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Decline of English



     Language is an essential component of international understanding. In my youth there were standards. For English, King's English; for French, Loire Valley French as codified by the Academy; for Spanish, Castilian ditto; for German, the language of the theater (Buhnensprache), and so forth. French was the lingua franca. Now things have changed. The lingua franca is English. However, the King's English has been dethroned by the cult of scarcely comprehensible regional accents. Apparently the popular American sitcom "Frasier" features a physical therapist from Manchester who speaks in a thick, grotesque Mancunian accent. As a result American English is becoming the standard. But what is American English?
     When I first came to this country I was struck by the fact that women were more cultured than men and spoke better English. Formal speeches were dignified. The recent Senate impeachment proceedings still featured speeches by Republicans which were classical models. In particular, Henry Hyde made a speech which was moving, well-phrased and beautifully presented. His reward? A squawking woman TV commentator dismissed it as old-fashioned oratory. American English is spread abroad by Hollywood in films using gross, in fact nasty English, of limited vocabulary and confused meaning. Our vernacular features repeated "you know"s to hide paucity of vocabulary. Is this the world language?
     The situation is much better in Spanish. Whereas in Spain the linguistic picture is muddled, TV features women announcers and reporters who speak with traditional clarity and beauty, and in Spanish America it is amazing to hear even illiterate peasants speaking excellent Spanish.
     The Modern Language Association of America reports a lamentable decline in English studies as students choose money-making careers. The great models of English prose (not Hemingway!) are forgotten. Some of our first-class journalists, god bless them, write beautiful English, but their voices are drowned out by Hollywood and TV. This is not an elitist concern, although you may choose to call it that. It is a demand that we raise our English to the level becoming the world's lingua franca.

Ronald Hilton - 01/18/99


More on Decline of English



     Bill Van Orsdol is the most public-spirited and patient man I know, and WAIS is deeply indebted to him as the producer of our TV programs. It was therefore a surprise to receive from him a long and angry commentary on my memo on "The Decline of English." I quote only extracts of it:
     Dear Ronald: Yes, Henry Hyde speaks in clear English, but the content of his speech was trash. He kept saying what a serious "crime" our President was guilty of, and likened the Republican attempt to dethrone him to the battle at Iwo Jima! What a joke. I was at IWO JIMA for two weeks of heavy combat and I know his comparison was an insult to our Armed Forces that fought that battle; many are still on that God-forsken bit of volcanic ash till eternity. Hipocracy, hipocracy thy name is Henry Hyde. How can you remain a "mugwump" under such circumstances? Yours truly, Bill Van Orsdol."
     My comment: I was referring only to Henry Hyde's command of English. By coincidence, this morning I watched an excellent TV program on linguistics and hermeneutics. A text can mean different things to different people according to their predisposition. Bill, conditioned by his experience, stresses one item in the speech which did not catch my attention. I was listening as one with a professional interest in the international role of languages and words, in this case "misdemeanor." In the text of the constitution, it is incorrect to link it with "high", a confirmation of the theories of hermeneutics.
     As a mugwump, I note that two individuals with whom I have close ties (I will not name them) have diametrically opposed views of Clinton. One, a Democrat, always defends him, the other, a Republican, becomes enraged at the mention of him. This attitude is peculiar to the system of parties (which George Washington condemned as "factions").
     In Uruguay there are two main parties with very similar policies, the Blancos and the Colorados. Once, when a Blanco told me he had a son, I asked if it would upset him if his son became a communist. Not at all, he replied. What if he became a Colorado?, I asked. I was the amazed recipient of a tirade expressing fury at the idea. As a mugwump, I keep calm when talking with both Blancos and Colorados. Their mutual antipathy goes back to the civil war they fought. Incidentally, I note that in this country Southerners are beginning to demand a revision of the Northerners' version of our Civil War.
     The world needs more mugwumps. I will be a non-candidate for the non-presidency of this non-party.
     In conclusion, let me simply say that I can perfectly well understand Bill's feelings. The world needs more people like him too.

Ronald Hilton - 01/19/99


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