The arrival of the year 1999 has brought with a near perfect opportunity to take a look back at the last one thousand years, assess man’s successes and failures, and look forward with our predictions of the third millennium.
Already this afternoon you’ve heard many assessments and you’ve heard a variety of predictions.
A variety so vast, ranging from Lewis Carol’s depiction of celebratory life, to the Irish celebration of death.
So vast a variety that it’s difficult to find any common ground amongst the contestants here today.
Perhaps the only thing that we all share is that we are indeed discussing millennia, the old and the new and the turn of the millennium, and we’re all discussing it in the same language.
A few hundred years ago to have held an event like this it would have been imperative that we were all fluent in a number of different tongues, for the approach of combating the language barrier was simply to learn many different languages.
Of course people back then had an ulterior motive: that was to ensure that different languages held their different societies or positions, or as King Charles V of Spain put it, “ I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.”
Today our approach is somewhat different.
Instead of trying to vastly spread our verbal ability across the board, we’ve chosen rather to focus it, concentrating on our ability to master one particular language, the English language.
Time magazine recently suggested that by the turn of the millennium, English will be the Lingua Franca for one quarter of the world’s population.
Already today sixty percents of the world’s television and radio broadcasts are produced and delivered in English.
Seventy percents of the world’s mail addressed in English.
And it is the language of choice for almost every bite of computer data sent across the globe.
But why English? There are no clear linguistic reasons for its suggested global dominance, certainly the grammar is complicated, the spelling peculiar and the pronunciation eccentric, to say the very least.
One would need only look through the dictionary to find the vast list of amusing paradoxes in the English language?quicksand that works slowly, a boxing ring that is in fact square and a guinea pig that’s really neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
Doesn’t it seem odd that one can make amends but not one amend.
Or go through the annals of history but not one annal