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!


Multiculturalism and the Police State

The day after the shootings and bombings in Paris, I read a plea from a concerned internet denizen. He was concerned about the possibility of the French government passing further surveillance legislation. There is certainly precedent for this, and with 11/13/2015 being considered the French 9/11, the PATRIOT act springs to mind. This concerned internet denizen pointed to recent French legislation that had already expanded surveillance, and apparently it failed in its purpose, so why add more? Setting aside the fact that just because a law failed once in its purpose, it isn’t by that fact alone damned.

The real outcome¬†that concerned cyberspace citizens fear is that of an Orwellian ‘big brother’ constantly watching out for the slightest deviation from the prescribed norm. It is, of course, a fair bet that many of these individuals deviate from the norm in ways they don’t want known, but many likely have nothing to hide, but merely don’t want to be observed. Unfortunately for them, the internet, in exchange for its unparalleled speed and utility, is the perfect platform for observation. As the news, banking, communication, and, in some countries, even elections move online, it becomes even more enticing to certain agencies.

These agencies can’t be blamed, they know full well that should another major attack occur the first question they’ll be asked is ‘how did you not know?’ They are merely doing their jobs, it is politicians that decree what can or can’t be accessed.

But what is with the large increase in surveillance in the West? Is freedom of speech and expression not one of our greatest rights? Is not privacy? Why should privacy be taken away?

It is on account of one thing, something that we have all been told is an undeniably good thing: multiculturalism. Or, more specifically, unmitigated cultural relativism in combination with it. The blending of cultures can be good, a Frenchman is as likely to enjoy Bach, Handel, and Verdi as any Englishman or Norwegian. No one in England is complaining about the introduction of French and Italian food, and few shun German cars. In many ways the artistic world of Europe has always been multicultural. Certainly since the Renaissance.

But all of these cultures already share a similar history: most were part of the Roman Empire. all were part of Christendom, all call upon a classical Greek and Latin canon. The foundations of each European culture is the same, the surface permutations are never going to be too far apart. If cultures were islands, Europe would be an archipelago. But what about war, you ask? I’m not speaking to politics, politics can even drive brothers against one another. No, I’m speaking to culture.

Now with the post-1960s (that decas horribilis) attitude, one must judge all cultures on their own. Judging in relation to one’s own would be incorrect as it assumes that one is right and another wrong when they lead one to differing conclusions. With the mindset of cultural relativity, one doesn’t pick the best parts out of another culture, because that’s wrong. No, one has to accept them as they are. This mentality, combined with enormous amounts of mass migration has led us to where we are now: in a bit of a pickle.

On one hand we don’t want mass surveillance, it violates our privacy. On another we can’t say that a certain culture is incompatible with ours because that would be that most horrid of all words: racist. What to do?

Currently we are just looking the other way. We let migrants pile up in Calais, Saint-Denis, Marseilles, and Molenbeek. We will purposefully avoid using terms to out perpetrators of crimes as belonging to a certain ethnicity or religion, we will avoid going to these areas, and life will carry on. Until, that is, they decide to break into our cozy world and rile it up. Which is where surveillance comes in, it monitors these areas and those peoples. And us in the process, a nice treat.

The very fact that this is necessary indicates that in practice multicultralism doesn’t work. At least not with incompatible cultures. One often hears that the reason Africa and the Middle East as so strife-ridden is because of the arbitrary lines that the European powers drew as borders. Borders throwing incompatible ethnics groups and religions together. Why would they get along any better in Europe, among even more different cultures?

As things stand, stay tuned for increased surveillance.