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English – Time to add a little more German?

Say it quick(ly) and write fast may be the way we communicate now, but if you think that efficiency is the driver of language development, as attested by the Oxford English Dictionary, you would be wrong. Their so-called development of the language, 650 words added in March 2019, is just a hobby for academics and far removed from the reality of the down and dirty evolution which it taking place all around us.

If you really want to witness a language developing look no further than German. Not the grammar of course, where the introduction of three genders randomly allocated to nouns was reputedly created by God in order to slow them down and stop them taking over the world, but in the creation of new words based solely on efficiency or, to put it simply, why use a long word when a short one will do?

Now anybody familiar with German will now be screaming denial, after all, German is the home of such amazingly long words as:Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft(80 characters) which for those unfamiliar with the language means:

Association for Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services (100 characters).

So the German is actually shorter – and even shorter when considering the way we say words since they are not pronounced letter by letter but syllable by syllable. Here the German is a clear winner, 24 syllables in German, 34 in English.

In fact, English can be considered the home of brevity with translations from German usually being shorter, though there are outstanding contradictions. “Zeitgeist” with two syllables is infinitely more efficient than the English “spirit of the times” with five and has earned a rightful place in the English dictionary and all the quality newspapers.

In fact, comparing the efficiency of words base on syllables, German might have quite a lot to offer. A favourite of mine is “Umwelt” (2) for environment (4) (limited though to the natural world) which has immediately spawned a new German word “unweltfighter” (4) for environmental activist (8). On this basis of course it is clear why the Titanic struck an iceberg and not an ice mountain. It was all to do with efficiency.

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Theresa May plays Poker with £2 Billion tax payer’s stake.

In probably the worlds highest stakes poker game Theresa May put £2 billion down in a game of poker played against the Tories who oppose here Brexit deal. The money, to be spent on logistics plans for a no deal Brexit is designed to frighten the Remainers in her party into accepting the deal she has managed to agree with the EU. Will she win the game and walk away with the prize? She has a good chance. Few will realise that this money is not the government’s but the taxpayer’s who have, on previous occasions, indicated a preference for the NHS to get any spare cash available. Of course there is still a chance that wiser heads will prevail though with the Labour party leadership playing their own game of Trotsky’s “the worse the better” strategy and the Liberal Democrats weakened by their insistence on honesty, it might be hard to find where they are going to come from.

Of course successful poker playing means you actually have to convince your opponent that you are serious. This will be easy for M/s May who actually believes she is right.

Watch tomorrow for the further exciting instalment of “ Save the Tories from Extinction”, showing everywhere. All the time.

Out with Britain, in with English.

Anybody who thinks that Britain out of the EU will diminish the role of English in Europe could be in for a rude awakening. Though at the moment the EU is working in German, French and English and some have suggested that now is the time for Spanish to replace English at the top table, the opposite is more likely. English can finally take the role of THE official  EU language. The reason is quite clear, Europe needs one voice. It can’t be German, the French wouldn’t have it. It can’t be French, nobody really speaks it outside France and Spanish, with 45 million in Europe, just doesn’t have the numbers.  But English without Britain would be neutral, with none of the major EU players gaining a language advantage. Plus of course it is the child of a coupling between the German Anglo Saxon and the French of ancient Normandy with just enough words from other languages, from Italy to Scandinavia, to give everybody a stake. Who could ask for a better compromise? And there is a good precedent for an external language to be adopted as the official one. The world’s newest country, South Sudan, an area the size of France but with 100 local languages, has chosen English as its official one. Why? As the news director of the South Sudan Radio, Rehan Abdelnebi, said, “we can become one nation. We can iron out our tribal differences and communicate with the rest of the world”.

Countries which could benefit from the adoption of English include divided Cyprus and divided Ireland where only 10% of the population speak the Irish, as well as the whole of Scandinavia where the standard of English is often better than that of England.

In any case, those trying to maintain their current language with rules and laws are probably doomed to fail. There is no escaping the fact that English is so popular because it is easy. As a young Slovak told me recently, “we learn English, German and Slovak in school, but Slovak is over, it’s too difficult”. How long before young Germans come to the same conclusion? Have the French decided yet if WiFi is masculine or feminine? As though it really matters.

All this begs the question of exactly why nations have official languages which so few speak, for example Ireland where 10% speak Irish but as a second language. Clearly it comes from a political need to create a nation, to be different. Whereas of course the truth is that, other than being told they are Irish, they are just Europeans, like everybody else.

 

 

 

 

 

The vulnerability of cities

The Moradi bridge collapse in Genoa is an unfolding tragedy for the families of those killed and injured. Yet beyond the personal, it throws into the spotlight the potential vulnerability of the urban infrastructure. As regional governor Giovanni Toti.said:

“The Morandi bridge connects three major ports in our country, used by tens, even hundreds of thousands of people. They depart from these ports on holiday. These docks receive most of our country’s imported goods. It damages the very structure of the Italian logistics system. We are expecting a very fast response from the government.”

Modern cities, indeed nations, can only exist if the logistics infrastructure is robust and efficient. As the relentless trend towards urbanisation continues, the Moradi bridge collapse shows that relying on a single option for so much traffic is a risk which perhaps should not be taken.

The next American Revolution

The cult of personality is strong everywhere so it should have been no surprise that Donal Trump was elected President of the USA. But the lessons from that election have yet to be learnt. The problem is not that Trump is President, but the power that this gives him. America needs a figurehead, somebody to rally around in time of crisis but that doesn’t have to be the leader of the government. So, time for a new constitution for the USA. Time to split the job. One to represent the nation and another to run the government. Not that Trump actually runs anything himself. He relies on a team (a pretty poor one it is true) to handle things. Nobody voted for them, they voted instead for a man that they believed had the ability to “do a deal” and would know the best people to pick. And of course as high priest of Mammon, he know all the best people, all the people wedded to the idea of a lucrative deal. You don’t know the origin of the world “lucrative”? Stop now and look it up!

 

All this make the possibility of Oprah Winfrey as President a rather more attractive proposition. She certainly has the “chops” for it if not the inclination. She is clearly intelligent, clearly rich and self-made, which is something Mr Trump cannot be accused of. And more, she seems to have the right tone, unifying rather than dividing, conciliatory rather than condemnatory. With the right team behind her she could make a first-class job of leading a new revolution in American thinking. Clearly it is needed.

Wanted, a European city willing to embrace the future.

As countless newspaper stories will tell you, including this one from the FT https://www.ft.com/content/981379a8-f58f-11e7-88f7-5465a6ce1a00 the world is moving to English. Like it or not (and many do not) it is certain. Now is the time to for a European city to become officially bilingual . Of course English is widely spoken in many European counties and in any city it is possible to get by without a word of the local tongue but still, English is not “official” anywhere but Dublin or Valletta. So how about it Bratislava, or Prague? Your young people are great in English so why not make it official and embrace the future before somebody else gets with the program and pips you to the finish, scooping up all the businesses that want to work there but can’t because of the language barrier (particularly true of Vienna). Remember, it is not the strong that survive (despite the pop song that tells you it is), it is the adaptable!

One reason that smaller countries are better at English than the big ones is of course TV. The big ones, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, take International programmes, American mostly, and  actually dub the programmes into the local language thereby ensuring that English language will not get a dangerous foothold into the national psyche. The smaller countries and just add subtitles thereby ensuring that the general population (at least those who can read) are at least used to the sound of English, often from a very young age

The trend towards gender neutrality in language probably marks the end of German as we know it today. With no Der, Die, Das the grammar will collapse leaving it with, yes you’ve guess it, English, which is itself a German dialect made simple for all the Anglo Saxons and Norman French forced to live together!

Some have predicted that with Britain out of the EU and the US retreating globally, English will diminish in acceptance. In fact, the contrary is the case. English can now be considered neutral, giving no country the edge in language. Take the case of the world’s latest state, South Sudan. With over 120million people and 100 languages the official language is, yes, you have guessed it again, English.

It’s a long time since I wrote this blog and as I do so it I remember my long time friend and accountant Steve Baldwin. He always gave me feedback on my writings and his recent death, following a short illness is a tragedy.

A new form of warfare.

Asymmetric Warfare is the name given to a military conflict in which one side is big and the other side is small. Rather like the David and Goliath fight which features in the Bible. I have a new spin on this which came to mind when reading a BBC story about Israel using a $3.2 million missile to shoot down a $500 dollar drone. Pursued to its logical conclusion, a poor country could soon bankrupt a rich one, a real example of “asymmetry”.  But this story has made me reconsider the whole concept of modern warfare. For a very long time now “stealth” has been a buzz word in military circles. Stealth fighters, stealth bombers and even stealth ships (in the 1997 James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies) seem to have become an essential component of every new aerial vehicle, manned or unmanned. Clearly, evading enemy radar is a good thing since invisibility is a kind of superpower which give a very big advantage. But encouraging the enemy to use up all its missiles before your planes arrive could be, I would suggest, a much better plan. How can this be achieved, you ask? The answer is simple. Take a look at the latest FURY drone from Lockheed Martin. It looks like a miniature fighter jet and of course Lockheed sell it as being stealthy, with a minimal visual signature, which of course means it is hard to see. Now with all the surveillance bits added, this is not going to be cheap, but actually, the only electronic bit it really needs as an “image enhancer”, a device which will make it look huge on a radar, in fact make it look like a real fighter. Then the enemy under attack can fire all its missiles at a swarm of these “targets” leaving it defenceless against the wave of stealth machines which will follow along soon after.

Actually the plan is a bit like the “doodlebug” VI flying bombs used by German in the later stages of World War II which was an unmanned flying machine with a very simple jet engine and basic navigation controls. Modern production techniques would make the thing a cheaper to produce. Even with a basic “pulse jet” engine it would probably cost less than $10,000, and that includes an auto-pilot. Now $10,000 might seem like a lot, but up against a $3.5 million it is clearly just a drop in the ocean. Now that is really asymmetrical!