The Future of Languages (and Leadership)

I am distressed by the low level of spoken English; generally Spanish is spoken much better. Since English is now the world language, we have an obligation to cultivate good, clear English. Randy Black concurs: "There is a decline in the quality of spoken and written English. I watched our local morning news today (Dallas ABC affiliate). The news anchor began every story in the 20-minute segment with the word, ìWell.î Well this, well that, well hereís the weather. The woman was not a kid either, but has enough miles on her that she should know better, or get a better writer.

ìBasicallyî is another word that seems to have taken the place of ìand so.î As I watched the media relations spokesman for a major corporation describe some disaster, he began, ìBasically, what happened was there was an accident caused by a backhoe operator that caused thousands of homes to lose telephone service.î

Why not simply, ìPhone service was cut to 10,000 homes due to a construction accident.î

The United States does not have a monopoly on sloppy grammar usage. I recall attending a press conference in Omsk in 1993 with one of my Russian colleagues from the language department at the Omsk State Pedagogical University. We listened as one of Yeltsinís economists, Yegor Gaidar, spoke for about an hour, in Russian, to an audience of students and local media about the ongoing economic crisis following the collapse of the USSRís banking and political system. Even though the politicianís English is fluent, when I asked him several questions in English, he answered me in Russian and my colleague translated.

Later, I asked about her thoughts on the fellow and his presentation. She replied, ìOf course I dislike his politics, but I so enjoy listening to him speak. He speaks Russian perfectly as it should be spoken. His grammar and choice of words are beautifully eloquent. He does not speak Russian in the vulgar manner that is common among so many of our politicians.î

I should add that Yegor is the grandson of Arkady Gaidar, one of the most famous authors of patriotic childrenís stories and novels in Soviet Russia. Arkady was a veteran of WWI and was killed in battle in WWII, but between wars wrote novels, childrenís stories and patriotic screen plays. There is a museum in his honor in Moscow, I seem to recall.

By the time I met Yegor Gaidar at that press conference, he was Minister of Economics and went on to become a Deputy in the State Duma (the Russian Congress) in the late 90s. Gaidar was key to the defense of Yeltsin in late 1993 when a Chechen Duma leader led a revolt and attempted coup in Moscow. He is typically blamed for the ìshock therapyî that enveloped Russia in the early 90s as Russia made its transition to a western style economic system.

From one website: Russian society remains divided over the phenomenon of Yegor Gaidar. His supporters say that he became the fall guy for the difficult beginning of the radical economic reforms and that Russia would not have become a market economy and could not have launched the economic revival of the past few years without him. His opponents say his "shock therapy" had too many social outlays, which cannot be "compensated" to this day. And Yegor Gaidar believes that the ideas of his party will win the minds and hearts of the young people who were born in free Russia".


September 7, 2004


Ronald Hilton -