Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/160

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

it if necessary. Logically the great classical tongues of Greek and Latin come in first for consideration. It has been demonstrated, however, that for many reasons they are impossible. Their highly inflected structure, their inverted sentence order, especially in the case of the Latin, are wholly alien to the modern mind. For centuries, indeed, Latin retained a certain sort of internationality among scholars and churchmen, but not in the common walks of life; while Greek, in spite of the four millions of modern Greeks, could make no propaganda, because, in addition to countless inflections, it retains an unfamiliar alphabet.

Considering the four principal modern languages, French, English, German and Italian, the first two alone have ever been able to entertain even a hope of becoming international. Among diplomats, courtiers, officials and people of polish and culture generally, French has of course for many centuries been regarded as an indispensable tongue, and in this way it has actually attained to a limited amount of inter-nationality. The precision, neatness and certain high quality of style in its phrase, its rather simple grammar and its capacity for expressing nice distinctions and fine shades of meaning, must always strongly appeal in its favor. Its difficulties of idiom, and particularly its pronunciation and accent, which absolutely can not be correctly acquired by adults, and which can be conveyed only by the cultivated French teachers themselves to ourselves as children, preclude all hope for the universality of French in any but an academic sense.

Germany, the Mecca of scientists, publishes every year an absolutely appalling mass of scientific literature; so that to every investigator, a reading knowledge at least, of German, is as indispensable as his native tongue, whatever that may happen to be. Yet German, cumbered with a clumsy, inverted sentence-order, with its complex inflections of nouns and verbs, its incredible genders and its rather difficult pronunciation, has never dared even to aspire to internationality. Except that the Germans are indefatigable workers, and publish an inconceivable volume of scientific literature, their tongue would to-day be no more widely known than Danish.

As to our own well-beloved mother tongue, we are told on every hand (in English-speaking countries) that English is rapidly becoming the world-language. We are confronted with census statistics to this point; but an analysis of the figures somewhat weakens the force of the general assertion. In America, and in the English and American dependencies, there are absolute hordes of non-English-speaking peoples. But even were this otherwise, allowing the utmost to the figures, we should still have but a minor part of the inhabitants of the civilized world as users of English.

What are then the inducements to bring the rest of the world to the speaking of English? Who does not remember the story of the valiant