Историческая роль языков

В Средние века доминировала латынь. В 18-м веке на первый план выходит французский, вытесняя латынь. К концу 19-го немецкий спорит с французским и в первой половине 20-го становится лидером, по крайней мере, в науке. Чтобы быть услышанным в мире, ученый должен был публиковаться на немецком. После 1945 английский все языки подавляет и доминирует до конца столетия. Теперь же всем языкам приходится потесниться, уступая место китайскому, который и станет главным уже к середине нынешнего столетия.

 

The languages I tried to learn and the languages I’ll never learn

Part 3.

A digression on encyclopedias

From the earliest years I liked to read encyclopedias. The first one was the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 2nd edition. The day a new volume arrived I spent hours to look through the newcomer from the first to the last page. It is difficult to understand what a role was played by this encyclopedia in the life of a child with an inquisitive mind in the society where there was a shortage of everything, including books. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I acquired a secondary education thanks to this inexhaustible well of knowledge. Some people say that this encyclopedia has an infamous mark of the so called cult of personality. This is true only to some extent. Sure, many articles about persons demonstrate such derogatory epithets as ‘reactionary’ and so on. However, a reader may omit them mentally without damage to the facts.

When I had joined the Foreign Languages Library, reading foreign encyclopedias became a kind of mania with me. It was the Encyclopaedia Britannica [a1] that attracted my attention most often.

Recently I downloaded a lot of volumes of the EB published at various times. What especially struck me is the remarkable lack of the articles Language and Linguistics in editions from the first to the 11th one.

The EB has a lot of lengthy articles on some subjects, looking like whole discourses. These articles could be used as textbooks of a kind. The newer editions are closer to what specialists regard as a specimen encyclopedia, which they think should contain many short articles without going into details. The Soviet encyclopedias and wikipedia  are closer to this sort of reference books. However, I prefer the earlier editions of the EB.

To be continued.

 


 [a1]I use the British spelling only in a case like that to show the original name of the book in question. Usually I adhere to the American mode of writing. 

 

The languages I tried to learn and the languages I’ll never learn

Part 2. Childhood

There were no textbooks for self-instruction, nor any dictionaries of foreign languages in our home. I was a reader of two libraries, the school one and the children’s local one. They did not have teach-yourself books, and I was not sure I could handle textbooks for adult learners. There were few things to learn a little about languages in fiction books, where foreign quotations were translated in notes. I wrote out phrases from the books together with the translations in a copy-book and tried to learn something about grammar and words of a foreign language from them. Notre Dame de Paris (in the Russian translation) by Hugo was a whole treasure of Latin and Spanish quotations. The name of the chapter Besos para golpes is retained in my mind ever since.

My life changed when I turned fifteen. I could become a reader of the Foreign Languages Library. First of all, I started to learn Latin with the help of a textbook for beginners and ducked into this language head first. About at the same time I began to study Spanish. Various events in life prevented me from taking up other tongues.

One of my many drawbacks is reluctance to go through a whole textbook to the end. After mastering the basics of the language, I try to read an original text with a dictionary. As a result, my knowledge of languages is scanty and abounds in gaps.

PS In  addition to the above I should mention the influence of the book A few words about words by Leo Uspensky. Earlier I had been under impression of Perelman’s popular scientific books Fun with Maths, Fun with Mechanics, Fun with Physics etc. However, Uspensky beat Perelman with one hand. 

 This is the answer to a question from my new friend from Arizona. I am hanging this text just in case.

The languages I tried to learn and the languages I’ll never learn

My sister is three years my senior. When she began to learn English, I was doing my second year in the elementary school. I took her textbook of English and read the first sentence on the first page: “In English there are 24 letters and 44 sounds.” I was perplexed. Why this difference? Is not a letter the same as a sound? I don’t remember why I didn’t ask my sister to explain to me this problem. In any case, I concluded that I was not able to learn a foreign language by my own and put the textbook away. When I began to learn English in the fifth grade, I understood that languages are what I need. The problem was that I had two obstacles. The first one is my poor memory. The second one is my misanthropy. That is why, after 57 years of learning, I can’t say I am fluent in English.

To be continued.

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