Sunday, January 20, 2008
Anatoly Liberman, The Oddest English Spellings, or, The Future of Spelling Reform
Our civilization has reached a stage at which together we are extremely powerful and in our individual capacities nearly helpless. We (that is, we as a body) can solve the most complicated mathematical problems, but our children no longer know the multiplication table. Since they can use a calculator to find out how much six times seven is, why bother? Also, WE can fly from New York to Stockholm in a few hours, but, when asked where Sweden is, thousands of people answer with a sigh that they did not take geography in high school: it must be somewhere up there on the map. There is no need to know anything: given the necessary software, clever machines will do all the work and leave us playing videogames and making virtual love. The worst anti-utopias did not predict such a separation between communal omniscience and personal ignorance, such a complete rift between collective wisdom and individual stultification.