Kalroy Was Here

Eighth man from Adam, an artificer of metals

Thursday, July 04, 2002

European ignorance
          I hear this a lot, “Americans are ignorant of other’s culture,” and “Americans can’t speak anyone else’s languages.” Both are often used to indicate American Ignorance, but how true are those accusations?

          In the absolute it is pretty true. Many Americans know very little about the cultures of other people. Specifically they tend to know only what they see on television, or read in the paper. As to their linguistics, it’s not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. The children of millions of immigrants tend to be bi-lingual. Many high-schools mandate a foreign language for their students. Many Native Americans are bi-lingual. In absolute numbers I would hazard to put money on the number of bi-lingual citizens versus any country in the world.

          Relative to other countries, however, there is more diversity and variance in America’s linguistic ability than in any European country. I can, without leaving my county let alone my state, find speakers of every single European language. Can the same be said about any European country, or even all of Europe? Nope, never, no way. I doubt that anyone in Europe could compile an honest list of languages they have encountered spoken by Europeans, that would match my list of Americans.

          Let’s clutter the bandwidth with a preliminary (first draft, and again poorly thought out):
English, German, French, Swedish, Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Maori, Marshalese, Spanish, Portuguese, Basque (seriously), Russian, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Farsi, Tibetan, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Illicano, Gaelic, Scots-Gaelic, Choctaw, Latin (I don’t know if that one should even count, but I’m putting it in), Apache, Hopi, Navajo (Dine), Kikuyu, Swahili, Thai; hmmmm, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. Oh, I almost forgot, Shoshone, and of course, Hawaiian.

          That’s a list of languages, spoken by actual humans (all American citizens). There are several missing, for instance Hans (an engineer at the USAF’s Rocket Lab) who was born and raised in the Netherlands, but the subject of language never came up (too busy discussing nuclear space propulsion and the best time to skim dross off your beer).

          As to myself, I speak English and Hawaiian (a couple of my siblings know Spanish, German, and French), and I’m struggling through Latin. I’m not a college graduate, I’m blue-collar who has been a welder, machinist, blasting assistant, forklift operator, truck driver, and have recently been offered a position as a millwright. In my own family we have English, Japanese, Cantonese (learning Mandarin would cause a scandal), Tagalog, Portugese, German, and, of course, Hawaiian.

          Next up, how ignorant Europeans are to American culture