Language, Writing

The Rise and Rise of English – And It’s Negative Impact on Global Literature

As a native speaker, the rise, spread, and entrenchment of English in the global order has been a boon. No matter where I go I know that I will be able to communicate with the vast majority of people with whom I would want to communicate. It has become a sign of education, class, and culture to speak English. Here in Paris wealthy families pay very well for nannies and governesses that speak English natively.

Every major literary work is translated into English, the majority of global best sellers are written in English, pop music and TV are dominated by English the world over. If life was a game of Civilization 4, the United States (not Britain) is well on it’s way to cultural victory.

It is making cross cultural communication easier and could indeed become THE global language. We see this is a good thing most of the time.

But is it?

In France I work at a technology venture capitalist firm. Everyone that works here must speak English. If one even wants a shot at being funded they must speak English well enough to present – ideally well enough to work in California if we send them there. Further, all public relations pieces, blog articles, etc. are written in English. Bad English.

Turns out that watching TV and reading blog articles doesn’t really prepare one to write a respectable essay. The European tech VC field is FULL of people that insist on writing and communicating in English. However they make no effort to actually ameliorate it. Often they reach a level where they can speak decently and then cease to improve.

This is a widespread problem, it is certainly not limited to the French business world. It’s most lethal poison seems to be reserved for the literary traditions of non-English speaking countries. This is a point brought up by Minae Mizumura in her recent book. According to her the literary tradition of Japan has been declining since 1945 – vocabulary is shrinking, words are getting simpler, old stylistic flourish have ceased exist entirely. She nears claiming that Japanese literary tradition is on it’s deathbed. And maybe it is. God rest Soeseki and Kawabata.

Not only is reading in English seen as somehow both cool AND intellectual at the same time, but even authors are now writing in English or in Japanese designed to be easy to translate. Obviously this has a huge negative effect on the actual quality of the literature. And it doesn’t stop there, the same problem is seen in European literature as well. Most writers now eye a translation to English and target English readerships.

The negative effect this has on their native literature is clear – but what about the effect on English? We, as native speakers, are inundated with the asinine and poorly written output of the entire world. And as the ESL proportion of the English speaking population increases, so too does the simplification of our language – all in order to reach people that only know it incompletely.

The government of the UK is removing e.g., etc, i.e., n.b., et al from usage because apparently it expects too much of an education from the legions of new ‘Britons’ crowding the island. English writers are being encouraged to use fewer idioms in order to accommodate people that don’t know them. Idioms are a core part of English! I expect simplified orthography to be the next step; we do live in an age where Oxford professors question the value of spelling at all.

What a time to be alive!

English, France, Literature, Writing

I Believe in Fairies

Well I just returned from an excellent meal on Montmartre (de Leopold if anyone is interested) this evening, and I consider myself to be at the perfect level of contentment to write this article. How’s that for a title, eh?

I’ve long had a semblance of an idea in the back of my head that, to me, seems relatively novel. And like all ideas that seem novel to the individual, it is likely an idea that someone has articulated far better than I ever could (and is quite famous to boot). Regardless of the fact that it is likely not novel in the slightest, it certainly seems uncommon. That is, I rank my beliefs by how much I believe in them. It doesn’t seem that strange at first but think about it. If someone said ‘I believe in God but not as much as I believe in gravity’ it seems odd. Or at least it ought to. If you believe in God at all, that is, the omnipotent God. Then by saying that you believe in God less than you believe in gravity, then you are more or less denying the existence of God.

To say I believe in Hell but less than this apple is to damn yourself. Frankly it is ridiculous, if a single shred of you believes in an eternal pit of fire (eternal – try to imagine an eternity), then you damn well better believe in it more than the apple you hold in your hand – or at least hold it equal, as most people have a binary view of existence (real or not). This is a concept with which I have always struggled – if one is truly Christian and believe that there is the possibility of eternal torture because of things that you have done on earth – then the only logical thing to do is become a monk and devote yourself wholly to being holy. In comparison with eternity, the human lifespan is non-existant. With such a brief trial and such a long, long, long reward, why would ANY believer be anything but a devout hermit praying every waking hour?

This is kind of a demonstration of the ‘levels of belief,’ sure one many believe in God, but manifestly not so much as he believes in what is in his hand or right before him.

This is something that my mind ran with as a child. I stratified my beliefs – and by doing so I was able to believe in things that many people found ridiculous without putting them on par with my core or observable beliefs. In some cases it runs along the lines of provability or how ridiculous I would sound if i shared it with someone (although ever since one of my English professors at University told me that he believed wholeheartedly in fairies, I have had a much easier time with this belief).

So here is how this works for me – at the highest strata I have things that are core to my existence or directly observable. Here you find the belief in God (more on this in a minute), gravity, evolution, apples, etc. In the next level you have things that seem likely to exist or possible but we haven’t confirmed it yet – things like aliens and other civilizations falls under this category (I mean there are trillions of galaxies, we can’t be that special). Just below this is the eponymous level: here I have fairies, dryads, fauns, elves, etc. Then there is the level of larger things, things that I can’t tell myself ‘oh they’re hiding from us’ and that would be larger things like dragons, griffins, etc. Then there is non-belief.

If you were to ask me: ABlaine, so do you believe in God? I’d say yes, then if you asked me if I believe in fairies, the answer would be the same. I believe they both exist. It is the fact that I believe in the former that that I can believe in the latter. And as someone raised Catholic, it is very hard to just become wholesale atheist. As I said earlier, if a single fiber still believes, you may as well go for it all the way. In a way this is something like Pascal’s wager. And if an omnipotent god exists and he made us, why couldn’t these other things exist?

An it makes life so much more interesting to read Arthurian legends or Ovid’s Metamorphoses as though they actually happened (although Ovid was quite clear that he did not believe in the things about which he wrote). And there is a strong western bias here, for example I don’t believe in voodoo and the like. I am a product of Western culture, what can I say? When I go to Brittany to visit Merlin’s Tomb, the Mirror of Fairies, or Morgan Le Fay’s home – it is inexplicably more exciting for me than others.

And this is an excitement that can be found in gardens, forests, plains, mountains, the sea, anywhere really. I don’t expect to see any of these things in my life (much like the lost devout Christian would go to their shrink if they heard God speaking directly to them). But such beliefs color life in an extremely interesting way – and they give you insight into how our ancestors lived for millennia.


Heritage and Height Limits: A Parisian Problem

A city of tradition, revolution, and reaction, Paris has managed to be both charmingly old world while simultaneously extremely progressive and forward thinking. Paris proper, the twenty arrondissements encircled by the périphérique hasn’t undergone a major change since Hausmann and Napolean III set to work making the city what it is today. They widened boulevards and streets and redid architecture down to minute details like the newstands. Since then the city has been loathe to change.

When the era of skyscrapers can and massively changed cities like New York City and London, Paris relegated them to a suburb, La Défense. The business district of Paris actually exists outside the city itself. The center retained extremely strict height limits and historically important buildings were more or mess untouchable. The Eiffel Tower being a very rare exception that was built to celebrate 200 years of revolution. However, several buildings and structures have gotten through these limits. And they are almost amways greeted with hatred.


Tour Montparnasse

The most notable is the uniformly detested Tour Montparnasse. Easily the second most prominent building in the skyline of Paris (after the Eiffel Tower). This uninspired black mark on the city inspired even stricter restrictions after it’s construction. Other monstrosities have made it through, with slightly less opprobrium than Tour Montparnasse: Centre Pompidou and the Louvre Pyramid.

After Tour Montparnasse the city had a kind of ‘never again’ moment and imposed even stricter height limits on the city. However, this is changing again under mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since views of the city are so expensive and sought after (the city alone contains 30% of the real estate value in France), developers really want to build things that are over the old height restrictions so that owners can have beautiful views of the city (before it fills with other buildings full of people seeking similar views… then suddenly the city is as ugly as London). Mayor Hidalgo recently got the City Council to lift height limits to over 500 feet and to approve a building called Tour Triangle. Described as ‘having a dialog with the city,’ a polite way of saying ‘it is glaring different and will not fit in at all.’

Paris is not the most visited city in the world because people want to see garish modern architecture. They could see that in any major city. People come to Paris to see what major cities of Europe used to be like before the World Wars destroyed most of them (Paris was spared by being declared an open city).

There has been quite an outcry against this move and the building has yet to be built. But does the city really need another Tour Montparnasse to know that it should be more careful and selective?