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The Rise and Decline of the English Language



     Greg Martellotto reports on the fate of English:
     Last year, while teaching English at a Chinese university I met a missionary from the Mississippi Bayou. His English was so awful it pained my ears to listen to him speak. Not surprisingly, he had barely completed high school. Nevertheless, he was offered a teaching position as my colleague, given the desperate eagerness of the students to learn the American English they've heard in "Baywatch" and "Titanic."
     While traveling in Canada recently, I asked a young Korean why he was studying English. He immediately responded, "You cannot get a good job in Korea without English." The supremacy of English persists, but Prince Charles would specify the Queen's English as most desirable. He set a goal some years ago to help educate one billion English speakers by next month.
     I used to take offense at his high-minded denunciation of American English, but now I'm less critical of his specificity than of the corruptions I encounter on a daily basis. I've boycotted most television shows and local nightly news broadcasts in Dallas for their inane coverage transmitted in asinine terms (ya'll). I believe the "dumbing down" of American English is related to ratings and numbers. Coverage presented on NPR, BBC World News, or insightful programs like those on C-Span do not sell advertising spots like "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" Fortunately, the best journals, magazines, and programs don't have to be overly concerned with statistics because of their funding basis(although that's changing). Unfortunately, not enough people pay attention to intelligent media.
     Media in Latin countries tends to be more distinguished, formal, and grammatically precise than in the US. Distinction, formality, and precision in English were tossed overboard about the same time as tea in Boston. As a language learner, I could speak Italian and Spanish quite well long before I could read native newspapers or follow telecasts because of the differences.
     I wonder if this is due to a statistic which begs confirmation: There are over a million words in the Italian language and the people regularly use 75% of them. English has nearly five million words, but fewer than 20% of them are regularly used. It's important to remember that many countries use television as a major form of public language education, particularly where traditional tongues and regional dialects color the landscape. Modern examples of the uniting power of television include the spread of Bahasa Indonesia through 13,500 islands and Mandarin Chinese throughout the world.
     Finally, I'm concerned about the quality of English in America and the future of an America that supports bilingual education, thereby preventing opportunities for success to immigrants. Language constitutes the identity of a nation, and I question if that identity (not to mention cohesive bonding) is threatened in the USA.


     My comment: Actually Hollywood rather than Texas puts the poison into the English language as well as into the minds of millions. It is obvious that the standard of English has declined in the United States. The Founding Fathers and their successors wrote and spoke beautiful English. The United States set an example to the world in promoting primary education, and the Bible and Milton were favorite reading. The literacy rate in the 1850s was extremely high. Since then it has been downhill most of the way.

Ronald Hilton - 12/2/99


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