TED Conversations

Hugo Wagner

Graduate Student - Mechanical Engineering, UC Berkeley


This conversation is closed.

Is our destiny to be one world with one language?

Are we heading towards a world with one common language?
If you think so, do you believe that it will happen naturally (because globalization requires it) or because of one country's leading "soft power"?
Would it enhance international cooperation and promote better understanding between countries?

On the other hand, what would it mean for human cultures and civilizations?

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    Aug 4 2011: I am a big fan of keeping all the languages and simply inventing the Star Trek 'Universal Translator'. I think we would lose too much in uniformity.
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      Aug 5 2011: My sister, who is a translator, doesn't believe that it would be possible, saying the translation depends on some things that can't be generated by algorithms... But, I've met a guy who is working on that kind of technology at an institute in Germany :D
      • Aug 5 2011: Wouldn't such a device be made possible by incorporating a sensor array which could recognize and factor in things like location, facial features, pigmentation, body language (perhaps even facial and voice recognition across a network) ect.? It would of course require a very large, reliable and accurate database.
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          Aug 6 2011: Sklyar! thanks for embracing the fun behind the idea. Yes, all of these things are quite possible and many of the devices that we thought impossible that were originally seen in Sci Fi have become realities- like communicators = cell phones.
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          Aug 6 2011: I think it's possible, at least for everyday conversation, but translating poetry is something else. I'll give another reference to star track :D There's an episode where they find a planet with no music, but the "people" are fascinated with mathematics. The bold doctor gives them classical music, and they instantly start making new compositions with their computers. But the doctor is disappointed because there is no "poetry" in that kind of computer generated music.
          It's like google translator :) almost never gets the point :P
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          Aug 7 2011: I think all it would require is, like you say, a sensor array.. but it would probably only need to understand context. For example, the word shalom is often incorrectly translated into the English word "Peace"... although in Hebrew it does mean "Peace", it also has other meanings (such as "oneness" and "completeness") - hence to say shalom can be a form of blessing, that you wish the person to be at peace with God, as in be kept united with God.
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          Aug 8 2011: Marija! I loved your response! I remember that episode vaguely. Perhaps it highlights that we can move forward with technology but that the human touch will always be needed. Your point about poetry is profoundly true!
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          Aug 9 2011: what about putting all the money on training people to learn many languages rather than spending on development of ultimate translation robot? :)
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      Aug 7 2011: COMPLETELY and utterly agree, although maybe the Star Trek translator theory could be slightly debated upon :P
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        Aug 8 2011: Debate Star Trek and its view of the future? It sounds like fun Julian!
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        Aug 9 2011: A translation robot is really not what we need. People talk in the dark, they talk when their hands are full, they talk with their words and their tone of voice and their expressions altogether.
        We all have 100 hours to learn Esperanto (actually the lessons take about 12 hours- the rest is integrating what you know and practicing, to make it your own). Then we have a comfortable language for everyone who doesn't happen to share our mother tongue.
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          Aug 10 2011: Hi Penelope, when I was in highschool there was an Esperanto club and that was almost 40 years ago. If Esperanto is going to take off- it is taking its time!
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    Aug 8 2011: While one billion people remain illiterate, often from ethnic minorities or even majorities, often in Africa, live on one dollar a day, we need to propose the logical solution to multilingualism: maintain mother language instruction as the UN and UNESCO prescribe and the planned international second language, Esperanto.
  • Aug 7 2011: Would a world with _one_ language also be a case of Chimamanda Adichie's "The danger of a single story", when we lose different languages to look at things with?

    It's one thing to only have different words, maybe different sentences - but different languages almost force a different way of thinking...
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      Aug 7 2011: I absolutely agree. Learning a new language can be like seeing the world through a new pair of eyes.
    • Aug 8 2011: Really .......
      PLEASE tell me when did mark say "NO OTHER Languages " HE DIDNT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      he said we should work on the ability to communicate how hopless are we when those that do speak english dont actually understand the words that came out of MARKS mouth !!!!!!
      He said one language to communicate not abolish the others which would harm culture and encourage dementia in older people he only said we should have the option to communcate without a generic one mandatory language AMOUNG THE OTHER LANGUAGES for dummies that need every wrod spelled out for them.!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      • Aug 8 2011: Sure he wasn't asking for that - but think about it from another way - how is this going to continue?

        If everyone spoke English (plus _maybe_ another language or two), you don't think that over time the other languages would fade into obscurity? And the more other languages fall out of use, the more you end up with 'one language'.

        If you think it would be enough that he didn't say 'no other languages!' - then surely, the world must be in a great place, with got knows how many languages. But - languages are dying out already, even before Mark started calling out for 'one language'. Sure, it's simple enough to say they're little used languages anyway, and probably not much of a loss. But to do that, we also have to make ourselves judges of what languages and language idioms are good -- again, leading a path to less diversity.

        One more point - I don't mind arguing with you or anyone, but do you think it helps any discussion to 'SHOUT' or imply other people in the discussion are 'dummies'?

        Surely, my English is far from perfect - I may lose a thing or two in translation or miss a word in a spoken sentence, because I can't look it up without breaking the flow of the spoken word. And in a similar way, it may also be that anything I write might not be quite up to your standards. Still, assuming that if someone says something you don't like, that they must be 'at fault'. Much like you assumed that I wouldn't have understood, I assumed it would be obvious what I meant, when - unfortunately - it wasn't.
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    Aug 5 2011: Language and culture are no mutually separate thing, they rely on one another to be broadened.

    Looking at the few remaining "primitive" or isolated tribes left in the world, a fascinating perspective has arisen from studying their language. Basically language is a contributing factor to culture, and vice versa. The way we use words and what emotions get attached to those words in social circles and in educations... make those words more than just words but symbols.

    EX: 4 = Four
    EX: >(Fish) = Jesus, Pisces, water, etc.

    How we visualize a word, matters in the emphasis we place on the meaning. A similar idea is how we actually READ WORDS... We do not read each individual letter, no, we count, size-up, and analyze as we see if the letter "aligns" up to our memory.


    Now, the question.

    IF societies decides to settle their superficial differences of current cultural religions, trends and rituals, there would be a hand full of language in a matter of a few decades.

    We will have one language? No, because there is definitely life out there, and to make strange aliens learn our jargon without learning their jargon, there are going to be disputes.

    On the topic of language there is a new considered formula to learning languages much quicker.

    Basically, by teaching you all the most commonly used words of that language, basic questions and letter emphasis... you will pick the language much faster when practicing the basics to get from point A to B. Which is really the best way to pick up a language, is when you NEED to.

    Anyways. If the worlds cultures start to blend, so will the languages.
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      Aug 7 2011: As a lover of language, that article is practically orgasmic.
  • Aug 4 2011: I hope not.

    As a non-native speaker, I love English and the fact that you can be understood speaking English in most parts of the world.

    But would I want English as the only language? ...or another? ...or my native language (German)?

    No. Definitely not.

    Only having a single language, has advantages for travelling around the world. On the other hand, speaking multiple languages is something enriching in most other contexts. Your language limits what you are able to think - even having to translate between two languages can sometimes give you insights, you might not have otherwise.
    When I learnt English in school (6 years), in the beginning, we had to get our head around the differences between 'to see' and 'to watch' - in Germany, we 'see TV', in English you 'watch TV'. We have multiple words for seeing/watching, but we don't really make a difference between them, while there is one for English speakers.
    On the other hand, when my English girlfriend was studying philosophy, when we discussed things, she was intrigued that we have two different words for knowledge: Kennen (knowledge based on experience) and Wissen (knowledge derived from learning). In English, you have the words 'morals' and 'ethics' - but they're interchangeable. In Germany, they're mostly not - ethics is the philosophical ethics, morals are based on tradition. "Double standards" in German are "double morals" (Doppelmoral), but there is no real concept of "double ethics" - given that a lot of double morals tend to stem from organically grown 'traditions'. For English speakers, those kinds of divisions might seem as unneccessary as the watching/seeing difference would seem to Germans - but having those differrences makes you think different about various issues.

    Thinking different _can_ be the root of problems, but thinking different is also, what makes progress.

    Was it Wittgenstein who said:

    The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
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    Aug 3 2011: I don't believe that having one language will "cure" disunity amongst cultures/countries. We need to celebrate our differences, it is what makes us human...through respect and dialogue we can cultivate our compassion and understanding to create a peaceful harmony with one another.
    • Aug 5 2011: Why is it exactly that we should celebrate our differences? I've grown used to taking the phrase "X is what makes us human" as a sign of unfounded confidence in one's own opinion.

      Once you look at it rationally, I think it should be clear to most people that differences in culture and language will gradually diminish. That's not a bad thing. It's just darwinism catching hold on culture - outdated culture, outdated social constructs will get deconstructed when they're useless to the current generation. Trying to promote diversity of culture is a way of trying to stop progress and trying to hold on to the past.
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        Aug 5 2011: My mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, sums it up best: "People can only live fully by helping others to live. Cultures can only realize their further richness by honoring other traditions. And only by respecting natural life can humanity continue to exist. "

        How often do you feel that you aren't good enough? How many times have you felt that because of who you are, you won't be able to succeed or because of your background or lifestyle you won't be accepted? Most people feel this way at one time or another. When we are faced with an obstacle or challenge, our insecurities rise up within us. Some of this fear is of being different, but what is important is how we express our differences and how we accept others' differences.

        Diversity is one of the greatest gifts the world has to offer. What kind of world would this be if we were all the same—if we all thought the same, dressed the same, acted the same? There would be little or no growth in society because no fresh ideas would be expressed. How would we learn and develop? SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says, "Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism deeply respects each person's individuality, situation and character and shows the way to display one's particular abilities to the fullest" (Selected Lectures on the Gosho, vol. 1, p. 154).

        Nichiren Daishonin expresses in his writings that "Cherry, plum, peach or apricot blossoms - all, just as they are, are entities possessing their own unique qualities". (Gosho Zenshu, p. 784.)

        Everyone has a specific role to play in society. Furthermore, each individual human life has a different set of experiences to bring to the table. My faith has taught me that all things have a unique beauty and mission. Every person has a singular mission, his or her individuality and way of life. That is the natural order of things. Our mission as humans is discovering what that role is and challenging ourselves to go beyond our limitations.
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        Aug 5 2011: Accordingly, you must bloom in the way that only you can. Without a doubt you possess your own jewel, your own innate talent inside of you. The question is: How can you discover that talent? The only way is to exert yourself to the very limits of your ability. Your true potential will emerge when you give everything you have to your studies or sports or whatever you are engaged in.

        President Ikeda explains further, "'To become inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim' is to realize that our existence flourished within, and even depends on, the beautiful tapestry of human relationships woven together with the people around us" (Selected Lectures on the Gosho, vol. 1, p. 155).
        • Aug 5 2011: I think we may have had a misunderstanding. When you said "we have to celebrate our differences", I thought you meant that we should hold on to the differences in our cultures (language, traditions), with the reasoning that only these differences truly define who we are. Though I myself don't have the kinds of insecurities you describe anymore (I consider myself to have grown past the opinion that I have to be the best at everything - it's enough if I do all I can possibly do and give my best to make my life a positive sum game and be a net gain for humanity).

          I can only agree with most of the things you said in response to my comment: diversity in character and personality must be allowed to flourish, and today's society has too many restrictions, too many social rules that trap people in roles that don't fit them.

          The point I was trying to make was that we should not hold on to old traditions and cultural legacy because it will only hinder cooperation and communication between humans in the future. Humanity has always been a species that has considered itself divided by some arbitrary quality (be that race, nationality, language or cultural heritage), and nowadays, with the dawn of a truly free and anonymous global communications system we can see the walls between different groups vanishing, crumbling away as we read the blogs and comments from people all over the world. We're finally starting to realize that geographic separation doesn't mean inherent incompatibility on a personal level.
        • Aug 5 2011: You could go out there right now and find as many people who agree or disagree with you on a certain issue in your neighborhood as you could find on any Persian or Chinese blog, and the internet and the English language are giving us the tools to finally realize that we're all interconnected. Having a universal language will inevitably lead to us having a universal tool of communication and a universal culture, which will be the true beginning of a global community of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

          What I don't understand is why certain cultures desperately try to hold on to their current ideas of identity. To give an example: the Welsh language is desperately trying to keep itself alive. The older generation is trying to preserve the dying language by encouraging youths to use the language in everyday life. Tell me: what do you think would be the point of preserving a language, or a dance, or a traditional dress, or a social convention, when it is at the brink of natural extinction? Traditions are anachronisms, they get forgotten or replaced by practices that fit the times better. That's how it has always been. It's my humble opinion that holding on to and not questioning traditions is the best way of stopping progress - in fact, it's the only way of stopping progress that's ever been used and, on a global scale, has never been of any use.

          I'd also like to mention that I do not believe that any person has a destiny he or she is supposed to fulfill, or a mission. I believe that the only one there is to give life a meaning is the person itself. Everyone must define his or her own mission, forge his/her own destiny, and not accept that there is such a thing as fate. There is no one "out there" to guide us, and it's our own job to decide what we do with the precious short time we have in this universe.
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        Aug 5 2011: I think this conversation is a really great example of how two people who are speaking the same language are still having having a lack of understanding of what the other person means by what they say.

        I think the bigger issue for the time that we currently live in is how the internet/digitized communications has depersonalized human interaction and the effects that has on life and society.

        Some thoughts in response to your most recent post:

        Do you know for sure that we have a short time in this Universe? Yes, to live for 80-100 years in a given time on Earth seems short in the greater scheme of the "timeline" of the Universe, but do you have any solid proof that our "existence" stops when our Earthly bodies die?

        Furthermore, when someone declares a mission for their life, does that not supply a mission to be fulfilled?

        If someone attaches meaning of importance of a Welsh dance in their life, is that unacceptable? If a group of people who have a list of reasons for why they enjoy their Welsh dance, choose to continue practicing it, and share that happiness it brings them with their family and friends get together to promote it - who has the right to judge them for that?

        Just because you don't have the same fears and insecurities that you did in the past, you still at one time had them. And, there are probably millions of people in the world who have not evolved from the same fears and insecurities.

        Holding on to something that has a defined importance in one's life will only hinder growth if they allow it to.
        • Aug 5 2011: You think the internet and digital communities have dehumanized communication and interaction? Then why are you here? Do you not think that it's human to want to connect to as many people as possible? Do you not think it's human to try to exchange ideas and opinions? How exactly has the technology that has connected the whole globe, from where ever you are to where ever I am, allowing near-instantaneous interaction between anyone in the world, dehumanized us? If anything, it's told us that we're all of the same breed, that these things we like to point out as differences aren't actually important differences at all, and that no matter where we grow up, what religion, culture or language we get taught, we're all humans and are capable of caring for and loving each other.

          I beg of you - let's not turn this into a religious debate. They never end well with me. Usually it ends up with both conversation partners getting angry at each other and stomping off in opposing directions. This conversation was created with another topic in mind, and derailing the thread would be disrespectful to the original poster. Let me just state my opinion: I'm an extremely militant atheist. I don't believe in gods or any supernatural things, (or free will to be honest on an abstract level). In my opinion, the only thing that has ever guided the universe is the laws of physics (and maybe the identity of P and NP). I don't believe in afterlife, heaven or hell. I do however believe in the beauty of the cosmos and the grandness of the scheme that is humanity, and that humanity is capable of so much more than what's happening on the earth right now.
          If you want to talk about spirituality or religion, you're of course free to take it up with me and email me about the topic, as long as we agree to remain civil and rational.

          Yes, a self-defined mission is a mission just fine. I was merely trying to comment on the concept of predetermined roles that we either fulfill or rot in sadness.
        • Aug 5 2011: Finding happiness and joy in the simplest of things is a wonderful thing that one should cherish as much as possible. Everyone has these little things he enjoys to a disproportionate amount. I'm not bashing that. What I'm bashing however is when someone takes an opinion of his own and distills it into the mind of a child and tells this child that this opinion should never be questioned, or this tradition never forgotten. In short, I'm disgusted by the idea of sanctity, of restricting people from doing with their lives, bodies and minds what they wish to do with them in any way.

          I'm aware that many people have such thoughts, and I wasn't trying to sound condescending in any way. If that was the impression I gave you, then please accept my apologies.
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        Aug 5 2011: It looks like you have misunderstood what I said, again. I said "depersonalized", not dehumanized. Those are two very different concepts. By not interacting face to face, heart to heart, how can we truly grasp the meaning of what another human being is discussing with us? Listening is a skill that many humans have difficulty with, no matter what culture, religion, nationality, etc they identify with - even if they are face to face. What someone says, and what we say they said are two very different things. The internet and digitized communications are a relatively new adaptation in human history - for the vast majority of recorded human history, we have communicated face to face. Yes, I agree that there are countless positive benefits of this technology - however, it does add another element of confusion, as things can easily get "lost in translation" ... plus, when someone is not right there in front of you, face to face, the timeframe of which clarification can be given is undefined. If I replied to you in 30 days instead of 30 minutes from when I posted, you would go that entire time thinking that I believe the internet has dehumanized us? Enter judgements, frustrations, etc...

        I have no problem entering into a dialogue of philosophy, I believe that fostering respectful dialogue is what promotes world peace. Just because you have had those experiences in the past, with talks of "religious debates" not ending well, do you believe that your future has nothing more to offer you than the same?

        I agree about physics being the guiding physical force of the Universe, but if you are purely science-based in your philosophy, then I'd like to open up and hear your thoughts on the developments in the field of quantum science/physics. Do you believe that in the future, we will see a coalescence of science and religion in it's findings?
        • Aug 5 2011: I'm sorry to have misread that.
          My opinion is that the anonymity of the internet is a double-edged sword when it comes to this. It's really quite interesting: first off, the ability to converse instantaneously in text-form, without tone of voice, face, skin color, mood or gender to get in the way is a great thing in my opinion. There's no way one can have a prejudice against a genderless, faceless being one knows only as a disembodied opinion. As a visual species, we make a lot of our judgment based on looks - we can't help it, it's the way we evolved. Eliminating the concept of nationality and background enables two people from completely different places in society to talk on the same level, with opinion and intelligence being the only two things that really matter - just the way it should be when exchanging opinions and ideas. Of course, there's also the "youtube comment effect". While this removal of face from argument greatly fosters intellectual discussion, it also makes it easy to see the other as some anonymous voice, with one's own actions not having any consequences. This has the effect that places where many people comment on the same things (in this example, youtube) are places filled with hateful comments filled with bigotry and bile.

          However, I think that this is just a temporary cultural phenomenon. Technology will improve, and the internet is still new and shiny. We still have a lot to learn about how to properly use it. The fact that it can take you hours to communicate with me is just an implementation detail - an instant messenger provides just that: instant messaging, if need be even through video.

          Make no mistake - usually I take every excuse I get to talk with people about religion (I think it's one of the next big issues our society will tackle. In fact, it *is* tackling it right now), and I'm not the kind of person who ever runs away from a debate. I just think we should keep it out of this thread, as it has nothing to do with the topic.
        • Aug 5 2011: I've heard pretty much every argument in favor of religion/god/faith people usually come up with at least twice. Like I said, I'm rather passionate about that topic, so I welcome you to open up that discussion via email.

          I'll answer most recent question of yours with a definite "no". Of course, religion will find its way there - religion is very good with hiding in holes - but ultimately, religion is based on lack of knowledge, and science is the very act of destroying the holes in our knowledge where religion can take shelter. New approaches in quantum mechanics and its intricacies are welcoming to many spiritual pseudoscientific interpretations, but in the end I think that religion will die out.
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        Aug 5 2011: I do agree with you on the notion that to just blindly accept and follow what your elders have told you based purely on tradition is certainly a growth inhibitor.

        In the words of Shakyamuni, "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
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        Aug 5 2011: Yes, humans easily pass judgement based by what they see, those distinctions that you mentioned. But, do you agree that when you thought I said "dehumanized" vs depersonalized, there was a judgement made on me then? Words/language/concepts/ideas are not immune from judgement.

        Yes instant communication alleviates the time factor, but not all people that use the internet use it for an instant experience. Enter the confusion.

        I think the word "religion" has a severely-loaded connotation that has turned a lot of people off due to the violence and bloodshed it has produced over time. I too was one that shunned it for quite some time. I have personally found more knowledge and stability in my Buddhist faith than anything I have ever researched in this life (I've researched Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Bahai, Islam, Wicca, Strega, Norse, Greek/Roman Mythology, Buddhism, and many other various nuanced philosophies). Another thing about it that brings me great comfort is that no matter what crazy theories get thrown my way, even scientific findings, nothing shakes the teachings of Shakyamuni and Nichiren Daishonin. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me. In a respectful theological dialogue I had with an avid Evangelical Christian a few months ago, he listened to the condensed "elevator speech" of my faith and then concluded that I was an Atheist. I gently corrected his judgement and expressed that while I do not believe in God in a Christian definition of the word, I do not believe in an absence of the definition of what the term "God" represents. I do not agree that there is some unmoved mover controlling what goes on, I feel that the Christian representation of "God" is nothing short of what the Greeks and Romans courted for thousands of years... But do I agree that there is a force, a universal law that governs every particle? Yep, sure do.
        • Aug 6 2011: Yes, I did judge you from that concept I thought you had brought forward, but given the circumstances, would you rather I judge you for your opinions and actions or for the way you look like? The fact that concepts aren't immune to criticism is the one thing that allows us to have meaningful conversations.

          About instant communication: you're still only evaluating what people use the internet for right now. You're forgetting that there's a brand new generation of humans growing up with the internet as a normal thing right now. Just because not everybody uses the internet for instant messaging doesn't mean there's some intrinsic lack of quality in the way people communicate over the internet.

          Whether you call what you believe in a religion or spirituality doesn't matter to me. Most people will tiptoe around that and say "Oh, if it isn't a *religion* I guess it's fine.". There's a lot of people who condemn religion because of the bloodshed you've mentioned, and considering what other faiths have collectively done, Buddhism is a peaceful faith. But what I'm railing against is the very concept of believing in something just because you find it comforting, or because you want it to be true, even if there is no evidence whatsoever in your position. The teachings of your mentors might well stand firm as a mountain, but you must remember that no one is infallible, and that it's your responsibility as an intelligent human being to question your own beliefs as much as you question other's.

          I too believe that there's a force governing every particle in the universe. I believe these are the physical laws we've been refining our knowledge of for the last thousand years or so. I don't see any reason to invite mysticism into my belief system, and see no way how one can do so and still have a completely consistent opinion. As soon as you allow one irrational thing into your mind, the consistency of it as a system is broken. You run into paradoxes.
        • Aug 6 2011: Now, you're probably using the teachings of your mentors mostly as guiding advice. That's a good thing, but why do you believe that there's anything more than what we can detect in the universe? I'd kindly like to point you to the idea of "Russel's teapot" to illustrate how irrational such a belief is.

          Mysticism, in every incarnation I have ever heard of, bears you more questions than answers. The idea that something is "unknowable" or "inexplicable" not only leaves us empty-handed, but opens the mind's gates for any other irrational concept to be allowed in. If living things have a "soul", then do other apes? Dogs? Bacteria? Viruses? Fungi? Is there a bacteria heaven? If we all get reborn from the same pool of souls, how can population grow? What are souls made of, and if they don't interact with the physical world, how to they control bodies? If souls interact with the physical world, why haven't we found them? If fate exists, what is free will? How does free will come about in the first place? We can pretty much calculate what a given neuron does on given input in the brain (it'd take a lot of time to calculate, but the standard model is good enough for that), so who says the brain is anything but a big computer?

          You may laugh well about foolish religious people or people who believe in homeopathy, but every irrational belief is as arbitrary as any other. What is this force guiding the universe? Where does it come from? Does it have a mind? What makes you think it even uses the same kind of logic we do? Does it care about humans or just see them as a by-product of the universe? What is this force made of, and is it measurable? You may think inventing an invisible guiding force answers your question, but in fact it only tacks on another layer of mysteries that Occam's razor is quick to tear to shreds.

          From what you said earlier I can infer that you believe in a version of an afterlife. How does that relate to anything you believe?
  • Aug 28 2011: I don't think it's our destiny, as I don't believe in anything souch as "destiny" - due to heisenberg uncertainity principle, exists, but it's certainly a very good idea. I'm also a "Carl Sagan", "Kardashev scale", "Transition from 0 to type I civilisation" and "transhumanism" fan. I think it's essential for humans to "get over" a concept of: border, country, nationalism, race, national identity, organised religion - basically a "local patriotism". Identifying ourselves as humans and inhabitants of earth is perfectly sufficient, if one wants to identify himself at all. And obviously we cannot survive as a species if we don't work together.


    I'm all for bilinguinism Universial world language (sorry English people (stop being so egocentric) you won't dominate world and science for eternity) and mathemathics.

    Or, maybe a single unified language could be created... I'm sure if linguists were not baffling souch trivial issues, they could try working that one out...

    And no, I'm not form New York (as my profile suggests) or any English speaking country for that matter.
    • Aug 29 2011: i heartily agree on your first points. we need everybody to stop thinking of other people as 'others' and instead regard them as fellow humans, equally deserving. also agree with the point about labels. i've often found it strange when for example an audience applauds a tv guest based on where they are from - "so tell me where are you from?" "born and bred in new york!" *applause* - why? because he's from new york that means what? that he's a good person?

      re your point about english though, i get that we shouldn't place preference on english just because it happens to be our language, but english is already set up as a global language. english is the language of computers (my own operating system is in japanese but everything 'under the hood' is in english and so is every other piece of software that runs on it, it has to be), it's also the language of science as ovr 90% of the world's scientific journals are written in english, and english already has the largest vocabulary of any language and is flexible enough to be further expanded. the same cannot be said for any other language.
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      Aug 29 2011: Hi Mr. Anony mouse,

      [Are you related to Micky? ;-)

      QUOTE: "I'm all for bilinguinism Universial world language (sorry English people (stop being so egocentric) you won't dominate world and science for eternity) and mathemathics.

      You probably mean "ethnocentric" ... and I don't think ethnocentricity is really a factor in the process of language's evolution. English, if we want to get technical about it, is not even an "English" language; it evolved and developed. It is an accretion of countless Indo-European and other languages.

      As we interact with groups of people, people who use different words to describe our common world, we tend to merge our languages. If we live in isolation, we tend to create our own unique language. So, what happens, in the future, isn't really about what we "want" ... it will be about what we "do."

      If we interact globally, we will have a global language. It is inevitable. (I have guessed it would be an amalgamation of all languages with a strong core of English, Chinese, and Spanish. It's just a guess.)

      If, through circumstance, we interact more locally, in isolation, we will develop more languages than we have now. Again, it will be inevitable.

      Languages are not planned any more than species are, they evolve and adapt to the environment.

      QUOTE: "Or, maybe a single unified language could be created... I'm sure if linguists were not baffling souch trivial issues, they could try working that one out..."

      I do not think a created language is a viable option ... at least not for a "universal language." It has been tried many times (and is being tried, even now.)
      • Aug 29 2011: No, unfortunately my name is disambiguation of word "anonymous" is was supposed to have no relation to Micky Mouse.

        Yes, I believe "ethnocentric" would be more appropriate word. I was referring to it in context of being an universial language - which is not yet, and will not neccessarily be a universial language.

        I believe it's invetable, world will get more globalised over time and some kind of language influence will certainly happen. Maybe "English, Chinese, Spanish" like you mention.

        Current thrend seems to be leaning in globalization favour. But I agree with you on that standpoint.

        Arguably mathemathics and computer languages are engineered, and they are pretty widespread and successful. When referring to "universial language" I was thinking more about something in context of unifying "more linguistic examples of language", logic and mathemathics for example or "universial language of mind" - if you like.

        Sure it would require huge ammount of processing power to create it, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. It's success would be another issue, but imagine implications of souch tool.
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          Aug 29 2011: QUOTE: "No, unfortunately my name is disambiguation of word 'anonymous'"

          Yes, I saw that. That was why I added the ... ;-)

          I see your point about math and code.

          I was thinking more in terms of human speech - which is what I suspect Mr Wagner was speculating about.

          I suppose on some level we might consider music a universal (and very human) language. I am amazed at music's capacity to communicate emotion.
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      Sep 1 2011: I whole-heartedly agree with you, Mr. Anony mouse, in regards to your comment: " Identifying ourselves as humans and inhabitants of earth is perfectly sufficient, if one wants to identify himself at all." BRAVO! Just think of how much prejudice could be erased if only EVERYONE in the world were to drop those other 'identifiers'...if there were no distinction made between Gentile/Jew, Gay/Straight, Male/Female, etc...If we all were to be able to just view ourselves AND one another as a fellow human being, period, and then if we all worked in concert with one another to improve the lives of ALL humans, what wonderful changes might that bring?
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    Aug 26 2011: Hugo--

    I rather doubt it is our destiny to be one world with one language. In fact, I think diversity is more likely our destiny.

    As with all human realities, diversity can be and indeed has been a constructive agent. Without variation, we cease to be human. Without human characteristics and distinction, we can't grow and learn. Without growth, we can't develop intelligence. Without intelligence humanity regresses. Without humanity, economic and cultural change regresses.

    While it would seem that homogeneity would conveniently solve the problem of cooperation, it doesn't. It simply dulls humans, and in doing so, society. Society needs reasons to grow beyond its limitations, not regress back into them.

    Imagine English without the influences of other languages? Imagine a global future developed without the iterative influences of myriad and diverse languages?

    It would be akin to programmers having never progressed beyond DOS computer language. Had they not, we wouldn't be communicating here unless we knew how DOS programming code. And with the further developed ability to translate other human languages no-less, thanks to online translation technologies.

    So: vive la difference! It's good for our destiny.

    • Aug 26 2011: I fully agree with you but I'd also like to take your statement one step farther along. Yes, the multiplicity of languages will continue but, more importantly, individuals will know more and more languages. What is growing isn't English but multilingualism. Not long ago, someone said that of all the people all over the world who use English for work, most go home and use at least one other language -- monolingualism in English is dying out.

      The message is that all human beings are language learners (throughout their lives). The easier communication gets, the easier it will be for anyone, young or old, to add a language that they need for any purpose that's important to them. And the more multilinguals there are in the world, the easier cooperation and finding mutually beneficial solutions will get, I believe.
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        Aug 27 2011: Harold,

        To echo your thoughts and how they lay out in the context of my Western country.

        Though English is perceived as the primary language in the United States,multilingualism is as you assert, becoming the rule rather than the exception. Not only are students required to take a second language. But, as you point out, ever more families speak one or more other language at home.

        In non-immigrant families, learning another language in perceived as a sign of intelligence. In immigrant and ex-patriot families it is somewhat less glamorized, but nonetheless does demonstrate intelligence. Many value the cultural benefits of multilingualism. And nearly all see, transcending monolingualism as economically expedient.

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    Aug 25 2011: If loosing the archaic notion of "countries" to win the notion of Planet (as only human's real country) requires embracing one language at the price of loosing others, I'm all for it.

    Of course we loose stories and part of our history but, in such scenario, the benefits will largely outweigh the price.

    *I'm not an english native speaker
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    Aug 25 2011: What a great question. I tend to think we'll see a single translation device as opposed to a single language. It certainly makes things easier when I speak the language of whatever country I visit. However, with the incredible advancements in technology, medicine, and communication I find it hard to believe that the human race will learn a single language before it figures out how to use a single device to understand another dialect. We are moving toward a world with driver-less cars and transplants involving organs grown in petri dishes. Is it such a leap to see everyone with a device that can detect a language and translate a response?

    As for the cultural changes, it's very hard to say what the impact would be. Language has always been such a significant part of one's culture because it was a defining trait distinguishing it from others. Throughout human history any time a cultural trait was adopted in other regions, the original culture still found a way to distinguish itself through other traits. If it did not, we would see it gradually evolve into something entirely new. Although it appears a little frightening, I don't lament such changes. Through such processes, room is often made for something entirely new that we simply can't comprehend in our current environment.

    Thanks for the very interesting debate, Hugo!
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    • Aug 21 2011: it is hard to believe that the translation software will be able to translate accurately. in some languages the meaning of some words depend extremely much on the context, thus in order to translate accurately, we'd need to program our translation devices to fully understand an entire conversation or even remember previous conversations. Anyway, even if not fully accurate, it would still be usable, but just want to point out that it won't be the same as speaking the same language.
  • Aug 8 2011: Artificial intelligence could provide autotranslation that would make it totally unnecessary to speak another language.

    If you study your linguistics, you will find that languages are forever changing. A single world language - a universal first language - could not naturally remain stable.

    What would work - if it could be established - would be a universal second language, whether is it is natural language like English or an invented one like Esperanto. I feel both possibilities are rather unlikely.

    Regardless, English, as a natural language, would continue to evolve, and in fact there are - insensibly - different versions of Esperanto, as various nations all form their own Esperanto societies.
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    Sep 3 2011: The operative word here is 'common'. 0f course people will always speak in the language they learnt at home. But I do not think any other language can compete with English (how about calling it Earthish?) as a common language. Sure there are millions more who speak Mandarin? but what do they speak when abroad? There is no doubt that the home language will eventually be English for most people
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    Aug 31 2011: I wouldn't want that. It implies a uniformity of thought and deed that could easily become tyrannical. I like the fact that diverse nation states with their cultural diversity constitute a testing laboratory for ideas, that, when they fail, don't bring down the entire civilization as it has almost done in the economic sphere where a set of monopolistic financial institutions become too big to fail yet are run by short term thinking idiots. Monopoly is to be feared. People who use mathematics are already using a single language. That's about as far as I'd want to go. If anything, we'll become bilingual, speaking our native language and the lingua franca that emerges via international commerce.
    • Sep 1 2011: Yes, one world with one language, the idea gives me shivers. It is as Mr Radtke said above: "a uniformity of thought and deed", which people shoud be feared to. Yes, with one language maybe we can communicate our ideas better, but it may also have a serious downside: no change. Diversity, arguments and different ways of thinking give us sparkles, and these sparkles are exactly the things that advance our society. I would think the better way is like as Mr Radtke said above: "become bilingual, speaking our native language and the lingua franca that emerges via international commerce".
      • Sep 2 2011: @both:

        How exactly does it imply uniformity of thought and based on what evidence should we (be afraid)/(get emotional) of/over it? Nobody is mentioning any stationary state here - you are predisposing it, language could evolve and constantly stream towards perfection and correctness (logic) and always increase in complexity, but as a whole not locally. Also, there are arts for people who want to be creative in non logical manner. Maybe you are forgetting our experimental time is running out, and there are other factors besides the suicidal behaviour and stupidity of our species in play.
  • Aug 27 2011: In more and more places and situations (could be countries, regions, job-types, corporations and so forth) "transcending monolingualism" isn't simply economically (job, profession, business etc) expedient (or necessary) but it's also socially (personal, family, cultural etc) and politically (among social groups of all kinds) either expedient or necessary.

    My prediction is that the "Three Language Solution" (already a language policy in some countries) will become essentially universal: (1) a family language, (2) a day-to-day life-in-community language and (3) a work-place language. Of course, it's possible that one language might serve all three contexts, but with globalization, having two languages is becoming inevitable, so adding on a third (and fourth) isn't a big deal now and will become even easier in the near future. And in the process, many (minority or disappearing) languages will be strengthened, not weakened or abandoned.
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    Aug 27 2011: If the the current trend continues, almost all people on the globe will be able to speak a common language (possibly English?) over the next generation or two.
    But this does not mean other languages will (or should) die out.
    One world, one language is not the solution to our problems, nor will it be the rule. However, one common language that all can use will be a very useful tool in our ever increasing toolbox.

    Photography didn't kill paintings - it's better at some things and has proven to be an extremely useful tool, but photography can't give you the subjective perspective a painting can.
    This is what I feel about the importance of diversity of languages - we need all these different ways of thinking and feeling and seeing the world if we really want to mature as an intelligent civilization.
    The solution is to have expressive practical languages (art, technology) that can share these different perspectives to generate new ideas and experience the world as a shared community.

    One language would stunt diversity and growth, and is therefore an evolutionary disadvantage; we cannot, and will never, have only one language.

    (Unless, some how, all the different unique ideas in all the languages of the world [including computer coding languages, mathematics, etc] could be consolidated into one massively diverse, expressive, yet efficiently logical language... I think we would have to genetically modify our brains to hold that much abstract cognition in one mind).
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      Aug 27 2011: I agree with you. Languages doesn't just serve one purpose, just like painting isn't just for merely depicting what is there.
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    Aug 26 2011: It seems to me that we are heading towards a common language, and I'd really love to live to see it. Languages are part of our self and our culture, but needless to say, they also separate us from other cultures.
    I've read a lot of your feedbacks and I've noticed that some people worry about loosing their roots if we had a common language. Contrarily, a common language would allow us to embrace other cultures, other values and other people because we would be able to understand them. A common language doesn't mean abolishing our native and familiar language. Being bilingual; means being able to express ourselves and being understood by everyone. It means sharing our ideas, our values, even our culture in our own words, without needing translators, and making ambiguities impossible.
  • Aug 26 2011: i'm sure we are heading towards a world with a common language because it's essential for being able to understand each other. i was watching a TED talk not so long ago where in dubai, the speaker argued "would you refuse a dutch scientist who'd discovered the cure for cancer entry to your university just because he couldn't speak english?" the answer is actually yes you would, because not being able to understand dutch, you wouldn't know he had discovered the cure for cancer. some might argue that translators can assist in these situations, but this is impossibly impractical in the modern world, since such a translator would also have to be an expert in the field in which the communication is taking place or their lack of comprehesion of the subject matter would prevent them from adequately translating meaning.

    that being said, i think this common lanugage will mostly be a second language, and that most of us will continue to use our mother tongues at home or our local area. also it's clear to me that common language won't break down barriers. most crimes are committed against fellow countrimen and even often neighbours. the world won't come together while people who maintain an 'us and them' mindset exist.
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    Aug 25 2011: Let me grab my crystal ball.
  • Aug 24 2011: I always thought that would be an easier way but it would ruin our world. There would be no diversity and then our destiny would be conforming. I'm not willing to give up my liberties for a stable job.
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    Aug 18 2011: For me it's more about connecting and communicating than the language we use. If we can connect at a fundamental level so we 'get' where that other person is coming from, I don't care if it's sign language or silence. Martha Beck had shared how she really learned to understand her child through silence. It was about the spaces and what to do within them that brought them closer together.

    I live in a bilingual country and there is way too much discussion about which language to use or that we have to use both. There are language police in Quebec. That creates barriers rather than connection.
  • Aug 17 2011: I've thought about it times and times,but no idea
    I belive God made us in different shapes,languages,behaviours,... to learn
    But I believe that it will be very great progress to have one unity named WORLD
    everybody help eachother
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    Aug 13 2011: I don't believe that will be the case, however, some areas of expertise will develop their own language. Like in cooking, where French is commonly used, or in medicin, where most terms some from Latin, each specialty will develop its own jargon. Next to that, each culture will keep its own language for day-to-day routines and conversations.
  • Aug 13 2011: A single language will never be possible. Countries are like people. They are individualistic. They are unlikely to give up a trait that so define them. Plus in many cultures words exist that are not equivalent in other cultures. One universal language for business is possible. One international language. But people will still speak their mother tongue. Chinese will not be a universal language. Too late. English is spoken by nearly everyone. There is no incentive to learn Chinese unless you live in China. Even Chinese business people know English. China is mainly an export country not import. They need to learn English so that they can speak with people in many countries. The people in those countries do not need to know Chinese to buy products.
  • Aug 11 2011: Just 2 weeks learning Esperanto can get you months ahead in your target language
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    Aug 10 2011: Hi Debra, it feels that way, by a human life span but languages, like Redwoods, grow slower.
    English is over 1500 years old and it was a dying language for 300 years before Chaucer. Even the Anglo-Saxon chronicles were abandoned because English was sooo yesterday.
    A few decades waxing or waning are nothing much to a language. Hebrew was also in more severe doldrums than Esperanto has ever been, yet it is strong today.
    Esperanto will prevail in the end because it is utilitarian, it benefits people at a competitive rate.
    It will serve more people sooner as English-speakers realize that bilingualism is good for their children's brains and that this is the quickest and most flexible form of bilingualism available.
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    Aug 9 2011: We should have one language everyone should know how to speak. Communicating would be much easier. And communication is the key to a lot of success. But we should never abandon picking up another language. It only expands the thought of what what our minds can accomplish.
  • Aug 9 2011: Dear Mathieu, thank you for replying my question. I disagree with some points of your answer but it comforts me the fact that you "like" Esperanto. As an esperantist, I deeply believe that it is a possible universal language for humanity.
    I wish you very good luck.
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    Aug 9 2011: Yes but only to understand each other. Not lose our own language.
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    Aug 9 2011: Just a fan fact, the European Union spends over one billion dollars a year on translation costs, and employs a batallion of thousands of translators.