Monday, March 12, 2012

X is the Best Language

Books, Inq. links to a post "Latin is the Best Language". I've seen at least one variation, with Chinese as the best language, and there must be more.

I have two attitudes toward languages:
  1. I wish I knew it.
  2. I wish I knew it better.
Both attitudes have shades of intensity. For the first, my desire to learn Russian is moderate enough that I've never tried, but it is much stronger than my desire to learn Bulgarian. "I wish I knew it better" of course comprehends English.

Few experienced programmers would say that "X is the Best Programming Language" without going on to say what it is best for. I doubt that there are many programmers using Ada to put up web sites, and I very much hope there are none writing avionics software in PHP. In the natural languages one may have to search further to find this level of discrimination. Fortunately, Max Beerbohm gave us the Duke of Dorset:
He wrote mostly in English prose; but other modes were not
infrequent. Whenever he was abroad, it was his courteous habit to 
write in the language of the country where he was residing--French,
when he was in his house on the Champs Elysees; Italian, when he 
was in his villa at Baiae; and so on. When he was in his own 
country he felt himself free to deviate sometimes from the
vernacular into whatever language were aptest to his frame of mind.
In his sterner moods he gravitated to Latin, and wrought the noble
iron of that language to effects that were, if anything, a trifle 
over-impressive. He found for his highest flights of contemplation 
a handy vehicle in Sanscrit. In hours of mere joy it was Greek
poetry that flowed likeliest from his pen; and he had a special
fondness for the metre of Alcaeus.

And now, too, in his darkest hour, it was Greek that surged in
him--iambics of thunderous wrath such as those which are volleyed
by Prometheus. But as he sat down to his writing-table, and
unlocked the dear old album, and dipped his pen in the ink, a great
calm fell on him. The iambics in him began to breathe such 
sweetness as is on the lips of Alcestis going to her doom. But, 
just as he set pen to paper, his hand faltered, and he sprang up,
victim of another and yet more violent fit of sneezing.

Disbuskined, dangerous. The spirit of Juvenal woke in him. He 
would flay. He would make Woman (as he called Zuleika) writhe. 
Latin hexameters, of course. An epistle to his heir 
presumptive... "Vae tibi," he began,

     "Vae tibi, vae misero, nisi circumspexeris artes
     Femineas, nam nulla salus quin femina possit
     Tradere, nulla fides quin"--

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