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Another gripping entry in... THE GRIPE CHRONICLES - Paint It Black
Living the American dream one heartbreaking piece at a time
Another gripping entry in... THE GRIPE CHRONICLES
Today I'll be taking a little break from my seemingly endless supply of posts about work. I promise if work is mentioned it shall only be in passing, and only in reference to the greater topic at large. I will also promise that tonight's entry is not in any way angsting about my life.

My, that narrowed down the field of possible things I would be writing about tonight to about five topics, didn't it? I've really become much too predictable. I need to work on fixing this....

Tonight's entry is brought to you by the letter L, which is short for literacy. Literacy for tonight is being defined as "the ability to write and be understood by others who also speak your language." Yes, that is not the dictionary definition, but I felt that we should make sure that we're all on the *ahem, lame pun coming up* same page before I go into my rant for the evening.

I take a look at some of the mailing lists that I am on, both for personal/recreational reasons, as well as for professional reasons, and I am constantly amazed by what I am reading. Many of the listservs that I subscribe to are also subscribed to by people from countries all over the world, such as Japan, Germany, Thailand, Turkey, Canada... there seems to be no end to the number of places across the globe that read and contribute to these lists. Why am I so amazed by this? Well, how about the fact that almost every single one of these messages is written in English? Think about it, folks. People from countries that have languages completely different than ours are reading messages in a language other than their own, and responding to them. Granted, their grammar and spelling is not always perfect, but overall they do a damn fine job of reading and writing the English language. In fact, they do a better job than some of the people who speak the language natively.

Which brings me very nicely to the real meat and potato of this evening's entry: Why is it somebody who natively speaks another language, and is in another country where this secondary language they've learned isn't often spoken... why is it that these folks can speak it better than so many of our own populace? I demand to know where the breakdown began to start here in the United States. Was it within the educational system? Was it with the individuals themselves being so lazy after they got out of school they couldn't be bothered to reread a single paragraph? Simple typographical errors are one thing, but some of the stuff I have seen lately has just gone completely over the line. The people that are typing this stuff don't have any excuse as far as I can tell. They're white, middle-class Americans, usually in the age range of sixteen to twenty-seven. They aren't hackers, they have none of the so-called "learning disabilities." They're perfectly normal people -- who just cannot handle their native language, it seems. Does this make them stupid? Ignorant? Lazy? I really don't know, and that's what's bugging the hell out of me.

I took two or three years of Spanish when I was in high school. I enjoyed learning about another culture, I enjoyed learning about another language in general. Even with the frustrations of learning how to think, speak and read in ways I wasn't raised to, I enjoyed it. But I also know that, even after three years and fairly decent grades in the class (B average for my language studies) I still cannot properly speak the language, I lack vocabulary, and all around I just suck. So I do my best to keep what little nuggets of knowledge I have polished and useful, even if those nuggets mostly consist of me being able to say "I only speak a little Spanish," "I'm sorry that my Spanish is poor," and "Can you speak English?" I have a great deal of respect for anybody who is bilingual or even trilingual (or beyond). I have equal respect for people like Prime Minister Tony Blair, who can forge words in such an elegant manner. I wish I could be a lot more like that man in terms of delivery, as well as a lot more like him in terms of style and diction... or a lot more like his speech writer, whatever the case may be. Overall, though, I feel that I speak English fairly well. I also like to believe that I write it in a somewhat acceptable manner. No, I am not perfect by any means. I do not expect anybody else to be, nor do I expect it of myself. If I can string together a few nouns, verbs and the like into a comprehensible string of speech known as a "sentence," why is it that so many other people have a hard time? Yes, I am prone to my sentence fragments, improper use of punctuation, but at least you could attribute it to "style" to some degree. What I've seen in the last few weeks could not even qualify as that. A prime example would be, "ok im at annas work now, "home" from school and its soooo cool. i need ajob. i just spilled coke all over the place. hahah my first day at work. o well." Tell me that isn't the second worst example of stream-of-consciousness you've ever seen, I beg of you.

We've reached a point where people who are not native speakers of English can speak and write our language better than we can. How is this possible? Why are the native speakers of a language being beaten so easily, like a rented mule with a big-ass whip? Is it our arrogance? People just seem to automatically expect people from other nations to speak our language "if they want to deal with us." What the fuck kind of twisted logic spawns a comment like that? The science community is currently all speaking English. It wasn't always this way. It used to speak German, and Latin, and a number of other languages. It's dynamic. It adapts to where the power is, where a lot of the research is. What happens when the United States starts to lose its grip on science and industry (Hey, all things are dynamic, we rose to power and we will, eventually, lose it again in these areas). What then, when the community adapts along with the world, and people no longer "automatically" speak English? What then?

Argh, I'm just amazed at our society some days. It spawns some real winners.

Current Mood: confused confused
Current Music: time lords - doctor who megamix

2 thoughts or Leave a thought
geloe From: geloe Date: October 23rd, 2001 04:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
People just seem to automatically expect people from other nations to speak our language "if they want to deal with us." What the fuck kind of twisted logic spawns a comment like that?

It's actually very logical. Let's take a great big look at your above rant. Most of us can barely speak/write acceptable English/American. Do you even want to consider how some of these people would completely fuck up if they tried to actually learn a second language? Picture some high-ranking government official trying to stammer to his Japanese equivalent in Japanese and committing verbal hara-kiri in the process. They get off light, though. They have translators who actually excel in that sort of thing. (Mind you, I'm being tongue-in-cheek.)

I dunno, though. Arrogance? As a culture, we do seem to be pretty convinced of our own superiority. Part of it might be leftover resentment and resistance to more change. People who came into this country as immigrants used to have to learn English. If they didn't, they were screwed. Now, we make all concessions for them -- bilingual schools, et all. That doesn't go over smashingly well, sometimes, or at least I've heard people remark pretty negatively about it. (That might only be a minority, though.)

As for why we can't speak it ourselves... My god, but I wish I knew. I'm in that range of sixteen and up, and I've seen enough of my peers' writing and language skills to stun me time and again, and I'm very much pessimistic about them to begin with. I'll make allowances for computer syntax -- people being too lazy to bother to type full sentences, or capitalize, or punctuate -- but when you see really basic grammar mistakes repeated again and again on school papers, it's a little different. Most don't speak much more clearly than they write, and if I get accused of using too many big words (no joke), when I'm neither particularly eloquent (especially not while speaking) nor even have as broad a vocabulary as a lot of people I could point at or name... Ugh. I'm not even going to get into reading skills. :P

It's depressing, at any rate. And frustrating. And I'm not certain how to fix it, either, or who to blame. >.<
quoting_mungo From: quoting_mungo Date: October 24th, 2001 07:06 am (UTC) (Link)
It is sad, indeed. I (just barely) belong to the sixteen-twentyseven group, speak Swedish natively and English as my "second first language" (which is what I dubbed it myself, it's a second language, but I'm almost as fluent in English as in Swedish, so...) and seeing my peers in English class, I'll be the first to tell you the non-natives that excel in English are a very small percentage. But since not speaking and writing English well tends to hinder understanding, too, these people often avoid situations where they will have to use English, or are very brief if they can't avoid the situations altogether.
On the other hand, if you speak English natively, your passive vocabulary is huge, even if your active vocabulary, grammar and spelling are horrid.
So you get the worst of the natives, and the non-natives that are on the better side of average, which would perhaps account for the problem.

The only serious trouble I have with English nowadays is punctuation, since Swedish uses commas extensively, where English hardly does at all.

If I don't make sense, blame my asthma meds.

2 thoughts or Leave a thought