At 9:33 pm +0000 16/11/99, alypius wrote:
>>>The one European country that escaped the vicissitudes of war this century
>>>is Switzerland, which has four official languages.  The peoples of that
>>>country seem to get along fine with feeling any urge to slaughter one
>I read somewhere that, at some point in its history, Switzerland _did_ have
>a civil war, but not many people know this.

I'm aware that Switzerland's history has not been a 100% one of perfect
peace.  But my mail referred quite explicitly to _this century_ .  The
original writer seem to imply that the wars which have torn my continent
apart this century were largely (if not solely) caused by the lack of a
common language.  I contend that this is not so.

>In the same place, I read that,
>in the 1970's, Switzerland created a new Francophone canton to appease the
>demands of  Francophone Swiss terrorists.

If it is true, then it was done rather quietly and certainly _without_ war.

>If history shows us anything, it is
>that multi-linguistic or multi-cultural states are inherently fragile--eg,
>Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia.

Hang on - these are not all the same and the causes for their
disintegration are/were by no means the same.  The last two fell apart from
within.  The Roman Empire's problems were largely due to external pressures
(but then, I suppose, one could argue that the Cold War exerted external
pressure on the USSR).

One could write whole books on these.  They are all different beasts with
different problems.  The Roman Empire, indeed, did produce to a large
extent a second common language, which became a first language - just take
a look at the places where Romance languages are spoken in Europe.  Yet it
was just the part where there was a common language (and fairly common
culture) that proved the weakest and was lost first.   The Byzantine part
of the Empire survived another millennium after the demise of the Latin

If the list given so far of bloody - in many cases _very_ bloody - conflict
between peoples speaking the _same_ language still doesn't convince a
person that a common language does not per_se bring peace & harmony,
nothing I guess will him/her.

>the other hand, Japan and Iceland will probably be around, if not forever,
>at least until the next ice age makes them uninhabitable.

Iceland - probably.  But the reason has much more to do with the small size
of the population - they just have to get on together.

Japan - I'd not put money on that. Extreme economic crisis or depression
can have a very destabilizing effect - Who knows what might happen?

>I believe the reason for Helvetia's (Switzerland's) policy of neutrality has
>been to prevent itself from being torn apart by civil war in the event of
>war between two or more of its larger neighbors--Germany, France, and Italy.
>In that case, some of its citizens would probably side with one power (the
>one it shared a common tongue with) and some with its enemy.

Please - I did _NOT_ say not imply that the reason the Swiss have not
engaged in hostilities this century was due to their speaking four
different languages.  I am well aware that there are all sorts of other

All I did was to point out that the one notable example of a European
nation that had not been embroiled in the conflicts of this century is one
where four languages are spoken.  I did not intend to imply that that was
the reason.  That would IMHO be just as foolish as the notion that a common
language would prevent warfare.


A mind which thinks at its own expense
will always interfere with language.
                   [J.G. Hamann 1760]