1993 Northeast Conference Keynote Address
Have Languages Lost Their Meaning in the Global Village?
By Dr. Condoleezza Rice
����������� �It�s really a great pleasure to join you here at your fortieth anniversary conference. However, it makes me feel a little strange because 1954 is also the year that I was born. And as you begin to get on toward forty years that means that I�m getting on toward forty years too. But I was born in November, so it�s still a year and a half off.
�I�m really very delighted to have the chance to come and talk with you today about the role of foreign languages in our modern world, and I chose the title, �Have Languages Lost Their Meaning in the Global Village?� because I think that the way that we think about the world is actually quite wrong and has, as a matter of fact, been exposed as quite wrong over the last couple of years. I think that we�ve come to think that what is happening to our world is that we are in fact becoming more the same, more alike for a lot of reasons, when in fact what we are doing is seeing a world that is fracturing along lines that say that people are evermore insistent on being different.
�So I want to talk a little bit about the quite different world out there and the way that I think it is often portrayed in our modern media, and then to talk a little bit about why I think foreign languages continue to be so important in bridging some of those gaps.
�Clearly, we�ve been through quite a ride in the last few years. I did have the great pleasure of serving in the Bush Administration from 1989 to 1991. It was a time when I think my days were filled every day with yet another historic transforming event coming across my desk.
�As a matter of fact, it got to the place that I would hardly notice when I came in in the morning that yet another country had changed its social system overnight. But that was a very exciting, and yet disorienting time.
�Our assumptions about the international system, as it had been constituted from 1945, were simply blown away in a matter of months. Clearly, I went to Washington expecting to return to Stanford two years later with the East-West divide more or less intact.
�I assumed that Soviet troops would be deep into the heart of Eastern Europe�that Germany would be divided�that the East-West conflict was immutable.
�I assumed, probably like most of you, that Eastern Europe would at best find its way to reformed communism along the lines of what had been the case in Czechoslovakia in 1968 when Alexander Dubĉek had tried to launch a mild reformed cult. Socialism with a human face. The Prague Spring.
�That�s what I thought the future of Eastern Europe looked like. I was encouraged because of Poland; the Polish Communist Party was having talks with Solidarity and the opposition�that Hungary was moving yet a little further away from Eastern Europe. Yes, I was encouraged by Gorbachev and all of the things that he said.
�But had you told me that in fact I would return to Stanford under conditions in which there had been the liberation of Eastern Europe�in which a unified Germany now occupied the center of Europe�in which Soviet troops were on their way home�in which the Baltic States were nearly free�and in which the Soviet Union, itself, the very existence of the Soviet Union itself, was in crisis and in question, I think I would have told you that you were absolutely crazy. So a lot can happen in a couple of years, and the changes that we�ve gone through most certainly have been disorienting.
�At the time that I left in 1991, though, we were also euphoric about the end of the Cold War. As a matter of fact, that two years had happened so quickly and so peacefully, almost as if it was foreordained that that would be the way that Europe would finally overcome its division, that I think we all thought, �Well, this is just terrific. It�s all smooth sailing from here.�
�As a matter of fact, what we saw when we saw the collapse of the great empire that was the Soviet Union�when we saw Eastern Europe liberating and so forth and so on, I think that what we thought we were seeing was the fulfillment of the concept of the Global Village.
�We really did think that we were looking at the triumph of neoliberal economics. So, in fact, everybody would want to have markets and private property. And it wouldn�t be too long until the other half Europe looked like the half of Europe that had developed with market economies and democratic systems since World War II.
�We thought that we were looking at a trend that seemed to be spreading from South Africa to Moscow to Managua where respect for human rights, respect for civil liberty seemed to be growing, and where, in fact, the very principles of democratic development, on which the United States itself had been founded, seemed to be spreading irreversibly and irretrievably throughout the world.
�And, indeed, it was a wonderful thing to watch. I will never forget going to Gdansk, Poland in July 1989 with President Bush, and seeing forty thousand in Warsaw and seventy thousand in Gdansk. Polish workers standing there with little American flags chanting �Bush, Bush, Bush, freedom, freedom, freedom,� and thinking, �yes, Karl Marx is dead. There�s no doubt about it.�
�Indeed, we saw a period of time in which not just the values and the traditions and the views that America held close, ideas of individual liberty and freedom, free press, freedom of religion, so forth, seemed to be spreading, but, in fact, in which our very institutions seemed to be so much in demand around the world that we could barely fulfill the demand for them.
�As a matter of fact, the hottest selling properties in Moscow and Leningrad, (then Leningrad now St. Petersburg)�the hottest selling properties were the U. S. Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. I had so many Russians ask me if we could translate the Federalist Papers into Russian for them.
�Our institutions, our values, our traditions, seemed to be sweeping the world, and it was a great time. A time of tremendous euphoria. Well, in the cold dawn that has followed that euphoria, I think that we are now seeing that our expectations about a smooth transition were probably quite misplaced, and we should have known that was coming.
�First of all, great empires don�t collapse easily, and we should have known that. The last time that a great, contiguous empire, the Austria-Hungary Empire collapsed, we had World War I, and then World War II as the great powers picked at the bones of the great empire that had collapsed.
�To think that the Soviet Empire could collapse without earthquake-like reverberations throughout the territory that it once had occupied, I think was at best na�ve. And now we are paying for that, because we�re watching throughout the former Soviet Union as ethnic hatreds, centuries old, began to percolate to the surface.
�We�re beginning to wonder if Russia itself can hold together under the centrifugal forces that it is facing. After all, it�s often forgotten that Russia, as an integral concept, really hasn�t existed for three hundred years. In other words, Russia has really never existed without reference to empire. Because from the time of Peter the Great, through the Czars, through the Romanoff dynasty, the Russians forged a great empire out of many peoples, first forging an inner empire that captured all kinds of little nationalities around it�the Bashkiri, the Yacuts, and the Tatars, so forth and so on, and then spreading out to capture people in Georgia and Ukraine and so forth. But that was a three hundred-year process. And essentially, Russia then, having spread over this massive land mass, one sixth of the world�s land mass, twelve different time zones, that Russia, was then occupied by the Soviet regime.
�And yes, they lost pieces of it after the revolution. But they quickly regained those pieces as Stalin reforged the empire. So that Soviet Union was Russia with empire. The thought that Ukraine or Georgia or Kazakhstan might separate had never occurred to any Russian that I know.
�And now, the question is, where does that separation stop? Because in Chechnya or in Tatarstan or in Bashkiria, people who watched Ukraine and Georgia separate are saying, �why not us?�
�So the pressures on this great empire that was once very large continue, and that has caused untold destruction and difficulty throughout Russia, including, I might add, my own subject, the Russian Army, orphaned by the collapse of the Soviet Union, essentially become a mercenary army that is joining on every side of every potential conflict, selling itself wherever it can. And this time we�re not talking about people selling themselves with rifles and pitchforks, which was the case in the 1920s, but we�re talking about units selling themselves with high performance fighter aircraft and with tanks and with artillery. In other words, a very lethal army orphaned out there and engaging in mercenary activities.
�This, I think, is something that we did not expect. And it does not bode well for the future. Moreover, in Russia itself you�re watching the politics of the place come undone. You�ve been watching, along with me I�m sure, as Boris Yeltsin fights this internecine battle with his Congress. But be sure that that�s only the tip of the iceberg.
�Russia is a little bit, these days, like a critically ill patient. You get up every day, you take its pulse, you ask if it�s still breathing. You don�t ask if it�s running the �hundred.� Every day that it�s still breathing is a victory, because you�ve got a chance the next day to try to continue to make it right.
�But I can tell you with certainty that over this period of time we�re going to continue to see crises of the kind that we�ve recently seen. We�re going to see another crisis in a couple of weeks, whether or not Yeltsin wins the referendum. In other words, it�s a very difficult time.
�And I could expand this analysis to talk about what is going on in the former Yugoslavia, or in the peaceful, so far, breakup of Czechoslovakia, and so forth and so on. But the point is that our expectations, I think, about what this world would look like, have been really rudely dashed in recent years. Now, what really was at the root of our expectations that this would all be somewhat easy? That, in fact, humankind had gotten past that ugly part in its history, where it thought about things like ethnicity and religion and so forth.
�Well, I submit to you that what was underlying is the same trend that makes people go to a foreign country, stay there for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes even a year, and come back and say, �What I learned is that they�re just like us.�
�Whenever I have a student who, having spent a year in a foreign country, comes back and tells me they�re just like us, I say to myself, �You didn�t learn very much, did you, while you were there?� There�s something in us, call it arrogance or chutzpah or whatever you�d like to call, that looks for a reflection of ourselves in peoples that are very different from ourselves.
�And I think it is in that, in that mistake, that lies the root of the way that we saw the end of the Cold War. First of all, there is the argument that the world is getting smaller. You�ve heard this argument. It�s a global village. Technology has made us all more the same. Because the Soviet empire could no longer control its borders from satellite technology or from faxes or from telephones or from whatever, it meant that people were able to receive information. And of course, since the information that they were receiving was about our lives, they would choose our lives and they would be just like us.
�I�m making a bit of a caricature of this argument. You�ve heard that under the pressures of technological diffusion in the information age, it wasn�t possible for people to continue in their old ways. It wasn�t possible for people to continue to rip themselves apart about old animosities and ethnic hatreds and religious hatreds. And it wasn�t possible for them to turn their backs on the very institutions and ways of living and ways of organizing ourselves, whether economically or politically, that made it so good for us.
�And so the fact that CNN allowed us to see into these countries on a daily and continuous basis gave us, I think, a false sense of security that these were people that we knew. We knew their aspirations. It was okay, because they were in our living rooms, and so therefore, we had to know them very, very well.
�As a matter of fact, I was stunned about four years ago, I guess it was, when I went to Moscow, and all of the airport signs were not only in Cyrillic, but in English. And I thought, �Well my goodness, English is spreading even here, and of course, many, many Russians speak English and so forth.�
�But in trying to make it easy for tourists or for business people, they had taken that step and put in English language signs. Again, I think, a sense that we, somehow, had so infiltrated the rest of the world that they would be just like us.
�The rude awakening to which we�ve come, of course, is that the world is indeed very different. That what we�re seeing out there is the assertion not of sameness, but of difference.
�Now I have to stop here. Clearly, there are some shared aspirations. Clearly, everybody wishes to eat. Everybody wishes to find love. Everybody wishes to keep the family unit together. Everybody wishes to be safe and secure. And so forth and so on.
�But the matter in which that�s done, what institutions you choose, what patterns of life you choose, how you choose to organize yourself as a society, that�s different. And people are fighting about that very thing.
�So how are we to understand this increasingly complex, not increasingly simple, world that we find ourselves facing? Our hopes that the global village would be one in which everybody thought about all of these issues in the same way have been dashed. Now what do we do?
�Let me suggest to you that the kinds of background that you can give people, in culture and languages, is what we do about understanding this more complex world.
�Why are languages then so important in this world that is so much more difficult, so much more diverse than we had expected? Well, first of all, I could talk about all that you hear every day. Being able to speak the language clearly gives you a deeper understanding of what cultures are really about.
�But let�s dissect that comment: it gives you a deeper understanding about cultures and what they�re really all about. What do we mean by that? Well, first of all, I think it means that if you can communicate in a country in the language, that you understand better how they�re really responding to the tremendous changes being forced upon them.
�When I was last in Russia, which was in September of this past year, I was sitting at my restaurant table being served by a very nice young man who was doing his level best to speak English and not doing it very well. Clearly he had been told that he shouldn�t speak Russian.
�This was in the Radisson, one of these foreigner hotels where they�re working desperately to get the Russian staff to behave like the Western service people. And so this young man was really trying. He had a towel over his arm. He came over to me and he said, �Congratulations, it�s your national day isn�t it?� And I thought, �No, it isn�t, actually.�
�It was Labor Day. And so I said, �Well actually, it is a holiday in the United States.� And I looked at him and I thought that he has no comprehension of what I�m saying. So I tried to say in Russian, and he looked at me again, and I think that he was embarrassed that I was therefore trying to speak Russian to him because his English was not very good.
�So we continued to labor on in English. He said that he believed he had a very good job. And I said, �Why?� And he said, �Foreigners, I meet foreigners.� I thought about this and I thought that he doesn�t really mean he meets foreigners. In today�s life in Russia, the problem is that if you meet foreigners, you also meet hard currency. And that�s the only way these days to make a living in Russia. What a sad commentary on what change has wrought for this very proud people. As I left that day, I couldn�t quite understand my own discomfort.
�But as I was flying back it did occur to me, as this young waiter stayed in my mind. I thought that the problem is that Russia isn�t transitioning to anything. Russia is mutating. The only question is, is the mutation going to be benign or malignant?
�When Russia takes Western ideas and translates them through that big meat grinder called Russia, funny things happen. After all, Peter the Great went out on something called the Great Embassy. He went out in search of Western ideas. And he came back and he was very impressed by Western armies and by French bureaucracy.
�Our democratic institutions were forged over two hundred plus years of our own peculiar history. Starting at a time when the franchise was white, male landowners in thirteen contiguous states, at a very calm time in our own history, when there was an expanding pie and an entire frontier to be conquered.
�That is not the Russian experience. And I think that when I talked to my young waiter friend and thought about the mutation, I was really chastened about what it is we�re really saying to them about the development of democracy. The development of democracy is not easy. It�s hard. It takes work every single day. And most importantly, it had better find indigenous expression, or it won�t last.
�Now in order to understand this mutation, one has to have access to the written materials that are now flooding out of Russia. It used to be that you spent all of your day poring over Pravda and Izvestia and if you found that Pravda said �very difficult� and Izvestia said �difficult,� you thought you had a coup. Because after all, that meant there must have been some difference between the way the government and the party thought about something.
�Now, though, Russia is opening up. You can go there. You can talk to people. I spent years trying to find out how many people worked for the General Staff. About two years ago I had a chance to ask the Deputy Chief of the General Staff how many people worked for the General Staff. He told me. It�s very important in this world in Eastern Europe to be able to communicate. And to watch their television.
�I was struck; I was also in Russia in July when Yeltsin was meeting in Munich with the Group of Seven about Russian reform. And what struck me was that those stories about the G7 were sixth and seventh on Russian television. One through five were about what was happening to Russians in the former empire. What was happening to Russians in Moldavia. What was happening to Russians in Estonia. What was happening to Russians in Georgia. Shouldn�t Russia be protecting Russians in other places? A real strong argument, really about Pan-Slavism.
�Now that doesn�t bode well, either. But it�s a trend that I think was picked up a full seven or eight months later in the Western press. It was there for everybody to see on Russian television. And when I went to spend some time with friends in Russia, I understood why.
�I have friends that I�ve known for seven or eight years now. She works for Western television stations. He is a director of the Bolshoi and a former dancer. They have a very nice life. One son. They live in a lovely apartment in central Moscow with two bedrooms, which by Russian standards is a huge apartment.
�But all of a sudden last summer, five of their relatives, fleeing the Transcaucuses, came to live with them. And my friends, who are Russian liberals, don�t think the breakup of the Soviet Union was such a great idea anymore.
�I think that you only find out such things if you have friends, and you talk to them, and you watch their media, and you watch their popular culture, and you know what�s going on.
Secondly, I think by knowing the language, you have access to those who make revolutions. Intellectuals don�t make revolutions. Workers and farmers and cab drivers and maids and soldiers make revolutions. And it�s great fun to talk to Russian intellectuals because in many cases they speak English, and it many cases they are quite comfortable in the ways of the West, and we can talk about al kinds of things that I find interesting.
�But I always make a point when I go to Russia to stay up late, if I can, in the hotel, and talk to the �dezhurnaya,� the women on the hall. Or to talk to the maid, because those people will give you an earful about what life is like in Russia.
�I had a conversation with a young soldier. He�s a captain in the Army who was assigned to take me around. And as we were driving out to the airport he turned to me and he said, �Um, Condoleezza,� he said, �What is your attitude to Jews?�
�I was stunned for a moment. And the only thing that I could think of to say was, �Normalnye,� normal, average. I didn�t know what else to say. And he said, �Well, my attitude is that way too, except there are too many of them in Russia.� I was stunned. But the attitudes are right under the surface, when you can talk to people who are not embarrassed to say such things because they don�t know that they�re supposed to be embarrassed to say such things. You learn a lot about a culture, and you can only do that in the language.
�Because my young friend, Gienya, has never learned English. He knows how to speak Angolan because he was a translator for the Russian Army, for Russian generals in Angola. But English isn�t a part of his experience. And without my Russian, I would have had no access to him.
�Thirdly, I think speaking a foreign language is an exercise in humility, especially for those of us who are not native in the language. Americans feel very powerful abroad. Everybody likes us, except maybe the French. But even the French, we suspect, like us underneath the surface. And so we wander around and we feel on the top of the world.
�But if you�ve ever had, as I had the opportunity to do in 1988, to give a talk in a foreign language, you suddenly realized that no mater how good you think your language is, you�re missing a few arrows in your quiver.
�As a matter of fact, I first learned Russian in graduate school, my last year in college and starting in graduate school. So I�ve been at it for a while. In 1978, I think, I took my first Russian class.
�I spent four months in 1979 at Moscow State University, speaking Russian, learning Russian, wandering around the country. I came back. My job was helping Russian immigrants relocate in Colorado. I was pretty confident about my Russian.
�And then for about four years I didn�t speak it, use it at all. And it deteriorated. So I started going back to a tutor and working on it. But it had been a while since I�d really been using it in the country.
�So I prepared this great lecture on the role of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Soviet General Staff in arms control policy, and I presented this speech to a roomful of Russian academics and military officers. And about a quarter of the way through the speech I looked out and there was no response out there. Very impassive. And I thought, well, either I�m boring them or they don�t like what I�m saying. Or, horrors, they�re thinking, what language is this woman speaking?
�Well, fortunately I learned that they did understand what I was saying. It was simply that, of course, in my moment of panic, I had forgotten that to sit impassively is a pretty common in a Russian academic audience. But in that moment of panic I was not the great American scholar of Russia. I was one very nervous person almost like in graduate school, the first time they show you what the word for hello is. And you think, I�m never going to learn this language.
�Humility, too, I think, comes in other ways. It comes about one�s own culture. It comes about one�s own cultural accomplishments. And I think that�s important too. Then you get a chance to know another culture from the inside out. I�m never so humble about the Russians or about American culture vis-�-vis the Russians until I read Russian literature in Russian and realize the greatness of Dostoyevsky or Pushkin or Solzhenitsyn.
�And so I think that languages are simply a way of addressing being a part of understanding another culture, that for which there is simply no substitute.
�Now I also think that you as teachers of these languages, that I as a consumer and user of languages, that we, as a profession of people who care about the interaction of culture, language and peoples, need to get out on the hustings and talk about, to quote Lenin, �What is to be done about languages.�
And let me suggest that when we get out there, that we not fall into what is essentially a utilitarian argument about languages. I heard many, many times (I sit on a couple of corporate boards and I hear a lot about language of commerce) that it�s important because you need to be out there selling and buying, and it�s important to understand another language and another culture because you can�t sell and buy very effectively without their languages.
�Yes, that�s true. And I�m perfectly happy if I can capture any student at Stanford who wants to study Japanese for those reasons. That�s perfectly okay. But as a profession, I hope that we will not allow ourselves to say that the only reason to study languages is for utilitarian purposes. Rather, we, particularly as Americas, have a moral, a political, a cultural reason to understand other cultures and to speak in their tongues. It also shouldn�t be the case that it�s the responsibility of those who come from a particular cultural heritage to speak and know that language.
�If that were the case, I most certainly wouldn�t be a Soviet specialist. It�s important that we have ambassadors across cultural lines. Why shouldn�t I choose to speak Russian? It�s what interests me!
�As I did on a day when, in July of 1991, I found myself in the Kremlin office of Marshall of the Soviet Union, Sergei Fiadorovich Acurmeyev. You may remember that he is the former Chief of the General Staff and advisor to Gorbachev, who committed suicide shortly after the coup in August. So this was one month before those events.
�I had gone with a person from the American Embassy, and Acurmeyev said to me, �I would like to talk with you alone.� And so I let my Embassy contact leave and we talked. We talked about how he was feeling about what was going on. And the depth of his despair about what was going on in the Soviet Union, let me know that this was a deeply troubled man.
�I�ve never forgotten that day. And I�ve never forgotten the sense that for the first time it wasn�t just the utility of Russian for me. That, somehow, I had a moral obligation to be able to understand him in his own tongue.
�And so when we say to people, you need it for the language of commerce, we limit our own horizons for why language is so important. We also have a moral, political and cultural reason to learn languages vis-�-vis our own culture. You know, the great innovation of the founding fathers of the United States of America was that they delinked ethnicity, territory, and citizenship.
�I�m not an American by reference to an ethnic group. I�m an African-American, but I�m an American first. You are not Italian-Americans or Ukrainian-Americans or Hispanic-Americans by reference to an ethnic group. But rather, by choice of an ideal. Allegiance to an ideal. Nobody makes you stay an American citizen. People grant American citizenship to those who did not have it by allegiance to an ideal.
�And so, in doing that, the founding fathers, I think, saved us the many hurts and problems that Europe is now encountering. And if you think it�s just the former Yugoslavia and just Russia, ask yourself if you don�t get a little nervous when the Germans start a discussion of what is a German.
�The fact is, that ours is a very modern notion of citizenship. But it took a long time for it to be an inclusive notion of citizenship. So that when the founding fathers said, �We the People,� they didn�t mean me. But now, over time, �We the People� means me, too.
�If we are not to fracture ourselves apart it is important that we have a common language in English. But it�s also important that we be exposed to and responsive to the vibrance of all that brought us here and our ancestors here, and to draw on the richness of our cultures, and if we�re going to do that, we have to learn a whole lot of languages.
����������� I was riding in yesterday, and my cab driver was taking me in a direction that I wasn�t quite sure was right. And I said to him, �Where are you going?� So he explained as best he could, and I said to him, �Where are you from?� And he said �Russia.� The rest of the time we chit-chatted in Russian all the way back. And what I learned about the eight-year immigrant experience in America was really quite remarkable to me. What he liked about America. What he didn�t. What he cared about. What he didn�t. His aspirations. His beliefs. I learned a lot about this recession that I hadn�t learned from sitting and talking to my friends who are economists, about what�s going on.
����������� �We need to be able to share each other�s experiences, too. And because we are a country of immigrants, and I hope we will remain a country of immigrants, that means being able to reach across cultural and linguistic lines.
����������� �Finally, I�d like to say that I hope that since we�re not making utilitarian arguments, that we�ll not leave out the so-called not useful languages, because frankly, who knows what�s useful?
����������� �Would anybody have thought Farsi would have been very useful a few years ago? Would anybody have thought Ukrainian might be useful? Or Uzbek might be useful? You just can�t tell. And you know, even Latin. I was subjected to three and a half years of Latin at St. Mary�s Academy in Denver. And I thought, �I don�t know why I�m taking this. Rome hasn�t ruled for a really long time.� But in fact, when I walked into my first Russian class in 1978, and the teacher said something about a nominative and a genitive and an accusative case, I thought, �Oh, my goodness, I know what those are. I know how to decline nouns and adjectives.� Isn�t that something? And I was scores ahead of my classmates who didn�t have a clue because, of course, we don�t teach what the direct object is in English, let along in any other language.
����������� �So I�m very pleased to be here with you today. I plan never to stop learning languages. I plan never to stop working at my Russian. One of these days I�m really going to understand why the Russian have twelve different ways to say �to go,� and that it has to do with whether you plan to stay for very long, or whether you intend to come back, or so forth and so on.
����������� �I�ve got a lot of work to do on my Russian. And I want to learn German, because it�s a country that I find fascinating. And I�m absolutely determined next time to be able to ask when the train leaves in German, and not to depend on the fact that the Germans all speak English. I�ve got a lot of work to do. So do you. Because the global village that we�re living in, clearly, is one whether the connections are closer, where modern travel has made it possible to be there in a matter of hours when it used to take weeks and months. All of that is really terrific.
����������� �But if we think of the global village not as a collection of Americans at a conference, but rather as more like the Olympic Village, where people keep their identities, keep their cultures, keep their linguistic distinctions, and where we�re better served if we can communicate, at least with one of them, in a way that they understand and can communicate fully with us, we�re all going to be a lot better off.
����������� �Not for utilitarian and commercial reasons, but because as Americans, leaders of what we still think of as the free world, it is very important for us, morally, politically, culturally, to make that try. So I�m delighted to be with you. I really do send my congratulations to all of your award winners. It�s wonderful to see so many of you here and to see that you span from the grades all the way through college and university, because we�ve got to learn to make this a seamless web in the education of our young people.
����������� �Thank you very much for having me with you.
Copyright © 1995-2011 by The Northeast Conference.
All Rights Reserved. Contact the Webmaster.