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!


Go – A Game for the Ages

Go (Baduk in Koreq)is one of the oldest continuously played games in the world. Originating in China and coming to the western world through contact with Japan, Go is a strategy game like no other. It is simultaneously one of the simplest and most complicated board games in existence. The rules can be learnt in less than ten minutes but its was the last game to fall to an AI; AIs have been beating the most skilled Chess players since 1997, but only recently has an AI been able to beat world class go players. This is largely because Go has many, many more possible moves and many, many more possible responses than games like Chess. This is because the stones can be placed anywhere on the board that is not already occupied by another stone.

The rules are simple: stones can be placed on the intersection of lines on the board (as opposed to Chess and Checkers where you place the pieces on the squares. The stones cannot move once they have been placed – this is critical. The goal of the game is to gain territory – any intersections that are surrounded by your count as territory – and whoever has the most wins. It is usually played on a 19×19 board but the board vary from 9X9 to even bigger than 19X19, however such games could last a LONG time.

This is a slightly simplified explanation but if you can read the full rules here. It is far simpler than Chess or Checkers and you will likely be enjoying a game within ten minutes of reading the rules. However it will take a lifetime to master. The Japanese, who generally take Go the most seriously, start training as children and after weeding out the majority, those that show promise go live with a master and study for hours per day. The masters do nothing but train students and play Go; Soseki (a Nobel prize winning author) wrote a wonderful book about an old Master’s last game called The Master of Go. so if you’d like a look into this ancient system, read it.

This is a game I play more or less every day, it kills time like a video game but actually increases your problem solving ability.

Here is a wonderful website for playing online.