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What If Everyone on Earth Spoke the Same Language

Let’s imagine for a minute that we aren’t in a sci-fi movie. When you woke up this morning, everyone understood each other because we all spoke the same language. Convenient, right?

We could travel from country to country without language barriers and easily communicate with people on other continents. Seems ideal at first. But when you examine the situation more closely, you’ll see why this reality may not come true.

Language is Culture

Language is so complex that it’s not easy to create a language that is spoken worldwide. Every language tells you something about the people that speak it.

For example, look at the number of words we have to express colors in English. The color red has over 20 synonyms for red (vermillion, scarlet, cherry, cerise, wine, ruby, crimson, coral, rose, auburn, bloody, blush, ruddy, coral, sanguine, maroon, florid, poppy, rusty, rouge). These words allow for beautiful imagery and poetry when we describe the rainbow.

In contrast, colors in Chinese are expressed as the color (red) with modifiers (light red, dark red). There isn’t as much variation. But the Chinese value family, so the words to describe family are far more descriptive and precise than in English. It is not enough to say sister, brother, aunt, and uncle. They need to be exact. So if you ask how to say “aunt” in Chinese, you need to be specific and say, “How do you say aunt if she is your mom’s older sister”?

People around the world have different cultures and cultural values. How could we have a universal language that captures all the world’s cultural values?

Language is a Bunch of Concepts

Often, we hear someone say, “I don’t know how to say it in English,” and they don’t mean they don’t know how to translate it into English. They’re saying that English doesn’t have such a concept.

Counting in French involves math, for example. Learning to count to twenty is useful because eighty is quatre-vingts (four twenties) and ninety-seven is quatre-vingt-dix-sept (four-twenty-seventeen).

The Japanese language has different ways of counting items, depending on what the object is. For example, “one” when counting animals is ippiki, but “one” when counting umbrellas is ippon, and “one” for one drink is ippai. You can’t just say the same word to mean “one” cat and “one” pencil.

In Cantonese, they classify food as “hot” or “cold,” but this concept doesn’t refer to temperature. Instead, it refers to yin and yang properties of food. So spicy food, mangos, chicken and lobster, for example, are “heaty” while pork, watermelon and crab, for example, are “cool.”

It would be a challenge to capture all these concepts for all the languages of the world into one international language.

Language is History

Language is a record of our history. English baffles people with its inconsistent spelling and pronunciation. For example, “through” and “threw” sound the same. But the “ough” sounds different when you say “bought” and “thought.” And “ough” changes its sound again when you say “though” and “sew.”

One reason for this inconsistency is how English evolved. “Knight” and “night” sound the same in modern English. But long ago, we did pronounce the “k” and the “g” in knight.

English is continuing to evolve to be more inclusive. Instead of actor and actress, you can say actor for male and female actors. “Waiter” and “waitress” are evolving into “server.”

Technology is also influencing language. American Sign Language (ASL) uses both hands to communicate concepts. As the popularity of the mobile phone and face-to-face calls became commonplace, ASL has evolved so it is possible to communicate while signing with one hand and holding the phone with the other hand.

Key Takeaways

What if everyone on earth spoke the same language? It would make communication a lot easier. But is it possible to have one universal language? Can one language capture all the nuances and cultures of all the peoples of the world? And can one language suffice to say everything we want to say as we continue into the future? What do you think?

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