the equally mythical —or should one say,rn”mystical”? — cause of “Corsiean nationalism.”rnThere are those — such as AlainrnMadelin, a former finance minister andrnnoted “liheral” in economic matters andrnhimself of Breton origin—who argue thatrnthe Corsicans have as much right to haverntheir own “language” taught in theirrnschools as have the Basques, the Bretons,rnthe inhabitants of the Languedoe (inrnsouthwestern France), and the Alsatians.rnWhat, after all, could sound more reasonablernin a “tolerant” country, whichrnprides itself (rightly or wrongly) on itsrn”multicultural” diversit}’? But even thernmost “reasonable” of attitudes can rest onrna fatal flaw, and there are comparisonsrnwhich, as Madame Malapropre mightrnhave said, are “odorous” and which,rnwhen closely sniffed at, give off a fishyrnsmell.rnNo one can reasonably deny that thernBasques, whether they live north or southrnof the Pyrenees, have their own languagern—one whose roots go so far backrn(to pre-Celtie times) that it may even, accordingrnto certain philologists, be thernoldest in Europe. Nor can anyone reasonablyrndeny that the Bretons have a languagernof their own—one closely relatedrnto the Gaelic dialects still spoken in partsrnof Wales and Ireland. And no one whornhas traveled extensively in southwesternrnFrance can have failed to notice that, inrncafes and restaurants, many of the “locals”rnspeak a language that is almost unintelligiblernto Parisians and Frenchmenrnliving north of the Loire, which some callrn”occitan” and others “provengal.” A distantrndescendant of the “vulgar” Latinrnwhich survived from the shipwreck of thernRoman Empire, it is closely related to thernCatalan spoken north of the Pyrenees atrnPerpignan and soutii of the Pyrenees atrnBarcelona, and to the mallorquin of thernBalearic Islands and the valenciano ofrnSpain’s Mediterranean littoral. But can arnpatois (a word significantly derived fromrnan old Gallo-Roman root word forrn”paw”) which has far-flung connectionsrnbut no distinctive “center” — unless it bernToidouse? —be properly considered arn”language”? And the confusion is compoundedrnwhen, if only by extension, peoplernbegin to talk loosely of an “Alsatianrnlanguage” and, thus, of a “Corsiean language”rnas well.rnThere was a time, not so long ago,rnwhen Paris editors, smitten by the fashionablerndisease of “ethnicity,” beganrnpublishing books of foreign origin as havingrnbeen translated from the Venezuelan,rnthe Argentinian, the Peruvian, thernChilean, and—of course—the Americanrnlanguage. I once had to protest this badrnhabit for a book of my own, and it was dulyrnpublished with the notice, “traduit dernI’anglais (USA).” Other authors musthaverndone the same, for books by Latin-rnAmerican writers are now properly presentedrnby French publishers as “traduitrnde Fespagnol” followed by (Venezuela),rn(Argentina), (Uruguay), or whateverrncountry it may be. There is, of course, nornsuch thing as an Argentinian, a Chilean,rna Cuban, or a Venezuelan language, anyrnmore than there is such a thing as arnCanadian, Australian, or New Zealandrnlanguage. By the same token, there is nornsuch thing as an “Alsatian language,” anyrnmore than there such a thing as a Bavarian,rna Saxon, a Swabian, or an Austrianrnlanguage. What many inhabitants ofrnFrench .Alsace speak at home is a colloquialrnform of plattdeutsch (“flat” or lowrnCernian) which is spoken on both sidesrnof the Rhine and which resembles thernsvitzerdutsch spoken by the inhabitants ofrnBern and Zurich. But what young Alsatiansrnare taught in their schools is notrnplattdeutsch, which, if they chose tornspeak it beyond the borders of provincialrnAlsace, would immediately brand themrnas deplorably u n c o u t h – a s uncouth asrnwas Walter Ulbricht, the East Germanrndictator who built the Berlin Wall andrnwhose dreadful Saxon accent was an objectrnof ridicule on both sides of the IronrnCurtain. The German that young Alsa-rnHans are taught, usually as a second language,rnis essentially the hochdeutsch, thern”high German” which was given its titlesrnof nobility by Lessing, Goethe, andrnSchiller during the second half of thern18th century. The intelligent Alsatian —rnfor this eastern region of France also hasrnits militant minority of hotheaded crackpotsrn— knows that, if he wants to getrnahead in the world, a sure way of doing sornis to master a language spoken and, abovernall, written in a more or less “classic”rnmanner by 100 million Europeans. Hernhas little to gain by obstinately penetratingrninto a linguistic Sackgasse, cul de sac,rnor what we Anglo-Saxons call “dead-end”rnor “blind alley.”rnUnderlying the clash of languages inrnBelgium—between a Flemish-speakingrnmajority, centered on the great seaport ofrnAntwerp, and a French-speaking minorityrnof “Walloons,” with a provincial capitalrnat Liege (a conflict which has oftenrnthreatened to tear that fragile countryrnapart) — is the insurmountable fact thatrnDutch, because of the relative smallnessrnof the Netherlands, never became an internationalrnlanguage of the first rank.rnHad the Dutch colonized all of whatrnbecame New England, or had they, likernthe British and the French, carved outrnvast areas of Africa to form an empire, orrnconquered a huge continent, like thernSpaniards in South America, Dutchrnwould have become a major internationalrnlanguage, and the French-speakers ofrnLiege and the Ardennes would have lessrncause to complain because they arernobliged by law to learn a second, “unimportant”rnlanguage which, compared tornEnglish or German, “leads nowhere.”rnConversely, if the clash of languages inrnSwitzerland has tended on the whole tornbe muted, it is because the three languagesrn(we can forget about “romansch”)rncommonly spoken in the different cantonsrnof the Helvetian Confederation —rnGerman, French, and Italian—are all ofrnthem important languages, each spokenrnelsewhere by at least 60 million Europeans.rnRecently, some hare-brainedrnZurichers who had forgotten the elementaryrnlessons of their long, exemplary historyrnbegan suggesting that English replacernFrench as a compulsory secondrnlanguage, since it was an infinitely morernuseful means of international communication.rnBut what makes “economicrnsense” (we have recently seen this happenrnin Russia), if “unimentally” applied,rncan all too easily become a recipe for socialrndisaster. The inhabitants of Zurichrnshould be the first to realize that it is thernlinguistic conviviality of the differentrncantons that has assured the survival ofrnthe five-centuries-old Helvetian Confederation.rnBecause, for most abstract words,rnFrench and English have common LatinrnToos—assimilation, cooperation, education,rnexposition, extermination, fabrication,rnimagination, repetition, satisfaction,rnetc. — French, for German-speakers, is arnvery usefid stepping-stone toward English.rnIt can never be repeated too often:rnKnowing three languages is always betterrnthan knowing two, and the truly “goodrnEuropean” —as Nietzsche liked to callrnhim —is the one who knows Latin andrnancient Greek as well.rnNietzsche, who, though born a Thuringianrn(like Martin Luther), dislikedrnSaxon speech—he once complained to arnfriend about the “atrocious” Germanrnspoken by the famous Zurich novelistrnGottfried Keller—wrote that Languagernwas the most powerful instrument of col-rnOCTOBER 2001/39rnrnrn