The rise (and fall?) of second-tier lingua francas

By Razib Khan | July 26, 2010 3:51 pm

The New York Times has an interesting piece, As English Spreads, Indonesians Fear for Their Language. It is dense with the different strands of this story. Basically, upper and upper middle class Indonesians are switching from Bahasa Indonesian to English to give their children a leg up, and are sending their children to English-medium schools. Because these children have a weak command of Indonesian some authorities are fearing for the cohesion of the Indonesian nation. Though the piece alludes to other languages in Indonesia, such as Javanese, it does not emphasize the fact that the widespread knowledge of Bahasa Indonesian was the outcome of a top-down project of nation-building, and that that language is the native tongue of only a minority of the citizens of Indonesia!

From Wikipedia:

Whilst Indonesian is spoken as a mother tongue (first language) by only a small proportion of Indonesia’s large population (i.e. mainly those who reside within the vicinity of Jakarta), over 200 million people regularly make use of the national language – some with varying degrees of proficiency. In a nation which boasts more than 300 native languages and a vast array of ethnic groups, the use of proper or ‘good and correct’ Indonesian (as opposed to Indonesian slang or regional dialects) is an essential means of communication across the archipelago. Use of the national language is abundant in the media, government bodies, schools, universities, workplaces, amongst members of the Indonesian upper-class or nobility and also in many other formal situations.


The origins of Indonesia are complex. Though the islands of maritime Southeast Asia were long part of the Dutch “sphere of influence,” true direct rule came to much of the archipelago only in the early 20th century. Before that local identities were paramount, whether it be Javanese, the various ethnic groups in Sumatra or Sulawesi, and of course the culturally more distinctive peoples to the east on the island of New Guinea (the pre-modern precedent for an Indonesian state is Majapahit, but like the Dutch colonial empire for most of its history, Majapahit directly controlled and influenced only a small proportion of the archipelago).

I think the complexities and peculiarities of Indonesian history before the rise of the nation-state can be illustrated by Blambangan in eastern Java. This kingdom was deeply influenced by, and to a large extent a cultural satellite of, Bali. As such it was the last major Hindu polity within Java in the 18th century (though isolated communities managed to avoid Islamicization, all Javanese political entities had switched to Islam as their state religion except Blambangan). The VOC, the Dutch East India Company, participated and encouraged what was notionally religious war, a jihad against Blamgangan. The Dutch collusion with Muslim religious enthusiasm was purely a matter of self-interest, as the rulers of Bali were major impediments to VOC hegemony. With the fall of Blamgangan this last region of Java was subject to Islamicization and most of the population converted.

The point of recounting this episode is to show that prior to the construction of Indonesian identity after World War II the ties which bound the archipelago together were very loose. Some regions, such as Aceh, had been Muslim for nearly one thousand years. Java, the demographic and cultural heart of the archipelago had switched to Islam far more recently, and retains a strong pre-Islamic stamp to its culture (e.g., Hindu epics remain popular in Java, while the Javanese elite has not repudiated its own mystical tradition which pre-dates Hinduism and Islam). And finally, the eastern islands were only marginally influenced by the Indian and Islamic trends which were prominent in more populous western islands, and their population converted to Christianity during the colonial period. Many Ambonese, who feared Javanese Muslim hegemony in Indonesia because of their support for Dutch rule were relocated to the Netherlands.

Abstract principles such as Pancasila and concrete policies such as the promotion of Bahasa Indonesian, which was already an interregional lingua franca analogous to Swahili, were seen as critical to cementing national cohesion. Despite the national motto of Indonesia, loosely translated as “unity in diversity”, the post-World War II period has seen the spread of a unifying national language, and a deeper connection among many of the nation’s Muslims with international-normative Islam. The rise of santri Islam as Islam qua Islam in Indonesia, and the decline of local Muslim traditions which are strongly inflected by Dharmic and indigenous religious influences, is part of the cultural revolution in uniform manners.

Indonesia’s conundrum is simply a more extensive and contemporary manifestation of what many European nations faced centuries ago. When France was declared a republic some estimate that only 1/3 of the citizens spoke standard French. The proportions of Italians and Germans who spoke the standard national languages may have been even smaller (in the case of Italy I have seen estimates of less than five percent speaking Italian at the founding of the Italian nation-state!). The period of the Wars of Religion in the 17th century may have pushed theological motivations to the back-seat in the game of kings, but it is important to note that religious homogeneity increased due to the migrations compelled by the conflicts, as well as subsequent expulsions in France, and persistent legal and social disabilities for Roman Catholics in England. The emergence of Germany in its modern form, which did not include the Austrian domains, was driven in part by considerations of religious and ethnic homogeneity (the Austrian lands included many more Magyars and Slavs, and would have resulted in Catholic demographic majority, as opposed to a overwhelming Protestant dominance in the Prussian-dominated “Little German” state).

In A Study of History Arnold Toynbee introduced the concept of “still-born” civilizations. The Christianity of the Church of the East, which grew out of the Christianity of the Sassanid Empire, is a perfect illustration of the type. On the eve of the Islamic conquest of Persia there was a vibrant Christian community, which in some ways was engaged in a rivalry with the Zoroastrian state religion. It had pushed beyond the frontiers into Central Asia, to the point where it managed to persist even after the collapse of the Sassanids in the face of the Arab conquests. In the early 13th century many of the Turkic and Mongol tribes of Central Asia were Christians in the tradition of the Church of the East, including one of Genghis Khan’s daughter-in-laws (the mother of Kublai and Hulagu Khan). But this Christian tradition never gained the prominence, the embeddedness within steppe society, to become a religious monopoly and spread its wings with the rise of the Mongol Empire. Though many of the Mongols were sympathetic to Christianity, none of the great leaders died as Christians (though some were baptized at some point in their life), and the Mongol Empire was religiously pluralistic. Without this state support Eastern Christianity did not bloom, and became a minority sect in the lands of Islam and South India, fading away in Central Asia and China after the decline of the first Mongol Empire.

With the rise of the idea of the nation-state, modern communication, and the models of European states in their generation of cohesion via both top-down and bottom-up processes, you are seeing I suspect both the flowering and still-birth of new national complexes bound together by common language. Both India and Pakistan have attempted to forge a national unity with a South Asian language, overlain atop the preexistent diversity. Pakistan privileged Urdu, the traditional language of upper class Muslims throughout the subcontinent, as well as the day to day language of the Muslim population of the Gangetic plain excluding Bengal. At independence only a small minority of the population of the state spoke Urdu as their native tongue, but while in the western provinces there was acceptance of the necessity of Urdu as a link language, in the east Bengalis objected, and the rejection of Urdu became one of the symbolic aspects of conflict which led to the emergence of Bangladesh.* India has not had the same faction due to language, but standard Hindi plays the same role that Urdu does in modern Pakistan. And yet over 60 years since independence English remains commonly used as an elite language among a segment of the upper classes. Hindi is not understood in much of southern India, but since this region is demographically inferior to the north, as opposed to Bengal, which was demographically superior to West Pakistan, the tensions are not of the same magnitude. Additionally, English serves as a prestigious alternative lingua franca for Indians with a weak or nonexistent command of Hindi. Over the long term Hindi may suffer the same fate of Nahuatl and Quechua after the Spanish conquest. Because of the superior communication technologies, as well as the more persistent and powerful integrative institutions introduced by the Spaniards, the language of the fallen pre-Columbian empires actually spread in the centuries leading up the independence of Mexico and Peru from Spain, at the expense of local languages. Only in the modern period has Spanish started to marginalize the elite native languages.  Why the change? In The Rule of Empires the author notes that the Peruvian highlands in the centuries after the Spanish conquest was dominated by a local indigenous elite who served as intermediaries between the authorities of the Crown based out of Lima and the vast Andean peasantry.  With the rise of international trade, the collapse of the Spanish Empire and greater national integration, and globalization writ large, the power and attraction of such sub-national elite identities faded. Quechua or Nahuatl may have been lingua francas in segments of the Spanish Empire, but Spanish opens up much more of the world to aspirants for status, power and wealth.

It is cliche today to say that the “world is flat,” and that globalization is inevitable. There was famously another period of globalization before World War I, and it took 50 years after its collapse for the engine of international integration to slowly start up. But assuming that globalization and an international political economy is inevitable I wonder as to number of languages which we will stabilize at. Consider religion. Since the rise of Islam there really hasn’t been another great international religious revolution which has given rise to a global civilization. The fracturing of Western Christianity into Protestant and Roman Catholic domains are the closest analog, but do not rise up to the same level of impact (the shattering of the Western Christian commonwealth with the rise of Protestantism was healed in large part by the marginalization of religion in the public realm after the Enlightenment and the acceptance by most Christian groups that religious monopolies enforced by the state were no longer feasible or moral). There are really only four religions of civilizational import, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism (Judaism is culturally influential, but there is only one Jewish nation, so no Jewish bloc could emerge). Why so few religions, and why such religious homogeneity so early in relation to language? I think this is because world religions are the concern of elites, whose numbers are small, and whose information networks were much more globalized in the pre-modern era than that of the masses. A “republic of letters”, or peregrinations of men such as Ibn Battuta, are only relevant for tiny elites in a pre-modern era because of economic constraints. No longer today; every man is a potential prince of letters with mass literacy and the internet. If the international dynamics which were long operative with world religions are now operative with languages, then will we see the world winnowing down to half a dozen languages? Right now linguistic diversity experts the focus on the small-scale societies and micro-languages hovering at the point of extinction, but over the next century much of the change might occur in the “middle-weight” category. Languages which rose to prominence in the era before globalization as regionally prominent mediums, but which lack comparative advantage set next to global languages. Bahasa Indonesian for many families is a new language, of only the past few generations, so its sentimental value should be relatively shallow. It is a utility, and when a newer utility offers superior services for a cheaper price, why not switch? Well, sometimes the government imposes monopolies and shields native firms. So we’ll see.

* My parents grew up in the united Pakistan, and do recount the imperiousness of Urdu speakers in Bengal during that period. For example, Urdu speakers would demand the best positions on a buses, and berate drivers in Urdu (who likely did not have a good grasp of what they were saying) when their demands were not met. Though both know Urdu, I definitely get a sense that their experiences during this period left them with little sympathy for the idea that Urdu should be the common language of South Asian Muslims.

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  • jeet

    There are really only four religions of civilizational import, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism (Judaism is culturally influential, but there is only one Jewish nation, so no Jewish bloc could emerge).

    India and Nepal don’t make much of a Hindu bloc either.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    india is a bloc. just happens to be in a nation-state. same reason i included daoism (though china is less heterogeneous than india 1/5 of humanity is big enough that anything important to it is important to the world).

  • ss

    The current lack of linguistic tensions between South India and North India cannot be ascribed to demographic factors. It is due to the fact that the South Indian languages have total cultural freedom in the traditional areas in which they are spoken by the majority. Linguistic tensions did erupt in the 1960s (mainly in Tamil Nadu State),when the Union government in Delhi tried to impose Hindi, but were resolved when the Indian states were given total linguistic freedom.

  • toto

    Why so few religions, and why such religious homogeneity so early in relation to language?

    Well, as you point out yourself, what you call “religions” are actually religious traditions with many, many subdivisions. Maybe the proper point of comparison would not be individual languages, but rather language families.

    How many language families of import are there? Between Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic and Sino-Tibetan, you’ve already got the vast majority of mankind covered.

    Plus, formalised grammars have been pretty uncommon in history, allowing for some freedom in local language variation – and eventually speciation. By contrast, all the religions you cite are built on established scriptures that defined an orthodoxy early on (at least as a starting ground).

    and do recount the imperiousness of Urdu speakers in Bengal during that period.

    Actually, “Urdu speakers” (apparently a well-defined social group) are largely reviled for their arrogance within Pakistan itself.

    (I believe that this moniker designates Muhajirs from India whose native language is Urdu, as opposed to Punjabis or Sindhis for whom Urdu is a second language)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    interesting point toto. i’ve read that many of the language barriers we’ve set-up today within the families are artificial. due to the standardization based on a particular regional dialect (e.g., parisian ->, florentine -> italian, etc.). the main issue though is that intelligibility is a serious problem even within closely related languages, such as cantonese and mandarin dialects, or hindi and bengali. in contrast, within religious traditions there’s some intelligibility because of common terminology. they disagree on the details, but the broad outlines are intelligible. the “narcissism of small differences” causes some of the same conflicts between closely related sects as closely related by unintelligible languages, but the substance is much more crisp in the latter case.

  • bioIgnoramus

    “narcissism of small differences”: aye, but what’s “small”? Is an infallible Pope small? Or a neolithic fertility goddess, a priest who can forgive you your sins….? Roman Catholicism seems to me to differ substantially from Christianity by virtue of these additions, and I speak as an atheist.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    no, you speak as a member of people with a bias against those of the ‘romish’ persuasion :-)

  • miko

    In a broader geographical context, Malay (the closely-related forerunner of Bahasa Indonesia) was the lingua franca for much of peninsular and island Southeast Asian. In Singapore or Malaysia, anyone over about 60 can speak conversational or “market” Malay/Indonesian whether they are ethnically Southeast Asian, Chinese, or Indian. This has been stamped out in Singapore already, where young people are officially bilingual (English + “mother tongue”), though in my experience most young Chinese Singaporeans can’t speak grammatical English or fluent Chinese.

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    Roman Catholicism seems to me to differ substantially from Christianity by virtue of these additions, and I speak as an atheist.

    What a remarkably foolish thing to say.

    Turning back to the original post: is the Indonesian government likely to be fearful or hostile to this tendency of the elites to having their children educated in English, given that an imposed language was attempted as a means of producing political solidarity and dominance of a particular minority? It probably doesn’t matter whether the attempt was successful – if you view something as a nail, you’ll suspect anyone who uses it of concealing a hammer.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: minorities. i wonder if the english-medium schools are dominated by chinese indonesians?

  • Katharine

    Curious.

    In any case, I think this will result in a lot of border changes. The world will not look like it does today.

  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    As a side-note; Google translation is so cool its really opened up the web!

    Interesting article/post; very much like Pakistan other Muslim countries/Third world countries.

    English language of elite
    Urdu language of the huge middle class
    Native (Punabi, Sindhi, etc) language of rural

    Also Urdu serves for Punjabi as a sort of “proper medium”; the languages are similar enough that a switch is possible. To be fair to Pakistan after the 1971 War of Independence the language policy has settled down; language use is still very vigorous very few languages are in danger of being wiped out.

    Corresponds to religious fervour; English-speakers are starved for Western influences. The Urdu speaking classes are religious (note this is different to “Muhajir” or “Urdu-speakers”; many of whom are now English-speakers) and the Native speakers are syncretic.

    I think/hope languages will survive; usually it is related to community/spiritual adherence. In the traditional context languages survive because of community/faith/ethnicity or otherwise they get institutionalised.

    Strangely enough the Europeans/Japanese haven’t really bothered with English. I think ultimately though English will have to be the world’s “functional” language whereas auxiliary dialects/languages will be used for aesthetic/sentimental purposes.

    The will of English is all-pervasive, or so it seems, I’m just so curious to understand how non-English speakers are plugged into the world.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Strangely enough the Europeans/Japanese haven’t really bothered with English. I think ultimately though English will have to be the world’s “functional” language whereas auxiliary dialects/languages will be used for aesthetic/sentimental purposes.

    the nordics and the dutch know english. italians far less so. younger viennese i met in austria knew english, but older ones did not. i think it varies by country in europe.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    p.s. from what i hear the french pretend to know less english than they really do!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: pakistan and bangladesh and language, i didn’t explore this because it was off-topic, but it has to be said it was more than language. there was pretty obvious racism against bengalis, who are and were perceived to be ugly blacks who were operationally hindu even if nominally muslim (and during the pakistan period as much as 25% of the population was hindu in east pakistan at the beginning) by west pakistanis. within pakistan the correlations between race, religion and language are not so tidy, so i think that helps dampen the crystallization of any conflict. and as you say, punjabi is not that far from urdu. many ethnic punjabis in the USA raise their kids with knowing urdu, not punjabi.

  • pconroy

    Roman Catholicism seems to me to differ substantially from Christianity by virtue of these additions, and I speak as an atheist.

    Speaking also as another Atheist, it’s not that Roman Catholicism has gained some baggage, rather that Protestantism have abandoned most of the rituals of Christianity, and become something else, just like Mormonism abandoned much of mainstream Protestantism and became something else.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • pconroy

    In terms of Global English, I see nothing stopping this juggernaut… no other language is safe. It may be dialects today, tomorrow it will be national languages.

    In terms of Europe, all of Western and Northern Europe learns English as a second language. Central and Eastern Europe are a somewhat different story, they traditionally learned German secondarily, then were forced to learn Russian, now are reverting back to German and more recently to English.

    The French of course like to retain their disdain for English. I remember when I had dinner for the first time at the home of my French ex in Paris, and her mother served Roast Beef, when she gave me my plate their were giggles around the table from the French there. It was till later that I realized that the slang for British person was Rosbif!

  • onur

    Razib, religion is more than a belief system for indivuals, it is also a culture. So atheists may often be biased towards the religion of their own cultural milieu… and I am speaking as an atheist. :)

  • Danny

    It’s interesting that Bahasa Indonesia should succumb to English since it has successfully warded off Dutch – the former dominant European language. Despite Dutch presence in the region for over 300 years, Dutch didn’t become the region’s lingua franca – Malay (later rebranded Bahasa Indonesia) did.

    Apropos, did you read the book ‘Empires of the Word’? I haven’t seen it ever mentioned in GNXP, though its themes parallel many of your historical concerns, and is chock full of fun facts.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    onur, i agree. i have an acquaintance who is an atheist from a calvinist dutch milieu, and he expresses the same contempt and offense at the ‘superstition’ of roman catholics as calvinists…by some coincidence.

    danny, i don’t think dutch has the necessary advantage a european language has to have. isn’t there a shift away from french to english even in the congo and rwanda?

    thanks for reminding me of that book. just ordered it.

  • onur

    i have an acquaintance who is an atheist from a calvinist dutch milieu, and he expresses the same contempt and offense at the ’superstition’ of roman catholics as calvinists…by some coincidence.

    Despite my atheism, I was once biased towards Islam as I come from a Sunni Muslim Turkish milieu. Just like your Dutch acquaintance, I used to see Catholic and Orthodox Christians more superstitious than Muslims, for instance. :) Thankfully, I completely got rid of such biases and complexes (both religious and national/nationalist).

  • bioIgnoramus

    “..you speak as a member of people with a bias against those of the ‘romish’ persuasion “: no, the people in my family who loathe the Roman Catholic church are those brought up in it, who speak all too often of having been subjected to cruelty and even violence. And, in one case, of being taught to hate Protestants. None of the Protestants or atheists in my family has any equivalent story. But that was not my point, which was simply what is “small”? Anyone who thinks that an Infallible Pope is a small difference is invited to argue his case (if Razib doesn’t mind). It looks pretty big to me but then I don’t believe in the whole God/Christ/Holy Ghost fable anyway.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    the infallible pope is a new development. 19th century.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: familiarity leading to contempt, that’s probably part of my issue with islam. but only part. i think objectively it’s probably the most barbarous civilization from a western perspective.

  • onur

    Razib, as a Bangladeshi by descent (were you born in the USA or immigrated there later?), were you a Muslim (Hanafi or other Sunni, Shia or syncretist?) previously or have always been an atheist? Also what are your family’s beliefs? For instance, I (ex-Hanafi-Sunni atheist father, Hanafi Sunni but non-daily-praying mother, all atheist siblings) was a Muslim (Hanafi Sunni) during most of my childhood and am an atheist since then.

  • onur

    from a western perspective

    modern western, medieval western or both (if so, how much from each?)?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    onur, i realized i was an atheist 7, but really i never believed that stuff. all seemed irrelevant/weird to me from my first memories, though before 7 i would probably tell ppl i was muslim if they’d asked me. my family is sunni and hanafi. my paternal lineage has a fair number of ulams, prayer leaders and such, and i have imams in my family. my parents are moderately religious. my father prays now, my mother does not. she has never covered her hair, but does not wear shorts or anything like that.

    re #28, modern. i think part of the issue is that asian societies have accepted a lot of western values, especially exoteric ones (dress), that muslims reject. more fundamentally muslims have attitudes toward religious freedom which are now only found in totalitarian gov’s in other parts of the world. additionally, in muslim countries this constraint is as much bottom-up as top-down (as opposed to china, where it’s more a top down issue). though i should probably be more precise/clear about indices of barbarization.

  • Brian Too

    I had a former co-worker of Dutch extraction. One time she came to work after a visit ‘home’ (we live and work in North America). She was complaining that, having spoken Dutch in the shops, she felt neglected by the store employees in favor of English speakers. Meaningful or not, I don’t know, but weird anecdote.

    On another point, I encounted a poor migrant in Morocco (aspiring migrant I think. Not really mobile at that time). Anyhow they wanted an English-French dictionary so as to learn English. The drive and desperation of African migrants to get to Europe, learn English, get a job and a better life, is truly something to see.

    They would crawl under the tour buses in order to illegally enter, clinging to the bottom. Sadly for them, the tour operators were wise to the game and inspected the buses specifically for this. The bus drivers even knew exactly how many people would fit in the undercarriage!

    Reminded me of the waves of migrants from Central and South America, heading to North. It’s like a force of nature.

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  • toto


    English language of elite
    Urdu language of the huge middle class
    Native (Punabi, Sindhi, etc) language of rural

    From my totally representative sample (n=1), it seems that the urban middle/upper classes also consider Punjabi/Sindhi/whatever as their native, everyday language. That’s what they speak at home. Urdu is regarded as a literary language and as a lingua franca – except, again, for a specific ethnic group who happen to be native Urdu speakers.

    p.s. from what i hear the french pretend to know less english than they really do!

    This is 100% true if you establish communication directly in English. They (we) perceive your assumption that everybody should speak your language as some kind of cultural imperialism (“Those yanks/brits, who do you think they are?”)

    However, if you make even a feeble attempt at communicating in French, and if you can survive the patronising smiles that your attempt is bound to elicit, they’ll bend over backwards to communicate in whatever broken “Angliche” they know. Try it!

    (Prediction: the very same thing will happen in China a few decades from now, when more Chinese people know English – and for the same reasons).

  • onur

    the very same thing will happen in China a few decades from now

    But Chinese do not spread their language beyond their borders, at least they do not have an active or efficient state policy for that. They seem completely comfortable with English when communicating with foreigners and they even encourage the learning of English as a second language as a state policy.

  • onur

    re #28, modern. i think part of the issue is that asian societies have accepted a lot of western values, especially exoteric ones (dress), that muslims reject. more fundamentally muslims have attitudes toward religious freedom which are now only found in totalitarian gov’s in other parts of the world. additionally, in muslim countries this constraint is as much bottom-up as top-down (as opposed to china, where it’s more a top down issue). though i should probably be more precise/clear about indices of barbarization.

    Traditional Islamic values are often very non-modern and in conflict with the world of today and very likely tomorrow. Muslims should be more moderate people in order to be integrated more into the world. Religion shouldn’t be something that estranges people from the world no matter what the original message of that religion is, at least that would be one of my criteria if I happened to decide to convert to a religion.

  • Maya

    While the Chinese highly encourage the study of English within China, they do have a state policy of spreading Chinese beyond their borders. I study Chinese at university here, and all of our study materials have been created and distributed (and in some cases given free of charge) by a Chinese governmental department known as “Hanban”, which specializes in the spread of Chinese. There are also the “Confucius Institutes”, established in various foreign universities by the Chinese government, to assist in the teaching of Chinese.

    I feel that their ultimate goal is creating a language bridge sufficiently strong to create a kind of mix-language by which Chinese will be able to better integrate in the world, and foreign better to equipped to do business with China. Right now, the difficulties of the Chinese language are a great barrier for many foreigners.

    But where will these trends take Chinese, eventually? Will Mandarin (/Cantonese) change significantly to adapt itself to this new intermediary role?

  • onur

    she has never covered her hair

    Like my mother, but my mother also used to (she is dead now) go swimming with a typical one-piece female swimsuit on summer holidays.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Like my mother, but my mother also used to (she is dead now) go swimming with a typical one-piece female swimsuit on summer holidays.

    no surprise, south asians are more barbarous in their practice of islam than turks or north africans. (see the extreme conservatism of south asian muslims in britain vs. the greater moderation of french or german muslims)

  • onur

    no surprise, south asians are more barbarous in their practice of islam than turks or north africans. (see the extreme conservatism of south asian muslims in britain vs. the greater moderation of french or german muslims)

    From an objective point of view, that barbarity ultimately stems from Islam itself, i.e., South Asian Muslims are more faithful to Islam than Turks and North Africans are. But the degree of faithfulness to Islam depends on the culture of the Muslim community (Turks and North Africans are more in tune with the Western world than South Asian Muslims are – its reasons are complicated – so they are less faithful to Islam).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    From an objective point of view, that barbarity ultimately stems from Islam itself,

    i’m skeptical of the instrumental utility of that assertion. i see your point, but i’m not sure that the phrase “stems from islam/judaism/buddhism/hinduism” is useful, because religion is so pliable. south asian non-muslims are pretty barbaric too, though in UK there’s differences due to class among non-muslim browns (sikhs are more working class and conservative than the east african hindus).

  • onur

    I think, just as many behavioral traits are a combination of both genes and environment, religious barbarity or fanaticism is a combination of the religion itself and the milieu in which it exists.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    can you say more?

  • onur

    I was making an analogy. We aren’t just what we are coded to be in our genomes or just a blank slate or plasticine with a limitless potential, but a combination of the two. Likewise, religious barbarity, fanaticism or conservatism (whatever you call it) is a combination of a religion itself and the milieu in which it is practised. That milieu itself is a combination of many factors. The issue is actually so complicated and controversial that I’d better stop here.

  • http://cognitionandevolution.blogspot.com Michael Caton

    Whether there’s been a slow-down in the birth of global religions is an interesting question and it would seem there has (starting with Buddhism, we have 3 major ones in a 1200 year period, and then no more.) But I wonder if we’re making a Gouldian mistake, along the lines of “Evolution was different in the Cambrian, because it produced whole new phyla!” Sure it did, because it had hundreds of millions of years longer to unfold then the evolution that happened in the Mesozoic and later. For all we know, ungulates and primates might be effectively whole separate phyla five hundred million years from now, when their last common ancestor is further down the tree on thicker, older branches. The same could apply to Mormonism, Scientology, radical Islam and Southern Christianity. Why there’s this apparent 14-century hiatus since Islam is still an interesting question, but we might begin by asking if there were other meme-complexes that we don’t see as religions which spread in the meantime. As a proud secular American I hesitate to draw the comparison, but there are certainly parallels to be seen between Jefferson’s sending Lewis and Clark to begin “civilizing” the savages with European Enlightenment principles on one hand (all the way up to and through Custer), and missions of evangelism or outright conquest by would-be global religions on the other hand.

  • Anthony

    I definitely see the development of secular-rationalism in the 1700s and 1800s as the growth of a new global “religion”. Marxism is an offshoot of that general trend, somehwat similarly to the branching off of Protestantism from Christianity.

    These things seem to come in 600-year cycles, but what happened to the new religions of the 1200s?

  • dieter

    nordics and the dutch know english. italians far less so. younger viennese i met in austria knew english, but older ones did not. i think it varies by country in europe.

    Your sample of young Viennese couldn’t possibly have been representative.

    The variation across countries can be largely explained with whether Hollywood movies and sitcoms are dubbed. Wikipedia has a nice map showing different dubbing practices around Europe.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubbing_(filmmaking)

    English music has no effect, because you don’t need to understand the lyrics to enjoy it.

    The importance of english in continental europe is stagnant. It is certainly not going to replace any local languages.

    One place to look at is how immigrants of different ethnicities communicate with each other. They tend to use the national language rather than english. Their level of english proficiency is usually much lower than among natives.

    English teaching in school is largely ineffective and irrelevant. Only the bare basics are retained even by the upper half of the bell curve. I myself was barely able to string a coherent sentence together, despite getting good grades and having had english instruction starting with the private kindergarden I attended.
    Only those who have an active interest in utilizing the language gain a functional command of it. This happened in my case only after I graduated and thanks to the internet. The internet certainly facilitates the interested few to gain a level of foreign language proficiency which would previously have been impossible to attain without extended stays in native speaking countries.

    But everybody else remains stagnant with basic “tourism english” plus some domain specific vocabulary pertaining to ones profession.

    I don’t see how english could get a foot in the door or achieve any critical mass to advance in importance compared to the status quo in continental europe. Improvements in translation software and the rise of China might actually diminish the importance of English in the future.

  • http://avirilenagalingam.blogspot.com/ Nandalal Rasiah

    onur,

    please do go on! Is it useful to distinguish, for the south asian immigrants to Europe/UK/US/Aus/NZ, between barbarism directed at members of that overseas community or that which is directed at people living ‘in the homeland’? Or perhaps is that barbarism only significant when it is directed both ways simultaneously?

    diasporic populations of sri lankan tamils have experience both shakedowns of overseas community members (thuggish, but barbaric, i don’t know) and the funneling of that money to the country of origin to sustain a truly barbaric conflict in which civilians led the death tolls. Random violence was insignificant overseas but significant in SL–whether or not the ‘milieu’ accommodated such barbarity. Corresponding with middle-to-upper-middle class Lankans (mostly of the majority ethnicity, not Tamils), and speaking with family, has led me to believe that the ‘milieu’ did indeed accommodate the barbarity–as the means to the end of the conflict was no less barbarous than the conflict itself.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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