30 December 2010

Limitations of any language

One of the persistent reasons many critics demand that a text be written completely in one language is the belief (long debunked) that every language is capable of expressing anything and everything.  In particular, rabid defenders of the English language claim that the language can express any human reality.  Writers know better.  Even a consummate English user like T. S. Eliot was forced to use French and other languages every time he came up with a reality that the English language was incapable of handling.  The silliness, however, is not limited only to English users.  In Taiwan, using more than one language in a song (akin to poetry) is apparently frowned upon by the literati.  Here is an account:

"The mainstream of the music industry works  in accord with general attitudes of young Taiwanese. Mandarin is the language of their choice, although there are still some concepts that are better defined using Taiwanese or English, and that is where the code-mixing fits in.  English is generally used for the purpose of adding prestige and an element of trendiness to a song, while Taiwanese is used to express an idea that Mandarin is incapable of expressing."

Like English, Mandarin is considered by its speakers as omnipowerful.  It is interesting that a "smaller" language like Taiwanese has shown itself superior to Mandarin in certain cases.  It is also interesting that, in Taiwan as in many other places, English is considered a prestige language.  Truly, linguistics and literary criticism can never ignore political realities.  Once China overtakes the United States in economic and military power (within our century!), we can be sure that Mandarin will be considered the prestige language, rather than English.

1 comment:

  1. The first time I heard about this prediction was when my classmate back in high school said it of Mandarin. She's half-Taiwanese and with this post, I can see better where she was coming from.

    When this does happen in our century, the ESL industry will be replaced by MSL (or something similar). Perhaps even the degrees offered in the tertiary level will reflect this shift.

    I wonder if the products of BA English and the like will find themselves displaced in that scenario.