Sunday, 17 August 2008

Language as a weapon

Just saw an interesting scene in a documentary about a high school in China. The camera was panning round a classroom of children at orderly desks learning English with some good old-fashioned (but doubtless very effective) drilling, and the camera lingered on a painting on the wall with some suitably proud socialist realist figures and the words: "A foreign language is a weapon." Unfortunately no commentary on how English becomes a weapon in the mouths of the Chinese. But I warm to the metaphor (if metaphor it is) and much prefer it to the more common (in Greece at any rate) equation between English and a certificate as an aid to getting a job so that the mortgage can be paid off together with the instalments on the hatchback.

Yes, it might be good to see the rows of seats filled with linguistic guerillas who are itching to turf out the moneychangers from the temple of the world, and do so in English.

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