On monolingualism

Richard Hough, Captain James Cook (1994) – encountering the Hawaiian islands (the first European encounter) during Cook’s third expedition, 1778: There was only one language of the Pacific that the sailors had learned, most to the extent of a few words, others like Jem Burney with fluency. Burney was the first to call down to the men in the nearest canoe: ‘What is the name of your island?’ To his astonishment he was immediately told. The sailors then tried out words they had used frequently in New Zealand, the Society Islands and Easter Island, such as sweet potatoes, breadfruit, hogs and even different sorts of fish. 

There was little wonder among these Hawaiians that these visitors spoke their language. They had never heard any language but their own.

I visited western Kenya a couple of years ago. It appeared that everyone spoke Swahili and their tribal language. Many spoke English too.

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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