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Bilingualism



I have mentioned the Tonga couple who care for us. Having read the posting on Mother's Day, Margaret Mackenzie, a Pacific specialist, with characteristic thoughtfulness sent them a message in Tonga about that day, the second Sunday in May, just like here. Incidentally. Tim Brown says the date varies from country to country; in Costa Rica, Mothers Day is in August. The appreciative Tonga couple, being bilingual, could read it. I could not, and I have no intention of learning the language. First lesson: A people cuts itself off from those who do not know its language and do not read its writers, much to their dismay. This is true even of major languages. It can serve a purpose, as when in World War II the US armed forces in the Pacific used American Navajo speakers for secret ccommunications.

Second lesson. Why does Tongan bilingualism not bother me, but European bilingualism does? There are two reasons. The unity of Tonga is not threatened. Countries like Spain are the creation of a long historical process. Spain could be balknized into the something like the old small and weak Taifas kingdoms, which fell an easy prey to invasions. The second reason is that a region can lose some of its best elements. The University of Wales was a reputable institution until students demanded that professors know Welsh. Many internationally well-knoen ones left, and were replaced by second-rate local ones. The same has ocurred in the Basque universities, which have suffered also because a number of faculty members left after being threaened by ETA because of their politics. Incodentally, I have heard a number of speeches by ETA leaders; they impress me as a crowd of violent, semi-literate young men.

IN WAIS, the "I" stands for International. The world needs a world language which is clear in every respect. English is the obvious candidate, but the stress on local pronunciations threatens its effectiveness. Most of the English I hear on TV grates on my ear. In England, the king's English has, like the monarchy, lost its b majesty. There is a ray of hope. The other day I heard a black American woman. Her voice had the beauty of black church singers, and her pronunciation was clear, vibrant and educated. I do not know who she was.

Ronald Hilton - 5/12/01


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