I wish Olivia Waring ’12 success in her study of Tibetan dialects as a Sachs scholar (Campus Notebook, Jan. 18). Ironically, the “homogenization” that she wrings her hands about is directly attributable to the study of linguistics that she loves so much. As Patrick Geary notes in The Myth of Nations, “The infinite gradations of broad linguistic groups in Europe were chopped up by scientific rules into separate languages,” leading directly to standardized languages in 19th-century Europe.
Geary estimates that only about half of those living in France in 1900 spoke French. More recently, China’s National Language Commission revealed in 2005 that only 53 percent of the populace could speak Mandarin. It is not English that overwhelms linguistic diversity in places like the Philippines and Indonesia, but rather the respective national languages that are inculcated in schools. In the Western hemisphere, the most thorough represser of local languages is Spanish, which ironically is one of the banners of linguistic diversity in the United States.