Sunday, March 20, 2011

Latin 9.0, the World Language

Our security is tied to that which is familiar. Our home, friends, family, country, cultural traditions, language. Some people like to explore and travel, to move outside that which is comfortable; some prefer the warmth of home. Some people like to jump out of airplanes; some think that is nuts.

The Philippines has been locked at home for centuries. How do you get an entire nation to explore, to set aside the past, to jump? To let go? To feel secure whilst letting go?

It seems to me that Filipinos have to arrive at an understanding that letting go is the safest way, the warmest way, the most thrilling way. They don’t need street riots or guns. They need to jump intellectually, and culturally.

Let’s consider the ongoing debate in the Philippines about English. During the colonial period, use of English became important. A while back, it was yanked from the main school curriculum. Then it was put back. Almost everyone in the Philippines speaks a little English. A great many are fluent. It is the language in which government documents are written.

But adopting English as THE official language is a large leap and bound away because the idea crashes headlong against Filipino pride, Filipino heritage, Filipino independence. Filipino security.

Actually, to call the language spoken by America, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, half of the Philippines and most of the commercial world as “English” is itself a part of the problem. I prefer to think of this language as “Latin 9.0, the World Language”. It is a language that is not owned by the English, or the Americans. It originates predominantly in Greek and Latin, but has merged and morphed along the centuries as it has met and been shaped by new words and new cultures. Technology has introduced many new words over the past 30 years. The World Language is spoken just about everywhere.

The difficulty and the beauty of the World Language is its stunning complexity. The exceptions outnumber the rules; that makes it hard to learn. The beauty is you can express complexities and subtleties better than in any other language in the world. You can describe pictures in stunning terms not found in other languages; they have to borrow from the World Language to complete their context. That drives purists, like the French, mad.

You can innovate and build better with the World Language than with any other dialect.

Complex. Subtle. Broad. Useful.

The World Language is the great enabler of innovation and commerce and cross-cultural meetings of the mind.

The World Language is not American.

For sure it is not.

The World Language belongs to anyone who speaks it. It belongs to Filipinos. Filipinos speak it well, and are enlarged for it. They are in no way diminished for having the ability to speak in elegant or complex terms.

I personally think the driving vision of the Philippines should be to become a world class nation. To become relevant in the world community. There is security in that, and excitement. There is nothing to be gained by remaining an orphan, a woe begotten child with no direction and who still needs his ratty Tagalog “blanky” for security. There is nothing to be gained by holding anger toward old colonialists who, frankly, have less and less interest in the Philippines every year.

Security is to be found by leaping past those nations that are bound by dialects that do not serve them well at all.

The Philippines already has a head start. It would be tragic to go back to a dialect that no one else in the world speaks. It would be foolish to continue to muddle along debating the pros and cons of English. It would be wise to leverage one’s existing strength to get even stronger, and to embrace the World Language – not English or American language – as the Philippine national language.

The official language of the Philippines should be the World Language.
The Philippines should take pride that it is a skilled speaker of the World Language and move out into the bright, secure, warm, exciting light with a voice that means something.

1 comment:

  1. I realize that I’m not the most informed person when it comes to the Philippines and that this post is about the Philippines, but I like language, and I disagree with your conclusion about the superiority of what you call “The World Language.”

    For one thing, the idea that any one language is somehow inherently better than another is ridiculous. All languages developed independently, but they all also developed for the same basic purpose: communication. And they all manage this task equally, even if differently. You say that English can “express complexities and subtleties better than in any other language in the world,” evidenced by the fact that other languages borrow words from English. Considering the fact that many words in English are taken from other languages, this conclusion is rather flawed. Entrepreneur is French, Kindergarten is German, Crescendo is Italian. I did some googling, and apparently Boondocks and Yo-yo both come from Tagalog. So if borrowing words is an indication of a language’s shortcomings, English pretty clearly has some weaknesses of its own.

    You also say “You can innovate and build better with [English] than with any other dialect.” I’m limited in my knowledge of languages; I only know English and German. But even with just these two languages as examples I know that this isn’t true. German has this awesome habit of smashing words together to make ridiculously long compound words with pinpoint definitions. A fun one is Höchsgeschwindigkeitsbegrenzung, which means Speed Limit. But not all of their compound nouns are as easy to translate. Schadenfreude, for example, can be translated literally but nonsensically as “damage joy,” succinctly but incompletely as “spitefulness,” or accurately but awkwardly as “pleasure at the misfortune of others.” English just doesn’t have a word that captures the concept (which everyone knows and has experienced) as well as German does. And there are tons of these super accurate compound words; the German language is basically one big box of Legos. This doesn’t mean in any way that German is a better language than English. It just means that German is structured differently than English, and can therefore be descriptive in ways that English cannot. You can definitely “innovate and build” with the English language, but by no means can you do so “better...than with any other dialect.”

    Insisting that a culture abandon its language because the history of a language is unimportant also doesn’t make much sense, especially when holding the English language up as the replacement. English speakers are very very attached to our own impractical linguistic history. An example of this is the fact that we are long overdue for a spelling reform. A majority of our words look nothing like how they sound. This makes our language hard to read, hard to write, and hard to learn. If we were practical and looked to the future, we would toss out our current spellings and lose the words “night,” “Wednesday,” “through,” “hi,” “high,” “heigh,” and “hie.” But we (myself included) like the history of the words. We like that we can look at the word “night” and know that it must have come from somewhere where the “gh” was pronounced, and that it has evolved over time to become the word as we now pronounce it. And so we stick with our impractical and difficult-to-learn spellings. The disinclination to throw away our history, no matter how impractical, is part of what makes a people a people. It’s more than just a language. It’s a part of a culture, and a part of the people who make up the culture. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to throw their history and culture away just for the sake of practicality.

    Also, English is a Germanic language, and while a large amount of its vocabulary is Greek and Latin in origin, the language itself did not “originate predominately in Greek and Latin.”

    Apparently I miss being in college, considering I just spent the better portion of a Saturday night drafting a response about my views on language. What can I say, I am a nerd at heart.


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