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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

484                The Loom of Language
would be short-lived^, if ever attempted, that no auxiliary could remain
intact for long Even if confined to the territory of Europe itself, it
would split into dialects Each speech community would locally impose
its own phonetic habits and its own system of stress, and the Tower of
Babel would come crashing down on the builders Only a perpetual
succession of international congresses could thus prevent a new disaster.
Such is the gloomy view which Professor Wyld of Oxford takes There
are three sufficient reasons why it need not intimidate us
To begin with there is nothing inherently absurd in a suggestion for
setting up a permanent interhnguistic commission to check the process
of disintegration For three centuries the forty immortals of the
Acadhnie Franfatse have tried, not without success, to keep literary
French in a straight-jacket, and Norway has changed its spelling and
grammar by three Acts of Parliament in less than forty years If national
governments can control the growth of national languages, an inter-
national authority could also maintain.an accepted standard for its
own medium of communication. Though international committees to
supervise scientific terminology, e g. the International Commission on
Zoological Nomenclature^ are akeady in existence, our universities cling
to the conviction that intelligent language planning on a world wide
scale is out of the question
By the nature of their training academic linguists are unduly pre-
occupied with times when few people could travel beyond a day's
journey on horseback or by cart, when reading and writing, like steno-
graphy to-day, were crafts confined to a few, when there were no
mechanical means for distributing news or information It is true that
languages have broken up'time and again in the past, because of dis-
persion over a wide area, geographical isolation, absence of a written
standard and other disintegrating agencies Those who entertain the
hope of international communication by an auxiliary envisage a future
in which these agencies will no longer operate Indeed, we have experi-
ence to sustain a more hopeful view than is customary in academic quar-
ters During the centuries which have followed the introduction of
printing, the gradual dissolution of illiteracy, and revolutionary changes
in our means of communication, English has established itself as the
language of North America and of Australasia It is not true to say that
the three main continental varieties of the common Anglo-American
language are drifting further apart. It is probably more true to say
that universal schooling, the film, and the radio are bringing them
closer together In any case, experience shows that geographical isola-