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  #1  
Old 10-23-2013, 04:36 PM
Roderick Femm Roderick Femm is offline
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Would the world be better (in any way) if everyone spoke the same (and only) language?

In the city where I live (San Francisco) one can hear dozens of languages spoken on the streets other than English. If you are just overhearing conversations, it doesn't matter. But often I have to try to understand other people who have a limited grasp of English or who have a heavy accent. Even my SO, who has been in the U.S. for 40+ years, has not improved in either understanding nor pronunciation of English in the 22 years we have been together.

In Ursula LeGuin's novel "The Lathe of Heaven", at one point everyone is turned a sort of uniform grey color, in order to remove racism from the world.(I don't think it worked, there was some unintended consequence that I don't remember.).

What would be the unintended negative consequence if suddenly, overnight, the world changed so that everyone had always spoken the same dialect of the same language? I don't care what language (it needs to be a modern, fully realized language, however), just that we all wrote, spoke and could understand the same tongue.

The benefits would, I think, be obvious - better understanding between all people. Even cultural differences would be minimized, since language is so strongly tied to culture.

One big negative consequence I can think of is the loss of cultural richness as represented by different languages, their literature, and the different ways they express the human experience. Are there others? Would the benefit be worth the price?


Roddy
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  #2  
Old 10-23-2013, 04:42 PM
Ethilrist Ethilrist is offline
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Well, it'd put a lot of translators out of work... travel would be a lot easier on the relatively uninformed. Given that some universities now offer their courses online free of charge, international education levels might rise sharply once the language barrier is eliminated.
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  #3  
Old 10-23-2013, 04:48 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
I don't care what language (it needs to be a modern, fully realized language, however), just that we all wrote, spoke and could understand the same tongue.
Can you define "modern, fully realized language," please?
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  #4  
Old 10-23-2013, 04:52 PM
Czarcasm Czarcasm is online now
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How long before regional dialects reassert themselves?
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  #5  
Old 10-23-2013, 04:58 PM
Lasciel Lasciel is offline
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I'm not the OP, but I'm guessing that by "modern" it has native terms for modern ideas and realities. For "fully-realized" I'd say that it has to have spoken and written forms, and consistent rules for using them both that most people are aware of and adhere to.

I think that a lot of interesting ideas and concepts that are very-well-expressed in one language but not another would potentially be lost, unless this is a magical language that somehow incorporates the best term for each idea from whatever existing language has it. I'm thinking of schadenfreude, verklempt or mensch, agape vs philia vs eros - things like that.

I also think that it wouldn't be long before populations began to diverge and TRY to make their use of this single language distinctive and different in order to delineate themselves as part of a particular group. Language is waay too powerful and seductive a tool to not use it for that purpose.
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  #6  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:13 PM
Roderick Femm Roderick Femm is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
Can you define "modern, fully realized language," please?
No, I can't. I was only trying to avoid gotcha's like what if the language was Inuit that has no word for sunshine (or some such). If you think the specific language is relevant to the thread, please expatiate on that theme to your heart's content.

Lasciel and Charredcasm, I think you are probably right, but let's play the game by assuming that such divergence would not happen; with modern communication I think it is possible, at least, that there would be a "received" version of the language for a long time that everyone would understand.


Roddy
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  #7  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:14 PM
Inner Stickler Inner Stickler is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lasciel View Post
I think that a lot of interesting ideas and concepts that are very-well-expressed in one language but not another would potentially be lost,
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  #8  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:18 PM
Roderick Femm Roderick Femm is offline
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Originally Posted by Inner Stickler View Post
Care to elaborate? It seems like a reasonable point to me.


Roddy
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  #9  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:24 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
No, I can't. I was only trying to avoid gotcha's like what if the language was Inuit that has no word for sunshine (or some such). If you think the specific language is relevant to the thread, please expatiate on that theme to your heart's content.
I wasn't trying to gotcha you. I don't believe in gotchas.

But as to what the language is:

If everyone remains fluent in their milk tongues while simultaneously becoming fluent in the new one, then most people will continue to use their milk tongues among their own countrymen, but translators will be put out of work. I don't expect there will be much increase in understanding other cultures, as the magical nature of the learning will short-circuit the necessarily-slow process of putting oneself in another's shoes that is involved in becoming fluent in a new language.

If people lose their knowledge of their milk tongues when magically given the ability to speak the new, there will be a lot of resentment, methinks. "Who did this to me? I'm French, I don't want to be forced to speak English! What gives anyone the right to force this change on me!"
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  #10  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:28 PM
Qin Shi Huangdi Qin Shi Huangdi is offline
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Yes, there would be enormous savings in costs and assimilation would be encouraged and increased by such an occurrence.
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  #11  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:32 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Originally Posted by Qin Shi Huangdi View Post
Yes, there would be enormous savings in costs and assimilation would be encouraged and increased by such an occurrence.
With the added benefit of destroying minority cultures!
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  #12  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:35 PM
DocCathode DocCathode is offline
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Esperanto

Esperanto is an artificial, though modern and fully realized, language. It was invented by a man (as we shall see, an idiot) who felt that if everybody spoke the same language, there would be no misunderstandings and no conflicts. A second's thought shows that siblings tend to speak the same language and also tend to fight a great deal.
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  #13  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:47 PM
Inner Stickler Inner Stickler is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
Care to elaborate? It seems like a reasonable point to me.


Roddy
Without german, you think we wouldn't have a way of expressing the concept of 'taking joy in another's misery'? Things don't have to be expressed in one word in order to be a concept in a language.
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  #14  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:53 PM
Dr. Drake Dr. Drake is online now
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Why not just have everyone be bilingual? You can have your home language (preserving diversity and all of its good stuff), and an international language such as Latin (ca. 1013) or English (ca. 2013) which would facilitate all of the stuff in the OP?

The only difference between this and what we have now is to reform the world's educational systems to take two languages into account everywhere. (Even native English speakers would need some adjustments so their accents / dialects didn't get in the way.)
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  #15  
Old 10-23-2013, 05:57 PM
monstro monstro is offline
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I'll add a little the hypothetical and say that in this new world order, not only would the same language be spoken, the same dialect and accent would also be used. You wouldn't be able to tell what culture or nation a person was from just by listening to their voice.

I think human society would benefit from this, overall. What's an easy way to dehumanize or denigrate a group of people? Make fun of the way they speak. The way we speak marks not just our culture, but also our class/socioeconomic background. You can wear all the "right" clothes and drive the "right" car, but you'll be treated differently if you drop "fixin'" and "ain't" into your speech too many times. We use language to separate "us" from "them". Homogenizing language would be removing one barrier that separates us, and this would be a good thing.

Of course, there's a trade-off to any bright idea. It is said that the full beauty of the Koran can only be expressed through Arabic; a lot of meaning is apparently lost in translation. Personally, I like saying "fixin'" (and "fitna"), and I like hearing how other people's expressions and pronunciations. We WOULD probably get along better if we all spoke the same, but we would also get along better if we all had the same amount of wealth or if we all had identical genomes. There are more important things, I guess, than simply getting along better.
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  #16  
Old 10-23-2013, 06:49 PM
Roderick Femm Roderick Femm is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
I wasn't trying to gotcha you. I don't believe in gotchas.

But as to what the language is:

If everyone remains fluent in their milk tongues while simultaneously becoming fluent in the new one, then most people will continue to use their milk tongues among their own countrymen, but translators will be put out of work. I don't expect there will be much increase in understanding other cultures, as the magical nature of the learning will short-circuit the necessarily-slow process of putting oneself in another's shoes that is involved in becoming fluent in a new language.

If people lose their knowledge of their milk tongues when magically given the ability to speak the new, there will be a lot of resentment, methinks. "Who did this to me? I'm French, I don't want to be forced to speak English! What gives anyone the right to force this change on me!"
I wasn't supposing you were. But this wasn't quite the idea. I was suggesting that the change would be historically retroactive (I guess you never read The Lathe of Heaven, no-one was aware of the change except the person whose power caused it to happen) so everyone would be speaking their native tongue, which would be the same for everyone. There would be no second language for anyone.

I think that monstro has expressed this pretty well.

It occurs to me that not only differences in culture would disappear but also many national boundaries (and disputed areas) are founded on the language spoken. There would still be religious differences, but I'm not clear how these would result in geo-political divisions. Probably they would end up being based more on geographic features.

DocCathode, the trouble with Esperanto is that almost no-one ever wanted to learn to speak it. Esperanto would be as good a candidate as any other for this hypothetical universal native language, however. And did the inventor really think that it would end all conflict or only that it would contribute to mutual understanding? I am not supposing the former, but the latter seems likely to me.


Roddy

Last edited by Roderick Femm; 10-23-2013 at 06:50 PM..
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  #17  
Old 10-23-2013, 07:05 PM
Inner Stickler Inner Stickler is offline
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It would also irrevocably destroy mountains-worth of historical data relating to past populations' movements and migrations.
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  #18  
Old 10-23-2013, 07:53 PM
shijinn shijinn is offline
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imho a language frames and shapes our thoughts. it would be like asking a painter to use only a single shade. we would lose more than just our past. besides, whence this idea that a single language would reduce conflict? people fight over whether shoes are on or off in the house.
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  #19  
Old 10-23-2013, 08:05 PM
Not Carlson Not Carlson is offline
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It would remove the risk of misunderstanding in international politics ("We will bury you!") and the difficulties of communication in international relationships (such as my own marriage), and as monstro said, it would remove some idiosyncrasies that are often used to denigrate and dehumanize foreign cultures.

However, it would certainly not achieve global harmony. That would require everyone to hold the same spiritual and political beliefs, share the same skin colour, support the same football team, and unanimously agree that cats are better house pets than dogs.

And even then . . . Heck, even if all of humanity was made up of clones taken from a single person, I'm sure that divisions and conflicts would still arise. (Unless that single person was Mister Rogers.)

I think it's in our nature to look for differences that we can exploit to assuage our own insecurities.
Generally speaking, the more alike people are, the harder it is for them to hate each other.

So I suppose a universal (and single) language would go some way toward reducing cultural conflict, but at the cost of reducing cultur.
And that is the biggest drawback to having only one language--the great loss of cultural diversity.

Also, the great loss of a convenient tool for humor!
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  #20  
Old 10-23-2013, 09:27 PM
robert_columbia robert_columbia is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lasciel View Post
I'm not the OP, but I'm guessing that by "modern" it has native terms for modern ideas and realities. For "fully-realized" I'd say that it has to have spoken and written forms, and consistent rules for using them both that most people are aware of and adhere to....
This is basically my understanding too. A "fully realized" language is one that has been used meaningfully on a large scale in modern societies (e.g. it isn't just spoken by a primitive tribe in the Amazon where they barely know what a computer is, and certainly don't have any way of talking about general protection faults), and that has a meaningful written form in which a wide variety of things are published (e.g. not just one or two religious texts, but modern newspapers, academic textbooks, novels, biographies, technical documentation, travel guides, poetry, etc.).

Obvious examples of "fully realized" languages would include virtually every national European language (English, German, French, Hungarian, Swedish, Modern Greek, Spanish, Romanian, Russian, etc.), Arabic, Modern Hebrew, Swahili, major Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese), Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, major languages of India (e.g. Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu), Farsi, and many others.

Most ancient languages (e.g. Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Greek, Classical Maya) wouldn't count. Languages spoken primarily by small illiterate tribes who live in the wilderness also wouldn't count.

Cherokee might be a marginal case - it's certainly been used in the past for general publishing but I gather that not a lot is being done in it nowadays.

Last edited by robert_columbia; 10-23-2013 at 09:30 PM..
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  #21  
Old 10-24-2013, 08:15 AM
knel3030 knel3030 is offline
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Yes.

But reaching that point would be bloody. Say some federation or single government has jurisdiction over the entire world, and its decided that Chinese shall be the new global language...or Arabic...or Bushman. People would probably start wars over language alone.

Underground speakeasys would pop up, with people speaking forbidden languages...and drinking whiskey. Then yelling in Russian or something.

But assuming it was somehow done, and everyone on earth speaks the new Globalese, created by combing all languages together with weightedness of words and grammar based on population of speakers of each language, then I think the world would be better off. Like you said, cultural richness would be lost though. But the benefits of greater cultural similarity and communication would out weight the costs.
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  #22  
Old 10-24-2013, 09:48 AM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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I'd guess English is considered a modern language, but apparently we still don't have unversal agreement on what the meaning of 'is' is.
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  #23  
Old 10-24-2013, 09:51 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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Civilization would collapse as the masses would abandon all productive labors, instead devoting their energies to their innate urge to build really huge ziggurats.
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  #24  
Old 10-24-2013, 10:16 PM
Civil Guy Civil Guy is offline
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I think we'd still have everybody trying to correct everyone else's language. It seems to be a basic human need.

(There must be something wrong with what I just wrote, I suppose.)
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