In 1904, German-born American businessman Emil Sutro published his second book. Duality of thought and language, was presented as a piece of original research studying “the inner being of the spoken language”, but it also contains a reflection on the author’s journey as a German in what he calls an Anglo-Saxon world. It particularly shows his struggle to acquire the language: through the book Sutro represents “a constant endeavor and effort during many years towards a single end, namely, the attempt to master the idiomatic expression of the English tongue by a German and from a German standpoint”. Learning to “produce foreign sounds”, he noted, ultimately interfered with his abilities with his native tongue, and this observation gave rise to his research – resulting in a novel and wildly eccentric interpretation of the connection between the soul and (spoken) language.
For Sutro, speech – which is “spiritual-material”- not only expresses but also significantly contributes to the individual ànd collective characteristics of, for example, Englishmen and Germans:
Belonging to the English race, all his acts and performances are of the order of that race. While all men are alike anatomically, they differ in respect to the manner in which their anatomy is set in motion for the production of their idiomatic expression, for the outcome of their artistic, literary and other work. I speak English, hence I am an Englishman or an American – in fact, an Anglo-Saxon. I belong to the Anglo-Saxon race. Or I speak German, hence I live and think like a German, etc. I belong to the Germanic race.
This racial understanding of language throws an interesting light on the practices of migration and assimiliation. On the one hand, ‘being’ German, for Sutro, seems an almost innate quality, whilst on the other hand acquiring another language appears as an – albeit potentially soulsplitting – way to affect a racial transformation. It is a problem Sutro recognizes, and claims to have found a solution to with his theory of the ‘duality’ of thought and language. His very corporeal system, which he unfortunately fails to set out with much clarity, allows him to enter the “soul” of the language. A practice that would lead to a perfect, and accent-free, embrace of any idiom.
An Englishman after acquiring the French pronunciation will still pronounce French with an English accent; he will not speak it idiomatically correct. This distinction must be prominently borne in mind in connection with these studies. The Englishman acquires the physical habit, the dress of the French language, in his pronunciation, its soul he cannot acquire. I have entered into the soul of language, and in so doing have inadvertently entered into the soul of man.
And because “the inmost motive powers of our soul-life are imbedded in the language we speak”, properly acquiring another language with the help of Sutro’s methods, would lead to actual transformation: “the evolution which makes an Englishman out of a German is one that we can observe step by step from beginning to end”.
Should Germans become Englishmen, however?
Sutro’s answer to that question is fraught with the hierarchical notions of humanity of his time – eerily echoes in more current imaginations of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrants. In a general sense, he advocates complete assimilation. Not only for the sake of the host society, but for the cultural and moral state of the immigrant himself.
Whole races are civilized by means of a “higher” language. The “Irish question”, as far as that term signifies the animosity of the Emerald Isle against England, will be settled as soon as the lower classes of the Irish population exchange their peculiar brogue for a correctly intoned and pronounced English, and so become, to all intents and purposes, English themselves. Everything else would then settle itself. The Austrian question is, as is generally recognized, in the main a question of language, for the various traits of character of the different Austrian races are determined in large measure by the language spoken. The sympathies and antipathies of the races towards one another rest almost entirely upon grounds that can be traced back to a linguistic origin. The “Jewish question”, too, would be solved if the Jews would take the trouble to speak the language of the people among whom they live exactly as their neighbors; that is to say, if they would abandon their dialect, traces of which are noticeable in the speech of even many of the educated among them.
What applies to the Irish and the Jews, however, does not so easily translate to those who, according to Sutro’s hierarchical understanding of the ‘races’ of the world, already employ a ‘higher’ language. Speaking German, he argues, has resulted in a rich cultural and spiritual life that no part of the world should be deprived of.
I will not enter further into this matter than to say that German immigrants can best serve their own interests and those of their adopted country by remaining true to their inborn propensities and ideals, which have borne fruit in so many directions and have assisted in elevating the people of this country, by imparting to them a more reasonable, hopeful and cheerful view of life, in which contemplation, sentiment, repose and feeling enter, holding the balance to its but too rapid onward march of material accomplishment. It is not German music alone which has contributed much to this end, but German ideals, learning, philosophy, art and character blended with such excellent native characteristics as a burning desire for liberty and independence allied to a great love of country; a thirst for knowledge; a desire for the truth; the exercise of patience under trying circumstances; a thrift which knows no bounds; a feeling of justice, helpfulness and charity for all, which extends beyond the boundaries of this country to the suppressed and downtrodden of all nations. Hence the best thing for Germans to do, when they come here at a mature age, is to remain Germans in the best sense of the word.
It’s a trick the compilers of the World Happiness Report seems to have missed: for more joy, invite more Germans, for reasonable cheerfulness.