‘Some languages are just not good enough’ – Ray Harlow
Central Contention – Some people have the idea that some languages are just not good enough – because of several things including:
- They are messy in terms of forming words and contain few compounds and instead phrases are needed.
- They are not used as official languages in areas such as admin, business communication, international air traffic, scientific publication etc.
- In the past, people disliked languages that they saw as ugly.
The author seems to doubt the fact that some people say that some languages are just not good enough.
He agrees that some languages are seen as ‘not good enough’ but he challenges that if things had been different, they would not be seen in this way.
Harlow uses Romansh, a language spoken in the south-east of Switzerland, as an example. Romansh is seen as a poor language because it cannot combine words to make compounds and instead has to use phrases. And some people believe that because of this inability, it is not good enough to be used in really technical areas of life.
Italian is beautiful, German is ugly – this is a broad idea which denotes that people will often transfer to a language or dialect their opinions of the people whose language or dialect it is. For example, Dante (Italian poet of the middle ages) saw the Roman dialect as savage and wretched because this was his opinion of the Roman people of his time.
X is not good enough because you can’t discuss nuclear physics in it – this suggests that English and languages such as Russian and German are better than ‘X’ because there are topics you can discuss in one but not in the other.
‘Most languages are the first language of some community and serve the everyday functions of that community perfectly well.’ – Harlow is saying that every language serves a purpose and in relation to this, no language is useless or ‘not good enough’.
‘English expanded its vocabulary in a variety of ways over the centuries so as to meet the new demands being made of it.’ – Harlow is saying that English is one of the ‘great’ languages because it has developed with the times and with advances in areas such as technology.
‘If history had been different, they could have (been international languages of science or diplomacy), and then we might have been wondering whether perhaps English was ‘just not good enough’.’ – This is the author’s main thought throughout. He suggests that all it would have taken is a slight change in the past to affect which languages are more well known that others.
‘All languages are capable of the same types of expansion of vocabulary to deal with whatever new areas of life their speakers need to talk about.’ – Harlow is saying that no one language should struggle to develop but it is the development of the people that use that language that affects vocabulary.
‘Not only do they not act as languages of science, of international communication, of high literature, they are inherently inferior and could not be used in these ways.’ – this is why Harlow believes people see some languages as ‘not good enough’, both because of initial prestige and their inability to better this.
‘This sort of opinion can be seen particularly strikingly in societies where a minority language is spoken alongside a major language.’ – Harlow points out that there can be numerous languages within one society and that one tends to be the more highly looked upon language with another having limited uses.