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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/158

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

ing, clumsy stupidity of the present language situation. A good half dozen languages at least, must become the working tools of him who conducts scientific research of any importance; for men all over the civilized globe are carrying on investigations in all the departments of science, and their results are being published in hundreds of scientific journals in many tongues. To be sure, reviewers having special acquaintance with the less known languages translate many of these investigations—or, at least, more or less imperfectly report their main features in the journals of science published in German, French, Italian and English, which all scientific men are supposed to read. It goes without saying, however, that hundreds of valuable papers are buried each year in the minor languages and dialects, while even in the four great European tongues much of importance is overlooked by reviewers in the others. The situation is even worse when an international congress is convened. Such meetings are being held with increasing frequency—twenty-two in Geneva, Switzerland, last summer—to consider all topics of common human interest: Medicine, prison reform, agriculture, peace, the Red Cross, sanitation, education, besides the special societies for all the great branches of science. At present it is the universal rule that at all such gatherings papers may be read and discussions conducted in any one of the four languages above mentioned. There are always some, often many, who can understand formal papers, if read very slowly, fairly well in at least two of these idioms. But to converse freely, easily and continuously with others upon all topics of common interest in another than one's own native tongue is a feat more often imagined than realized.

In view of the amazing progress we are daily achieving in all the other departments of human life, why, with respect to the one indispensable tool of language, should the human race suffer no improvement? Why not agree upon one auxiliary common language, which all people of moderate education may easily learn. Why must the Magyar or the Slav, the Chinese or the Japanese, of culture and intelligence, be barred by language from the tremendous world of thought in the intellectual life-centers of the globe? In the to-morrow that is coming, shall we exclude ourselves from Russian, Chinese or Japanese life and thought, as much as they to-day are excluded from ours, except at the expense of laborious language-learning. But consider for a moment the situation confronting, let us say, a cultivated Japanese desirous of entering European thought. First, Greek and Latin ought to be acquired, and English, French and German absolutely must be mastered, every one of them absolutely alien to his own tongue in grammar and vocabulary, and even in the very written signs themselves.

It is one thing to engage in the study of foreign languages with