The idea of a universal language that unites humanity by putting aside our linguistic differences dates back to the story of the Tower of Babel found in the Old Testament, and in recent decades, there has been a push for the accommodation of a common language.
In the nineteenth century, Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof made it his mission to create an international language in order to unlock the communication barrier between nations and idealistically bring world peace through the common language’s emphasis of equality. The Polish eye doctor published his constructed Romantic language, Esperanto, in 1887. Though the language did not become nearly as popular as Zamenhof had anticipated—and failed to bring about world peace—it was a major step in the ongoing movement for an internationally appropriated language. The National Public Radio (NPR) reports that today, there are between 200,000 and 2 million Esperanto speakers worldwide, making it the most widely spoken constructed language. The free language-learning platform Duolingo is currently developing an Esperanto course, which is currently in-beta.
“It would be pretty useful if everyone around the world could speak the same language,” Freshman Wesley Luh said. “This could be accomplished if everyone learned Esperanto or even English, since it is already the national language of dozens of countries. Obviously, this is a lot easier said than done. If the school offered an Esperanto course, I would definitely consider taking it. However, it would not really help international communication unless other countries began to teach teach it widely as well.”
A language that is understood throughout the world could potentially accommodate easier communication between nations without the need for translation aides, which can unintentionally distort vital information and result in miscommunication.
“I don’t think that languages are simply just a means of communication,” Sophomore Joanne Kim said. “I’m a fluent Korean speaker and some social aspects of Korean culture can only be truly appreciated through the Korean language. I think that this applies to pretty much every language out there.”
According to Marc Ettlinger, Linguistics PhD, people subconsciously use language to communicate who they are, where they’re from, and what they believe in. In an article titled “Here’s Why The World Can Never Have One Universal Language,” Ettlinger says that as long as people strive to have distinct identities and group themselves based on nationality or culture, we will continue to have different languages. Though having one language would streamline our social interactions, it simply does not comply with human behavior. He analogizes this with all humans wearing the same clothes.
“We’ve come close to having universal languages,” Chris Barros, Language Department, said. “English and French are pretty universal already, so introducing a completely new language as a universal language would be difficult, if not impossible.”
However, equipping all with a common language does not mean that other languages would disappear. Our national identities and culture would endure as we develop our own national tongues, while a universal second language could facilitate international communication. According to reputed scientific journal Nature, a universal language would allow for scientific findings to be more widely accessed. The journal says that the use of an international language for scientific communication is inevitable, and resisting this concept in order to preserve our cultural differences would not help bring society forward.