Speaking In Tongues

What is it about English that makes it so universal as a language? Is it merely that it is the language adopted by the United States of America as the world outside the country becomes fascinated with the blend of cultures and the benefits that come with that melting pot? Sure, the lack of gendered nouns makes things a little simpler than other languages in some respects, but the English language also likes to break it’s own rules, and if you learn most languages at an early age you probably have a pretty equal chance of grasping others as easily as you would with English.

The extension of this question, I suppose, is whether it will continue to be used in such a way. Will it take over in a way that Esperanto could not? With works to preserve dying languages, would there be a movement to stop English becoming ubiquitous if it looked like it was heading that way?

I have heard it suggested that Mandarin could become similarly widely used, and with the number of Chinese people in China and (spreading) throughout the world, it will probably take on a much wider use than it had once upon a time. However, as to whether it will catch on throughout cultures, I am not so certain. Perhaps if the Europeans of the future are much less lazy than I, many more would learn the language and it could become as integrated as English is.

What I am surprised at, I suppose, is that I haven’t heard much in the way of people talking about the ubiquity of Spanish, a language that is widely used across the South American continent, and in increasing use in the USA itself, the country that, perhaps, has done the most to inspire people around the world to take up English as a second language.

Perhaps one day it will.

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4 responses to “Speaking In Tongues

  1. I’m sure you expected a response to your throw-away comment on Esperanto. I see Esperanto as a remarkable success story. I hope you’ll allow me to add that Esperanto celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. That’s quite an achievement for what started as the idea of just one man. It has survived wars and strikes and economic crises, and continues to attract young learners.

    English is fairly widespread, but it is far from universal, by the way.

  2. It’s very difficult to say how many people speak Esperanto. Wikipedia suggests up to two million. Of course, English has many, many more speakers, but Esperanto has found a niche with people interested in the wider world.

  3. I agree with the comment by Bill Chapman

    Many ill-informed people think Esperanto “never took off” – other ignorant people say that if human beings were meant to fly, God would have given them wings.

    Esperanto is neither artificial nor a failure however. As the British Government now employs Esperanto translators it has ceased to be a hobby. More recently this international language was used to address the United Nations in Bonn.

    During a short period of 125 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide. It is the 22nd most used language in Wikipedia, ahead of Danish and Arabic. It is a language choice of Google, Skype, Firefox, Ubuntu and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers, (people who have used the language from birth), include World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to Russia and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet. Financier George Soros learnt Esperanto as a child.

    Esperanto is a living language – see http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670

    Their new online course http://www.lernu.net has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

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