Talking in tongues


Talking in tongues

Old editors will normally consign old stories straight to the spike, but not always.

Recently a tale so old it must have grown whiskers finally reached my ears, and immediately intrigued me.

Bringing the story up to date I can today reveal a little known fact. English is not the official language of the USA. As a nation the US has no official language! That has long been the case. Since, in fact, the declaration of independence back in seventeen seventy something. This will, I’m sure, come as something of a shock to the estimated two thirds of Americans who have until now been under the impression that English is indeed their country’s official tongue.


Part of the reason for this long running but mistaken belief could be that 27 states have in fact designated English as ‘official’. I’m not sure whether California is one of them but there if English is not your bag you can choose to take your driving test in any one of 31 other languages!

Strolling through Pattaya’s seething sois and bustling malls I tried to keep count of the myriad tongues babbling around me. An impossible task. Nonetheless I must have clocked up a dozen identifiable tongues and many more I could not pin down to any particular country.

Eavesdropping on chatter among Indian visitors the speech I hear is not in any of that country’s 23 legally recognised languages but in a precisely enunciated Indian English peppered with slightly arcane idioms! In speech at least the Raj survives… It’s a delight to hear and wonderful that such a pure form of English survives so far from its native heath where the language has largely deteriorated into an ugly, foul mouthed travesty of itself.

In Pattaya English, although challenged for some years by Russian, easily retains its place as the resort’s undisputed second language.

And globally English continues to dominate, which is not really surprising considering it’s the ‘official’ language in 51 countries and spoken by around 1,200 million people in 99 nations.

But there could soon be a serious contender for pole position among farang tongues in Pattaya. An endless stream of buses pour daily into the town filled with just a few of the estimated 1,350 million whose mother tongue is Mandarin Chinese. Last year more than a million Mandarin speakers visited Thailand. So by sheer weight of numbers we could be in for a linguistic attitude adjustment!

Although my language tally certainly labels Pattaya a multi-lingual city it represents only a tiny fraction of the 6,500 languages in daily use worldwide. So hopefully is not set to suffer the Tower of Babel’s disastrous end!

‘Official’ languages have long been a knotty problem for many countries. The issue is fraught with nationalism, wounded pride and impracticality. Ironically Thailand, probably uniquely among Asian countries, has had no colonial language imposed upon it now finds itself – as a member of ASEAN, which has declared English as its only working language – at a disadvantage. Most other members have a lingering legacy of English or French in their education systems, a huge asset in an increasingly international environment.


All figures quoted are sourced from Wikipedia