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Advanced Topics in Warranty Law:

A product is sold with printed warranties in three different languages. The consumer reads and understands each of them. The different languages offer different warranty terms. Which warranty controls?

Factual background: Last week, Denver University law students organized a firearms safety field trip to Cherry Creek State Park. The day before, students were taught firearms safety by Colorado lawyer Anthony Fabian. At the state park, the students could rent firearms and buy ammunition, and practice responsible firearms use. The DU Law Republicans paid most of the costs for the rentals and ammunition. Several dozen students attended the event at Cherry Creek, and I joined them. At the event, I purchased (well, actually I obtained for free, thanks to the generous DU Law Republicans), a box of ammunition. The box was the least expensive .45 caliber ammunition that was available. It was manufactured by Aguila, a Mexican company. (Ironically, Mexican citizens are generally forbidden from possessing .45 handgun ammunition.)

Being an attorney, I of course carefully read the warranty on the box. The Spanish warranty states: "Garantizamos que fue fabricado con esmero." [We guarantee that it was made with great care.] In French: "Nous garantissons que ce produit a ete fabrique avec the plus grand soin." [We guarantee that this product has been made with the greatest care.] (Note for linguists: the box's printed text does not include accent marks in any language.) In English: "We guarantee the exercise of reasonable care in the manufacture."

So we have three different levels of guarantee: greatest care (French), great care (Spanish), and reasonable care (English). If there were a product liability case in which the particular standard made a difference, which one would control?

After the guarantee, there is a disclaimer. In Spanish: "pero no asumimos responsabilidad alguna." [But we assume no other responsibility.] In English: "but assume no further responsibility." In French: "Nous nous dechargeons du toute responsibilite en cas utislation non-conforme."[We disclaim all responsibility in case of non-conforming usage.]

So the Spanish and English disclaimers are the same, and they disclaim all responsibility beyond some degree of care in manufacture. In contrast, the French disclaimer appears to be much narrower, and disclaims responsibility only for non-conforming uses. Other text on the box provides various safety rules (e.g., "Only use guns in good conditions. Treat every gun as if it was loaded.") But these rules too differ among the languages. In English: "Keep gun pointed in a safe direction." In French, "Ne jamais pointer l'arme en direction d'une personne." [Never point the arm in the direction of a person.] The English language version is better stated, since sometimes pointing the gun at a person (who is a violent attacker) is proper gun safety, and since there can be unsafe pointing even when not pointing at a person (e.g., shooting at a paper target without being sure that the backstop is safe).

So, if there is a product liability case, does the near-total English/Spanish disclaimer apply? Or the much narrower French disclaimer, which appears to discharge liability only for violations of the safety rules? Can a plaintiff pick and choose languages--such as relying on the narrow French disclaimer, but then citing the English version of a safety rule to determine what is a non-conforming use?

John (mail):
Good question! Don't know of any law on point, but I'd say the language of the place of use, which, if it was the western U.S., would, I suppose, be Spanish.
4.8.2009 11:28pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
This just can't be a hypothetical: who got shot?
4.8.2009 11:44pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
It occurs to me that I've encountered a similar situation in a restaurant. There is a Malay-Chinese restaurant in Vancouver whose menu is in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Each item is described in all three languages, but the three texts are not translations of each other. They provide different bits of information. For example, for the satay, as I recall only the Chinese version specified the number of skewers in a portion, while only the Japanese version mentioned that the meat was accompanied by sliced cucumber. Two of the three languages listed the choice of meats. If, say, a customer sued because he received too few skewers, could the restaurant argue that the Chinese text was not binding?
4.8.2009 11:53pm
geokstr:
And only in America would anyone even think to sue because they didn't get enough skewers with their dinner.
4.8.2009 11:59pm
Bama 1L:
No idea, but I'm glad to see someone else is vexed by this sort of thing.
4.9.2009 12:03am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

And only in America would anyone even think to sue because they didn't get enough skewers with their dinner.


Right, in some countries they bypass the courts and go directly to violence.
4.9.2009 12:07am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
There is one case in which I know the answer. In Canadian criminal law, if the French and English versions of the law differ, the applicable version is the one most advantages to the defendant.
4.9.2009 12:09am
autolykos:

Never point the arm in the direction of a person.


Why am I not surprised the French instructions said this?
4.9.2009 12:22am
Chico's Bail Bonds (mail):
I remember reading that in California, as a matter of law, warning labels on certain products need only be in English. Score one for English supremacy.
4.9.2009 12:38am
CU 1L:
If I were the bullet manufacturer, I would argue that I sell these bullets in three different countries (France, America, Mexico), and because I am familiar with the disparate warranty law in each country, I phrased the warranty differently in each language, so the controlling phrase should be the language of the country where the bullets were sold. In other words the controlling language should match the controlling law.

As to what the answer would be in Quebec, where the warranty law wouldn't be the law contemplated when I wrote the warranty in French, or in England, where the warranty law would also differ from the contemplated law for the English version, I think that courts would choose the language that they understand, even if that would turn out badly for the manufacturer.
4.9.2009 12:54am
CU 1L:
If I were the bullet manufacturer, I would argue that I sell these bullets in three different countries (France, America, Mexico), and because I am familiar with the disparate warranty law in each country, I phrased the warranty differently in each language, so the controlling phrase should be the language of the country where the bullets were sold. In other words the controlling language should match the controlling law.

As to what the answer would be in Quebec, where the warranty law wouldn't be the law contemplated when I wrote the warranty in French, or in England, where the warranty law would also differ from the contemplated law for the English version, I think that courts would choose the language that they understand, even if that would turn out badly for the manufacturer.
4.9.2009 12:54am
CU 1L:
On a side note, I am very jealous of DU law students today.
4.9.2009 12:56am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Yet another reason for English to be the official language of the United States. In that case would not the English text be controlling?

A nation must be just that. A collection of people unified by a common culture which includes a common language. Belgium provides an excellent example of a country that's not a nation-state because it lacks the quality of nationhood. The northern region, Flanders, speaks "Flemish," which refers to two specific dialects of Dutch. The southern region, Wallonia, speaks mostly French, and eastern Wallonia speaks German. Belgium is both conflicted and divided along language lines. This includes separate radio stations and universities. A Belgium friend of mine described a purge at his university according to language. One day everyone speaking the "wrong" language was forced out-- it got ugly.

The US faces a future divide into English and Spanish speaking communities. According to my demographic calculations, Hispanics will gain majority status in the US in 31 years if present trends in immigration and fertility persist. Do we want to end up like Belgium?
4.9.2009 12:59am
Monty:
A. Zarkov - Under your approach, if only english was accpeted in court, would a contract written in spanish be deemed unenforcable?


What would the governing law be if the box contained neither a warranty nor a disclaimer? To the extent that the different langauges conflict, wouldn't it make sense to apply the default rule?
4.9.2009 1:27am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Language is not the cause of the division between Flemings and Walloons in Belgium. The linguistic division reflects differences in religion, economy, and political power. For centuries the French were the dominant group, which of course led to resentment on the part of the Flemings. Language has become a symbol of the division, but it is a mistake to think that the problems are due to the use of different languages.
4.9.2009 1:32am
Anthony A (mail):
I think CU 1L is mostly right, though the French warranty is likely for use in Quebec, not France. Many products sold in North America come in those three languages.

I suspect that if there were such a lawsuit, the manufacturer would not be clever enough to mount CU 1L's defence, or that the background of the differing warranty translations was not nearly so well-thought, and the defense wouldn't apply.
4.9.2009 1:39am
CH:
No idea how American law deals with this question, but where I live (in Switzerland), multilingual labels are common, because we have three official languages. I guess that a court would apply the rule of in dubio contra stipulatorem. I.e., because it is up to the manufacturer what he writes on the box, it is his responsibility to avoid any inconsistencies, and therefore the version most favorable to the plaintiff is controlling.
4.9.2009 1:47am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Monty:

"... if only english was accpeted in court, would a contract written in spanish be deemed unenforcable?"

That's one approach-- in the US only contracts in English are enforceable. Do you think that would lead to problems?
4.9.2009 1:53am
Grigor:
The question posed includes the notation that the consumer read and understood each of the languages in which a warranty was written - but is that necessary? Would the outcome be any different if the consumer hadn't understood one or two of the warranties, or in fact hadn't read any of them? If the manufacturer offers a warranty, it applies whether or not the consumer reads it. And if I go to, say, Finland, and buy a defective product on whose box appears a warranty written only in Finnish, a language I cannot understand, am I not still covered?

All of which makes me think that a manufacturer putting a warranty on its product in more than one language is just asking for trouble, since it's pretty difficult to get an exact (legally indistinguishable) translation of pretty much anything.
4.9.2009 2:00am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Bill Posner:

"Language is not the cause of the division between Flemings and Walloons in Belgium."

You are right in the sense that the language problems are reflective rather than causative. If tomorrow Belgium decided to make one of its languages the official one, the deep divisions between Flanders and Wallonia would remain. Let me put it this way, a common language is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for nationhood.

My larger point has to do with US policy. Here we see a nation in the process of fragmenting partly as the result of excessive and uncontrolled immigration. The influx is occurring at rate that's too rapid to allow assimilation. Just legal immigration is one million per year. The illegal immigration is another million per year. Census uses only a half million for illegal immigration, and thus their demographic projections are in error. Few people realize just how quickly the US is becoming a Hispanic country. The total fertility rate (TFR) for Hispanics is 2.96-- high above replacement. But Non-Hispanic whites have TFR= 1.86. So the Hispanic TFR implies a population growth of 1.2% per year, but the Non-Hispanic white population shrinks at 0.47% per year. Add immigration effects and you get a rapid divergence.

Making English the official language of the US would promote assimilation and perhaps act to discourage illegal immigration. In any case it would send a clear signal to the world the US intends to remain a single nation along its traditional lines. And yes that means Euro-centric.
4.9.2009 2:15am
matt (mail):
As a layman, I'd guess it doesn't matter which disclaimer was used because, in my probably flawed understanding, disclaimers aren't worth the ink they're printed with when it comes to court.

-m@
4.9.2009 2:55am
Anon Y. Mous:
A warranty is a promise. Since the manufacturer made all three promises, they should be held to all three. Don't promise something you can't deliver, no matter what the language.
4.9.2009 4:10am
non-native speaker:
In Spanish: "pero no asumimos responsabilidad alguna." [But we assume no other responsibility.]


No. It means "but we do not assume any responsibility". It is broader than the "no further responsibility" version.

"but we assume no other responsibility" would be "pero no asumimos ninguna otra responsabilidad".
4.9.2009 4:53am
D.R.M.:
In general, I'd give the non-drafting party choice of language; the drafting party can be assumed to know and understand what he said in all languages. However, the non-drafting party would have to choose a single language for the interpretation; the drafter should not have to worry about combinations of sections or sentences across languages that might create an unintended meaning.

—-

The sensible thing is for the manufacturer to print something like:

"The authentic text of our warnings, guarantees, warranties, and disclaimers are provided in [language 1]. Text provided in [language 2] and [language 3] are translations for purposes of consumer convenience only."

Whether that would be sufficient when it came to cases is a good question, but you should at least try to forestall choice-of-language problems.
4.9.2009 5:53am
loki13 (mail):

Let me put it this way, a common language is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for nationhood.


Switzerland?
China?
4.9.2009 8:34am
Virginian:
Was there a warning in "Austrian"?
4.9.2009 8:38am
Fedya (www):
This is somewhat unrelated, but humorous:

Many years ago, I got a small, Matchbox-style Soviet tank replica as a gift. The box read, in Russian, "Игрушка для детей с 6 до 12 лет", which in English means "Toy for children ages 6-12".

There was an English-language sticker from the US importer which said, among other things, "Not intended for use as a toy".

I wonder how much of a markup the importer got.
4.9.2009 9:05am
David Hecht (mail):
This isn't exactly a new problem. When I was a boy and traveling through Europe with my parents, it was common for signage to be in multiple languages (this was before the advent of completely obscure "universal" symbology). In those days, many railway cars had warnings against leaning out the windows of the train. In three out of the four languages (French, English and German), the warning took the form of a prohibition: "Do not lean out of the windows", "Il est interdit de se pencher par les fenetres", and a German admonition which I can't cite from memory but in which the word "verboten" played a prominent role.

In Italian, the legend read, "E pericoloso sporgersi", which was translated for me as "It is dangerous to lean out of the windows."

I'm guessing that a warning about danger does not carry the same legal weight as an actual express prohibition. But of course in those days the world was not run by lawyers.
4.9.2009 9:48am
Aultimer:
Since the US doesn't have a language requirement for enforcibility (like France and Brazil), you get to pick the one you like and then argue with the manufacturer in front of a English-speaking judge or jury about why the English shouldn't control. Bon chance, amigo.
4.9.2009 9:57am
TomHynes (mail):
I think it has been linked here before, but The Onion on an ammo recall is very relevant:



The didn't say what language was on boxes of defective hollowpoints.
4.9.2009 10:40am
TomHynes (mail):
I couldn't get the link to work. Google "onion hollow point"
4.9.2009 10:46am
BZ (mail):
Language law in the United States is complicated. Federal law generally does not require the use of any particular language in commerce, but there are exceptions. In fact, there are many exceptions. There are, for example, federal rules requiring multi-lingual warning labels on certain drugs and similar health-related items. Executive Order 13166 requires all federal agencies and government contractors to use any language required under a multi-part test; remember that physicians are considered subject to 13166 if they receive Medicare funds, and the multi-part test defaults in cases involving "health and safety" to requiring use in every circumstance upon demand.

Federal rules are based on both civil rights and substantive theories, but most recent actions revolve around Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act. Note that federal courts, until just recently, uniformly rejected the equation of language and national origin, which underlies this doctrine; that is changing these days, as courts are recognizing EO 13166 and similar rules as having been in place for some time. The reason they have been in place despite three decades of judicial rejection is that these rules cannot be challenged, nor can the prior Dept of Justice rules. See, e.g., Colwell vs. Dept of Health &Human Services, No. 05-55450, 9th Cir. March 18, 2009 (physicians and advocacy organization barred from challenge to HHS multi-lingual rules because of prudential standing). For an extensive discussion of these issues, check the briefing and subsequent cases in Sandoval vs Alexander (2001).

State rules are similarly complex, and generally rely on civil rights rules. Virtually no Official English laws affect commercial transactions, as they only apply to "official", i.e., governmental speech. Most that I have been involved with expressly disclaim any relationship to private speech of any kind.

Tort law is usually independent of these civil rights-based rules, but just imagine trying to defend a case if the plaintiff says: "but the federal government requires your label to be in a language other than English."

And specificly on the commercial side: check the FTC and state law cases involving warranties. For example, in an old New Jersey car warranty case, the court held that if your warranty is not in the language of the buyer, the seller is liable without limitation. And the car loan cases are even worse: one case held that Spanish does not contain a word for "interest," and thus a lender could not charge interest, since the borrower did not understand the terms.

In the old days, when I had more time and lots of legal assistants, I planned to write a law review article on the law of language, since everything out there (then and now) is generally in the vein of "oh, isn't it terrible that we don't require everything to be in every language." Which doesn't reflect the law at all. But I didn't, and probably won't.
4.9.2009 11:12am
Neal Goldfarb (mail):
A. Zarkov:
Let me put it this way, a common language is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for nationhood.
So Canada obviously isn't a nation. Or Switzerland, I guess.

Probably not India, either. As I understand it, the closest thing to a common language there is English, which is nobody's first language.

What about Brazil? There's all sorts of weird languages down there.

Or England during the period after the Norman Conquest when the king and the nobilty spoke Anglo-Norman, which was a dialect of the langues d'Oil -- i.e., an early version of French? And haven't there been periods when the royal family spoke German?
4.9.2009 11:23am
Guest14:
Making English the official language of the US would promote assimilation and perhaps act to discourage illegal immigration.
Wouldn't it make more sense to make Spanish the official language of the US? Demographic and labor market forces are already on the side of the Spanish speakers, as you point out. If having a common language is the goal, why swim against the tide?
4.9.2009 11:25am
Neal Goldfarb (mail):
Turning to the question David originally raised: Doesn't the UCC make the linguistic issue largely irrelevant? It imposes an implied warranty of merchantability, and while that warranty can be disclaimed, I tend to doubt that any of the three disclaimers on the box would have the effect of doing so.
4.9.2009 11:26am
BJR780:

There is one case in which I know the answer. In Canadian criminal law, if the French and English versions of the law differ, the applicable version is the one most advantages to the defendant.


This reminds me of the greatest drafting error in Canadian history. Section 24(2) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads:


Where ... a court concludes that evidence was obtained in a manner that infringed or denied any rights or freedoms guaranteed by this Charter, the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.


Unfortunately, the French version, translated into English, reads more like:


... if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings could bring the administration of justice into disrepute.


The SCC adopted the more permissive French language. Obviously it's easier to show something "could" happen than that it "would" happen. So the exclusionary test became easier to satisfy than it would appear the (primarily Anglo) drafters intended. Somehow no one noticed this despite a decade of on-and-off constitutional negotiations and something like sixteen drafts of the Charter. :)

See: "Two solitudes"
4.9.2009 11:29am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Neal Goldfarb:

The countries in your examples either have language enclaves (Canada) or a de facto official language (India). French Canada really is a different.
4.9.2009 11:45am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Guest14:

"Wouldn't it make more sense to make Spanish the official language of the US?"

After Hispanics became a majority it might. But I suspect the the country would divide first. The whole point is not to get to that point in the first place.

We should the US allow itself to get transformed into something else? Making English the official language would help preserve what we already have.

Don't you what we have is worth preserving?
4.9.2009 11:50am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Interesting case.

I would always assume that if you offer two warranties to a customer, the customer gets the benefit of both. If one is a superset of the other, it would govern. Also, I would think that since most of us speak English or Spanish, and few of us speak French, you couldn't just chalk this up to a translation error.

In short it seems to me that the first thing the court would have to do is determine whether these are separate warranties or whether they are separate presentations of the same warranty.

At any rate the firearms manufacture shouldn't be printing warranties that havent been sufficient reviewed first......
4.9.2009 12:19pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
A Zarkov:

That's one approach-- in the US only contracts in English are enforceable. Do you think that would lead to problems?


I think it most certainly could lead to problems. Consider the following case:

Two Americans who speak Spanish well enter into a business contract with a company in Mexico. The contract is in Spanish. Later on the two Americans disagree with eachother over the language of the contract and sue eachother in US federal court. Are you saying no subject matter jurisdiction? Suppose the Mexican courts wouldn't have jurisdiction over the two Americans.

Unless you think that we should make English the Official Language of the New World Government, preferably accompanied buy such a government.....
4.9.2009 12:25pm
Neal Goldfarb (mail):
A Zarkov:
The countries in your examples either have language enclaves (Canada) or a de facto official language (India). French Canada really is a different.
You're changing the subject. You had said that speaking a single language is essential for nationhood. That claim is undermined by the existence of nations where multiple languages are spoken, regardless of whether those nations have official languages, de facto or otherwise. So my questions remain unanswered.

And while we're on the subject, check out Wikipedia'a list of official languages by state and then let us know if that changes your opinion about whether there can be such a thing as a polyglot nation.
4.9.2009 12:53pm
David Hecht (mail):
Neil Goldfarb:

With all due respect, you are conflating "nation" (a group of people with a common cultural heritage, typically including language, religion, and mythic history), and "state" (a juridical entity that may or may not be contiguous with a nation).

Canada is a state that contains two major nations (Anglo and French) and a larger number of other, smaller ones (the First Peoples or whatever the PoCo term is for Canadian Indians and Esquimeaux these days).

India is a state that contains a multitude of nations. Notably two of these hived off at the time of independence (East and West Pakistan), and those in turn separated from one another in 1971.

Switzerland is a multinational state containing German, French, Italian and Romansch-speaking peoples.

As far as the Norman Conquest goes, the concept of nation was still very much unformed then: nationalism as a broad force only starts to emerge in Europe in the 16th century, and doesn't become a basis of border drawing until the 19th century, reaching its apogee in the wake of WW1.
4.9.2009 1:23pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Neal Goldfarb:

Interestingly both Norway and Spain recognize the same number of official languages (5!) while France only recognizes one despite having much greater linguistic diversity that Spain at least (Occidian, for example, is spoken in both parts of Spain and France, and there are other Spanish-like languages, Germanic languages, etc. spoken also in parts of France).

Neither of them touch the linguistic diversity of Norway though. 5 official languages of which 1 is Ugaritic, 2 in the Romani branch of the IE languages, and one in the Germanic branch.
4.9.2009 1:24pm
Malvolio:
My larger point has to do with US policy. Here we see a nation in the process of fragmenting partly as the result of excessive and uncontrolled immigration.
I'm trying to be polite here, but this is beyond stupid. In the 1840's, the aptly-named Know-Nothings screamed that the waves of Irish immigrants would be dangerous to the American identity -- ignoring or ignorant of the similar Dutch, German, French, Scottish, and Swiss waves that did no harm.

Now, more than a century and a half on, we have survived not just the Irish, but the Poles, Russians, Italians, Jews, Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese -- pretty much everybody. The population has swelled 50 times over, and the Know-Nothings continued to screech, and disaster, mysteriously, did not befall us.

This time, it's the Mexicans. Unless we seal off the border, outlaw Spanish, deport every busboy whose last names ends in "Z", the Know-Nothings warn us, again, the US is doomed.

Maybe the Know-Nothings aren't ignorant, maybe they're just jerks.
4.9.2009 1:25pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Zarkov:

Is english worth preserving? I don't know: the english of 600 years ago is so different that many people now can't read it. I don't see how things would be any different in england if they had simply switched to spanish instead.

Language changes over time anyway. I'd be very worried if america lost its political ideals. But if it lost its language, who cares?

Instead of trying to force people to learn english, xenophobic americans should be encouraged to learn other languages, like they do in the rest of the world.
4.9.2009 1:35pm
Bill reynolds (mail):
I believe that in the EU, if there is a difference in the various official versions, the ECJ will either count heads or, more interestingly, choose the version which conforms to more general principles. Can't remember the cite, tho.
4.9.2009 1:48pm
hmm:
David Hecht: Actually the Italian version says something more like "it is dangerous to stick one's self out." The window isn't explicitly mentioned.
4.9.2009 1:57pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
Under Colorado law (and presumably most other jurisdictions), warranties "are to be construed most strongly against their authors." J. I. Case Threshing Mach. Co. v. Tate, 197 P. 764, 765 (Colo. 1921). So it would seem that a plaintiff could mix-and-match the most advantageous terms from the different languages.
4.9.2009 2:04pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Dilan Esper:

I don't know: the english of 600 years ago is so different that many people now can't read it. I don't see how things would be any different in england if they had simply switched to spanish instead.


Middle English isn't THAT hard to read.... I found I could ramp up on it with very little trouble. "Fro riche Romulus to Rome, riches him swythe/ with great baubbance that bur3 he bigges vpon fyrst." With a decent dictionary, you should be able to make sense of it.

Now, Old English is structurally different and a whole different language. "Cuning scael on halle beargas dealan," for example. There is no way that a current dictionary of Modern English will help you with that one.

Hope that helps.
4.9.2009 2:21pm
hmm:
I could not make any sense of that Middle English quote, and I've taken an advanced Chaucer course (albeit some years ago). The guy wrking behind the counter at Popeye's wouldn't stand a chance.
4.9.2009 2:40pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
In case anyone wants to see a translation for the Old English bit:

A king must deal out rings in a hall.

Cuning -> King (from dative cynge)
sceal -> shall (standard shifts)
on -> on/in
halle: dative of hall
beargas: accusative plural of bearg (ring, no mod, engl. daughter word)
dealan: inf. -> deal.

On the other hand, a decent dictionary will tell you that "to big" means "to build." The meaning of the Middle English text is still evident with a mastery of Modern English.
4.9.2009 2:41pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Hmm:

For rich Romulus to Rome went swiftly (swythe)
And with great pomp (baubbance) that hill/town (burgh/bur3) he builds (bigges) upon first.

Make more sense?
4.9.2009 2:44pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
(you do have to know that 3 and gh are often substituted, and you may want to get a good dictionary)
4.9.2009 2:45pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Actually, better translation:

For rich Romulus to Rome he reached swiftly
And with great pomp that hill he built upon first.
4.9.2009 2:47pm
Neal Goldfarb (mail):
David Hecht:
With all due respect, you are conflating "nation" (a group of people with a common cultural heritage, typically including language, religion, and mythic history), and "state" (a juridical entity that may or may not be contiguous with a nation).
"Nation" was the word that Zarkov used; I was just reacting to what he said. And while I'm hardly an expert in the field, my understanding based on what little I've read is that the concept of a "nation" is a fuzzy one, and that speaking a single language is not essential to being a nation. So, for example, I suspect that your description of Switzerland as a "multinational" state would be a controversial one.

For a discussion that portrays the relationship between langauge and nationalism as a complex one, check out Chapter 6 of The Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity.


Malvolio: Right on.


Zarkov: Maybe you haven't noticed, but English has conquered much of the the world. The number of prople who speak it as a second langauge could be 2-3 times the number of native speakers. More and more people want to learn English all the time. English is the lingua franca of commerce, science, and much more. Given all the obvious benefits that flow from speaking English, it's reasonable to expect that native Spanish-speakers in the U.S. will want to learn English and that most of those Hispanic babies you're so worried out will group speaking English.
4.9.2009 2:50pm
David Hecht (mail):
hmm: That's in some ways even funnier and more striking! :-)

Neal Goldfarb: I *did* say "typically." Nor is it excluded that national identities can be constructed. But since national identities--constructed or naturally-evolving--are generally tied to a common mythic heritage, there must be some means to propagate this mythic heritage. Typically, this is through a shared literature, which, in turn, implies a common language.

To give an example: a few years ago I was visiting Santiago de Compostela, and the tour guide made a BIG point about how Galicia was not "really" part of Spain, that it had its own language, literature and historical traditions. It turned out that this "literature" was the product of 19th-century intellos going out and writing down the folk tales of the local people! Nothing wrong with that, but--given that the Galician "language" was nothing more than a local dialect before these fellows started to write it down--it's indicative of how this can go.

During the debates over Versailles, Clemenceau famously asked, "Must each little language have its own flag?" And I've heard many historians and political scientists say that the difference between a dialect and a language is political power (kind of like the difference between a "cult" and a "religion").

So while you are certainly correct that a common language isn't *absolutely essential* to the definition of nationhood, it's pretty closely associated.
4.9.2009 3:27pm
Malvolio:
So while you are certainly correct that a common language isn't *absolutely essential* to the definition of nationhood, it's pretty closely associated.
Mmmm, where? I mean, is there a country on Earth that doesn't have linguistic minorities?

Look at Japan, pretty much the poster-child for demographic homogeneity: in addition to Aynu itak, Ryukyuan, and Korean, there's a dozen different dialects of Japanese itself.

I have a friend from Moldova, a fingernail of a country wedged between Romania and the Ukraine, with a population smaller than Connecticut's. She has a problem because her father's family speaks only Romanian (which they are pleased to call "Moldovan") and her mother's, only Russian.

If a common language is necessary to be "country", there are no countries.
4.9.2009 5:35pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Hecht:

And I've heard many historians and political scientists say that the difference between a dialect and a language is political power (kind of like the difference between a "cult" and a "religion").


AFAICS the official dividing line between a language and a dialect has to do with the labels speakers affix to it and the way they identify languages together.

"We speak dutch, they speak deutch" is how languages are defined. The problem of course being that from Amsterdam to Bavaria (prior to WWII), there wasn't any bright lines of linguistic division of local dialects, just shades of grey. Similarly, if you go from Trondheim to Uppsala along the coast, there isn't a bright line there either as to where the languages change. But one place people speak Norwegian and somewhere else, people are speaking Swedish... They are of course all decended from Old Norse (or, in Old Norse Donsk tunga).

In the end the only measure is what the speakers say is their own language and where they draw lines. Linguists don't generally question them.
4.9.2009 6:10pm
ohwilleke:
The inclusion of three languages is likely a requirement of NAFTA. I would look to that treaty (and to CISG), for a rule of decision first, as treaties generally prevail over state law and are directly relevant to the multiple counterpart question, before looking to other law.

This is the sort of case where controlling law often gets ignored even if it exists, because neither of the parties have attorneys who are aware of it, and the judge doesn't either.
4.9.2009 6:13pm
Grigor:
Einhverfr - which one again is the village in Norway where they speak Ugaritic? Thanks.
4.9.2009 7:08pm
Kirk:
David,

The version I'm familiar with goes:
Q: What's the difference between a language and a dialect?

A: A language has an army; a dialect doesn't.
4.9.2009 7:26pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Grigor:

Sami is an Ugaritic (or Uralic) language. For example, it is spoken throughout Finnmark and some other regions of Norway as well.
4.9.2009 7:41pm
Grigor:
Sami is a Finno-Ugric language, according to most classifications, part of the Uralic family. It most certainly is not Ugaritic, which was a Semitic language spoken in Canaan. Interesting to speculate about what the pottery would look like though.
4.9.2009 8:05pm
David Hecht (mail):
Malvolio: See my comments, above, regarding the distinction between "nation" and "state" (the latter corresponding to your term "country").

einhverfr: You'd probably have to go a lot further back than prior to WW2 to find a world where dialects were still that plastic on an Amsterdam-to-Bavaria line. In response to your larger point, the issue is not whether there are pockets of linguistic minority, or even substantial holdovers of dialect. I'm very aware that (e.g.) in Switzerland, the kids get taught Buehndeutsch in school and then go home and chatter away in Swytzerdeutsch: or that Letzebuergisch is a common dialect in the Belgian province of Luxembourg.

The issue is whether the common use of a language is a cultural die-marker. Flemish nationalism--essentially nonexistent in the first 90 years of Belgian history--suddenly became a major issue in Belgium, post WW1. This was in part because of the growing resentment of the Flemish recruits (from the small unoccupied corner of Belgium) at their French-speaking officers, many of whom couldn't be bothered to learn how to speak directly with their troops. The fact that every village in Flanders had its own dialect is besides the point: what was notable is that suddenly, speaking a Germanic language other than French became a cultural and political signifier.

To see this point more clearly, compare the Flemish people on the other side of the French border: it's certainly clear from the names of the towns that they had a Flemish cultural heritage. But the French government went to great lengths to stamp out even the slightest deviation from the "official" language, so there's no agitation by people of Flemish heritage in Nord-Pas de Calais to--say--join up with Belgium.
4.9.2009 9:39pm

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