Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Language With Balls.

Last night in bed (and that is the best way to start a post) I was thinking about standards.

Which I often do...in bed.

In any case I was thinking about how standards, standard measurements, standard protocols etc. came about, and how they spread.
In some cases it can be seemingly obvious. The government enforces a standard, which they may have created (such as the metric system) and the people follow. Right?
Well, sure a government can adopt a standard, but its ability to enforce it is another matter. If uncommon norms (such as prohibition) cannot take root, why should an uncommon standard do so. After all, the French revolutionary government may have had success with the metric system and civil law, but the revolutionary calendar and metric time are intriguing footnotes to the guillotine (itself a government mandated standard).
Moreover, some of the most important standards I can think of aren't enforced as such by government. I'm sure there aren't laws in most countries that require internet traffic to be run through email, the worldwide web or other familiar protocols. They are simply dominant because its in people's interests to use a single standard. That's why MS Office's alternative OpenOffice.Org necessarily has to include Office file formats. Likewise, there is no law that favoured VHS over Betamax, or will differentiate between HD-DVD and BluRay.
Now many of these standards have survived because of inherent benefits, metric measurements are more practical than the unwieldy imperial measurements, and VHS got a foot in the door with longer play times and more content.
But of course, there are always those that claim the standard reached suboptimal, such as DVORAK zealots, and more importantly many different standards have no apparent differences in quality between them. I'm not an electrician, but are any of these myriad electrical sockets inherently superior to any of the others?
There is one standard that every society must form, and most societies have formed seperately, and that is the most fundamental of all standards.
Most linguists hold that no language is inherently superior to another. Yet languages have coalesced into less forms as human movement and communication have increased.
Yet once upon a time one village could be considered unintelligible to another, and people considered themselves to speak simply as their locality spoke, rather than speaking a larger entity in the way I understand that I speak the same language as those in London.
Languages were initially natural standards amongst people in spoken language. But when these standards came to government, we gain standardised (especially in written form) languages, from Latin to Received Enunciation to New Norwegian. It is also why what we call Malay and Indonesian are mutually intelligible despite different names and different official forms, because "A language is a dialect with a navy".

But this language reminds me of another set of standards, that arose naturally from village to village before they became official.
And other sport of course.
Once upon a time, rules varied from town to town and from game to game as two teams would have to agree on the rules to play, a negotiation that continues in schoolyards to this day. But as leagues were formed and play expanded and increased, codification became necessary, and a variety of official standards bloomed, which is why many football codes are named for the organisation which codified them, Association Football (the name is also the basis of the term "soccer"), Rugby Union and Rugby League. Others of course are named solely for their place of origin. Many other variants died, with the exception of some living dinosaurs such as Harrow Football.
But there is not necessarily innate superiority to any one of these codes, despite jingoistic affection such as that which would make one claim their language was also superior. Yet some are flourishing multinational codes, some flourish within a single country (such as American and Australian football), and others have died or linger in a tiny corner of the globe.
Like....language. The same historical forces that propelled English to global status and Cornish to extinction are the same variety that have sent Association Football around the world, and kept Gaelic Football within Ireland.
Maybe cricket was the language of the British empire, and perhaps football will be the first global language of humanity


Post a Comment

<< Home