In Part I we discussed the breaking news of the day, namely the Euronews Media Conglomerate (Europe’s answer to CNN) cancelling its Ukrainian-language channel. Due to the fact that the Ukrainian government, which was the licensee, via its state-owned media, was not able to pay the annual license fee. Being bankrupt and all.
In today’s installment, I use that bad news story as a springboard to delve deeper into the issue of the Ukrainian language as such. Is there, in fact, a Ukrainian language? And if so, then why does it need its own TV channel?
First, some backstory, since much of this discussion started in the usual way, as a blog war. On somebody else’s blog. I’ll get around to the gory details, making sure to tell you my side of the story, as concisely as I am able. In the meantime, always remember this simple rule, as enunciated by that wise woman, Wanda Gershwitz: Apes do read philosophy, they just don’t understand it.
Is Linguistics A Real Science?
How can I prove that Linguistics is a science? Do I even need to prove it? Yes, because my debating opponent — let’s call him “Otto” challenged that concept. As his fallback position, once his other arguments had all been shot down, like Parsifal’s dead swan. As in, “Well, Linguistics isn’t even a real science. Not like physics.”
Yes it is, Otto. Yes, Linguistics is a real science. How do we know that quantum physics is for real? Because it produces actual results, like, um, transistor circuits and wireless technology. By the same token, we know that Linguistics is an actual science, because it produces concrete products which actually work. Like, for example, this product called “Dragon Speaking“, which is a voice recognition software built upon the solid foundations of Scientific Linguistics. (And no, I don’t receive any fees for advertising Dragon, I’m just using this one product as an example because I am familiar with it.) Dragon is built upon the scientific theories of acoustic phonetics, phonemics, phonology, morphophonemics, morphology, and syntax. Its results are 99% accurate in rendering human speech into text. Hey, 99% is good enough for me, and proves that yes, Otto, Linguistics IS a science. Just because apes neither speak languages, nor understand the concepts of Linguistics, does not mean that these things don’t exist.
My Side Of the Story
So, like I was saying, this “Otto” fellow, on somebody else’s blog, drew me into a “debate” (more like a polemic) about Alphabets vs Phonology. First, my own credentials, do I even have the right to participate in such a debate? For example, that same anonymous commenter, “Otto” sometimes blathers on about quantum physics, and I keep my mouth zipped shut. Because I know zilcho about quantum physics. I am simply not qualified to debate quantum physics. On the other hand, I do know something about Linguistics. Even though I am not a practicing Linguist, I have some educational background in that area, I even own a piece of paper hanging on my wall attesting that I know more about it than the average ape.
Not that a college degree should be the litmus test. Ordinary people, even ones who didn’t go to college but know how to read, have access to popularizing books such as those writte by American Linguist John McWhorter, his books are really good, and he explains the science of Linguistics in a way that is accessible to the masses. McWhorter specialized in, and wrote his thesis on, English Creoles, but that matters not a whit. When it comes to human language, they all operate by the same basic principles. And here is the other mantra of Scientific Linguistics: All languages are not the same, but all languages are equally good, and equally valid.
That sounds like politically-correct pap designed to console inferior minds. But it is not. It is literally true. In this regard, human languages are different from other cultural artifacts, where one truly can say: “This is better than this.” Language is a strange thing, because it is both an artifact, and also a biological behavior. All at the same time. When discussing matters such as, say, painting or music, it truly is possible, and necessary, to state: “European art of the 16th century is superior to some guy in Neolithic times just finger-painting stick figures on a cave wall.” Like, if you go to a museum and look at pots dug up by archaeologists: Some of the earlier pots weren’t that good. And then they got really good. Or: “European classical music is vastly superior to some guy just banging on a tin pipe.” With such things as art or music, one can state, generally, that the more sophisticated cultures tend to produce better products.
People who don’t know much about human language may assume (incorrectly) that the same thing that is true of representational art or music, is also true of human language. For example, materially/culturally primitive African bushmen probably speak a language that is crude and unsophisticated, not anything like the magnificent European languages. Right? Wrong.
This is where common sense doesn’t work. Language is different from other forms of material culture. The Bushman language is not only the equal of the European languages, but is actually superior in certain ways. If one ranks languages by such factors as, say, complexities of grammar, inflections, syntax, etc. Again, read McWhorter’s books. He explains this paradox, why the languages of materially superior cultures are often “simpler” than the languages of primitive peoples. Hint: The languages become simplified as part of the Creolization process when the languages expand and recruit new, adult, speakers.
For now, though, just remember this one fact: All languages, be it the languages of materially sophisticated peoples or the languages of primitive tribes living in squalor, are equally valid, equally beautiful, and all could be capable (given some additional vocabulary) of expressing any concept or thought, even the highest-level political analysis. Just as Linguistics Professor Henry Higgins turned Cockney Eliza Doolittle into a lady, so any one of the some 6,500 languages existing on our planet, with just a bit of polish, could have become THE language of international discourse.
Now, when it comes to ALPHABETS, well, that is an entirely different story. Some alphabets are good, some are bad, some are better than others, some are simply terrible. Ignorant apes like Otto don’t know the difference between spoken and written speech, this is why they get hopelessly confused when opining about alphabets and phonemics. As we shall see…
And please trust me, this is all leading back, eventually, to Ukrainian language and alphabet! By a sideways route…
[to be continued]