Re: Appalling English

Subject: Re: Appalling English
From: Sandy Harris <sandy -at- storm -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2000 12:39:04 -0500

Tim Altom wrote:

> That may be so, but I think there's a good counterargument that Japanese is
> spoken by only a tiny percentage of the population of the industrialized
> world, while English is spoken by a much bigger number of educated people in
> the developed world. Educated Japanese often read English, in fact. If I had
> to do material in but one language for distribution to the industrialized
> nations, I'd choose English. Supplying English exclusively isn't always
> arrogance; it's also a pretty safe bet under most conditions.

I worked for a while as an English teacher abroad and twice encountered an
interesting situation.

In Iran, toward the end of the Shah's era, the USSR was helping build some
heavy industry near Isphahan. Teach the Persian staff Russian? Teach the
Russian engineers Farsi and translate the manuals? No. Teach both groups
English and use translators already available in Moscow to translate manuals
to English.

Exactly the same thing happened when the Saudi Arabians bought advanced
electronics for the Taif airport from Japan.

> That being said, if China ever becomes truly industrialized (read "fully
> democratic and capitalistic"),

I doubt it needs to be read that way, but let's not go that far off-topic.

> then we'll all have to learn Chinese, because there are more Chinese
> speakers on the planet than speakers of any other language.

Actually, there is no single language "Chinese", just a bunch of related
languages. I think Mandarin is the most widely spoken language on Earth
and a couple of the other Chinese dialects near the top of the list.

However, English is much the most widespread second language. A significant
fraction of the educated people nearly anywhere speak English. No other
language even comes close for international commerce, although Latin and
French once did and in some areas Arabic or Spanish are extremely useful
today. More nations have Spanish as a national language than any other,
and quite few have Arabic.

I'm curious whether other whirlers pay much attention to international
issues in their writing. I try to edit out cultural references that I
suspect some readers would not catch. e.g. If I use a quote or allusion
that anyone I know would recognise, I'd worry about whether a Japanese
would 'get it' and might revise or footnote the text to prevent a problem.

Then there are cultural taboos. If I were to quote, for example,
the "Twelve Networking Truths" RFC:

> (3) With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine. However, this is
> not necessarily a good idea. ...

I'd worry some about how a Saudi (pork is illegal there; the Koran
is the basis of all their law) might react.

In fact, I wouldn't remove the "pig" there. I'm quoting, and it is a
standard English idiom. If it upsets them, that's their problem. On
the other hand, I wouldn't introduce avoidable pigs into examples,
precisely because I know it could offend.

Overall, I'd be far more concerned with making my writing suitable for
other cultures that than with humouring the advocates of "political
correctness" in my own. e.g. the "pig" above would concern me more
than, say, using "fireman" instead of "firefighter".

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