Do We Need A Universal Language?

Jacquelyn N. Tawney Hanna W131-4480 10-16-07 Exploratory Essay

JT 2 DO WE NEED A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE? This is a tough question that we must face in this new millennium. Some may argue that a universal language is necessary; others may feel that it would be a waste of collected effort. A large percent of the population would most likely pose a new question: who cares? Before we can even ponder the different arguments of this issue, we must define what is meant by the term “universal language”. On a very extreme scale, a universal language would be one that every human being on the planet speaks and is fluent in. It would be the only language in which we, as a world, write and converse with. From another perspective, we can consider a universal language as one that everyone knows and can use fluently, but only uses when necessary. It could be one that only national heads would use this language. As to who this issue effects, it is clearly everyone. Every single person of the estimated 6,602,224,175 that populate this world (www.cia.gov) must communicate with each other. Through speech, written text, or even sign language, different languages are used, and it is necessary for everyone to consider the possibility of a universal language to simplify the daily issues we have in communicating globally. However, in the case that the universal language is only used by government leaders, we already defeat the purpose of the national language. But what are the goals in having a universal language? Tying together all two hundred and sixty five nations (www.un.org) with one

JT 3 language would be the most prominent, prolific goal, with many others following close behind. If there were one language, this great universal language, we could strike down the language barrier and communicate as one, thus joining together the six point six billion people who live on Earth (www.cia.gov). This could end wars, eliminate poverty, cure cancer! Maybe the outcome won’t be so extreme, but in the least we could all work together towards a universal peace. With the good also comes the bad. In attempting to establish a universal language, we come across a few bumps. Which language do we switch to? How do we even begin to spread the new language to every single person? And more importantly, won’t we lose the values, the cultures, which go along with each native language? Apparently, there is already much debate over the topic of a universal language. While researching the current debates, one can find that some believe that English is already a universal language of sorts, playing its king card on the internet and in many science research journals. Although it is surely showing progress, English will never be able to officially hold the title of “universal language”. Why? Because every language is more than just a bunch of letters, symbols, sounds. Each is a history, a cultural record keeper. Each language originated as unwritten, meaning that the only way it developed, as it still does, was by word of mouth. Different people spoke it with separate accents, dialects, with slang. And where exactly did these variations come from? The culture. The history. The people themselves!

JT 4 Consider for a moment the Tower of Babel. Once upon a Christian time, there indeed was a universal language, with which a unified people spoke to each and everyone. But this people was cursed by God with the Confusion of Tongues, and now each of us has our own language. It is a constant battle exactly how to bridge all of us together. While on the subject of religion, how would the religions of the world react to a universal language? Would there be a culture clash? Many religions today are based on religious texts written in ancient languages. Would these religions willingly translate these documents to accommodate the new language? Or would that be asking too much? Consider the Jewish religion. To this day Jewish rituals are still performed in the native language of Hebrew. Taking an example from Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory, religion lost meaning to him when the Catholic church began using English (114). Does this mean that religion would altogether be lost if we switch to a universal language? Hypothetically, let’s pretend that we have decided to employ a universal language, and we chose Chinese, based on the fact that Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world (www.cia.gov). Wars would erupt over this decision, with each claiming that his language should’ve been chosen instead. Why not Spanish, Japanese, or Portuguese? Many would even refuse to learn the language, which is the main problem we have today, isn’t it? Ergo, the whole goal of having a universal language is defeated.

JT 5 In my personal experience, it would have been beneficial to know a universal language. I recently traveled to Mexico, and found it difficult to communicate with the natives there. However, most of them did know English, making it easier to communicate and bargain while I was shopping. Similar experiences occurred when I went to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Canada. Each of these countries have their own personal languages and dialect, but they had no problem with using English while I was in their company. This brings me back to the idea that maybe English is already a universal language. According to Rodriguez in Hunger of Memory, it was essential for him to learn the public language of English in order to function in the world, and to do well in school (20). The nuns that ran his school actually requested that his family use only English in order to help him learn (20). They, in a way, forced his family to conform. In the long run, it was easier for him to communicate, knowing English, especially when he was in class (21). However, after he learned English, he forgot Spanish, which shamed his family (28). His family ridiculed him, giving him trouble and constantly calling him out for losing his heritage (29). Can we really expect people to willingly lose their native languages? Did learning the “universal language” really help in the end? But is it possible to create a universal language that is complete in sustaining the cultures of the world? One with different dialects to keep the old languages alive? Take for example the English we speak here in the

JT 6 United States. All over the country different forms of the language are obvious. In the south a soft drink is named differently than a soft drink in the north. The same rings true for many different things. Different states have different accents. Someone from Wisconsin will speak differently than someone from Maine. To each his own, right? As we all know, people across America can easily understand each other and communicate, even if there are differences in slang and enunciation. Overall, English would be a great candidate in the running for a universal language. The majority of countries already speak it, and the more powerful nations like the United States and England use it as a main language. The United Nations even uses this language more than any of the other five of its official languages (www.un.org). English is also a very versatile language. There are many ways to say the same thing, leaving room for the perfect expression. An even greater advantage is that English translates very similarly from spoken to written word. In conclusion, it is difficult to say whether or not to institute a universal language. While eliminating many obstacles in communication, cultures would be erased by implementing a universal language. Truth be told, we will never know until we attempt it. If worse comes to worse, we could at least revoke the decision upon a universal language if it doesn’t work out. Only time will tell where our dialogue is going to end up, and who’s it will be.

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Works Cited Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: Autobiography. 1982. New York: Bantam-Dell, 1983. www.cia.gov. April 19 2007. September 10 2007. www.un.org. 2007. September 10 2007.