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The Internet

English, The Global Internet Language? 306

dsplat writes: "Atlantic Monthly has a story about the role of English as a global language. Most of the first two parts would be of interest only to a minority of Slashdot readers. However, the third part concerns the effects of technology on both the spread of English and the very nature of what we call English. It discusses the current uses of Machine Translation, Text to Speech and Speech to Text and the power of connecting the three. It also points out the error rates involved. Nearly every point made in the article was obvious to me, but I have both the background and the interest to follow a lot of it. The beauty of this is that it conveys this information accurately in a way that my parents could follow."

There are a number of interesting links there as well, including one to an interview with David Graddol of The English Company U.K in which he comments:

The type of language switching and word borrowing that typically goes on in any multilingual community is now happening on the Internet on a massive scale, and it is difficult to know what long-term impact this might have on the way the international community will use English.

The main article stated, "As has been widely noted, the Internet, besides being a convenient vehicle for reaching mass audiences such as, say, the citizenry of Japan or Argentina, is also well suited to bringing together the members of small groups -- for example, middle-class French-speaking sub-Saharan Africans." The two comments together paint a picture of various communities across the net infecting each other with their jargon as the members they have in common carry linguistic information with them from place to place on the net. Because the net is notoriously devoid of geographical places, the divisions are solely on the basis of interest and language. Sufficient interest will motivate the transfer of ideas, although I can't see how sufficient fluency will overcome lack of interest. That implies that those people who do not participate in online culture will be the last to adopt the linguistic innovations that spread from here. And conversely, we will adopt their linguistic creations only when they don't attempt to replace one of our own. After all, how many regular Slashdot users mispronounce "Internet" as "Information Superhighway"?

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English, The Global Internet Language?

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  • Actually Churchill was an advocate of a restricted 500-word vocabulary English language. Believe it or not, it was called Basic English. It never got off the ground though because the people teaching it kept using words not on the official list (you are supposed to use compound words and such to compensate for the lack of a vocabulary).
  • Don Harlow [] has a huge amount of information about Esperanto, including a detailed history of the more successful auxlangs []. There's also a debate on auxlangs [].
  • Latin doesn't give special treatment to any country? Consider this:

    You can take entire paragraphs in Italian and convert them to Latin with minor changes.

    If you are in the West, you at least know the alphabet.

    If you are in Eastern Europe, you at least know half of the alphabet.

    If you are somewhere else, then you are f*cked.
  • He can undoubtedly give a close approximation of the word's pronounciation but you can do that to a certain degree in Chinese as well.

    You're really stretching here. You can give a close approximation to the sound of an unknown English word, but the phonetic element of a Chinese character (at least in my experience) pretty much serves as an aid to memorizing the pronunciation. It's not good for so much (and may not even be relevant) if you're just trying to guess.


  • Me too. Sorry about my poor English. Even I'm a OS programmer/designer, I'm not good at speaking / writing English, for I'm a Chinese. According to my mother, she could read Chinese pinyin ( based on alphabet ), so she may use computer with keyboard. But my father could use it, so he always only use mouse click here and there. As he just reads news, plays game, etc, English is never need to learn. And I have a Hanwan Chinese-input 'pen', my father never need use keyboard at all. Do you computer-living people could imagine it?
  • English as you know it arose around Shakespeare's time and slightly after Chaucer's. That's why you can read the former and not quite the latter.

    Before that, it was basically a dialect of Old German.

    English is a Germanic language with many (> 40%) expressions and words borrowed from other languages (mainly Latin-derived ones).

    People (non-English speakers presumably) resist English so much mostly because it takes a lot of effort to learn a foreign language and in the learning process, you can't help but think that the grammer/vocabulary/etc. is totally weird and stupid. That was how I felt when I was learning French.
  • Americans are damned arrogant and think the world should learn English to accommodate us, but we shouldn't need to do likewise.

    So are the French, but give the Americans credit: we are still a world superpower, and a large part of the developed world does speak English as a first or second language.

  • Hmmm.. as Timothy's post says: Because the net is notoriously devoid of geographical places, the divisions are solely on the basis of interest and language... If the net does become a force in world language development (this is yet to be seen), perhaps you should reconsider your point. All it will take for Chinese to become a world language is enough Chinese speakers getting on the net. A second point: the figures for number of speakers of Chinese refer to how many people are native speakers of Mandarin, a northern dialect which has been used as a model for a standard language called Putonghua. In fact, virtually every Chinese citizen, except for remote border areas such as Tibet, can speak Putonghua, which puts the number of Putonghua speakers at over a billion.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    No. It won't be the English language at all.

    According to USIC (United States Internet Council)
    Native English speakers amongst to about 5% of the
    world's population.

    Don't forget Asia, South America, Europe have a
    much bigger population than the US and the U.K. combined.

    And Europe has already overtake the US in internet
    new users growth rate, and Asia is just starting.

    China alone has about 1.5 Billion population.
    Then, you have India, with a hugh population,
    and the most programmers on earth.

    Then, Taiwan, S. Korea, Japan, the S.E. Asia...

    So. Don't be surprise in a year or two. Most web sites
    and usenet are in languages other than English.

    - blowfish

  • plus most people in those countries you have mentioned speak English quite well from my experience with them when visiting europe
  • What is the advantage of being able to sound out words if you don't understand what they mean?

    Because it's only one thing to learn (the meaning), rather than two things (the meaning and the idiogram).


  • by uradu ( 10768 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:59PM (#675236)
    > Oops...I forgot. Typos are a strictly English phenomenon...

    Firstly, that was just a quip taking adavantage of the poster's misspelling(s) given the nature of the topic. Secondly, I didn't mention English per se, but rather American.

    I find it absolutely amazing how true the stereotype of American's poor spelling is. All too often I can deduce the American origin of posters simply by the number and nature of spelling mistakes. While there is a good number of British, Australian, Kiwi, Indian and other English-speaking posters untouched by any sense of syntax, their numbers pale in comparison to their American counterparts, both in terms of quantity and scope.

    I am sick and tired of the old excuse of content over form. Apologizing for one's poor spelling skills in a written medium is akin to apologizing for showing up with a hammer at a fishing competition. It might possibly get you some fish, but who dare endure the process of shame and misery? Poor spelling distracts the reader and undermines the message.
  • While the spoken form of Norwegian doesn't sound a lot like English, the similarities in the written form are uncanny, far closer than French is.


    Repeat with me this basic point from any Linguistics 101 course: the spoken form of a language is basic (save for dead languages or sign languages). The fact that the orthographies are similar can only prove this indirectly at best.

  • from what i've heard english is considered by many to be the hardest to learn as a foreign language

    Teehee... Hardest? Whatever. Of all the languages I've had to learn English is the simplest. Go try French and come back to tell me the results of your efforts. Pay particular attention to the overcomplicated-for-no-reason-at-all conjugation system, and the myriad of agreements all over the fscking place, and don't forget to take into account those dear exceptions. For the record neither of those two is my native tongue. People who think English is hard should go have a whirl around the world's languages. Their minds will likely be warped beyond repair, those poor fucks...
  • Chinese, while a beautiful and subtle language suffers from being heavily dialectized.

    Puthongua (my speling might be out and in the west we call it mandarin) is currently the lingua franca of China. But a majority of chinese do not speak it and cannot understand it.

    English with its relatively simple tonal structure and easy to use (and type) alphabet might well become more common in china than the state dialect.

    But the empire long united must divide (ancient chinese proverb)

    So i wouldn't be betting on this horse in any event.

  • Ah, but Cantonese has all sorts of tones. Easier still is Bahasa Indonesia. No need for tenses etc, and also no rising, falling, high and low tones giving different meanings, as with Cantonese.

    But let's not get into a "my language is better than yours" debate.

    That was not my point, the post I was replying to claimed that English was really easy grammar wise. I was merely trying to say that English actually is quite a complex language to learn grammar wise and that this is no reason why English should be preferred as a global language above all other languages.

  • heh. i think that would probably be why i said "hindi" - read my post again.

    BTW - Dialect != Language. There are a signifigant number of english dialects, french dialects, spanish dialects, etc. However, the language is still the same.

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • Americans generally speak only one language largely because of our geography. We live in a vast country with a single common language. Compare this to Europe, where countries are smaller, and cross border commerce and relationships are common.

    Imagine how different it would be if people in Georgia spoke Georianiese and people in Florida spoke Flordonian. We would, out of neccessity learn each others languages. European countries are by and large the size of our states here, and there is a diversity of official languages for each of those countries.

    So, it isn't laziness or arrogance that lends us to knowing only one language, any more than it is a sense of noble good will that Europeans know multiple languages. Both are products of need and circumstance.

  • c++ is my global language.

  • 2. Americans are damned arrogant and think the world should learn English to accommodate us....

    I agree. Nothing is more embarrassing than to be abroad and in line behind a fellow American tourist at a museum/castle/etc. who ignorantly yet unrespectfully demands in a shrill voice, "WHEN IS THE ENGLISH TOUR?!?"
  • The articles are in *cough* English...
    use the fish [], or maybe if can't read English anyway...
    There is no K5 [] cabal.
  • However, in India you actually have completely different languages, not just dialects.
  • by AntiTuX ( 202333 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:22PM (#675247) Homepage
    I thought perl was the Global internet language. :)
  • true. but these are very subtle differences in the grand scheme of things, and they certainly don't go so far as to make US English and British English two different languages.

    the US word for dog: dog
    the BK word for dog: dog
    the French word for dog: Chien

    sure, we have different slang in the UK and the US. but you DO know what a condom is don't you? Unfortunately, my french wife doesn't and now i have 3 kids and a bad case of the clap.


    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • Literate people in China can read both.
  • Yes, I think we can agree that english is the defacto "international" language. This of course has nothing to do with the number of people who speak it as a mother tongue, but because the last 200 years of world history has had english speaking countries as the most powerful. The brits built a big frigging empire that spread english bullies all over the place, and created footholds where the americans could start selling stuff as the brits declined in power. Currently the bulk of economic power in the world is in the hands of english speaking nations ( 4 out of the 7 G7 nations are dominantly english speaking ), and what with the incredibly persistent sales of cheap american media everywhere, its no wonder its so popular.

    nobody's arguing that most of the world speaks english as a mother tongue, but everywhere in the world it is the #1 choice for a second language. I've realized this over the last few months as an english speaker in central europe.

    But I think we can see that as the international economy continues to develop, this power is going to shift dramatically. After all, one must cater to the consumer, which has currently been mostly english speakers who had the means to be serious consumers. But currently Chinese and Indian languages are the most popular. As these people become more and more able to buy the products that the corps. want to sell, you'll see more and more a shift towards them as the consumer of choice. As more and more of them get cable tv and internet access, you'll see more and more content appearing in Chinese and Sanskrit.

    Just a little prediction of my own, and good help the environment when 2 billion ppl are all clammoring for nikes and big macs.
  • Umm, I could never get used to talking in LOOP's and IF's etc etc in a normal conversation :=)

  • So the French were always considered uneducated vulgates back then too? ;]
  • the DeCSS code is just some arrays with hex numbers in them. You could put it in a piece of Java code and it would probably work just fine.
  • English ist de internazionale idioma, point.
  • What's wrong with that (aside from the shrill voice)? Undoubtedly the museum/castle/etc. does have an English tour, and the person working there probably knows enough English to answer your question.

    Among other things, English is the international language of tourism.

  • by rve ( 4436 ) on Thursday October 26, 2000 @03:00AM (#675257)
    English, Dutch and German were roughly the same language about 1000 years ago. English missionaries could travel along the north west coast of Europe trying to convert the heathens in their own language. In many ways English is a highly simplified version of German, with scandinavian, french and latin influences.

    Even though German, French, Italian and Russian are far more common as a first or second language inside europe, English evolved into the third language of choice, to replace latin and French for that purpose. In my view the advantages by far outweigh the disadvantages.
    The disadvantages are that since English is a living language, as opposed to Latin, native speakers have a strong advantage in education, and have less trouble getting their message accross to other people. (for example: Even though I am a scientist, an american intelligence test would probably classify me as a moron, because English doesn't come naturally to me, and my knowledge of the Anglo saxon cultural framework is limited)

    People don't hate 'English' as such, it is convenient to have a standard tool for communicating with people from other parts of the world.

    There is a lot of resistance against the attitude predominantly associated with anglo saxon culture (American- especially). It is a rare fusion of the Island mentality of the English, the evangelical attitude of the pilgrims and the empirial mindset usually found in superpowers (the Roman empire was a good example, so was the British empire, and so is the American empire now).

    Americans seem to assume by default that every sane human being would want to be an american deep down inside, and that people who don't are suspicious, enemies or freedom and security world wide. Other models of free societies are usually dismissed as primitive, contrived or indecisive. Even the posted article suggests that the USA is the only truly free society.

    Strong, often violent resistance against cola and hamburgers is often dismissed as religious fanaticism, anal retentive tendencies or downright jealousy, but the fact is that arabs really like being arabs, and they don't just pretend to, out of fear that Allah may otherwise strike them down. The French like being French, the Russians are proud of being Russian etc. I feel patronised and belittled when an American tourist asks me for directions in my city, and then corrects my grammar when I give them in his native language.

    We'd all get along a lot better if Americans (especially in politics and business) would stop viewing the world as made up of only two groups: flawed wannabe americans on one hand, and enemies of all that is good and holy on the other hand.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Thursday October 26, 2000 @03:04AM (#675259) Homepage
    Back in the olde days an immigrant came to the US who could speak no English except 'coffee doughnut'. Every day he went out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all he could order was 'coffee doughnut'. He quickly got sick of this diet, and finally met with a fellow countryman who could speak his language. This friend taught him the word 'steak'. So next time he goes into a restaurant and when the waiter asked him what he wanted, the immigrant proudly says, 'Steak!'. The waiter askes, 'How would you like it, rare, medium or well done?'. The immigrant looks puzzled for a few seconds, and finally says, 'coffee doughnut'.
  • A government service, like the welfare department, could very well have orders from the Govt that all cases should be handled in English. You want financial assistance, you gotta talk English. You want to get a job? ditto. Gotta go.

  • English has a germanic kernel with lots of borrowings from other (mainly, but not limited to indo-european) languages. The germanic kernel comes from old dutch and english remained very close to dutch until the renaisance brought lots of Latin and some Greek into english. There were already a large amount of latinish words brought via french when the Normans (under Willem the Conqueror, a bunch of french speaking germanics!) invaded Angle-Land (England) in 1066. Under the British Empire many local words from the colonies were absorbed as well (I think pyjama came from India - someone correct me). The Angles (after whom English is named) were cousins of the Batavs (Netherlandic tribe) who crossed the English channel. At that time the Angles and Batavs spoke more or less the same language. (The Batavs are now called the Dutch. Why can't I chose to be the Batavs in Free-Civ?) Then the Saxons went to England and assimilated with the Angles (Hence "Anglo-Saxon"). Then came the Normans.

    This is only a rough guide, but more or less true.

    I hope someone finds this as interesting as I do.

  • And who's to say that "US English" and "British English" are really all that different?

    Written English is pretty similar across most of the native-English-speaking world. Spoken English varies considerably more. However, it's the cultural assumptions, more than the language itself, that can hamper communication between speakers of various Englishes (and even more so between native speakers and non-native speakers). To take a simple example, Americans, and particularly Californians, don't get deadpan humor - the art of saying obviously false, highly exaggerated, or outrageous things with a straight face. British humor is laden with it.

    When you say Chinese - are you speaking of Mandarin or Cantonese (i would assume Mandarin)?

    One point to keep in mind with Chinese is that Mandarian and Cantonese (as well as the other Chinese dialects) share a common written form. However, Taiwan uses the traditional Chinese characters, while mainland China uses a simplified version, and people familiar with only one cannot read the other, IIRC.

  • Of course English is a standard language throughout the world; one-quarter of the Earth's population was a subject of the British Empire at its height, with another 1/4 having been former subjects.

    Those lucky Britons just happened to influence a large portion of the world's population right before the world went digital, thus, "Britannia rules the waves" once again... the waves of digital information that is. So, you can thank your local Englishman for more than just Monty Python or Fawlty Towers.

  • The official language of any country is the language you use to communicate with the government.

    English is the default language, but I have seen forms and such in other languages. Spanish seems to be the next most predominant one where I live, so at the place where I had to go get my driver's license from, their signs were in both English and Spanish. I think that leaving out the official language from our laws makes it easier to deal with situations that sometimes occur in the U.S. I would imagine the U.S. government has forms for the most common languages, or at least translators working in their offices to help people that can't speak English to fill out the forms. Of course, they would also have to help with the amount of functionally illiterate people we have in the U.S. also

  • > If you want to criticize something Americans are truly bad at, try geography.

    Ok, add that to poor spelling.

    > But if it's true, perhaps this is due the the wide access to the internet in America?

    What, Americans spell poorly because they have wider access to the Internet? Hmmm... Ok, ok, I know what you mean, but I can't second it. I've lived in Europe, Australia and the US, and my personal experience face to face with people parallels my online observations. The real problem in the US is that a lot of people don't really see poor spelling as a deficiency. In fact, some actually take pride in it, as if to prove their deep knowledge on a particular topic by not even being distracted by this triviality of spelling. In few other places ourside the US do people so freely admit that they are poor spellers. Most people I know in Germany for example would never volunteer that kind of information.
  • Christianity is the official religion of USA, isn't it?

    You'd think so, the way christians continue to add their doctrine to the original documents and history of the USA.

    (Example 1: The Pledge of Allegiance never included the line 'under god' until recently. Fortunately it's easy to leave out.)


  • I usually dismiss it because they use ideograms rather than an alphabet. I understand the cultural significance (not to mention the artistic aspects), but they really need to just bite the bullet. Alphabets are just a better method.
    Actually, no. Ideograms are FAR better than alphabets, because alphabets, being phonetic, restrict the representation into ONE spoken language, whereas idograms being (drum roll....) ideograms, convey IDEAS and CONCEPTS into more than one (spoken) language. So written chinese ideograms are pretty well understood by people who won't dig mandarin chinese...

    And, even though I am not a computer-linguist, I suspect that ideograms would be easier to handle in a AI environment...

    Americans are bred for stupidity.

  • There's really no ned to do it formally, as was hinted at above, it's been done informally for years. "Broken English" is spoken pretty much wolrdwide, and one of the reasons why I, like most other Americans, never learned another language - it's really just not all that necessary.

    Whether you like it or not, the informal subset of English often called broken English is indeed the current lingua franca in most parts of the world...
  • I can understand U-571, but the Patriot? Come on, that was pretty factually correct (with a few "story enhancing" parts thrown in, nothing major). After all, history is nothing if not a point of view (had the Nazi's won the war, our history books would have viewed the events leading up to the war in a completly different light). We decided we had it with Britain taxing us and imposing it's will on us, we decided we wanted to be independant, and they didn't take it well. War ensued and we won, thus creating a country. Sure we are going to view them as the bad guys and us as the hero's in that war.

    I also find it amusing that you would judge an entire popultion based on a few tourists you have seen. I could make the same racial connection by saying Japenese are all rude and impatiant because plenty of the tourists I've seen constantly cut in lines and ignore similar protocols.

  • by Sleepy ( 4551 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:29PM (#675322) Homepage
    Face it, "English" really means US English.

    Westerners (I am one) typically base world languages against their own personal experience. That is, English to be #1, Spanish is #2, and French is a quaint but dying language (grin)

    I would not be totally surprised if China someday unseats the US as a world power, and having totally devestated their own country's ecology, they look to Sibera, Alaska, northern India and Russia for land to rape and "resettle".... like they are doing to Mongolia and Tibet.

    Chinese as a world language is usually dismissed on the bases that the concentration of speakers is localized - but what if they weren't? We're talking about over 1/4 of the world's people under the thumb of a dictatorship always looking to distract their people. As the population gets on the net and becomes dissatisfied, one could speculate that a nice diversionary war would fan the flames of nationalism (remember the near-riots after the US bombed the Chinese embesy in Yugoslavia?).

    More accurately, English is the world's BUSINESS language. I don't expect that to change in the next few hundred years however...
  • I'm an american. I took some German and spanish classes in college. Despite having enough spanish to be considered bi-lingual (ie I know all the grammer and enough vocabulary) I don't consider myself bi-lingual. Why is simple: I don't use it. If I was around spanish speakers every day I'd consider myself bi-lingual because I would have a use for spanish, and practice. However not having a reason to use it I don't.

    If there was a reason to use a different language I would. I've read web pages in danish, and french from time to time, and I have had no traning in either language (other then they look like german or spanish, respectivly. If I needed to I could (re)learn to communicate in any language. I have no doupt that my grammer and spelling would be poor, but I could get my point across, and in the end that is what counts.

  • I am fully aware of this definition, as it applies to formal logic and debates.

    However, I am a firm believer in context.

    I would be embarassing myself if I said, in a debate, "you're begging the question!" in a situation where your definition would not apply.

    If I say this as a passing remark, not as a critique of another person's argument, it is not improper. The phrase can also mean "demands question be asked" in the proper context.

    Language is a living, breathing thing.

  • And finally, English is not an easy language to learn as you are suggesting. Surely, there are more difficult ones, but grammar's quite difficult, in particular the correct usage of the different tenses, that sort of things. For a really easy language grammar wise, try Cantonese. No need for tenses, no need for number (one cow, two cow, three cow), easy as hell.

    From what ESL classes I've worked with, it's fairly easy to learn enough English to get by, compared to many other languages. English grammar and syntax are pretty forgiving. However, it is a bit harder to learn advanced English (after all, native speakers have trouble with it) than many other languages.

    Since, for the purposes of internet communication, basic skills are usually enough, English will do.

  • There is several reasons why english spread so much, but I think one is really important. You can learn just 3000 words to be able to fully express yourself in most cases. Basic english is something that really helps this language to spread. When you count into it kind of easy grammar...

    if your assertion is correct, i wonder if it would be useful at all for someone to develop a formal basic english language subset so that native english speakers could explicitly restrict themselves to that subset when communicating to an international community - like an international open source project developers' mailing list. probably unnecessary, but perhaps useful as a stepping stone for a guided evolution towards a common global language.

  • by Ribo99 ( 71160 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:37PM (#675336) Homepage Journal
    h4w h4w h4w!
    1337 sp34k0r1ng 15 4LL j0 n33d, 5ux0r5!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!!!

  • Esperanto has culture-specific idiosyncracies all over the place. Not only that, but it seems that the ease of learning it is all that Esperanto has going for it. If you want to learn something that could hypothetically be a "global language" (let's face it, there aren't a significant number of people who speak any constructed language), and that offers something new that other languages don't, check out Lojban [].

    Lojban doesn't focus on being easy for certain people (as someone else said, people who know English and one romance language) to learn - it instead focuses on making it possible to express ideas without them being constrained by the language. Other design features are audio-visual isomorphism (if you hear something in Lojban, you know exactly how it would be written) and that the grammar is never ambiguous, and thus can be parsed by a computer. (Not to say that the computer understands it - AI isn't nearly far enough along for that to work in any human language.)
    Obfuscated e-mail addresses won't stop sadistic 12-year-old ACs.

  • by sheckard ( 91376 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:37PM (#675351) Homepage
    English is the unofficial language of the world anyway... how come students all around the globe learn English at a young age (when one is the most adept at learning a language), while many US students are lucky to get 2 or 3 years of a foreign language in high school (which, speaking from experience, is not enough to do anything useful).

    English is also the official language of air traffic control, so basically if you live in a non-English speaking country and want to be a commercial pilot, you must learn English. Of course, many pilots only learn enough useful English to communicate with ATC and nothing else, but that does say something.
  • I am stationed in Southeast Asia and can give you some first hand statistics:

    65% of all those Indians you mention, use English on a regular base - for example to talk to other Indians who happen to speak an entirely different native dialect
    [that's about 500'000'000 people]

    35% of Malaysians, Singaporeans and 50% of Filipinos speak English fluently
    [that's another 40,000,000]

    And that's not counting the upper crust and tech savy people in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, IndoChina, Indonesia, etc.

    Not to forget the poor Aussies and Kiwis who claim that their gibberish is of English origin as well.

    Overall, it seems that over 1,000,000,000 speak quite fluently one of various Englisg flavours, while another 500,000,000 have a basic understanding of the language.

    That certainly beats any other language. After all, even the 1.2 billion Chinese, while using almost identical alphabetical characters, speak one of 6 main Chinese languages/dialects and Mandarin [which is usually mistaken for *Chinese*]
    is only the 'official' language.
    Only about half of the population claims a reasonable command of *Mandarin*, which puts them in second place behind English.

  • by Kaiwen ( 123401 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @11:59PM (#675358) Journal
    Taiwan (and Japan), both of which use Chinese characters, have near 100% literacy.

    Hmm, more or less true (not true, strictly speaking; especially amongst the older generation, there are large literacy gaps). But not perhaps for the reasons you're thinking.

    As a native speaker of both Chinese and English, and a product of both educational systems (I spent most of my teen years in the US, before my family relocated back to Taiwan, and had to play catch-up with my Taiwanese classmates as a result), I'd say the Taiwanese educational system places a much greater emphasis on written literacy, for the simple reason that written Chinese is harder to learn. It may be true that literacy rates are equivalent at comparable grade levels, but only because the Chinese student puts much greater effort into it.

    In Taiwan, young children are taught to read and write using bopomofo (aka the Taiwan Phonetic System), a phonetic representation for Mandarin which allows children to learn to read and write while they're working on proficiency in written Chinese. That proficiency (it takes a vocabularly of between 2000 and 2500 characters just to read a newspaper), on average, seems to come somewhat later for Chinese children than for Western children; so in the meanwhile, they rely on bopomofo.

    As for being able to input Chinese more quickly than English, this depends in large part on the input method being employed. There are several common methods available; I'd say the only one that is faster is handwriting recognition.

    You are correct about the "densities" of the languages. This is not true necessarily, however, simply because of the relative character densities, but also because Chinese tend to speak in shorter sentences, using more compact language. For example, where in English I would say "I have a question," the Chinese equivalent utterance would be simply, "have question".

    Take care,

    Lee Kai Wen -- Taiwan, ROC

  • by aralin ( 107264 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:40PM (#675359)

    I am natively speaking Czech/Slovak and my primary and secondary language are German and Russian, but you cannot help it. If you work around computers, you simply HAVE TO learn english. There is no way how to get around it. I have few friends that tried, but either they overcome incredible difficulties or they just gave up. But however english is my third foreign language, it soon became the one that I use most.

    There is several reasons why english spread so much, but I think one is really important. You can learn just 3000 words to be able to fully express yourself in most cases. Basic english is something that really helps this language to spread. When you count into it kind of easy grammar...

    And I especially like that there are no special symbols, special characters, just all the basic latin characters and thats it. Don't even talk about ease of computer recognition ...

    But what I think will move english forward is the fact that more and more 3rd world countries use english as their official language. And these countries are now stepping forward too...

  • Of course this wasn't like that : there were an equal number of good and bad people on both sides, and the war was mildly violent for the time. There were innocents killed on both side, but civilians were not specifically targeted.

    While I'm not going to argue that the movie was slanted (and I'd have nothing against England producing a movie that told their story), there were civilians targeted. One could argue that the reason the war esculated was the actions of the British. Keep in mind that most DIDN'T want to break with England at the time, the heavy handedness of the British army killing protestors is what changed many minds.

    Another thing : in the movie, UK soldiers burn women and children in a church. Such a thing never happened during the civil war (it only happened once in France in 1944, when the SS took vengeance over a vilage and killed everybody this way)

    Such a thing DID happen during the civil war, but we are talking about the Revolutionary War (a simple mistake, I know what you meant). I honestly don't know if that happened during the war or not. We certainly didn't have the reporting capabilities we have now, so if it did it did happen we wouldn't even necessarily know.

    We all know the American public doesn't learn history in books, so what will they think once they see the movie ?

    As I've said to others in this article, the generalizations of Americans being stupid and arrogant is the same as me saying all Mexicans are dirty, all Japanese shifty, and all Jews greedy. Perhaps you should get your opinions of a population from a source other than movies and the occational ignorant tourist.

  • by fluxrad ( 125130 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:42PM (#675370) Homepage
    To be perfectly honest, i think that we're only going to go so far without a global language. As sad as it is for some "other-continenters" to face, english is just slipping into that role. You can argue about how this came about, but it's probably going to continue that way untill the US is no longer the #1 power in the world.

    The issue is also this, while the US does not hold a monopoly on goold old DARPA Net, it was the first. and it comes to an argument of "when in rome..." If the internet was created by the spanish and everyone started to adopt that, i'm sure the language of the internet would be Spanish. (This is not to say that the de facto language right now IS english, but for all intents and purposes, english is the beast that rules).

    I guess it's just getting annoying that everyone keeps having an argument about why it's so bad that English is becoming the foremost global language. Personally, i'm getting sick of it. Let's just pick a fsckin' language, make sure everyone speaks it (i guess except for people in the south - i still can't figure out what language that is they're speaking), and be on our merry way. If it's english, great...a ton of us already know what one. If not....i'm not lazy, and i'm willing to learn.

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • A concept I have done some thought on is that of an in between language, specifically tuned for the needs of machine translation. I think the only plausable way to do it at this point would be for the writer to actually know the language to begin with, as translating from english to machine, and then to whatever the user wanted would be just as problematic as our current state. Would this be feasable? Do you think it would be worth learning another language for that? Or would it be another Esperanto?
  • Cantonese and Mandarin are tonal languages, this means very subtle differences in pronunciation and inflexion can radically alter the meaning of the words

    True, but mucking up the tone is no grosser a sin than mispronouncing a vocoid. It is very difficult, for example, for Chinese to distinguish between the short a and short e sounds in English, which, phonetically, are really very close; learning to consistently distinguish "bet" and "bat" takes years of practice. Of course, context helps tremendously: where, in isolation, I might not be able to distinguish the two, I can be relatively certain you didn't say, "He hit the ball with a baseball bet."

    By the same token, it can be difficult for a non-native Chinese speaker to distinguish between "horse" and "mother" in Chinese (to use the famous example), but in context, generally speaking a native Chinese is going to be able to figure out that you didn't say, "I like to ride mothers."

    Tones are just another phonetic component of a Chinese utterance; my impression is that Westerners trying to learn Chinese entirely too much time worrying about them.

    A Cantonese speaking workmate of mine once demonstrated this by saying two completely different sentences

    You can find similar examples in any language, some which will even confuse a native speaker; the fact that one turns out to mean something incomprehensibly insulting merely adds dramatic impact.

    imagine how much harder it would be if every word was a little pictogram that had to be rote-learned!

    I will grant that learning to read and write Chinese is more difficult, even for native speakers, than learning to read and write English. However, it's not so difficult as all that, and Chinese is helped along by the fact that it isn't a purely pictographic system. In practice, it is partly phonetic and partly phonemic.

    There are 214 "radicals" in Chinese; all Chinese characters are simply combinations of these. While 214 approaches an order of magnitude more than the 26 characters in the English alphabet, it means that the basic building set is not nearly so limitless as Americans tend to believe. Whereas to the American eye a Chinese character appears to be an undifferentiated mass of lines, to my eye, I see it as a collection of one or two or three radicals; when I see a new Chinese character, I can reproduce it immediately. Much the way an English speaker would see the word "seeing" not as six individual characters, but more as a combination of two morphemes: "see" and "ing".

    Further, while not phonetic or phonemic to the extent of the English writing system, written Chinese does have phonetic and morphemic components; sometimes these provide clues as to the pronunciation and/or meaning of new characters.

    So it's not like I have to flat-out memorize five thousand (the average adult written vocabulary) completely arbitrary pictographs.

    My experience has been that the first hundred or so Chinese characters are the hardest part for foreigners. After that, as they begin recognizing the radicals and patterns, they begin picking up characters much more quickly.

    Lee Kai Wen -- Taiwan, ROC

  • > As for Americans being "losers" becasue so few of us know foriegn languages

    Whoa, matey, you're seriously debasing the meaning of my original post. I never meant to imply any kind of American intellectual inferiority or them being "losers" in any way. I'm married to one, and I have plenty of intelligent friends and acquaintances to know better. I am simply opposed to this contemptuous attitude towards spelling in this country. It's almost like a class war, where poor spellers ridicule people with any pretense of syntax and grammar as being small minded and petty. All I'm saying is, the first step towards recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Of course, if recovery isn't the goal, that matters little...
  • > English presents much more difficulty, spelling-wise, than German, Spanish
    > or any other European language

    That's only partly correct, I believe. The difficulties are simply of a different nature. Where in English most words consist of just one or two syllables and very different words often differ by just one or two letters, German for example abounds with long words--in particular compounds--and you simply have to remember more letters. Besides, for each word you spell right you often miss the gender of some inanimate object. So the problem shifts from syntax to grammar. In fact I dare say it's a bigger problem than spelling in English, because only a non-native speaker will EVER get the gender wrong. It's quite unfair really to people that speak German very well as a second language and even have a good accent. All it takes is a little slip-up in the gender of a noun, and they're exposed for the fraud they are :-)

    I fully agree with your second point that learners of a second language often develop a more careful control of that language because of the very mechanics of learning it. When they first learn the homonyms "then" and "than" they often get them wrong at first until the difference gets ingrained in their mind and they become acutely aware of it. That's why I think that mastery of a second language is very important for everyone, since it also leads to a better understanding of one's own language.

    On the other hand I believe reading makes a huge difference in spelling. People that read a lot, in particular books rather than magazines, tend to have a better grasp of the language. I believe books are better in that respect because their authors tend to have higher linguistic aspirations than your average Newsweek reporter and present the reader with much more ambitious sentence constructs and word choices. Over time this burns certain idioms and word combinations into your mind and makes you pause when you see them misused.

  • I'm glad that you've dissociated yourself from the power-hungry christian right, and I wish more conservatives shared your point of view.

    Free speech is most definitely a liberal concept. It is conservatives like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who would like to impose censorship in the name of "family values".

    Now, the DMCA and stuff like that might be liberal, I don't know. I think of them as evil. However, I don't think Bush is any more likely than Gore to oppose things like that. He's just as firmly in the pocket of big business.

    Regarding censorship of material on the internet in the name of 'decency', I don't know how you could possibly characterize that as liberal. You can repeat nonsense, but it's still nonsense.

    A Gore supreme court will respect free speech, a Bush supreme court will go for "family values".

  • Because they're stroke based and fairly formalized font faces, it's easier to do OCR on Asian languages. For example, Japanese Kanji are made up
    of 150 or so drawings, combined in different ways to make the 6000 or so kanji as a whole (2500 commonly used). Recognize the 150 (which are usually 2-3 strokes total, and easier than recognizing the 54 english letters for both upper and lowercase) and you're set.

    Handwriting recognition is easier as well - set stroke orders make it easy to recognize which character is being written. Theres a Unix program out there that does it IIRC.

  • while native english speakers are a minority, I still think english will become the defacto standard. what your first language is doesn't matter much, what does matter is how many people speak english as a first, second or third language.

  • I guess that Germany has a big enough market to produce enough learning material to be a proficient worker with just a little English.

    While there is a big market and also lots of documentation available, and also a lot of software is translated (There are german versions of most MS Products, Linux ... you name it), most germans learn english as their first foreign language anyway. And while much is translated there's always some tools that come only with an english manual or with a german manual that is translated so badly, that you have to go looking for the english version (when i get the choice of reading the english or german part of the manual i usually go for english).
    Also a few years ago the situation was quite different, german 'man' pages in UNIX where unheard of, so if you wanted to use UNIX for more than reading email you had to deal with english texts.
    Then there is the fact that the translated versions (of books and software) often lag behind the english versions, while some books/software arent translated at all, so if you want to keep up with the edge of technology you can only do so by reading english texts.
    Also with the english language you simply reach a bigger part of the "internet community", be it usenets, information searches, discussion groups, chats, whatever. So when i enter a chat where i can't assume all participants to speak german i go with english.

    Well, being a student i surely don't qualify as representative of all, or even most, germans, but i assume, that many of them made the experience that something they wanted to know or take part in is only available in english, or is simply better/more informative in english and so they started digging up their school english.
    Also since many are now confronted with the internet already as kids, the effect on the next generation will probably be even stronger.
  • by uradu ( 10768 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:49PM (#675402)
    > and it said that percentage of Americans that new more
    > than one language fluently was extrememely low

    And the percentage of Americans that could spell their native language was even lower.
  • I'm glad the US chose english over dutch. dutch is a beautiful language, and it would have been a sin if they had mangled dutch like they have english. ;)

  • [US-]english is only the choice of the internet generation (sic sic sic...) because the internet is free. in the US, the general populous (or what we percieve it is) belives that speech is free. so i believe that people who live in the US tend to treat all speech as free.

    now, the problem with english is that nobody in the US speaks it. Or at least, very few speak it properly. Even fewer write it properly. This post is completely incorrect english, but most readers aren't bothered by this. they know to read what i mean, not what i actually wrote.

    but machines can't do this... not without making the same leaps of faith that we human beings take for granted so often. and while everyone knows this, they still try and make the machines dumber.

    yes, i do mean dumber. machines (as now) are extremely smart; they don't make mistakes. so this means that while you are reading anything, including this post, you are making many mistakes. it is only by making these mistakes that you're able to read this.

    this isn't new news; we've known this for years. which is why we have made so many different programming languages, each encompassing an extremely strict (by englishes standards) notation by which the message is understood.

    writing code in itself is not all that difficult (far easier than reading english, in many ways). so maybe we should be focusing on that movement; making ourselves (humans) smarter, instead of the computer dumber.

    of course, you can read what I've written, and know that this is a horrible idea, but in the past 100 years, the english language(s) has metamorphed into so many different dialects that we may even put the chinese to shame. we have our share of slang and coloquialisms (sp?) too, and because the computer doesn't understand them, we are stupid for using them.

    It is only in the past few months that the FISH started translating "Login" as "beginning activity" instead of "logarithm".

    but as i've mentioned, it isn't just the coloquialisms the machine has to interpret: the computer must be taught to THINK.

    in short: purely-MT will be going nowhere for a long time so long as Eliza sums up computer AI.

  • that things change to meets peoples needs. English is s language that does that. In any given month, you can see a BBC news reader using proper, well recognised words that just didn't exist last month. At the very least using an old word in an entirely new way. It's not so much the words you use in english, if you have a context, every new thing you bring into a conversation can be given a label to be used in that conversation and you will be understood. The rules for doing this are complex but people seem to understand anyway. Or if you want to focus on words, you can get by on very few. You can walk into any hotel and say "Me need room", as long as you know how to count in english or can read english numbers, you can pretty much get along nicely, butat the minumum level, whoever is taking your booking might need to use hand signs for a bit.

    English is adaptable as hell and there's no one trying to keep it the same (heh, Acadamie Francais??).


  • by fluxrad ( 125130 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @03:52PM (#675420) Homepage
    US English is a little too encompasing for your purposes i would think. Are you talking southern US English? Californian english? New England English, etc? And who's to say that "US English" and "British English" are really all that different?

    In response to your post, I don't think chinese is going to become a global language for a couple of different reasons.

    1)When you say Chinese - are you speaking of Mandarin or Cantonese (i would assume Mandarin)?

    2)Before china unseats the US as THE super-power, it needs to go through the same time of issues as the old soviet union did. I honestly don't see a communist dictatorship moving into the big seat any time soon. Russia is a slightly different beast, and they were never really on par with the states....that was more of an assumption, as they sacrificed almost everything internally for things like sputnik and the nuclear arms race.

    I think one of the main reasons that people say chinese is going to become the main language of the world because it's the most spoken language in the world currently. Remember where most chinese speakers China. The language is way too concentrated currently. Additionally, by that rational, Hindi has a high likelihood of becoming the global language as well. I find that idea laughable.

    Oh well, let's just pick a frickin' language and be done with it.

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • Up until not too long ago, French was the international language for business. But since they got bitch-smacked in WW2 and their economy has floundered compared to others, English has taken the lead. Sure English semantics are sloppy, coherent grammar rules are non-existant, its not specific enough with its diction but what's gonna make English stick around for a long time to come is it's ability to absorb other languages into it.

    When it comes to an "world" language, it'll either be some bastardized form of english (as if english isn't crucified by its own sanctity) or chinese (just because there are so damn many of them). I just don't like the idea of the UN telling me what language to speak.

    Southerners....nyah try understanding all those chowdah heads up in the northeast.

  • This is ironic, considering how I started this thread. I was just going for the cheap laugh there.

    Of course, according to that winning patent, I now have to offer to proofread Slashdot for free. It hasn't been granted though (yet) so I'm safe for now.

  • Sure thing, AC, though you'll never see the comment.

    Conservatives protect rights. Liberals take them away. Free speech, possession of guns, and the right to life of a fetus are all protected by conservatives, and being taken away by liberals.

    The previous poster was going on about how the coming selection of two justices to the Supreme Court means that nobody in their right mind should vote for Bush, as justices appointed by him would never uphold our rights. Simply put, he's got it backwards. Political correctness is a liberal concept.

    And, for what it's worth, this religious fuckwad is an athiest. I'm not sure quite how that meshes with your world view.

  • A couple of points. I've gotten to know quite a lot Japanese and Korean people lately, and even when they possessed a good amount of computer literacy, it didn't guarantee competent English at all.

    Bridging software has been around for quite a while now, so Chinese/Japanese/Korean (etc) people are able to send stuff over in characters instead of the transcription in latin letters.

    Furthermore, the basic vocabulary needed to communicate in any language should be just about the same. The difference between English and any other language isn't that big.

    And finally, English is not an easy language to learn as you are suggesting. Surely, there are more difficult ones, but grammar's quite difficult, in particular the correct usage of the different tenses, that sort of things. For a really easy language grammar wise, try Cantonese. No need for tenses, no need for number (one cow, two cow, three cow), easy as hell.
  • Christianity is the official religion of USA, isn't it?
  • Learning a second language is not just a "network effect" thing, where you might learn any language as a lingua franca simply because so many other people speak it. This is a good reason why English might win, but it seems almost as compelling for Chinese, say, or Spanish.

    The point that the author of the piece seems to miss, is that people learn second languages for a second good reason: to communicate with those who speak those languages better. Historically, there are three main ways that communication is advantageous: in politics, in trade, and in cultural ideas.

    In politics, the idea is that you learn the langauge used by the state that is occupying your nation. This allows you to get on better with the occupation forces, to prevent you from being one of those they coerce. So, for instance, many Poles know Russian. English itself is strongly influence by French, dating from the Norman conquest. And in the 19th and early 20th century, French was the language of diplomacy based not on any aspect of French, but rather, Napoleon and the political and legal systems exported forcibly from revolutionary France.

    Note that, nobody learns a second language of a weak nation for political reasons. They only learn the language of strong nations, because those are the only nations likely to occupy other nations for long.

    The second reason to learn a second language is to trade goods with people who speak the second language better -- crassly, to make money faster.

    But note that nobody is going to bother to learn the language of poor people; you want to trade with the people with the money.

    Finally, it is useful to know parts of a second language if there is important technical or cultural innovation going on amongst it speakers, since this gives you an edge in using those innovations yourself, among your own language group. This is why, for instance, so many italian words still are used for musical instruments and notation -- because the renaissance started in Italy.

    But once again, note the correlation with wealth. Innovation, both scientific and cultural, happens in places with the money to afford leisure time in which to innovate.

    So, if we look at the world now, we find the English, as spoken by the US, in by far the strongest position of any language in the world.

    Although the US does not occupy any foreign nations, per se, we have forces in many other nations and entangling treaties with half the world it seems. As the fools willing to be the world's policemen, everyone wants to talk to us.

    But mainly, it is our richness that will make English the world language. We have by far the largest economy in the world, and we have the freedom to innovate both scientifically and culturally, and we do. People will learn english to do business with us, in order to buy our computers, our internet services, and our rock music.

    Other societies often hate us for our political pushiness, but they are always going to want our ideas and our money.

    • Wrong : you'll never see a French tourist in a foreign country starting to talk to people in the street in French...

    I'm an English speaking (well, sort of) American. I was travelling to Norway on business one time so I learned enough "phrase book" Norwegian to get by.

    I walked up to a Airline counter in Western Norway after just flying in from Oslo. The man at the counter looked up and, before I could speak, said "Hello, can I help you?"

    How did he know I spoke english? There weren't many native english speakers around at the time. Must have been some cultural cues.

    Americans probably should try to learn enough of a foreign language to get by, but these days, in many countries, you just don't have to. Perhaps Americans are arrogant, but they are probably more lazy... (Maybe laziness and arrogance are the same thing? Hmmmm...)

    -Jordan Henderson

  • > Lighten up, who gives a damn about spelling?

    Q.e.d., I rest my case.
  • there were many reasons for the war of idependence - one chief one that doesn't get much play is that there was a huge amount of land speculation going on in lands that the British gov't was planning to protect from settlement from the colonies for the Iroquois to carve out a state for them

    Oh please. The British are the only civilization with a worse record than the US in terms of conquring and spreading over native people's homeland and society. I agree the movie was slanted, but you aren't going to make your point effectivle if you put forth such an unbelievable arguement.

    there was a concern that the British would make slavery illegal (which they did after the turn of the 18th century

    So did we, it just took slightly longer. At the time of the revlotionary war slavery was not nearly the economic powerhouse it was before the civil war. Although I will concede that after the revolutionary war slavery skyrocketed, a mistake that this country eventually DID correct.

    Nowhere did I say that the movie was the gospel truth. No movie is, they are entertainment. However, the truth lies somewhere between the movie version and yours.

  • Granted, but I think the British did it on a larger scale. The point that the British wanted to conserve and set aside land for the indians and we wanted to kick them off their land being the cause for the war is still laughable though.

  • English? What an unlikely candidate! ;-)

    Think about it... English has more rules than exceptions! In Europe, most languages are pronouncable at first glance... once you know the rules. In English, the only teacher is experience, because every word has potential to be the exception!

    Now in fairness, the Roman alphabet is the best accessible subset of type... and pronunciation isn't the biggest issue. Conjugation of verbal tenses, discernment of homonyms... these kinds of things make English look downright batty.

  • ...China someday unseats the US as a world power...

    China is the next great world power, and always will be. How long has this been said, 500 years now?

    Chinese as a world language is usually dismissed on the bases that the concentration of speakers is localized [...]

    I usually dismiss it because they use ideograms rather than an alphabet. I understand the cultural significance (not to mention the artistic aspects), but they really need to just bite the bullet. Alphabets are just a better method.


  • 'And who's to say that "US English" and "British English" are really all that different?'

    I don't know if it's just the colour of the paycheques, or other more interesting things like the use of aluminium in bathrooms, cubic metres on their natural gas meter, or having a properly centred government. Or perhaps it's just that the US doesn't have the truly awesome doughnuts that the Canadian North does. :-)

    The point is, the US changed pronunciation and spelling 'to be different' back after they declared independance. Some of these losses of spelling differentiation are even completetly nonsensical -- like changing the spelling on SI unit names like 'metre' and 'litre' to be er, when the re versions are the accepted standard for metric unit naming in every other country in the world. Perhaps the US should modernize itself by switching to SI units, and changing some of the spelling to be closer to the international standard.
  • There actually was such a project, called DLT (Distributed Language Translation). You can find a write up of it here [] or here in Esperanto []. The intermediate language used was indeed a variant of Esperanto.
  • Cantonese and Mandarin are not candidates for world languages, regardless of how influential China may become in future, because they're too frickin hard for foreigners to learn.

    The majority of speakers of any 'world language' will speak it as their second (or more) language, and many will speak it badly. Some languages are more suited to this than others..

    English, regardless of what you may thing of it's spelling and sloppy sentence structure, is easy to speak badly. You can jumble the syntax, and mis-pronounce it barbarously, and an English speaker who is paying attention will (usually) understand you fairly well. A Russian armed with an English phrase-book can fairly successfully buy bus-tickets, tell the cab-driver where he wants to go, etc. .

    Cantonese and Mandarin are tonal languages, this means very subtle differences in pronunciation and inflexion can radically alter the meaning of the words. A Cantonese speaking workmate of mine once demonstrated this by saying two completely different sentences, that sounded identical to me (even when I got him to repeat them several times, and listened really carefully). One was an ordinary innocuous sentence you might use while shopping, the other was grossly offensive - the worst thing you can possibly say about someones mother! There's no way a tourist with a phrase-book is going to get the pronunciation accurate enough to communicate reliably.

    On top of that, there is the problem with the written form. Again, any language with a non-phonetic writing style is inherently more difficult for a foreigner to learn. The one thing people complain about most often when learning English is the inconsistent spelling, imagine how much harder it would be if every word was a little pictogram that had to be rote-learned!.

  • Why won't it be adopted here on /.?

  • by Dollyknot ( 216765 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:04PM (#675489) Homepage
    Well I've been through the lot on -1 and no where can I find mention of royalties :-). English is my first language and my last language. Not one post mentioned the *real* power of English, that being spoken English lends itself to accents very easily, the reason for this is, spoken English uses lips instead of throat. To understand this, observe the frequency of gestures with different languages. Using lips gives a more subtle nuancy of meaning, by virture of more control of sound, do you really want to talk as though you are spewing.
    However I do agree written English is a mess, and its spelling moreso
  • Amount of pages in different languages, users, etc: ex. php3 []

    According to this, English is 49.6% of the internet population.
  • The party is more important than the man (we don't elect a dictator). Economic freedom is #1. Vote Republican.

    I think it's more important to have a judicial branch of government for the next half century that has some respect for the first amendment. Abortion may not be a hot button for you (it's not with me) but remember that the Communications Decency Act was struck down as a violation of free speech.

    If such a bill crops up again (and it will), I can't see a Bush-appointed justice going the way of freedom of expression.

  • One science fiction author called English "The result of attempts of Norman MenAtArms to make dates with Saxon Barmaids" or close to that. Add several generations of German kings and queens too(vic,georges...).
  • by craw ( 6958 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:20PM (#675504) Homepage
    Only a putz would think that English is not the defacto language of the internet. Now I know that some of you European prima donnas might think that English looks rather passe when compared vis-a-vis to your rather bizarre languages. You do not have carte blanche to say this.

    English is the grande dame of the internet, not some language du jour. English is not a kludge consisting of some funky words that we so irregardlessly made up. English is the Big Kahuna!

  • by garagekubrick ( 121058 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @04:47PM (#675506) Homepage
    You'll know that English is the language of the future. How's that? Well it's pretty bloody obvious, aliens speak perfect English too.

  • by b0z ( 191086 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @04:48PM (#675508) Homepage Journal
    We don't need any more laws. The U.S. does not have an official language for a reason.

    Originally, the U.S. was a country that was founded upon immigration. In fact, immigration is a strength of a country, but too many people here look at it as a bad thing. Anyways, the thing is, when people come here from another country, their English may or may not be very good. These people are consumers, and need to buy groceries, get housing, work, etc. So, as a result of capitalism, businesses try to cater to the needs of the people. In the U.S. today, you see a lot of places that are bilingual, and have English and Spanish. That is only because there is a market that you need to advertise to native Spanish speakers. I see it like, if you were Buddhist, and a lot of other buddhists lived in your area, you're probably not going to celebrate Christmas. So, let's say Christianity is the official religion of the U.S., it won't matter. Businesses are not going to sell christmas trees in your area, instead they will sell little Buddha statues and such. This isn't infringing on any American's rights, it's just catering to the need of a specific group of people.

    I also see this from a free speech point of view. Free speech is free speech, whether it is in English, Spanish, hax0r sp33k, or anything else. The government should never have the right to tell me what I can or can't say. There is no way to make an "official" English to use in all situations, as you will no doubt see from how different the dialects already are between the northeast, southeast, west, etc. I think that the whole "English should be our official language" dogma is often a mask for racism. I have not seen any place of business that has Spanish but not English. Sure, the people working there may not be masters of the language, but if you go to a Mexican restaurant and ask for a coke, they won't bring you sprite any more often than English as a first language waiters will.

  • offers some good thoughts on American English as the lingua franca of the Internet, and
    lists some of the most common and egregious errors in the use of English.

    Posters on /. would do well to review the list Paul Brian's compiled. =)

  • by achurch ( 201270 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:24PM (#675511) Homepage

    of course, you can read what I've written, and know that this is a horrible idea, but in the past 100 years, the english language(s) has metamorphed into so many different dialects that we may even put the chinese to shame. we have our share of slang and coloquialisms (sp?) too, and because the computer doesn't understand them, we are stupid for using them.

    I agree with you completely. English is an entirely too irregular language to be used for global communication. Especially this horrible spelling system. Who else remembers learning "I before E, except after C..." in their school days and wondering why it had to be so confusing?

    Well, we can du something abaut that. First off, let's meke sum sense aut uf thu vawels; no more uf this "I before E" crap, just plein Latun and short vawels. And wi can toss aut thos silli treiling E's whail wi'r at it.

    Thu cansonants also niid tuu bi cliind up. No mor "GIF or JIF?" argyuments--wun saund pur kansonant hiir. And wi kan teik keir uv TH, SH and CH bai riuzing q, x, and c.

    But qu vaulz ar stil kunfyuzing, so let's get rid uv kapitulizeixun. nau wi kAn yuz kApItUl lEtUrz for xOrt vaulz. And wi kAn also yuz kApItUlz for kansonants: N for "ng", Q for "qis" or "qat" (As apozd tu "qiN").

    fainali, wi hAv klind ap QU spElIN Uv INglIx! nau If wi kAn onli gEt rId Uv al Qoz IdiUmz...

    o, And dUz EniwUn no hau tu pronauns "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"? ai nEvr fIgyurd Qat wUn aut.
    (Translation: Oh, and does anyone know how to pronounce "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"? I never figured that one out.)

  • we should all have to learn a new language the way we learned graffitti to get the palm to know what we were saying (beat up martin != eat up martha).

    American English is only recognized at about 95% (realworld) accuracy, even after being trained to a specific speaker. This is even after developing pretty mature hidden markov models, and having pretty powerful cpus. Other languages are very far behind, as it would take a lot to build new HMMs to deal with the many different phonems that other langauges have (mandrin chinese is especially dificult)


  • by The Famous Druid ( 89404 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:30PM (#675515)
    I don't believe you, but that's because I've been to Norway.

    While the spoken form of Norwegian doesn't sound a lot like English, the similarities in the written form are uncanny, far closer than French is.

    I've never been to Frisia, (a province of the Netherlands) but I'm told that's even closer.

    English is basically a creole of various Nordic languages (Saxon, Danish, Anglian, Frisian, etc) and old French, with a little bit of the original Celtic, and a dash of just about every other language on earth thrown in.
  • by Why Should I ( 247317 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:34PM (#675518) Homepage

    English as refered to on the internet (and in the case of computers in general, is more likely than not american english. I mean I can't tell you how many times I have had to run through pages and pages of manually written html files (written in a text editor not that gui dreamweaver/flash shit) and do a find and replace for align="centre" with align="center".

    While this is a slight difference, it is significant, because there are a large number of non-American English speaking programmers out there and all these people have to learn how to program in one form of english and then go back to reading & writing in their native form of english.

    What you end up with here is alot of programmers who end up being confused about which english language mode they're in most of the time which gradually leads to a degradtion in the quality of both written forms of english over time.

    In this way, it could be argued (not that I neccessarily am) that the computers/internet/web are partially responsible for the gradual degradation of English as a whole - because it encourages inhomogeneity in the use of both forms.

    By the way most of the design methodolgies I have been taught at uni - when it comes to computer (software) systems design - deal with design systems that use graphical methods with direct dependence on english language interpretations and uses. Has anyone seen any design methodologies that aren't actually in english ?

  • by fable2112 ( 46114 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:35PM (#675519) Homepage

    Sure, plenty of less-developed countries have English as one of, if not the only, "official" language.

    Does that mean that all or even a majority of the native population speaks it at all, let alone as a first language? Absolutely not!

    (I wish I could find my sociolinguistics class notes *sigh*)

    I do remember that in at least one case, English was designated the "official" language to keep a war from breaking out between speakers of the two main languages actually in use in the country in question.

    The official language of Haiti is French. Do most Haitians speak standard French? No. Most Haitians speak a local creole that speakers of standard French would find difficult to comprehend.

    Of course, given that these people don't generally have Internet access, they may not be seen as relevant to the discussion. I'm just pointing out that they exist in large numbers.


  • I think we should choose Latin as the official language. Being a `dead' language, choosing it does not give special treatment to any country. It is highly structured, and makes sense. It's also a much prettier language than English, with soft consonants and clear vowels. It spent over a millenium being the official language of intellects, so is up for the job of being the One True Language. Ditch English, and learn a language worth knowing!

  • by fable2112 ( 46114 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2000 @05:46PM (#675530) Homepage

    Two major reasons:

    1. Distance from concentrations of foreign language speakers. Since I live in New York, it would be fairly easy for me to drive to Quebec, but that's about it in terms of going someplace where the signs are all in another language (not counting the local alphabet-soup neighborhood). Contrast this with the much shorter distances between European countries.

    2. Americans are damned arrogant and think the world should learn English to accommodate us, but we shouldn't need to do likewise. This is nothing new -- my mother was an exchange student in Belgium about 30 years ago when some of the other American students she traveled with walked into a post office and started loudly berating the man behind the counter because nobody there spoke English. Never mind that English isn't one of the two official languages of the country.

    Rude. Very rude and arrogant. And the Internet seems to be making it worse, unfortunately.

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990