Posts Tagged ‘Mandarin’

French, Mandarin, Indo-European Languages; Why Multilingualism Brings Higher Wisdom

June 14, 2019

Multilingualism is a basic human capability, long honed by biological evolution. It may be necessary to achieve the highest mental capabilities, as multilingual speakers learn to adjudicate between modes of expression, the most advanced form of thinking.

So which languages? Excellent article by my frenemy Mehdi Lazar, summarizing well most of the situation with French:”The New Dynamic of French In The World.”. To point out that French and Mandarin are the most important languages (with English, de facto lingua franca) is crucial. Indeed, French is basically the core language of Europe: it is grammatically impoverished Latin bastardized with German prepositions, where many words have been phonetically and alphabetically simplified from the Latin originals. English was an afterthought. French is a fast evolving language (hopefully to go with fast minds).

This understates reality: for example North Africa spoke Latin for 900 years before the Arab invasion. Modern Latin, that is French, is widely understood, practiced and spoken in the Maghreb (in spite of efforts by local dictators of Islamist inspiration to kill it). Africa, light green, has to speak Latin derived languages (including English), because there are way too many native languages (or slave derived languages like Swahili)

Compare say the French “opital” from the original Latin “hospitalis”… English, which is actually more conservative than French, is in between with “HoSpital”: the H and S are still pronounced in English, not in French. The french found that the aspired H in the beginning, the S in the middle, and the “IS” at the end, were all useless, so they dropped them!

English, although technically classified as a “Germanic” language is mostly poorly pronounced French, and the more so, the more sophisticated the vocabulary is (85% + of words in common). Naturally, per its central position in Western Europe, French is then a happy medium between English and the other “romance” languages.

Now the baby elephant in the porcelain shop is that unruly child of Great Britain and France, the USA. Ironically enough, the dreaded “Anglo-Saxons” contribute to French by often going back to the Latin, that is, the original French, and creating words that way.

Here is an example: impact. The word appeared in English circa 1600, for “press closely into something,” from Latin impactus, past participle of impingere “to push into, drive into, strike against”. The word appears in French science and technological vocabulary only in 1824. But not just that, it’s an extremely important word, as it expresses the transmission of force (= how things act upon each other). Thus, in US English it has come to be used, since the 1990s as a… verb. As in: this essay impacts linguistics hard.

Thus it’s only a matter of time before the French verb “impacter” appears… and it would be a very useful verb… created as words should be created in French, going to the original Latin.

Another view: this time more of Africa shows up. Erroneously, but it’s a traditional error, English is not viewed as a Greco-Roman language (although it is fundamentally Greco-Roman, with more than 85% sophisticated words basically French…

Multilingualism is natural, humanity evolved as multilingual: our brains are made to learn several languages, and it enables us to better learn to adjudicate thoughts and forms of expression.

How so? Transportation was extremely difficult in the world of the past, except in those few places with steppe (like the Eurasian steppe, which goes from Hungary to Korea, that enormous freeway in the middle of Eurasia). Thus people evolved many languages even over very short distances. An example is Senegal: in this small countries, seven languages evolved, and some are tonal (Serer) and others not (Wolof). This is typical of the past, so human beings had to be multilingual.

However, there are only that many languages one can learn: French and Mandarin are the great linguistic anchors of the world, a continent apart.

But not just this: except for deplorable episodes such as the ephemeral collapses of the Greco-Roman and Chinese states under the invasions of various savages, Western Europe and China have long been at the forefront of civilization, spearheading progress. Learning basic Chinese arithmetic is fascinating: the Chinese found more rational ways to do it.

The state of Qin and the contemporaneous Roman Republic were remarkably based on the same principles of law, reason and technological progress… and that’s why they founded great empires (alive and well to this day, as descendant regimes). Actually the present inchoate world government embodied by the United Nations rests on Roman Republican legal principles, or even the letter of the Roman law (that’s similar to the Qin obsession with law… which was even applied to one of its most ardent proponent, a famous Qin PM who finished quartered by horses, as the law prescribed for the sort of corruption he had unfortunately engaged in…)

China understood the importance of intellectualism (the “Mandarin” examination system) and science… And that is why China was so successful, and the anchor civilization of East Asia (Japan and Vietnam used to employ Chinese character… Although the French switched Vietnam, and japan evolved a bit on its own…) Thus, from all this will to advanced thinking, China invented many technologies the world uses now. Even in the Nineteenth Century, Chinese drilling for natural gas, one kilometer down, or more, was the world’s most advanced.

The Frankish empire, both Merovingian and Carolingian, soon renamed itself “Renovatio Imperium Romanum”. Indeed, it “renovated” Rome on way better principles: no more terrorizing, stupidifying, sordid Christian fanaticism… and, soon enough, no more slavery: Saint Queen Bathilde outlawed the slave trade in 655 CE… Throughout much of Western Europe. So when the Franks invaded England in 1066, they freed the 20% of slaves there. These philosophical changes had huge economic, social and military impacts… 

Thus learning French and Mandarin is not just about speaking what many speak, and will speak. It’s about learning what made civilization what it has become… including learning the grave errors which made it so much better.

The “mission civilisatrice” is not over, it’s just starting. It’s not just a matter of feeling, and being, superior, it’s a matter of surviving. And not just for this species, but for the entire biosphere. You all will learn to think better, or you will learn to die, sordid. Go multilingual!

Patrice Ayme