H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
assistance of the French-Canadians, is gradually decaying in Canada; in all newly-settled regions English is universal. And thus Spanish is dying out in our own Southwest, and promises to meet with severe competition in some of the nearer parts of Latin-America. The English control of the sea has likewise carried the language into far places. There is scarcely a merchant ship-captain on deep water, of whatever nationality, who does not find some acquaintance with it necessary, and it has become, in debased forms, the lingua franca of Oceanica and the Far East generally. Three-fourths of the worlds mail matter, says E. H. Babbitt, is now addressed in English, and more than half of the worlds newspapers are printed in English.8
Brackebusch, in the speculative paper just mentioned, came to the conclusion that the future domination of English would be prevented by its unphonetic spelling, its grammatical decay and the general difficulties that a foreigner encounters in seeking to master it. The simplification of its grammar, he said, with true philological fatuity, is the commencement of dissolution, the beginning of the end, and its extraordinary tendency to degenerate into slang of every kind is the foreshadowing of its approaching dismemberment. But in the same breath he was forced to admit that the greater development it has obtained was the result of this very simplification of grammar, and an inspection of the rest of his reasoning quickly shows its unsoundness, even without an appeal to the plain facts. The spelling of a language, whether it be phonetic or not, has little to do with its spread. Very few men learn it by studying books; they learn it by hearing it spoken. As for grammatical decay, it is not a sign of dissolution, but a sign of active life and constantly renewed strength. To the professional philologist, perhaps it may sometimes appear otherwise. He is apt to estimate languages by looking at their complexity; the Greek aorist elicits his admiration because it presents enormous difficulties and is inordinately subtle. But the object of language is not to bemuse grammarians, but to convey ideas, and the more simply it accomplishes
Note 8. The Geography of Great Languages, Worlds Work, Feb., 1908, p. 9907. Babbitt predicts that by the year 2000 English will be spoken by 1,100,000,000 persons, as against 500,000,000 speakers of Russian, 300,000,000 of Spanish, 160,000,000 of German and 60,000,000 of French. [back]