There are roughly 5,000 or so languages in use in the world today. There have
been grandiose plans by people in the past to create a universal language for the world.
One example is a language published by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof over 100 years ago called
“Esperanto,” meaning “One who hopes.” This language has no culture attached to it; it
was created for the sole purpose of world communication. Not many people have even
heard of this language, let alone use the language at all. It sounded great to Dr.
Zamenhof to create this language, I’m sure, but let’s look at how realistic it is. Could this
world one day have a functioning universal language?
Let’s for a moment set aside the fact that there are thousands of languages spoken
all over the world. Could it be feasible to get everyone on the same “sheet of music” per
se? Maybe we could use a smaller scale. Let us use the United States for example.
Better yet, Old Dominion University. We have many factors that need to be taken into
account. The three most prominent could be age groups, ethnicity, family and friends. I
think everyone has heard the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In this
case the “dog” would be humans. It may not be that you can’t teach them, but maybe
they just don’t want to learn. If someone has been speaking a certain language, or even
in a certain way his or her entire life, who are we to ask them to change? Maybe a certain
way of speaking or language is a person’s heritage. Who are we to ask them to forget it?
We all have certain words and phrases that we use amongst our family and friends.
Could someone ever stop that from happening?
Language is something that cannot feasibly be regulated. I’d have to say that yes,
a universal language could have its conveniences. One would be able to travel all
around the world and always know what was being said. If you ran into trouble, you
know that whomever would be able to understand you if you asked for help. But could a
universal language be exactly the same everywhere? Just within the United States there
are so many variances in slang and dialect that if a person from California were to travel
to Boston, he might not understand something said in a conversation. For example, I
have a friend from Indiana that I served with in the military. We were on our way out to
dinner one night, and he mentioned that he needed to stop by the money-mover. Money-
mover? What the heck was that? Were we speaking the same language? I then realized
he must have been talking about an ATM machine. He explained that it must have been
an “Indiana thing.” To him, it was a machine that “moved” money from place to place;
therefore, it was a money-mover. He thought it was strange that I called it am ATM. But
to me, it was an Automated Teller Machine, thus the acronym ATM. It seemed obvious
where ATM came from, since most ATM’s at least have the words “automated teller”
printed right on the machine. So you see, something as simple as getting cash before
going out to eat was a problem. We both spoke the same language; we were from the
same country, yet we still have out differences.
Let’s not forget about different generations in the United States and their
terminology. The younger generations are continuously creating and re-creating words
and lingo to match their own personality and ever-changing culture. I’m sure that if an
elderly person were to listen to a random conversation between students on campus, there
would be at least a few words that were misunderstood, even in the most conservative of
conversations. I consider myself to be very conservative and I’d like to think that I have
a decent grasp on the English language. However, I’ve still had to explain a phrase or
two in my day to family members who didn’t understand. My grandfather would often
use a phrase to describe someone whom he found humorous. “You’re such a card!” he
would say. A card??? I had to ask what that meant the first time he said it in front of me.
Then there’s my parent’s generation. Things were very “groovy” back then. Oh really?
Well nowadays, they’re “off the hook.”
Bottom line is that it would be very hard to enforce a universal language, or even
get everyone on earth to learn it. Ideally, you’d have to wait for all the old-timers to die
off, since they wouldn’t want to change, force everyone to forget about their heritage, and
have everyone, no matter his age group or location, use the same terminology. But
once the older generations start to die, then the middle-aged folks take their place. So
you see, it really would have to be forced onto everyone, including those set in their
ways. Next thing you know, my mom would be calling me from California saying that
she went to the money-mover last night so she could go to the new mall with her amigos
today because it was “off the hook.” I’d think she had gone mad!
Could our world have a universal language? Even if we had a universal language,
there would be different dialects no matter where we went. People would still use code
words within their circles, whether it is a community circle, family circle, or circle of
friends. Language is part of what makes us unique individuals. If we take that away or
try to make us all the same, what would be interesting anymore?
22 years old freshman at Old Dominion University
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