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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

24                  The Loom of Language

museum of natural history lighten the tedium of learning names for
the bones of the skeleton

WHAT LEARNING A LANGUAGE INVOLVBS
If supplemented by technical terms which are the same, or almost
the same, in nearly all modern languages, a basic vocabulary of seventeen
hundred nauve words is abundant for oidinary conversation and intelli-
gent discussion of serious subjects in any European language According
lo a recent article m Nature^ new encyclopaedia of medicine published
recently in the Soviet Union, contains 8o/>oo technical terms, and it is
safe to say that during his professional traimfig a medical student has
to master a new vocabulary of at least ten thousand new words. Indeed,
the international vocabulary of modern science as a whole is immense
in comparison with the number of words and rules which we have to
master before we can express ourselves in a foreign language with free
use of technical terms in world-wide use. This fact does not prevent
the publication of a daily growing volume of good popular books which
explain for the benefit of any leader with average intelligence basic
principles and interesting facts dealt with in natural sciences With the
help of the exhibits in our own language museum (Part IV) there is no
reason why interesting facts about the way in which languages grow,
the way m which people use them, the diseases from which they sufler,
and the way m which other social habits and human relationships shape
them, should not be accessible to us There is no reason why we should
not use knowledge of this sort to lighten the drudgery of assimilating
disconnected information by sheer effort of memory and tedious
repetition*
> Helpful tricks which emerge from a comparative study of language as
a basis for promoting a common language of world-cm/enship will
turn up in the following chapters, and will be set forth collectively at
a later stage. In the meantime, any one appalled by the amount of
drudgery which learning a language supposedly entails can get some
encouragement from two sources One is that no expenditure on tuition
can supply the stimulus you can get from spontaneous intercourse with
a correspondent, if the latter is interested in what you have to say, and
has something interesting to contribute to a discussion The other is
that unavoidable memory work is much less than most of us suppose;
and it need not be dull, if we fortify our efforts by scientific curiosity
about the relative defects and merits of the language we are studying,
about its relation to other languages which people speak, and about the