The language I'm speaking right now is onits way to becoming the world's universal language, for better or for worse.Let's face it, it's the language of the internet, it's the language of finance,it's the language of air traffic control, of popular music, diplomacy --English is everywhere.
Now, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by morepeople, but more Chinese people are learning English than English speakers arelearning Chinese. Last I heard, there are two dozen universities in China rightnow teaching all in English. English is taking over.
And in addition to that, it's beenpredicted that at the end of the century almost all of the languages that existnow -- there are about 6,000 -- will no longer be spoken. There will only besome hundreds left. And on top of that, it's at the point where instanttranslation of live speech is not only possible, but it gets better every year.
The reason I'm reciting those things to youis because I can tell that we're getting to the point where a question is goingto start being asked, which is: Why should we learn foreign languages -- otherthan if English happens to be foreign to one? Why bother to learn another onewhen it's getting to the point where almost everybody in the world will be ableto communicate in one?
I think there are a lot of reasons, but Ifirst want to address the one that you're probably most likely to have heardof, because actually it's more dangerous than you might think. And that is theidea that a language channels your thoughts, that the vocabulary and the grammarof different languages gives everybody a different kind of acid trip, so tospeak. That is a marvelously enticing idea, but it's kind of fraught.So it's not that it's untrue completely.
So for example, in French and Spanish the word for table is, for some reason,marked as feminine. So, "la table," "la mesa," you justhave to deal with it. It has been shown that if you are a speaker of one ofthose languages and you happen to be asked how you would imagine a tabletalking, then much more often than could possibly be an accident, a French or aSpanish speaker says that the table would talk with a high and feminine voice.So if you're French or Spanish, to you, a table is kind of a girl, as opposedto if you are an English speaker.
It's hard not to love data like that, andmany people will tell you that that means that there's a worldview that youhave if you speak one of those languages. But you have to watch out, becauseimagine if somebody put us under the microscope, the us being those of us whospeak English natively. What is the worldview from English?
So for example, let's take an Englishspeaker. Up on the screen, that is Bono. He speaks English. I presume he has aworldview. Now, that is Donald Trump. In his way, he speaks English as well.
And here is Ms. Kardashian, and she is anEnglish speaker, too. So here are three speakers of the English language. Whatworldview do those three people have in common? What worldview is shapedthrough the English language that unites them? It's a highly fraught concept.And so gradual consensus is becoming that language can shape thought, but ittends to be in rather darling, obscure psychological flutters. It's not amatter of giving you a different pair of glasses on the world.
Now, if that's the case, then why learnlanguages? If it isn't going to change the way you think, what would the otherreasons be? There are some. One of them is that if you want to imbibe aculture, if you want to drink it in, if you want to become part of it, thenwhether or not the language channels the culture -- and that seems doubtful --if you want to imbibe the culture, you have to control to some degree thelanguage that the culture happens to be conducted in. There's no other way.
There's an interesting illustration ofthis. I have to go slightly obscure, but really you should seek it out. There'sa movie by the Canadian film director Denys Arcand -- read out in English onthe page, "Dennis Ar-cand," if you want to look him up. He did a filmcalled "Jesus of Montreal." And many of the characters are vibrant,funny, passionate, interesting French-Canadian, French-speaking women. There'sone scene closest to the end, where they have to take a friend to an Anglophonehospital. In the hospital, they have to speak English.
Now, they speak Englishbut it's not their native language, they'd rather not speak English. And theyspeak it more slowly, they have accents, they're not idiomatic. Suddenly thesecharacters that you've fallen in love with become husks of themselves, they'reshadows of themselves.
To go into a culture and to only everprocess people through that kind of skrim curtain is to never truly get theculture. And so to the extent that hundreds of languages will be left, onereason to learn them is because they are tickets to being able to participatein the culture of the people who speak them, just by virtue of the fact that itis their code. So that's one reason.
Second reason: it's been shown that if youspeak two languages, dementia is less likely to set in, and that you areprobably a better multitasker. And these are factors that set in early, and sothat ought to give you some sense of when to give junior or juniorette lessonsin another language. Bilingualism is healthy.
And then, third -- languages are just anawful lot of fun. Much more fun than we're often told. So for example, Arabic:"kataba," he wrote, "yaktubu," he writes, she writes."Uktub," write, in the imperative. What do those things have incommon? All those things have in common the consonants sitting in the middlelike pillars. They stay still, and the vowels dance around the consonants. Whowouldn't want to roll that around in their mouths? You can get that fromHebrew, you can get that from Ethiopia's main language, Amharic. That's fun.
Or languages have different word orders.Learning how to speak with different word order is like driving on thedifferent side of a street if you go to certain country, or the feeling thatyou get when you put Witch Hazel around your eyes and you feel the tingle. Alanguage can do that to you.
So for example, "The Cat in the HatComes Back," a book that I'm sure we all often return to, like "MobyDick." One phrase in it is, "Do you know where I found him? Do youknow where he was? He was eating cake in the tub, Yes he was!" Fine. Now,if you learn that in Mandarin Chinese, then you have to master, "You canknow, I did where him find? He was tub inside gorging cake, No mistake gorgingchewing!" That just feels good. Imagine being able to do that for yearsand years at a time.
Or, have you ever learned any Cambodian? Meeither, but if I did, I would get to roll around in my mouth not some baker'sdozen of vowels like English has, but a good 30 different vowels scooching andoozing around in the Cambodian mouth like bees in a hive. That is what alanguage can get you.
And more to the point, we live in an erawhen it's never been easier to teach yourself another language. It used to bethat you had to go to a classroom, and there would be some diligent teacher --some genius teacher in there -- but that person was only in there at certaintimes and you had to go then, and then was not most times. You had to go toclass. If you didn't have that, you had something called a record. I cut myteeth on those. There was only so much data on a record, or a cassette, or eventhat antique object known as a CD. Other than that you had books that didn'twork, that's just the way it was.
Today you can lay down -- lie on yourliving room floor, sipping bourbon, and teach yourself any language that youwant to with wonderful sets such as Rosetta Stone. I highly recommend thelesser known Glossika as well. You can do it any time, therefore you can do itmore and better. You can give yourself your morning pleasures in variouslanguages. I take some "Dilbert" in various languages every singlemorning; it can increase your skills. Couldn't have done it 20 years ago whenthe idea of having any language you wanted in your pocket, coming from yourphone, would have sounded like science fiction to very sophisticated people.
So I highly recommend that you teachyourself languages other than the one that I'm speaking, because there's neverbeen a better time to do it. It's an awful lot of fun. It won't change yourmind, but it will most certainly blow your mind.
Thank you very much.(Applause)