Thursday, July 13, 2006

Language and wealth

Here’s some right wingnuttery from Richard Wahn at the Washington Times about language. Unlike the English-only crap I expect, this is all about cultural superiority based on openness. The basic premise is that English speaking countries are wealthy because English does not have a language academy.

Let’s start here.

…if you look at the list of wealthiest countries on a per capita income basis, you will notice that almost all of the top 20 are English-speaking or use some other Germanic language, with the exception of France, Japan, and Finland (however, most Finns know German and English as well as Swedish, and many Frenchmen know German and/or English).

So what are those countries? Here are the figures from the IMF. As well as the languages spoken there based on Ethnologue.

IMF ranking based on GNI                Official Languages
1 Luxembourg French, German, Luxembourgeois
2 Norway Norwegian
3 Switzerland French, German, Italian, Romansch
4 Bermuda English
5 Denmark Danish, German
6 Iceland Icelandic
7 United States English, Hawaiian, Spanish (New Mexico)
8 Liechtenstein German
9 Sweden Swedish
10 Ireland Irish Gaelic, English
11 Japan Japanese
12 United Kingdom English, Welsh, French
13 Finland Finnish, Swedish
14 Channel Islands French, English
15 Austria German, Slovenian
16 Netherlands Dutch, Achterhoeks, Drents, Western Frisian,
Gronings, Limburgisch, Sinte Romani, Vlax
Romani, Sallands, Stellingwerfs, Twents,
Veluws, Western Yiddish
17 Belgium Dutch, French, German
18 France French
19 Germany German
20 Canada English, French

Well surprise, surprise. The wealthiest countries are European or former English colonies (Canada, America, Australia) and Japan. I’m sure history has more to do with this than language. Also note how we are talking about English and “other Germanic languages” at this point.

Now prepared to be surprised:

English is only the primary language for about 5 percent (340 million) of the world’s people…Yet those who speak English or other Germanic languages account for more than 40 percent of the world GDP, while comprising only about
percent of the world’s population.

Once again, we shift from English to English and other Germanic languages. Pretty sneaky sis! And what could be different about those poor non-Aryan nations?

It turns out a body of Arabic scholars determines what words can be used in the Arabic language. The French also have the official language police to determine what word can and cannot be used in the French language.

Wait, aren’t the French on that list?

…many Frenchmen know German and/or English.

Oh yeah. But surely good old English has no such government interference in our language?

There is no such official body for English, thus both foreign words and newly invented words are added to the English vocabulary every day by individuals and organizations across the globe.

Interestingly, many of those Germanic languages that Rahn tosses in when he needs to make impressive sounding statistics do have academies. Here’s a list of the languages above that have them.

Irish Gaelic

13 out of the top 20 countries have a recognized national language with an academy. Yikes!

Now, I too see the lack of a language academy as a positive aspect of English. I think the official language academies are misguided, but for the simple reason that they don’t work. If you actually talked to French or Arabic speakers you can be sure that only a pedantic few actually listen to the pronouncements of the bodies. Le weekend is alive and well in French despite the academy’s attempts to eradicate it.

That said, it’s still crazy to make this leap.

English is becoming the world language by default, precisely because there is no institution that states what English is, thus it is totally open to new ideas, concepts, technologies, etc. (like open source software).

German is not because why?

And no discussion of linguistic superiority would be complete without reference to linguistic determinism and a gee-whiz fact about some foreign language.

It is more difficult to comprehend ideas and concepts if there are no words
for them in one’s language. Did you now there is no word for ‘enterprise’ in
Oh that explains it.

And then finally, there is this non-sequitur:

The words we use may also help determine how wealthy we are.

This guy is an economist being paid by the CATO institute? They seriously need to ask for their money back.


boredoom said...

Hey, there's no one word for "enterprise" in Swedish either! And there's no English word for "Gnosjöanda!"

Anonymous said...

Hi, I didn´t read completely the article. But I want to correct and say that:"Did you now there is no word for ‘enterprise’ in
Arabic?" is wrong!!!! "mokawala" could be used for :)

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