Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/343

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343
ENGLISH AS AN INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE

assimilated. Greek profited at least as much as Latin by the Roman conquest of the world. After a century of union with the Empire of the Tsars, the best educated inhabitants of Finland learn German rather than Russian. Magyar, Czech and Polish have triumphantly asserted themselves against German, once the only official language in the Hapsburg dominions. After forty years of strenuous endeavor, the German Empire has not shaken the hold of French culture in the essentially Teutonic province of Alsace. When one hears of the incessant struggle in Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia, caused by the attempt of imposing a language on a conquered people, one can not but hope that England and America will be wise and generous enough not to commit the same mistake—or the same crime.

Without any coercion, the natural superiority of a language, or of the civilization which it represents, will ensure its triumph. Thus Cornish disappeared and Welsh is receding before English; thus, for a time, and without any political connection between the two countries, Rumanian was entirely overshadowed by French. By a process of natural selection, some languages remain provincial, like Basque or Breton; some become national, like Hungarian; and a few conquer international status. Among these, by a similar process, one will forge ahead of all others and become alone international: such is the destiny claimed for English.

All this is theory: do facts point the same way? It seems that every year we have more claimants instead of fewer to national and international rank. A century ago, French was alone in the field. At present, not only French, German and English, but Italian enjoys in all international activities a sort of official recognition. And how long will Spanish and Russian be content to lag behind? The distinction made by H. G. Wells between the three "agglomerative" languages, French, English and German, and all the rest, is by no means so clear as he would have us believe. There is a long way between English and Catalonian, for instance: but all the links of a continuous chain could be found. Can we consider as a minor language Italian, with its magnificent literature, past and present, its active scholarship, its intrinsic beauty, its faith in its own destiny?[1] Or Russian, or Spanish, with their vast numbers, their great achievements, their boundless possibilities? The strong plea of the Brazilian delegate at the Hague Conference against the notion of secondary powers not entitled to all the honors and privileges enjoyed by a few applies with even greater force to the notion of secondary languages. Language has become such a symbol of racial patriotism that the balance of power is preserved as jealously in the linguistic domain as in the political.

  1. Cf. the activity of the Dante Alighieri Society for the spread of the Italian language.