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International Language

     The French are dismayed that their once international language has lost that distinction. Visiting China, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin produced an original argument in its favor. He spoke to a French class in Shanghai and counseled that the Chinese study French. Why? everyone is learning English, and as a result the English is being deformed. French has preserved its purity.
     Well. Some of the best English writers today are, like Conrad in his time, not native speakers. It is true that the level of speech in English is inadequate, but that is partly the result of poor education, the linguists' counsel "Leave your language alone," the cult of dialects, and the need for democratic speakers to be folksy. As a result, I can scarcely understand some English speakers. By way of contrast, Castilian is a remarkably clear language. The Spanish Academy has had as its task "to clean, fix (i.e. codify), and polish" the language. The friars who taught the Indians of "Latin" America were well-spoken, and it is amazing to find Indian peasants speaking clear, beautiful and grammatical Spanish. Today, it is the Spanish language which holds "Hispanic" America together.
     As the world language, English has certain obligations. One is to make its spelling rational. The other is to promote a variant of the language distinguished by its oral clarity and harmony. It would have to be close to common English. Acoustical tests should be possible to specify the choice. In England providing a standard was the role of the King's English, as in France the language of the Loire Valley, in Germany Buhnensprache, and in Spanish Castilian. Now that English is not an insular language, the norm must be accepted internationally. Meanwhile. a first step would be for our TV people, many of whom sound illiterate and tone deaf, to clean up, fix and polish their language. I will not speak of some people teaching in our universities.

Ronald Hilton - 09/27/98