Can a Planetary Parlance Co-exist with Mother Tongues?
Language is just one piece of the wonderfully complex puzzle that is humanity. That's why foreign language instruction is often accompanied by an appreciation for the music, food, and way of life of a particular place. These things provide insight into a people's beliefs, priorities, and common history. The result is often a greater understanding of the people whose language is being studied.
Imagine losing the languages of the world to a dominant global one. According to Dan Fitzgerald, a Washington, D.C.-based French instructor, the costs to humanity would be huge. "Much of the culture that goes along with each of those languages would also disappear," he explains.
Next, imagine a world in which most people could speak a global language, but still had their native language as a primary form of communication. Being able to communicate with people from all over the world would open up huge opportunities for work, study, and relationships that would otherwise be extremely difficult.
The notion of a common global language, of course, raises the question of which language we would use. Most experts agree that the answer depends largely on practical factors that could shift with changes in political and economic power over time. That's because language acquisition is almost always driven by necessity – there simply has to be a good reason for people to bother to learn a new one.
Esperanto is a language that was created in 1887 specifically to be a common second language [source: Esperanto USA]. However, with only 2 million speakers worldwide, it seems unlikely to become a viable form of global communication. According to Dr. Matt Pearson, associate professor of linguistics at Reed College in Portland, Ore., this is probably because Esperanto was never the language of a politically or economically dominant nation or group.
Some might say that we already have a world language: English. English is spoken in more than 100 countries, making it by far the most global language on earth. There are certainly other languages that are spoken by more of the world's people, such as Mandarin Chinese and Hindi. However, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi are spoken in only 16 and 17 countries, respectively [source: Palomar College].
English may well be the language of global communication at the moment, but it can certainly be displaced at any time due to shifting global demographics and priorities. However, one thing is unlikely to change: People will always cling to their native language, whether or not it confers some competitive advantage. That's because language is more than just a method of communication. It's a link to our personal identity, and that's much too important to lose.