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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/159

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INTERNATIONAL SPEECH

love in one's heart for the beauty of their literatures; it is quite another, and a different thing, to endure years of joyless toil, acquiring a smattering of many tongues in order to gain a mere technical ability to read the facts of science internationally. What wanton brain-waste is here. Scientific investigation and discovery are of no nation, of no language, but to be in possession of the knowledge of them, in the present crude stage of our social development, we must learn a half-score of the national languages in a way that is subversive to all mental discipline, to all culture. Either we are skated over the thin ice of a "conversational course," getting our vocabulary with our breath between glides, and with grammar served daintily, like Nabisco wafers at a luncheon. Or we have had, let us say, the good average representative "language course" in school and college. We have "pried over" from one language into another endless imbecile sentences, involving the fact that Marie, when she shall have had a lead pencil will have been happy; that Henry's uncle, who is about to return from Frankfurt, desires an inkstand for his little sister; or concerning the ravages committed by the red cow of the good grandmother in the green garden of the rich count. We have read a half dozen plays; have rendered slowly, dully, baldly, into "translation English," a few hundred pages, more or less, of standard prose and verse—and we have "had" French, we have "had" German. How many of us must testify to the inadequacy of the average "required" courses in language to give appreciation for foreign literatures, while of course their utter inefficiency, so far as the direct conversational use of these tongues is concerned, must be self-evident, in view of the laughter-provoking absurdities in style and diction, the impossible pronunciations and accents we achieve.

In one of George du Maurier's books, two little English boys in a French school are requested by the master, proud of his own English, to render into its English equivalent, "je voudrais pouvoir." Translated "I should like to be able" by the little Englishmen, they were at once corrected by the master. "Non, non, you do not know your native tongue. It is to say, 'I vould vill to can'" Being then told to translate, "je pourrais vouloir," from the small bad boys came the alert response, "I vould can to vill."

We all know, from both literature and life, the appalling waste, the tremendous throwing about of brains to little use, in much of the current study of foreign languages.

Recognizing the difficulties involved in learning the natural tongues, the minds of men have been occupied for more than two hundred years with projects for an artificial language that should be the means for international communication. But the thought naturally suggests itself—why should we not make use for this purpose, of some one of the already existing idioms, developing and simplifying