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Introduction                          19
volume of scientific publications which record new discoveries in
physics, medicine, chemistry, agriculture, and engineering appear in
many different languages, Thear contents do not become accessible in
books till several years have elapsed. Professional scientific workers
are therefore handicapped if they have no knowledge of such languages
as German, French, or Spanish What is more important from the
standpoint of the wider public which The Loom of Language may reach
is this. Challenging statistics of social welfare from foreign countries
may never find their way into the columns of our newspapers So the
only way of getting a thorough first-hand knowledge of foreign affairs
is to read year-books and periodicals published in other countries.
For these and other reasons many people who have httle or no
knowledge of foreign languages would like to have more, and many
would study them, if they were not discouraged by the very poor
results which years of study at school or in college produce One thing
The Loom of Language aims at doing is to show that there is no real
reason for being discouraged Though the difficulties of learning
languages are real, they are also easy to exaggerate. Generally, the adult
has more to show after a three months' course at a Commercial Institute
than an adolescent after three years* study of a foreign language in a
British secondary or American high school One reason for this is that
the adult pupil is clear about why he or she f s taking the course Another
is that the teacher is usually clear about why he or she is giving it
This is not the whole story. To sins of omission we have to add all
the positive obstacles which early formal education places in the way
of those who have no strong personal inclination for linguistic studies
The greatest impediment, common to most branches of school and
university education, is the dead hand of Plato We have not yet got
away from education designed for the sons of gentlemen. Educational
Platomsm sacrifices realizable proficiency by encouraging the pursuit
of unattainable perfection The child or the immigrant learns a language
by blundering his or her way into greater self-confidence Adults
accept the mistakes of children with tolerant good-humour, and the
genial flow of social intercourse is not interrupted by a barrage of
pedantic protests. The common sense of ordinary parents or customs
officials recognizes that commonplace communication unhampered by
the sting of grammatical guilt must precede real progress in the arts of
verbal precision Most of us could learn languages more easily if we
could learn to forgive our own linguistic trespasses
Where perfectionist pedantry has inserted the sung of grammatical