[lg policy] Linguistic xenophobia

Dave Sayers D.Sayers at SWANSEA.AC.UK
Mon Jan 16 09:34:38 UTC 2012


I was searching for Ann's excellent "exotic or maybe even subversive" 
line (below) in preparing this email, and I decided to reply to this old 
email thread since it follows quite neatly. I've changed the original 
email subject though, to a more generic one.

Anyway... perhaps some US-based subscribers could comment on the recent 
kerfuffle in the Republican candidate grudge match, namely that Jon 
Huntsman speaks Mandarin, and Mitt Romney speaks (shock horror) French.

I remember when the UK media used to (occasionally) mention that Tony 
Blair spoke fluent French, usually including a clip of a TV interview in 
France. I recall it being a mix of gentle mockery and begrudging pride.

I'm sure these sorts of things are either hilarious, baffling, or both, 
to the world's bi-plus-lingual majority.

Dave

--
Dr. Dave Sayers
Honorary Research Fellow
College of Arts & Humanities
and Language Research Centre
Swansea University
dave.sayers at cantab.net
http://swansea.academia.edu/DaveSayers



On 19:59, Ann Anderson Evans wrote:
> Coming from a country (the United States) where speaking a second 
> language is considered exotic or maybe even subversive, I found your 
> posting spot on.
>
> Ann
>
> On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 6:42 PM, <dzo at bisharat.net 
> <mailto:dzo at bisharat.net>> wrote:
>
>     Or is it really so weird? I've sometimes wondered why countries
>     with essentially one "national language" (mother tongue) don't
>     seek to distribute second language learning more often. Arguably
>     it could have benefits in terms of external trade and relations,
>     and facilitate a kind of "crossroads" effect to the extent that it
>     facilitates selective borrowing (and "digestion" in the nationally
>     spoken language) from diverse other parts of the world.
>
>     Not sure if Hungary has considered that aspect, but could there be
>     any merit to this position? Examples? (Japan from the late 1800s
>     to WWII??)
>
>     Could this be an advantage of more or less monolingual states that
>     Hungary has stumbled upon withou knowing it?
>
>     Don
>
>     Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
>
>     -----Original Message-----
>     From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com <mailto:hfsclpp at gmail.com>>
>     Sender:
>     lgpolicy-list-bounces+dzo=bisharat.net at groups.sas.upenn.edu
>     <mailto:bisharat.net at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
>     Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2011 13:48:35
>     To: lp<lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
>     <mailto:lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>>
>     Reply-To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
>     <mailto:lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>>
>     Subject: [lg policy] Hungarians Perplex World With Weird Language
>     Policy
>
>     Hungarians Perplex World With Weird Language Policy
>
>     Ann Althouse picks up one of the oddest reports of the week: the
>     Hungarian government wants to discourage students from taking English
>     as their first foreign language because it is so easy!  The original
>     article in The Wall Street Journal is a head-scratcher:
>
>        Hungary's government wants to dethrone English as the most common
>     foreign language taught in Hungarian schools. The reason: It's just
>     too easy to learn.
>
>        "It is fortunate if the first foreign language learned is not
>     English. The initial, very quick and spectacular successes of English
>     learning may evoke the false image in students that learning any
>     foreign language is that simple," reads a draft bill obtained by news
>     website Origo.hu that would amend Hungary's education laws.
>
>        Instead, the ministry department in charge of education would
>     prefer if students "chose languages with a fixed, structured
>     grammatical system, the learning of which presents a balanced
>     workload, such as neo-Latin languages."
>
>        Besides giving a deceptive sense of achievement, English learning
>     also makes acquiring other languages more difficult, the ministry
>     argues. Reversing the order, on the other hand, makes learning English
>     essentially effortless, it added.
>
>     The mystery deepens as the WSJ reporter, Gergo Racz, tells us that
>     Hungary's real problem isn't that too many Hungarians take the wimpy
>     way out and learn English; it is that most Hungarians don't learn any
>     foreign language at all.  In fact, 75 percent of Hungarians say
>     (presumably in Magyar) that they don't speak any foreign language at
>     all, and only six percent claim to speak one well.
>
>     Surely a government in this situation would go for the easiest
>     language on offer?
>
>     Few countries need foreign language fluency more than Hungary.  The
>     Magyar language is distantly, very distantly related to Finnish, but
>     otherwise Hungarian is in a world of its own.  A traveler in Europe
>     who has even a smattering of familiarity with a Romance, Germanic and
>     Slavic language will generally get around pretty well; the language
>     roots allow you to decipher some of the basics: words like
>     'bookstore', 'toilet', 'train station' and 'trolley' don't vary all
>     that much within the language families.  Be able to sound out the
>     Cyrillic and Greek alphabets and you can survive if not always thrive
>     from Vladivostok to Valencia.
>
>     In Hungary you can forget that; when I first visited Hungary about
>     twenty years ago, even a word like 'restaurant', which is pretty
>     recognizable all across Europe, was no use. The Magyar word for
>     'restaurant' is (if I still remember this correctly) 'etterim'. At
>     that time, Germany was the English of Budapest, and English was the
>     French.  That is, if you needed to discuss directions or money with a
>     taxi driver or a news vendor, German was the language to use.  If you
>     wanted to talk literature with a journalist or professor, English was
>     the way to go.
>
>     Poland was a different case back then.  Everybody over fifty spoke
>     German and everybody under fifty spoke Russian --- but given the
>     circumstances attending the introduction of those languages in Poland,
>     nobody wanted to admit a knowledge of either.  Almost nobody spoke
>     English there back then --- the Soviets discouraged English study even
>     more than the Hungarians.  If you asked for directions in the former
>     occupation languages people pretended they didn't understand you; the
>     only way out was to be able to say in both German and Russian, "Excuse
>     me, please.  I'm an American and I don't speak Polish.  Can you tell
>     me..." and then you ask your question.  Once the ice was broken,
>     people
>     were happy to help.
>
>     None of this explains the mysteries of Hungarian language policy;
>     perhaps some Hungarian bureaucrats have a little too much time on
>     their hands?
>
>
>     http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/08/20/hungarians-perplex-world-with-weird-language-policy/
>
>     --
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>
> -- 
> *Ann Anderson Evans*
> *Writer and Adjunct Professor, Montclair State University*
> *(201) 792-6892 or (973) 495-0338
> *
> *www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com 
> <http://www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com>*
> *www.annandersonevans.com <http://www.annandersonevans.com>*
> The Abortion Wars:  Is a Truce Possible?
> on Kindle ebooks.
> *
> *
> *
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>
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