Settling Arguments About the Best Language to Learn: A Writer’s Essay

Many Reasons for Disagreements

Disagreements about languages come in many different flavors, including linguistic, scholastic, functional, cultural and personal. It is understandable that a person should think his or her language is better suited to something than other languages, even if such an assertion or belief cannot be supported by the facts. And, truth be told, in fact there are some languages better suited to saying some things than other languages.

For example, Inuit, Eskaleut and Yupik languages (Eskimo languages) have separate WORDS for snow which English, at best, would need concatenated descriptors to approximate, e.g., dry-snow-from-southwest, or wet-horizontal-driving-snow-off-the-sea. This is understandable, as Eskimos LIVE much of their lives in the harsh, unforgiving Arctic environment where it is necessary to distinguish, quickly and accurately, whether a snow is going to make travel a bit more difficult or murderously dangerous under the best of conditions.

In a similar fashion, to the nomadic tribes of the Sahara Desert, lives depend on knowing the difference between a brief, windy blow and a choking, blinding sandstorm that could kill everyone. The languages of these nomads reflect this and are replete with descriptive terms English can only approximate in long, clumsy concatenations: brown-sand-blowing-from-sunset-to-midnight or choke-sand-driving-flat-tie-the-tents-hunker-down-storm.

This ability to fit and adapt our language and culture to the distinctions that WE need leads us, quite naturally, albeit ethnocentrically, to think that our language is better than those others out there. While it may be true that one's language better deals with one specific set of dynamics or circumstances than some other language.

Imagine the frustration of a Saharan nomad trying to explain his experiences after spending six months in the Arctic. Consider his counterpart's exasperation at trying to relate the sun-eating sandstorms of hot, dry desert life to his friends and family, there on the icy tundra!

That some languages are better suited to, say, technology or finance, medicine or warfare, tourism or terrorism, art appreciation or culinary creation, confers no explicit honor or inherent betterness on the speakers of that language, no matter how much we want to bask in that reflected glow!

Others, scholars and linguists among them, disagree on where certain languages originated, or how they got to where they have been living since recorded history began, if indeed their language shares linguistic or grammatical roots with the language of those people, way over yonder. Such controversies, however, are often tiny tempests in really tiny teacups, confined to only a few scholars and academicians familiar with the cultural, anthropological and linguistic clues necessary to even get into such controversy ballparks!

And remember the Man from Mars Rule for Languages: To a Martian, all human languages are equally beautiful, equally logical, equally illogical and equally ill-suited as descriptive modalities… they're all human languages, whether Bantu or Oxford English.

So the next time you hear somebody bragging how this language or that is 'the language of love,' laughingly remind him that all languages are 'the language of love', to a Martian!