Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/161

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
157
INTERNATIONAL SPEECH

British matron, who, on being accosted in southern France by the phrase, "You foreigners," replied: "No, you are 'foreigners,' we are English." To your true, insular, middle-class Englishman, all the rest of the world, with patronizing exception of the Americans, is composed of "foreigners," speaking various absurd jargons, wholly impossible to understand, but really quite unimportant after all.

Your American, knowing in his bones that he is a hopeless hash of Irish, German, Scandinavian and Hebrew, with garnishings, perhaps, of "Anglo-Saxon,"—whatever that may be or ever was—is yet no whit less provincial in his noisy assertion of the manifest destiny of the language which he has learned to speak in a way, and with various brogues and accents. To the language slogan of the English, he joins perforce the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which are to "follow the flag"—at more or less discreet distance in their more than Roman triumphal progress over the lands of the hitherto unappropriated peoples waiting to be discovered and utilized. If there be such a thing as an Anglo-Saxon idea, upon which England and America are in perfect spiritual accord, it is that all the rest of the unexploited races of the globe should be put at once into Derby hats and trousers, made by the Israelites of London, New York and Chicago, to buy which, satisfactorily and abundantly, the prospective purchasers must, of course, be made to learn "the language of Shakespeare."

The American, who is also an idealist and under illusions, would graft on the suffrage. "Buy our goods, wear our clothes, talk English and vote—for us," is the good orthodox, Anglo-American receipt for civilization.

Suppose, however, we drop national prejudices for awhile, and look at our language through other eyes.

Modern English is, as we know, a magnificent composite, possessing the richest, most varied, most expressive vocabulary imaginable. As fully heir of the polished classical tongues through the Norman French as of the homely and rugged Teutonic stocks through the Saxon, our English language certainly offers us a wealth of words without compare among the civilized tongues of to-day. Add to this a minimum of grammar, an absolute simplicity, flexibility and mobility of structure, and why should English be other than the best possible international form of speech?

What then are the deterrent factors which operate to hinder and check the spread of English? First and foremost, our absurd, impossible and chaotic spelling. To language students, of course, the evolution of our orthography is clearly traceable; but to the plain man of other nations, who has not grown up in English from King Alfred, nothing seems more witless, more grotesque, lawless and incomprehensible than our spelling, and its utter divorce from pronunciation.