Linguistic chauvinism – Tâm lý đề cao tiếng mẹ đẻ

Linguistic chauvinism – Tâm lý đề cao tiếng mẹ đẻ của mình : 

 

Everyone tends to “root” for the home team.  That is, we tend to want athletes representing our city or country to win, even when the athletes are professionals who do it only for money and have little if any connection with those they represent (as is the case with professional sports in much of the world).

We also tend to think that the things we are familiar with–our customs, our country, and, of course, our native language, are better in some way than others.  Most educated people realize that this cannot really be true–that while our customs may be no worse than others, it is not realistic to actually think they are better.  Still, we have this “feeling.”  If we think it is true and don’t question it, it can be called “prejudice.”  If we only feel that it is true but don’t push it, then it is “chauvinism.”

Linguistic chauvinism takes the form of thinking our language is in some way better than other languages.  This is especially found in large countries or politically dominant countries, and so we find linguistic chauvinism common among Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Germans, French, and, of course especially among English speakers.

The fact is, no trained linguist is going to subscribe to any assertion that any language is better than any other.  All languages meet the needs of their speakers, and if one doesn’t, words or language structures are invented (or borrowed from another language) to meet the need.  Language change is an ongoing process, largely just so that a language can meet new needs arising from a changing world.

It is sometimes asserted that one language is better than another at some specific task or other.  Now it is obvious that an Inuit language (Eskimo) is likely to be more efficient at describing different types of snow than, say, a language is only spoken in the tropics, and so on, but that does not mean that a tropical language is unable to describe snow in fine detail–only that it may require more words to achieve the same thing.

As another example, English is remarkably deficient in ways to address a second person in ordinary speech.  It has “you.”  Most other languages have different pronouns depending on the number of people one is addressing, the sex and probably marital status of the person being addressed, whether one is intimate or not with the one being addressed, and so on.  Does this mean that English is lacking?  Not quite.  All it means is that the English speaker if the speaker wants to convey any of these other ideas in the sentence, must use something other than a personal pronoun.  For example, to express respect, one uses “sir” or “ma’am.”  (You note that that also conveys the sex of the second person).  Many words are available to express intimate relationships–“honey” is the most common in the U.S.  Even plural number is easily conveyed if desired, with the expression “you all” (or “y’all” in some areas).

It is also sometimes asserted that one language is more “beautiful” than another.  I know I was taught (and argued mightily with my music history professor) that Italian, because of its pronounced vowel predominance, is a natural for musical theater (opera), while English, with its consonantal predominance, is not.  Horse hockey-puck!  (That is a slang euphemism for “horse shit.”)  The reason opera is associated with Italian is that they invented it and it is part of their culture.  That doesn’t mean great operas can’t be written in other languages: consider the masterpieces produced by Mozart in German or Tchaikovsky in Russian–and both German and Russian are every bit as consonant dominated as is English.  Indeed, German is notorious for its guttural quality–and yet Schiller and Beethoven were able to produce Beethoven’s Ninth!

The literary techniques of a language–especially its poetry–differ in large part because of the differences in the devices various languages use in forming words and phrases.  English, for example, is much about stress, and very little about tone.  It also has difficult clusters of consonants and many polysyllabic words.  This makes it difficult for speakers of other languages that, say, use tones rather than stress, and emphasize vowel quality and rarely cluster the consonants.  However, these are not qualitative differences, but only differences in the methods the language uses,  To appreciate the poetry and other literature of a language takes a level of accomplishment beyond that of most non-native speakers and is often impossible to really translate, but this does not imply that the literary achievements in any given language are better than those of any other.  It only implies that all human languages are precious and to be preserved.

One claim that is often made about English is that it is superior because of its immense vocabulary.  Comprehensive dictionaries of English contain millions of words, while many remote languages may have only a few thousand.  Still, one only needs a few thousand words to effectively speak English.  The rest is just gravy–largely jargon–words used in specialized situations.  The fact is, too, that native speakers do not know most of the words of their language, although a large vocabulary is widely taken as a sign of intelligence and education (so much so that native speakers spend a lot of time while in school trying to enlarge their word list).  English got is large word list mainly by borrowing words, something all languages do.  There is, therefore, no “pure” English language–English is a mix of French and Latin and Greek and German and Dutch and Norwegian and almost every other language.

In summation, all human languages are the end product of a long history–the same length for every language since they all trace back to the first evolution of human speech.  They are therefore all equally effective, equally beautiful, and equally human. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to learn to speak English.  For reasons having to do with history and not any inherent superiority, English is the passport to world citizenship.

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