A European view on languages

Seven Languages in Seven Days! That sure sounds familiar. Four years ago I taught a four-day course that was somewhat misleadingly called Five Languages in Five Days (check out the link), so my eye was certainly caught by a description of Gaston Dorren’s new book, Seven Languages in Seven Daysespecially since I was such a fan of his earlier works, such as Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages and Babel.

The only problem is that the new book is in Dutch.

I don’t read Dutch.

I don’t even speak Dutch. Just try to say Van Gogh correctly!

But what struck me is Dorren’s casual description of the Dutch-speaking reader:

I’ve just published a Dutch-language book titled Seven Languages in Seven Days. It teaches the Dutch-speaking reader how to understand written Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and West Frisian based on the languages they already know: their native Dutch, their (semi-)fluent English and their typically rusty school German and French.

So of course the Dutch-speaking reader would know Dutch, English, German, and French. No educated European would blink an eye at that. Dutch, English, German, and French—at a minimum! Americans, on the other hand…

Well, you know the joke:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

A: Trilingual.

Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

A: Bilingual.

Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?

A: American.

Categories: Linguistics