Monday, May 09, 2011
BBC, Language, Waffle and Rhubarb
We had a tremendous night last night with friends in Rochdale, but driving back up North this morning I listened to Nicky Campbell on BBC5Live. I know I shouldn't, the BBC is bad for the old blood pressure at the best of times, but when Nicky Campbell is on well, need I say more? But it got worse, after 9-00am up pops the dreaded phone-in. Even Mrs B was frothing like a rabid dog, and I had a terrible attack of radio rage. It was that old chestnut "we English are so lazy about learning other languages". Aaarrggghh!
You see, I don't subscribe to this terribly English habit of self-flagellation and loathing. I happen to think that by and large this is a pretty fine place to live and we are amongst the most tolerant people in the world, if anything maybe too tolerant which is why it sometime spills over into the aforementioned self loathing. We have giant parties for St Patrick's Day, we have the biggest Caribbean carnival in the world in Notting Hill. But wear a red rose or a Cross of St George on 23rd April and you're an evil fascist who wants to bring back the Empire and slavery.
So this time it was this language nonsense that got me angry. The BBC does that regularly but, as I am forced to finance the rotten organisation by the tax/theft method of the licence fee, I sometimes get the urge to sample what I'm forced to pay for, although I really shouldn't. The question of the English and foreign languages usually gets me angry because all the pseudo-intellectuals and Islington types love to thrash us with our supposed inability to master other languages. Absolute merde! See what I did there? Or are you too English?
The English are very pragmatic. If we have to do something we do it, and do it very well on the whole. Apart from sport which we do a lot of but not very well. In fact we even did world domination in a very understated way. Gradually it dawned on the world that we controlled two thirds of it. We did this very nicely and, although we were involved in regular spats, we did not do it in a violently militaristic way that led to regular world war like some people I could mention. We did it in a very gentlemanly manner as we did when we retreated to our rightful position as a small island off the coast of Northern Europe, and gave those countries back to their rightful owners. What we left behind were great bureaucracies, if 'great' is the right word, fine engineering works and the English language. Bingo! That's it. In a very strange way the Empire actually is the reason we don't tend to speak foreign languages as much as some people do.
Imagine if the Germans had actually been a nation state before 1871 and they, rather than us, had built an empire that controlled two thirds of the earth. There's a pretty good chance that the USA would be a German speaking country, as would Canada, Australia, New Zealand, much of Africa and so on. OK, they'd probably have different names too, but I'm sure you get the drift. In that case we would all be sat here, speaking numerous languages, watching US TV with English subtitles and air traffic controllers would be speaking German, the international language. There would probably be phone-ins today in Germany moaning about how bad they are at learning other languages. Or maybe not, no lazy national stereotypes here, but the Germans are not as prone to self loathing as we are.
But what language does a poor German learn when the world speaks German. Does he learn English? Spanish? Italian? Flemish? Well you need to learn a language to be nice to people when you're on holiday so they say. So it'll be Greek this year, Bulgarian next year, French next year. Poor Heinz would do nothing but learn foreign languages in case he one day has a holiday in a particular country. It would be stupid. So it is for us.
I admire people who speak other languages. I get a great deal of satisfaction when I use my very basic French or Spanish and manage to communicate effectively. But let's not get hung up on languages and use them as sticks with which to beat ourselves. It's not because we are arrogant, nor because we are lazy and it is certainly not linguistic or cultural imperialism. It's an accident of history, a by product of our past, so let's just be pleased that when we are shopping in a little village on the Amazon, as we were a few years back, the shopkeeper speaks English.
Right, now that's off my chest no more radio phone ins for me.