THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Mr. Chairman, adjudicators, ladies and gentlemen,
The arrival of the year 1999 has brought with a near perfect opportunity to take a look back at the last one thousand years, assess man’s successes and failures, and look forward with our predictions of the third millennium.
Already this afternoon you’ve heard many assessments and you’ve heard a variety of predictions. A variety so vast, ranging from Lewis Carol’s depiction of celebratory life, to the Irish celebration of death. So vast a variety that it’s difficult to find any common ground amongst the contestants here today. Perhaps the only thing that we all share is that we are indeed discussing millennia, the old and the new and the turn of the millennium, and we’re all discussing it in the same language.
A few hundred years ago to have held an event like this it would have been imperative that we were all fluent in a number of different tongues, for the approach of combating the language barrier was simply to learn many different languages. Of course people back then had an ulterior motive: that was to ensure that different languages held their different societies or positions, or as King Charles V of Spain put it, “ I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.”
Today our approach is somewhat different. Instead of trying to vastly spread our verbal ability across the board, we’ve chosen rather to focus it, concentrating on our ability to master one particular language, the English language. Time magazine recently suggested that by the turn of the millennium, English will be the Lingua Franca for one quarter of the world’s population. Already today sixty percents of the world’s television and radio broadcasts are produced and delivered in English. Seventy percents of the world’s mail addressed in English. And it is the language of choice for almost every bite of computer data sent across the globe.
But why English? There are no clear linguistic reasons for its suggested global dominance, certainly the grammar is complicated, the spelling peculiar and the pronunciation eccentric, to say the very least. One would need only look through the dictionary to find the vast list of amusing paradoxes in the English language—quicksand that works slowly, a boxing ring that is in fact square and a guinea pig that’s really neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. Doesn’t it seem odd that one can make amends but not one amend. Or go through the annals of history but not one annal. The reason, ladies and gentlemen, is simple. English is strange, but no where near as strange as some of our alternatives.
Perhaps I should give you a few idiomatic examples. In English we say “once in a blue moon”. The Italian choose instead “every death of a Pope”. Irish doesn’t like our “drop dead”, replacing it rather with the slightly more obscure “you should lie in the earth.” And if you wanted to tell someone off in Spanish our relatively obvious “go fly a kite” would be better served by the phrase “go fry asparagus”. English’s primary advantage is that of flexibility. On the one hand it has the largest vocabulary of all modern languages, allowing us, as its users, to say exactly what we want in exactly the words we choose to use. On the other, globalization has insured the introduction of a business English, a sort of trimmed down variety of the language we’ve all come to know and love.
It’s interesting to know that the simple list of just ten words, words like “a”, “and”, “have” and “the”, combined to form one quarter of all those ever used in modern communication. Perhaps the real test is: will the global adoption of English as a master language insure the eradication of any misunderstandings that happen today? The answer is not as simple. Russell Hoven once asked: “How many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language?” But one can only hope that our only aim and our only chance of insuring that we communicate effectively with each other is to make sure that we do speak one universal language. In a thousand years time Western clocks will hopefully have ticked onto the year 2999 and we can be assured that scientists, academics and futurists will convene, much like we’ve done today to look back at the third millenium and offer their predictions for the successes of the forth.
It’s impossible to imagine what they might say, impossible to imagine what technology they’ll have available or even which planet they’ll hold the meeting on. In fact, quite possibly the only thing we can say for sure is that they’ll be discussing the issues in one common universal language. And that will be the language of the third millennium. And that language without any doubt looks set to be English. Thank you.
但為什麽是英語?對于它的全球化沒有明確的語言學的原因。誠然它的文法是復雜的，拼寫是獨特的，發音是古怪的。就拿最基本的說，隻要查一查字典，你就能發現一大串逗人的似非而是的雋語——quicksand反而慢騰騰，boxing ring 原來是方的，guinea pig不是來自幾內亞，也不是豬。一個人可以說 “make amends”，但卻不能說 “one amend”，這不是很奇怪嗎?你可以翻閱一本史冊，但卻不能把“一本史冊”說成 “one annal”。其中的原因，女士們，先生們，是很簡單的，英語夠奇怪的了，但是對于另外一些說法就更奇怪了。
也許我該給大家舉出幾個成語例子。“千載難逢”用英語我們說“once in a blue moon” 。在義大利語中則成了“every death of a Pope”。愛爾蘭人不喜歡把“死亡”說成 “drop dead”，而用 “you should lie in the earth”表達得更委婉。如果你想用西班牙語指責某人“放空頭支票”，那麽最好是用 “go fry asparagus” ，而不是相對較直白地說 “go fly a kite”。英語最基本的優勢在于它的彈性。一方面，它有著所有現代語言中最豐富的辭彙表，允許我們這些使用者能用最恰當的辭彙恰如其分地表達出我們的所想。另一方面，全球化使得商業英語的介入成為必然，一種我們都將能懂得和喜愛的簡化語言。
有意思的是，簡單的十個詞，如 “a”, “and”, “have” 和“the”，組合起來就是能形成現代交際中所用的辭彙的四分之一。也許真正的問題是，作為一種主要語言的英語的全球化真能消除今天的種種誤解嗎?答案並不是那麽簡單。拉塞爾·霍文曾問道：“即使是在說同一種語言，有多少人說的是相同的語言呢?”但有一點可以確定的是，確定我們相互之間能有效地溝通的唯一的目的和機會，就是我們在說同一種世界語。在一千年內，西方的時鍾將滴答著走向2999年，我們也將肯定，科學家、學者和未來主義者將集合起來，就像我們今天所做的，回顧第三個一千年，並展望第四個一千年的輝煌成就。