The Danger of a ‘Global Language
With over 350 million people speaking English across the world as a first language and over 430 million speaking it as their second language, many people consider this to no longer be a language of Great Britain but rather one of the world.
There has been a need for a ‘global language’ that stretches back as far as the 1600’s. One of the many examples of can be found in the celebrated book Utopia by Sir Thomas Moore. My grandfather has a copy of this book, published in 1649 in Amsterdam. However, this copy is not written in English or Dutch as you may assume. Instead, it is written in Latin.
During this time, Latin was employed as a medium between different countries and their cultures. For the majority, it was the language used in intellectual or religious debates, it was also the language of hymn and prayer.
As the local language and dialects of countries that used Latin became more standardised and documented, they grew in strength. The most prominent text coming from this being the King James Bible. This text passed throughout the world like wildfire. And hence, English took the place of Latin as the language of religion.
In the 400 years since this publication, the English language has become a virus, stretching over politics, commerce and social media. Mainly the result of colonisation, this language covers areas in all continents of the world.
I recently attended a debate in Mawella Vocational Training Centre, Tanzania. It discussed the pros and cons of replacing Kiswahili with English in schools, making it the language in which all lessons are taught. The debate was, of course, in English, and the arguments of the proposing team greatly outweighed that of the opposing.
Alongside the argument of English being the language of trade, peace, war and exchanging ideas, they also made the point that English brought with it the knowledge of the West. Without this knowledge things like female genital mutilation and the issues surrounding female inheritance of land, for example, would still be strife in the country today. Something which, they argued, could be generalised to other countries in Africa too.
With 56% of the internet being in English and 80% of the world’s information stored in the language too, it can seem like a no-brainer – we are already half way there, if not then more, so let’s finish the job.
The debate in Mawella concluded with a swift win for the proposing team, their arguments were thought out, backed up and their English was vastly better than that of the opposing side. However, the opposing team had one incredibly strong argument – Kiswahili is a part of the identity and culture of Tanzania.
In Scotland, English became the standardised language in not only in schools, but also in businesses and in our government. For all of the aforesaid reasons, this is a good thing. However, since this has happened Scotland’s national language has all but died out.
Occasionally, in the Highlands, you will find road signs that direct you in English and have a Gaelic translation below. Now, with fewer than 1.1% of the population being able to speak Gaelic fluently, the language is coming to an end. With this, a portion of the tradition, history and identity of Scotland comes to an end too. All of these things weave together to form a culture that is different from others in the world, and cultural diversity matters.
Not only does the multiplicity of culture open up new market opportunities, but it also develops human compassion and a richness in opinion and identity. A large percentage of this diversity is language, as the way that people communicate, show respect or convey tradition can be very dependent on this.
Without this range, we could become very vulnerable to evolving into a homogenous mass. Not only would this leave no room for debates like the one I attended in Tanzania, but it would also create a world without separate cultures. And isn’t that mixture of culture and people what makes this world such a beautiful one to live in, to study and explore? I think so.
The idea of a ‘global language’ is a good one, it allows communication between countries, their governments and their people all across the world. It makes the trade of goods and ideas between these countries easier and it could be the start of a global opinion that defies inequalities and discrimination. If this language is English, Latin or something entirely different and new, it does not matter, what does matter is that we remember how important diversity is, not only to us as individuals but also on a much larger scale.