The Form Letter of Babel

It’s a formality, a throwaway bit of corporate bureaucratese, this paper I found on my desk today. Things tend to get buried. Got it a few months ago from an insurance company that I deal with.

Or is it just a formality? For me it is. But it might contain important information for other people who received the page. It’s a list of languages that the company says it will assist people in, if need be.

It includes one sentence in each language, presumably saying the same thing as the first sentence, which is in English: For language assistance in your language call the number listed on your ID card at no cost. All together, counting English, the sentences represent 66 languages.

Maybe this is a government mandate. Not just the letter, but the assistance. Maybe that’s onerous and adds to the cost of insurance. And maybe this kind of thing would upset the Know-Nothings who’ve been emerging from under rocks lately, as they do periodically.

Still, you could also argue that the list is a marvel of the age. A speaker of anyone of 66 languages can pick up the phone and get some kind of specialized assistance. Considering the state of customer service by phone, it might be as uneven as it is in English.

Even so — what a thing, this complex, real-time linguistic offering. Would that have even been possible at the beginning of this century? Certainly not before that.

The languages are, in order, English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Tagalog, Navajo, German, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Bantu-Kirundi, Bisayan-Visayan, Bengali-Bangala, Burmese, Catalan, Charmorro, Cherokee, Choctaw, Cushite, Dutch, French Creole, Greek, Gujarati, Hawaiian, Hindi, Hmong, Ibo, Ilocano, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Karen, Korean, Kru-Bassa, Kurdish, Laotian, Marathi, Marshallese, Micronesian-Pohnpeian, Mon-Khmer/Cambodian, Nepali, Nilotic-Dinka, Norwegian, Pennsylvania Dutch, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Serbo-Croatian, Sudanic-Fulfulde, Swahili, Syriac-Assyrian, Telugu, Thai, Tongan, Turkese [sic, I think Trukese is correct], Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Yiddish and Yoruba.

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