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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

CHAPTER  I

INTRODUCTION

WHAT language we habitually speak depends upon a geographical
accident It has nothing to do with the composition of the human
sperm or of the human egg A child grows up to speak or to write the
language used at home or at school If born in a bilingual country it
may grow up to use two languages without any formal instruction in
either Many Welsh, Breton, Belgian, and South African children do
so There is nothing to suggest that the chromosomes of the Welsh,
Belgians, Bretons, and South Africans have an extra share of genes
which bestow the gift of tongues. Experience also shows that adult
emigrants to a new country eventually acquire the knack of com-
municating inoffensively with the natives So scarcely any one can
have any rational basis for the belief that he or she is congerutally
incapable of becoming a linguist. If a language-phobia exists, it must
be a by-product of formal education or other agencies of social environ-
ment.
By the same token it is not difficult to understand why Scandinavians
or the Dutch enjoy the reputation of being good linguists In small
speech communities the market for talkies or for specialist textbooks
is small, and it is not economically practicable to produce them Thus
the Norwegian boy or girl who hopes to enter a profession grows up
with the knowledge that proficiency m English, German or French is
an essential educational tool In any part of Scandinavia a visit to the
cmema is a language lesson Translation of the English, German
or French dialogue flashes on the screen as the narrative proceeds.
To all the cultural barriers which linguistic isolation imposes on a
small speech community we have to add exigencies of external trade
and a stronger impulse to travel, In short, members of the smaller
European speech communities experience a far greater need to study
foreign languages and enjoy greater opportunities for doing so
Special arcumstances combine to encourage a distaste for linguistic
studies among those who speak the Anglo-American language One is
that the water frontiers of Britain, and still more those of the United
States, isolate most British and American citizens from daily experience