Language, lists and learning LO20565
Thu, 4 Feb 1999 09:24:07 -0500

Replying to LO20553 --

I was aware of the archaic usage which At applied, so thought it was a
little odd, and perhaps unnecessarily so, but not untoward. However, it
has triggered an interesting debate which leans toward "poltical
correctness" in its less positive forms.

English is currently the most broadly spoken language in the world
(ironically, it is the "lingua franca" of business!). It is also the most
diverse, having three times the vocabulary of most European languages
(600,000 as opposed to around 200,000 for French, for example), and more
than virtually any other. For this reason, it has also proliferated
dialects. The "English" spoken in many parts of the world outside the
Anglophone countries is barely recognizable. Even within the Anglophone
countries, I recall Churchill's comment regarding England and the US:
"two countries separated by a common language."

But while languages can and should evolve, there is also the important
point, made satirically by Churchill, around commonality. Dialogue,
especially learning dialogue, cannot take place without a common language.
The extent to which people lack a good (not even a perfect) understanding
of what is said reflects in a reduction of learning speed. I would have a
hard time understanding a mathematical physicist because I lack the
language of post-calculus math. Equally, he might misunderstand the
language I can use around psychometrics. Worse, he might think he
understands the language I use around psychology, and he would be wrong.
Similarly, I could misunderstand "charm" as applied to quarks. When we
assign new meanings to old words, we must use care, and we must document
what we do.

I feel to some extent that At might have found one of the more current of
English's 600,000 words to capture his meaning, but once explained, I can
live with it. But it should have been explained first, not when

Steve Kelner
Director of Educational and Advising Services
Center for Quality of Management


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