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Submitted by: Ocean Gebhardt
Germany has recently launched a campaign to make German the language of ideas. This is a thinly veiled attempt to follow France s lead in resisting foreign word infiltration. It already had a Neue Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft to identify Anglicisms and find German alternatives. France, on the other hand, enacted the Toubon Law in 1994, which decreed that all communication related to any form of commerce had to be in French. In other words, everything you saw or heard on television (apart from music and “original language” movies) had to be either in its original French or translated into French.
This raises the question, is it better to protect one s language, as France and Germany are doing, or to have more of a laissez-faire attitude, as is done with English?
English is more widespread as a lingua franca than the other two languages, but that does not in itself mean that any Laissez-faire attitude is the cause. After all, it is only in reaction to this original spread of English that France and Germany are trying to protect their languages in the first place. Are they right in doing so? Or should they open their arms to foreign influence? Let us see…
At its most basic, a language exists to enable communication. If I need to get a message across to someone else, language is the optimal form of doing so. We humans have proven to be quite adept at figuring this out, as has been seen with phenomena such as Nicaraguan Sign Language and Norfuk or Patois.
Why do certain languages survive longer than others? Why is English spoken throughout the world, while Ancient Egyptian was forgotten for millennia? Of course, to say the British Empire was not the main reason for this is simply contorting the facts; but neither can it be said that British hegemony was the only reason. After all, at one point or another many other European powers had empires and colonies throughout the world.
The English language did not exist before the Middle Ages. Old English is not comprehensible to anyone who has not studied it. The fact is that this Old English gradually mixed in with the local Gaelic, the Viking Norse, the Norman French, and later with the entire world, thanks to trade and expansion. Nowadays, modern English is spoken from Canada to New Zealand to South Africa to Singapore, with many other places in between. Of course, at each one of these junctures, the language absorbed and mutated and grew in order to accommodate the new circumstances and situations. The result is a language considered the most expressive in the world. This language is still English, even though it bears little, if any, resemblance to the original Anglo-Saxon from Friesland.
The fact is that English has adopted many foreign words. This adoption has not made the language any less relevant; in fact, it has expanded its possibilities. Thanks to French alone, in English we can raise cows but eat beef, or possibly veal, while we can raise pigs but eat pork. and do the same with deer and venison (curiously, we still raise and eat chickens). We can have either a slice or a piece or a morsel, not to mention words like Entourage and, yes, Laissez-faire, As a result of all this accretion, English now has four times the amount of vocabulary as the French language.
Following this reasoning, France and Germany might do well to adopt more of a laissez-faire attitude. Rather than restrict themselves, the French and the Germans should open their language to change and not be afraid of losing control.
About the Author: Ocean Gebhardt is the founder and editor of
, a portal for financial and economic theory discussion. This article is an excerpt from Ocean’s new book “Bringing Sexy Back to Economics”, available here: