Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Linguistic Politics

It's fascinating the sorts of things a people's language can tell you about them. Some of these things are basic. For instance, though the Indo-European languages share words for a variety of animals and natural features, they lack a common word for ocean. The Indo-Europeans originated on the steppes of Eastern Europe, far from any sea.

I was listening to a recorded lecture on the fall of the Wiemar Republic yesterday, and the instructor pointed out that when we talk about a military overthrow of the legitimate government, we have two words we generally use: coup, which is French, and putsch which is German. We have no English word for it.

Makes you think.

Language can also be a key element of a nationalistic movement. Modern Greek is a very recently standardized language -- formulated from a combination of what was spoken around Athens in the mid 1800s and attempts to bring Classical Greek back into use. The purpose of the language standardization was very specifically to achieve a common Greek identity and culture with connections to its classical history.

A less formal but perhaps even more important process is going on in the Arab world, where the regional dialects of Arabic are gradually being replaced by Modern Standard Arabic, which has become the language of some pan Arab newspapers and TV channels. Until the advent of MSA Arabs from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon would actually have had a fair amount of difficulty understanding each other. And although theoretically Koranic Arabic was a language everyone was familiar with, Koranic Arabic is more often memorized than understood and spoken, perhaps along the lines of Latin's place in Europe circa 1800.

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