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Re: Planet of the New Papers

I'm a bit dismayed at some of the voices resounding on the list intimating some inherent superiority of English over any other language. English has global prevalence, as a historical hiccup, only because of the economic powers that Britain and the U.S. have enjoyed over the last couple of centuries; prior to that, one could just as easily have argued that Spanish, for example, and Chinese earlier than that, were most globally prevelant due to economic (and, let's face it, military) power. The U.S.'s power is waning, and that of the E.U. is rising; who knows, in another few decades, we could be arguing about whether French, German, or Spanish should be the universal communication language.

More than that, it's fairly widely recognized that English is one of the hardest languages on Earth to master for non-native speakers; certainly, it's so riddled with bizarre exceptions to rules in grammar and spelling that mastery evades even _native_ speakers -- I can't tell you how many papers I've reviewed or edited that demonstrate that native authors don't understand when to use "its" or "it's," or "that" vs. "which," to name just a couple of examples. If you've ever made those errors yourself, then I'm not sure you have any business complaining that people are still using _other_ languages. Believe you me, after you've had to grade papers where students actually use text-message-speak in their answers, you'll realize how poorly the natives grasp their own language.

I have absolutely no sense of how foreign languages are perceived outside the U.S., but it does seem to me that Americans are singularly adverse to learning foreign languages; doing so seems to be much more "par for the course" elsewhere (at least in Europe and South America) -- hence the old joke "What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks only one language? American." Now, I personally seem to be missing whatever key brain lobes are required for easy assimilation of other languages; my sister, however, picks them up very easily. Nevertheless, I have some vague sort of passability with French, and I can (slowly) read geoscience papers in Spanish (though not speak it, or probably pick it up if spoken), and I have spent ungodly quantities of time poring over Chinese papers with dictionaries to try and extract tiny tidbits of information...and yes, I have lamented openly that I wish they'd publish in English, but I also openly admit that that's a personal conceit, not some belief that somehow, mysteriously, English is inherently superior to any other language...it's just me projecting my frustration at not having learned the language in question myself. I'd love to learn, say, Chinese; unfortunately, no one teaches it 'round here, and it wasn't offered in my high school. (For that matter, in high school I wasn't certain I'd be going in to paleontology, so even if they _had_ offered it, I wouldn't have had any way of knowing that it would benefit me greatly later on!) But believe me, if an opportunity to learn Chinese comes along, I'm taking it.

Believe me, I share in your frustration about not being able to comprehend information presented in a paper in a non-English language, but rather than whinily constructing houses of cards, let's just be honest and admit that the fault is _ours_ for not having learned those other languages, shall we? It's _our_ education system (in the U.S., at any rate) that doesn't make foreign languages a priority, and that's largely in response to the public's lack of perception of how widely valuable that education would be. And maybe it _wouldn't_ necessarily be all that valuable to most people, but there's no real system in place to honestly advise prospective science students about what languages would be most valuable for them to learn in their particular field...high schoolers going into paleo reading this would be quite smart to give themselves an advantage by starting in on a foreign language _now_ (Mandarin Chinese, German, Spanish, Russian, French, and Portuguese -- in roughly that order -- seem to be the most common non-English languages encountered in paleo papers -- OK, at least dinosaur papers -- though of course Japanese, Romanian, and even Arabic and Hebrew pop up now and again).

We're light years away from a common global language, if such is ever achieved; even if one arises, I seriously doubt it'll be English, or at least the English we currently recognize. More likely it'll be some pidgin involving English, Chinese, and Spanish -- like the one in "Blade Runner." Too bad Esperanto never caught on... 8-P

Jerry D. Harris
Director of Paleontology
Dixie State College
Science Building
225 South 700 East
St. George, UT  84770   USA
Phone: (435) 652-7758
Fax: (435) 656-4022
E-mail: jharris@dixie.edu
and     dinogami@gmail.com


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