Last week blood-curdling screaming saw the Police storming the Dominion-Post’s offices, there to find and release a sub-editor being subjected to a brutal flogging. My how he’d sinned.
It transpired he’d run an item he should never have allowed to be published, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he’d put it on the front page.
This was a cry of woe from a Professor Rawinia Higgins, a language and culture specialist, these being perfectly legitimate fields of study, as also mind you, are medieval church architecture, lycanthropy and no end of other topics.
Professor Higgins is a Maori Language Commissioner and she was bemoaning the absence of progress in persuading the public to resurrect a dead language, namely maori.
Language romanticism is insane. It may surprise to learn that when I was young, to obtain a law degree required a unit in Latin. So too in Britain up to about 1950 when the best prestige private schools also saw Latin as essential. Common sense eventually prevailed.
Evelyn Waugh, the ultimate master of cynical comedy about human behaviour, sent up this thinking with his hilarious 1947 novella “Scott-King’s Modern Europe.”
Despite his often anachronist values, with Waugh they amounted more to snobbery and he was sensible enough to see the foolishness in romanticising a dead language.
English is now the universal language and compulsory in most European countries. Thus nearly 90% of continental Europeans are fluent in two languages, being their own, be it German, Spanish or whatever, and English.
The odd man out is Britain, where only about 25% of the population have two languages, they being migrants. There’s no need for British kids to learn another language as they already speak the only one which counts, even if mostly appallingly when compared with Germans and Scandinavians in particular.
Sometimes the utterly bogus argument is proffered that learning to speak another language has a double whammy benefit in having to master both the written and oral aspects.
That’s a negative factor. The brain has enormous capacity to absorb knowledge, but not so the body to acquire it. Learning anything takes time and time is finite, thus it’s important how you ration it to what counts.
For a number of reasons, mostly poor parenting, maori kids are failing badly on the school front. They’ll fall even further behind if they waste valuable learning time on pointless subjects. Making them do this on romantic grounds amounts to child abuse.