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Languages: Words



     There is an unending battle about letters (literature) and words, the ancients versus the moderns. In Swift´s The Battle of the Books (1697), Homer and Euclid were pitted against Milton and Hobbes. Hugo's Hernani (1830) provoked among theater spectators battles between classics and romantics. Today, there is the WAIS battle, faction versus fiction.
     The fight is also about words. The new online Oxford English Dictionary competes with Microsoft's Encarta Dictionary of World English. For the revival of old regional languages such as Breton, lexicographers are inventing words for telephone, television, and computer.
     In Europe especially, this is all mixed up with dastardly politics. The European Union has created a Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages. It is developing such things as Internet browsers in Welsh and cartoon books in Alsatian. This expensive madness is presumably the creation of professional linguists, who have a bad case of professional deformation but also great skill in the academic game of inventing grant-winning projects.
     At the same time, look to an alliance between regional politicians who want to be a big frog in a small pond and Eurocrats who want to break up sovereign states for the greater glory of Europe. A victory for cacophony.

Ronald Hilton - 10/24/99


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