August 11, 2004


After Babel, a new common tongue: It turns out to be English (, Aug 5th 2004)

IN THE 17th century, educated people across central Europe could still communicate with each other in Latin. By the mid-19th century, the handiest language for a traveller through Mitteleuropa was the German spoken by the Habsburg monarchs who reigned over Hungarians, Czechs and many others. A little more than 100 years later, the dominant tongue was Russian.

Now the region's new language of choice for the 21st century is percolating upwards through the education system, and downwards from the business and political elite. It will be English, studied by three out of four secondary-school pupils from the Baltic to the Balkans.

Hardly surprising that at the End of History folks would adopt the language in which the ideas that ended it were primarily expressed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 11, 2004 11:06 PM

...studied by three out of four secondary-school pupils from the Baltic to the Balkans.

In 20 years or so the EU liberals will be bemoaning the victimhood of the 1 in 4 who didn't study English and the need to establish some form of affirmative action program to help them compete in the real world.

Posted by: MB at August 12, 2004 12:00 AM

When I was in Copenhagen in 1999, the cab drivers there spoke better English than the cab drivers in Chicago.

Posted by: ray at August 12, 2004 9:12 AM

I have spent a lot of time since '98 in Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and if there is a kid not learning English I have yet to meet him.

About a third of the street signs and advertising in Almaty are in English.

And in Ulaan Bataar, the Police cars say, simply, "Police"-- no other language or alphabet.

Posted by: Steve Bodio at August 12, 2004 9:19 AM

Mr. Bodio:

What takes you there?

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2004 9:39 AM

Anyone remember Esperanto?

Or Interlingua?

Or all those other artificial "universal languages" (all bearing a distinct resemblance to Latin) that were proposed back in the 20th and were reah-ly tren-dy among Our Betters of Superior Intellect?

And all the far-future SF of the Fifties where humanity's universal language was Esperanto and all the others (including the English the story was written in) had died out?

Posted by: Ken at August 12, 2004 12:21 PM

The Grandfather Judd spoke Esperanto.

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2004 12:28 PM

And where's Esperanto now?

About on the same level as Elvish (which probably sounds better).

Posted by: Ken at August 12, 2004 2:08 PM

There are 10 million Esperanto speakers.

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2004 2:17 PM

It was said of Sir Edward Grey, who learned French at a Scottish school, that the only people who could converse with in French were other graduates of that school.

It might be worth hanging around for a couple centuries to see whether Standard English is singsong.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 12, 2004 4:45 PM