We interrupt for brief technical epistle. A discrete measure, even by
gender, of an important characteristic such as literacy is deplorable.
For a political entity like Sudan, if a citizen is highly literate in Italian,
Mandarin or Tamil, he or she may be in effect functionally illiterate due
to an inability to communicate with anyone else in Sudan.
Seven languages in Sudan have recently gone extinct, and we would expect nearly twenty more to
follow in the next decade or so. We would certainly not want to discourage Sudanese, Californians
or anyone else from digitally recording and constructing dictionaries for any language with less
than one thousand speakers. In the meantime, we note that US Census results for California in
2000 indicated more than 60% only spoke English. We certainly wish the category that includes
four combinations of Spanish and a Spanish creole with instead of and in addition to English was
divided. Even were that the case, there is still the underlying inadequacy of literate or not. What
is really needed is an internet-based series of tests that provide continuous measures scaled from
say 0 to 100 in four areas - reading, writing, speaking and listening - by language.
In northern Sudan there is a conscious effort to encourage the use of Arabic. This has a practical
aspect - it is the dominant language in most of Sudan's neighbors. There is also the consideration
that for more northern Sudanese knowledge of Arabic is necessary to pray properly. Arabic also
has a written alphabet, internet dictionaries and a literature - features not associated with the
various popular Dinka languages, for example. Widespread literacy in a commonly used language
like Arabic not only makes it simpler for the Sudanese government to communicate with the
citizens it serves, but allows flexibility in recruiting and deploying police, military, disaster
recovery workers, teachers, doctors and so on both domestically and overseas. For example, were
Nyiragongo, most active volcano on Planet Earth and located about 1200 miles south of
Al-Khartum (so 400 miles south of Sudan's southern border), to really erupt explosively people in
Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and possibly several additional countries
would be in desperate need of rescue workers and doctors. On the other hand, were Sudan
slammed with yet another of its persistent periodic droughts international help would be
desperately needed. When thousands or millions of lives are at risk the last thing needed is
confusion caused by lack of a common language at the macro-level among governments as well as
at the micro-level between a doctor and a patient.
Today, literacy is [poorly] used as a measure of a nation's educational infrastructure. While there
are many other factors involved, we'd assert that Chile having a highly literate population (more
than 95%) where virtually everyone can use Spanish, even the 1.25% who prefer Mapudungun,
makes things far easier than having a population with less than 30% literacy in Haitian. We'd be
shocked if Chile has a cholera outbreak - and if the Haitian cholera deaths are below 10,000.