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Debate: World language

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Should everyone speak and be taught the same language? What language should it be?

Background and context

Since the demise of Latin in the 15th century the world has lacked an official language of communication. The EU has two working languages (French and English) while the UN has six (French, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, English and Spanish). Debatabase itself is available in two languages (English and Russian). Many have since argued that it would be easier and contribute to global harmony if we could agree on one standard language. In fact L. L. Zamenhof created Esperanto specifically for this purpose at the end of the 19th century. However since then many have viewed English as a de-facto global language with local dialects like Singlish being spoken in many corners of the globes. The advance of English is resisted within many cultures who see language as an essential component of identity as well as a key tool for accessing the history and literatures of individual peoples.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Allowing free communication helps people to understand other people and their culture. The more links and common cultural references that exist between people, the less likely they are to want to attack one another. Therefore a global language could help to further peace and harmony in the world.

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No

Language is often seen as a badge of identity and more conflict may be created if the global community is seen to prefer one language over another. Even ‘neutral’ languages like Esperanto use the Latin alphabet and are based on Romance grammar rules. These do not reflect global diversity and can be especially difficult to learn for those whose languages do not use words or alphabets but rather characters like Chinese or Japanese. If groups or individuals feel unable to express themselves (or are ignored because they do so outside the official language) they are likely to feel frustrated and angry.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Works of poetry, songs and novels could be translated into just one language providing access for everyone to a diverse range of culture. This would be equally true of scientific and technical information as well as teaching staff and institutions.

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No

Translation is not always successful in preserving ideas or literary constructions meaning cultural diversity may be lost. However many new works a global language would provide access to, true appreciation is best gained from studying them in the language in which they were written. By reducing the use of other languages we risk cutting people off from historical documents and literature in their old languages, works which often carry emotional or religious significance. Understanding of some languages may be lost altogether if they are not spoken everyday.

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Argument #3

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Yes

If everyone spoke the same language it would be much easier for people to move and work in different countries or to conduct trade with each other. This could promote trade and re-distribute wealth between countries. This already happens in countries which speak the same languages, for example the outsourcing of call-centre work from the UK and America to India where they have a high level of spoken English

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No

Picking just one language disadvantages those whose languages are replaced especially if they are unable or unwilling to use the new language. It would be extremely practically difficult and expensive to teach everyone the new language, especially when literacy levels, even in their own language are very low in some countries. Those without good enough language skills may find it hard to get a job at all, thereby disadvantaging those without access to good education.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Translation in business or politics can be very expensive and time consuming. With a global language this will be cheaper and quicker as well as reducing the potential for misunderstanding.

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No

Meaning is given to words by their cultural context rather than a dictionary definition. This means people from different cultures may use the same word to mean different things in different contexts, even when speaking the same language. Crucial cultural distinctions maybe overlooked if translation is no longer considered.

Motions

  • This House believes in a global language
  • This House would abandon mother-tongue education
  • This House would adopt English/Spanish/Chinese as the global language

This debate in legislation, policy, and elsewhere

See also

External links and resources:

Books

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