Re: Appalling English

Subject: Re: Appalling English
From: puff -at- guild -dot- net
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 100 18:32:06 -0500 (EST)

Sandy Harris wrote:

> > That being said, if China ever becomes truly industrialized
> > ([... political comments deleted ... ])
> > 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.

Most widely *read* language on earth, maybe; mandarin is
ideographic, so each sign, rather than representing a sound,
represents an idea. So two people from opposite sides of the
continent may not be able to talk to each other, but could read the
same writing.

Of course that's a simplification, as are most things when we use
monolitic terms to talk about a continent that holds about a sixth of
the world's population (at one time it was about a fourth). There are
something like eight different major language groups in China, each
with its own dialects, not to mention fifty or more less-popular
languages... and then there's modern simplified mandarin
vs. classical mandarin, then again there's wade-giles vs. pinyin
romanizations of mandarin.

My roommate spent four years in college, then another in Beijing,
studying "proper" mandarin (by the way, he's currently looking for
work if anybody knows of any leads). I have hazy memories from long,
late-night bull sessions (over more than a few beers) of some sort of
standardization move across China, but how far along they are is
another question.

> However, English is much the most widespread second language.

It's definitely the international language of air traffic
controllers. Not to mention being one of the dominant languages in
science and engineering (and also just one of the many ways the U.S.
keeps its lead in such fields).

> 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.

I suspect we vastly overestimate how much ESL readers "get"
various figures of speech and let's not even get into

> 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.

Hm, is it illegal or is it just unclean? Besides, I'd think the
general attitude might get through; but there's probably a more apt
colloquialism in Saudi.

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- guild -dot- net

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