February 26, 2006


From Neil Steinberg's column in today's Chicago Sun-Times, this reader-submitted joke:

What do you call a guy that speaks two languages?

-- Bilingual.

What do you call a guy that speaks three languages?

-- Trilingual.

What do you call a guy that speaks only one language?

-- American.

It makes me tired to have to point out the obvious, but I can stand here in Chicago and go at least 700 miles in any direction before I get to anyplace where English is not the primary language. If we had to speak Hoosier to make ourselves understood in Indiana, or Cheesehead to be able to order fromage in Wisconsin, then we'd speak more than one language.

For a Frenchman, being able to say "I surrender" in German, Spanish, and English is a survival strategy. For an American to learn to speak three languages is a waste of time that could have been better spent sleeping through geometry class, or stuffing his fat face with McDonald's cheeseburgers, or parking his ass in a movie megaplex and watching the latest brain-dead piece of Hollywood worthlessness, hooting wildly at the fart jokes, or pumping the bass through his absurdly loud car speakers to proclaim his individuality just like every other shithead suburban wannabe, or loudly proclaiming his victim status and demanding special treatment as an alternative to taking responsibility for himself.

We're fucked nine ways from Sunday, China and India are already eating our lunch, and we seemingly have no place to go but down. That we don't bother to learn to speak multiple languages is the least of our worries.

Posted by Mr Green at February 26, 2006 09:01 AM | TrackBack

I understand, and agree with, your point. However, I think the problem is even worse. Many Americans, often those who are presumably educated, don't even speak proper English! For example, how many times have you heard a professional sportscaster say "Now watch this replay! If he catches this ball, he's gone for six!" Obviously, if the receiver didn't catch the pass in real life, he sure as hell isn't going to catch it on the replay. The comment should have been "Now watch this replay! If he had caught that ball, he might have scored!" - but the sportscaster couldn't be bothered with tenses. How many times have you heard someone say "If I would have known..." when they should have said "If I had known..." How often do you hear someone say "I've got to bring my car to the shop" when they are really going to TAKE it to the shop? The mechanic might respond to a phone call by sayng "Bring your car in..." I'm sure there are hundreds of other examples of our failure to use our native language properly. As long as we continue to butcher our own language, how can we be expected to learn a second? (By the way - I also speak French and German).

Posted by: Pat in Kentucky at February 27, 2006 10:51 AM

Amen, Pat. Sloppy use of the language usually indicates sloppy thinking. I used to see resumes and cover letters of job applicants and shake my head sadly at the ones with terrible spelling and grammar. Then I saw enough of them to realize the ones that were written properly were the exception.

Posted by: Mr. Green at February 27, 2006 01:45 PM