hence, my 
poem from La Fontaine.
Finally, it is exactly those who use the language most, who are in 
power and in the best position to create the changes required to 
relieve the oppression. Indeed, it is they, the Satyre, who created the 
oppressive system in the first place.

I apologize for the belated response, but hopefully, there are a 
sufficient number of responsible people in this forum that I will not 
be removed from the list as a result of my response.


R. A. Stegemann
EARTH's Manager and HKLNA-Project Director
EARTH - East Asian Research and Translation in Hong Kong
Tel/Fax: 852 2630 0349
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