A Global Language?

A letter I wrote to New Scientist a little while ago, in response to someone else’s letter that had been published there.

Robert Morley (New Scientist letters, 26th June 2010) wrote, “...but surely if we all spoke the same language, it would be a very positive outcome for humankind... One global language please, and the sooner the better.”

I don’t agree, and that’s not nostalgia. I strongly agree with the idea of “One global second language,” and that’s what we’ve very nearly got now. But losing a language isn’t a trivial matter at all, because people with different first languages think in different ways. Lose a language, and you lose a way of thinking; you lose a culture.

Losing a way of thinking is a considerable loss to humankind. Different ways of thinking give different perspectives on issues. Problems that seem insoluble to people with one way of thinking can sometimes be easy to solve for people with a different way of thinking, or even be matters of no importance, needing no solution.

Losing a culture is likewise a considerable loss to humankind. Different cultures have different flaws. Our own is no exception. It’s very hard to see the flaws in one’s own culture, but people brought up with different ways of thinking often can see them easily. You have to be careful trying to do anything about perceived flaws in another culture – military/terrorist intervention invariably makes any situation worse! – but at least if there’s someone somewhere who can see the flaws in each culture, there is some hope of people within that culture becoming aware of it too (as long as you don’t have completely closed borders, of course...)

They did publish my letter too, slightly abridged. This is the original.

For a related issue, see The Damned National Curriculum.

New Scientist (28th March 2015, p.27) has an article about how English speakers are disabled by their language when it comes to the sense of smell (whereas they’re well able to cope with colour): English speakers, you stink at identifying smells.