National languages

Thu Apr 7 11:48:28 UTC 1994

As an interesting but utterly meaningless coincidence, as the
discussion of Sanskrit as a possible official language of Bharata
takes place on this list, the CLASSICS list has been carrying a
number of items on a recent report that the founding fathers of the
United States of America (you'll find it just south of Canada on your
map) were so enamoured of the classics that they almost made classical
Greek the official language of their newly independent Republic. The
issue (so the report goes) was so close that it was decided by one vote;
the deciding ballot was cast by Benjamin Franklin in favour of English!
Apparently this story is told fairly often to students struggling with
the middle aorist participle in American universities, for several
classicists have reported hearing it from their professors. It turns out
that the Greek story is a variant on a theme. Apparently the prototype
of the story is that German was almost made the official language of
the USA but was voted down by one vote (name the American hero or
villain of your choice for caster of the decisive ballot). The German
story has been traced back to the 1930s, when it circulated widely among
newly arrived German immigrants, no doubt discouraged by the horrors of
English orthography (not to mention the ridiculous number of irregular

My own prediction is that when Quebec separates from the rest of
Canada so that the Quebecois can preserve their culture, Mohawk will
become the official language of the new nation. (I myself would prefer
Sanskrit, since it is the mother of all Indian languages.)

Richard P. Hayes                                   cxev at
Faculty of Religious Studies     McGill University      Montreal, Quebec

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