Monday, March 31, 2014

John H. McWhorter - Let's Stop Pretending That French Is an Important Language

Dr. John McWhorter is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. from New York University, and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University. Before taking his position at the Manhattan Institute, he held teaching positions at Cornell University, where he held the position of Assistant Professor, and at the University of California, Berkeley, where he held the position of Associate Professor.
A somewhat surprising piece in The New York Times this week reported that the French dual-language program in New York's public school system "is booming," the third-largest such program in the city, after Spanish and Chinese. That commitment is a beautiful thing—for children of Francophone immigrants. But for we natives, the idea that kids need to pick up French is now antique. Make no mistake: For immigrant kids from anywhere, bilingual education is invaluable.

 But the idea that American-born children need to learn French has become more reflex than action, like classical music played at the wedding of people who live to modern pop. French in educated America is now a class marker, originating from that distant day when French was Europe’s international language. Fewer Europeans spoke English then, which made French actually useful—at least for Americans who could afford international travel. Those same Americans were also still suffering from an inferiority complex to Europe’s “sophistication.”

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