English is soon to become the #2 Language on the web!!!
Chinese will become the internet's primary tongue in as little as 5 years.
Acknowledging that the internet has a grossly disproportionate influence on what is going on in the world today, I wonder whether this primary language swing might signal a shift for the world outside the internet. It concerns me greatly.
But, outside of the obvious population differences between Chinese and the English speaking peoples, are there any other reasons which might even hasten this decline in English's influence?
The English language has two serious problems.
First, in the English language there are simply too many words which mean the same thing. While I accept that it is a very technical language, and that some words are similar but not exact matches, the problem is the motivation to use as many different words as possible, especially in the very same piece of writing. English writing is controlled by a Priesthood who could almost be called the "Thesaurians", as their sacred book is not so much the dictionary as it is the thesaurus. The Thesaurians genuinely feel that the use of a 110,000 word vocabulary reflects a higher degree of intelligence than the use of a less technical 30,000 word vocabulary. Basically, we are all taught this from a very young age.
The Thesaurians are a varied lot. Many are simply elitists who delight in the thought that there are many who will be forced to go to the dictionary to uncover the full meaning of their message. Others Thesaurians are lyricists and poets who need as many words as possible to fit their particular rhyme or rhythm patterns. At the low end of the Thesaurian scale are those who simply suffer from a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior which tears at them when they re-use a word. These poor souls are repulsed at the thought that they might accidentally use a word twice in the same paragraph, so much so that they often spend 20 minutes constructing a simple business e-mail which could be done in 5 minutes by someone less "scholarly."
But the massive vocabulary isn't the only problem faced by the English language.
Secondly, and more importantly, the spelling of words in the English language is an inconsistent mess.
Hey, I'm sure that there are other issues which language experts can add to this list, such as the degree of focus of "tense" in our language.
But I'm not totally down on the use of English. Hey, at least we don't concern ourselves with whether the new European Currency is male or female. How silly was that?
No, I'm only concerned with the obvious aspects of English which would contribute to the predicted fall from it's current position of prominence. I want to question whether anything can be done by us to improve the English language to the point that this loss of influence can be stopped. And in doing so, also make the learning of English faster and easier.
In my mind, the influence of the Thesaurians cannot be changed. Whether you feel that Elitism is:
you have to agree with the sage wisdom of the poet Kris Kristofferson, who teaches us from his masterwork "Jesus was a Capricorn" (mp3):
"Everybody's gotta have somebody to look down on."
This is the basic premise of elitism, and I got news for you folks....it ain't goin' away.
If you tell a writer that he or she should limit themselves to a 25,000 word vocabulary, all that will be heard is the writer is expected to write to the level of the "lowest common denominator." And this is usually not a positive thing, unless of course the writer is trying to market something, in which case writing to the "lowest common denominator" in a large audience is a skill which is to be envied. Stephen King is one of the highest examples of an author who can make ALL comfortable with his prose, be they ditch diggers or English teachers.
Note to the HUMOR IMPAIRED: Most of the above has been "tongue in cheek", and even somewhat self effacing. The serious stuff begins now........
What we can do immediately is correct the spelling of the English language. Why can't we fix the spelling of words like ISLAND or CIVIL? When I think of the billions of hours of educational time which is wasted each year--just in this country--in the mastery of such a flawed system, I can't help but wonder why we haven't fixed this mess sooner. I can accept that, in the past, translation might have been an obstacle. Today, cheap computer programs exist which can translate fifty different languages. These universal translator programs cost less than $100. The internet has totally free translation sites, such as www.freetranslation.com. It would be simple and easy and very cheap to translate our literature to a new logical English spelling. And the time to do it is right as the move from paper based media to digital is happening even as we speak. Talk about a window of opportunity.
For those who feel that this is a trivial subject, I encourage you to consider that there are languages which are taught in a fraction of the time that it takes English to be learned. The public radio program "The Best of Our Knowledge" recently ran a feature which reported that the average Swiss student in the first 6 months masters as much of his or her language as the average American student masters in the first 3 years. This difference is staggering, and while there are no doubt many reasons for it, I feel that it must be somewhat linked to the sad state of spelling in the English Language.
Finally, for those who maintain that the integrity of our language needs to be preserved -- the philosophy embraced in places where people speak one language but write in the pure form of the language (ie: Syria) -- I would ask them to envision a future where their grand children are speaking Esperanto, or Swiss, or IDO or even Chinese--with English being the language of the "Old Folks." A future brought about over a long period, not as a result of a military conquest, but instead due to a virtual "survival of the fittest" on the battlefield of the internet. Darwin would be proud.
Recognizing the mess that the English language is in now, I can easily envision such a future. It's in the interest of all English speaking peoples to do something about it now.
Go to: Kimbro Home Page
About the author:
Showing great promise early on, Mike won the Junior Class Division of the prestigious Iroquois High School English Competition of 1974 with his "A Letter to J. Alfred Prufrock." Motivated by the realization that he'd forgotten to do his prior night's homework, an inspired Kimbro would employ the economical fashion which would characterize many of his later homework efforts, garnering the well deserved $75.00 prize.
The learned halls of Louisville, Kentucky's Iroquois High School would again provide the fertile backdrop for literary greatness, where--just one year later--Mike would collaborate with West Point bound classmate Gordon Mercer on a minor freshening of a truly classic poem of the English language. No doubt inspired by the suggestive nature of the poem's title -- "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" -- here's a sampling of their work:
Today, such an effort would have caught the attention of the executives at Death Row Records, launching a career as a lyricist in the world of hip-hop music. But back in 1975, many years before Coolio, 2Pac, or even The Notorious B.I.G., exhibition of such creative talent only earned the epithet perverts.
But fate wasn't finished extracting payback for the defacing of one of the gems of Mr. Eddie Lerding's Survey of English Literature class. It was as if Sir Walter Scott himself was striking back from the grave when revenge came only weeks later in the form of a demonic standardized college test called the ACT. In a battle which will no doubt be mentioned with the all-time greats (Leonard vs Hearns, UCLA vs NC State, and High Life vs Michelob), the English section of the ACT would prove to be Mike's ultimate opponent. And while a lesser man would have simply resigned himself to the fact that it might be time to "take your medicine" for years of daydreaming in English class, Kimbro's strength of character would not relent. Tested to the utter limits of his intellectual being, Mike was ultimately forced to go to the classic Las Vegas ("I've got 4 choices...and I haven't seen one of these recently") strategy which had historically served him so well.
Luck proved to be a fair weather friend, however, as the bad news delivered weeks later by the postman hit Mike's scholastic prospects like the spores of a virulent strain of Anthrax. The ACT's English score would pull down his composite score to 27, eliminating any chance for Mike's acceptance by The Sorbonne. ;~)
Crushed by the realization that the hours spent enduring French class had been instantly reduced to wasted time, Mike became one bummed dude. Fortunately, his running mates offered their unconditional love and the following sage insight:
"Look 'bro, just be happy you didn't take the SAT. You'd have really been screwed!"
Buoyed by his buddy's "Things Could Always Be Worse..." philosophy, Mike gave serious thought to overcoming his total lack of prowess in the technical details of the English language. But ultimately, instead of allowing himself to be beaten down by the fact that he didn't know the difference between a pronoun and a preposition, Mike found comfort in the realization that the Good Lord had already placed him on the road to literary success and happiness, as poetry wasn't constrained by such technical limitations.
Unfortunately, there was a major roadblock which stood in the way to Mike's eventual "laureation", and not surprisingly this roadblock was found between his ears.
Following is an example of a Japanese poem called the haiku. It's in the traditional 5-7-5 structure, conceived in the steam room at Bally Total Fitness in Hurst, then completed that same evening after the Super Bowl game. It represents Mike's attempt at achieving inner harmony through the acceptance of all which is poetic:
Pines Segregation's Passing
In Hell Hitler Smiles
Sadly, unable to see it merely as the cute little piece of poetic fluff that it is, Kimbro regards the haiku in much the say way (literary whacking!) that he views the lyrics of the rock group Cheap Trick, particularly when considered along side a serious poetic masterpiece such as Peter Sinfield's "Pirates" (interpretations at mp3 #1 & #2.)
Accepting that this haiku prejudice would surely limit his poetic potential, Kimbro turned his attention to non-fiction. His most recent literary effort is a 150 plus page thesis which will someday undoubtedly prove to be the defining study of the golf swing. Publication of this masterpiece has been hampered by a chronic lack of vision on the part of editors and publishers, who actually view Mike's lack of PGA Tour experience as a negative!?! But the publishing industries' total lack of "fries" was indeed made manifest in the editors' unreasonable obsession with the fact that Kimbro has broken 100 only three times in his golf career...OK, twice if you insist on "Summer Rules".
Today, Mike is included with so many artists who exhibited early brilliance in their craft, only to peak prematurely (i.e. Donnie Osmond, Debbie Gibson, Gary Coleman), bringing to mind a quote from the ultimate Sci-Fi movie "The Blade Runner":
"The star that shines twice as bright must burn out twice as fast."
Sites related to the fight for improved English Spelling:
The Simplified Spelling Society
Taking Ockham's Razor to English spelling
Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling
And don't miss the definitive masterpiece on the subject:
The Chaos of [English Pronunciation] by G. Nolst Trenite (a.k.a. Charivarius or simply Gerard), written in 1922.