I posit that language acquisition is driven less by intellectualism than daily utility. A recent post over at Greg Laden's Blog got me to wondering why Anglophones remain so stubbornly monolingual when so much of the world speaks a couple different languages fluently. Upon ponderation, I believe that Anglophones don't learn second or third languages because we don't need to, not really anyway. This isn't to say that this attitude is right, nor that I condone it, but from England on outward to the United States of America to Austrailia, English-speakers have been very successful at ensconcing themselves in geographical isolation, cultural imperialism, and economic massiveness underwritten by strategic military stubbornness. These three conditions having combined to make English the predominant formal language in the world despite its sillinesses.
We dumb Americans don't learn French, Spanish, Hindi, or other non-English languages because we have no daily use for them. We may take a few semesters of a foreign European language in high school, but because we don't have a need to use them, nor a community, space, or occasion to trot them out, we largely forget them. And when we go to other countries we have the privilege borne out of economic massiveness that leads us to expect, and even demand, that our hosts speak our language even as we remain entirely ignorant of theirs.
This isn't necessarily a good thing, but maybe this is why it is the way it is.
For the record, I speak and read German fluently enough to also make out written Dutch and Swedish and can stammer out just enough Spanish to keep myself fed and housed. I intend to learn French if I ever find time because I think it sounds funny, and Mandarin if I can.
Music for the Revolution
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