Is A Universal Language Impossible?

Writing an article title with much confidence, Marc Ettlinger gives us a brief article: “Here’s Why The World Can Never Have One Universal Language”

His answer is two parts, and both of them are basically wrong. The first,

So, the first part of the answer is that the general tendency is for languages to propagate and diverge.

This is his most critical error. Ettlinger has mis-characterized the nature of linguistic processes. He pays lip service to but ultimately ignores the processes of globalization and the tendency for technology to homogenize the world into a global culture. Languages are converging, but he wants us to look the other way. Instead, he says that languages “change”.

Bull. We know that languages don’t merely “change”. They EVOLVE. They are part of this world, and this is an evolving world in which changes do not happen merely randomly and without purpose, but as part of emerging processes of a vast and often poorly-understood nature. The term “cultural evolution” is anathema in those parts of academia ruled by postmodern ideology, however.

Ettlinger picks the word “change” precisely, I’m sure, to avoid the connotation that there is some Hegelian Geist at work behind the scenes, secretly stacking the deck in favor of English and simplified Mandarin or whatever the case may be. But he does not argue his case for haphazard, happenstance “change”. He only assumes it, presumably because of his commitment to the ideology of irreducible pluralism. This is a common trope of contemporary linguists.

I am convinced that “evolution” is the better word for characterizing language transformations, but it might take some time for me to convince you if you are not already inclined to agree. As this blog unfolds, I’ll continue to share evidence showing how “evolve” is the more accurate term than “change”. But the question of “change” versus “evolution” is not an empirical one so much as an ideological one. If you are an academic disciple of irreducible relativism and pluralism, then you will never use a term that threatens the very premises of your work and may even threaten your good academic standing.

Now turning to Ettlinger’s second point. He says that a universal language is impossible because language is part of identity:

This is where part two of the answer comes in. Language is not simply a means for communicating. Language is also identity. We know that people communicate more than ideas with their language. Subconsciously, they also communicate who they are, what they believe, and where they’re from. So the obstacles to one language are similar to the obstacle to us all wearing the same clothes.

It would certainly be cheaper and more efficient to have one language, but it’s not how people behave. And we see that empirically in studies of how Americans’ accents have not homogenized with the advent of TV.

The same applies with languages — in the face of globalization, we see renewed interest in native languages, like the rise of Gaelic (an Irish language) in the face of the EU.

Colonialism and statism have led to a decline in the number of languages from its peak of 10,000 to about 6,000 today. So long as countries exist, English won’t encroach further. In other words, the world doesn’t really want a universal language.

Humans aspire to have their own distinct identities and form different groups. The same aspirations that drive us to wave different flags, root for different teams, listen to different music and have different cultures mean we’ll continue to have different languages.

Funny isn’t it how the rapid convergence of much of the world upon English is not seen as evidence of a willingness to shed ethnocentric bonds in favor of a global identity, however a few people in the EU learning Gaelic is put forth as definitive proof that human beings are so deeply ethnocentric they can never evolve … excuse me, change?

Humans do have distinct identities and language is a key part of that identity, as we have evolved up to the present day. Yet the world we live in continues to evolve, and language continues to evolve. There isn’t just one form of identity, but many levels of identity which are experienced and embodied differently: we can say, egocentric identity, ethnocentric identity, worldcentric identity, Kosmocentric identity (identity with All-That-Is), and so on.

Ettlinger’s vision only extends to ethnocentric identity and he doesn’t consider the fact that people are increasingly rising up to higher levels of identity. At these higher levels of identity, language is increasingly perceived as an ethnocentric limitation. There arises an urge to break free of the bonds of ethnocentric language into deeper, more authentic forms of communication. Lingua-U is one emergent in this context, a form of language which will appeal mainly to people at worldcentric and Kosmocentric consciousness.

The key question today is… do we let language changes happen while wearing a blindfold? Or will we take the reigns of linguistic evolution and attempt to guide it in ways that support human flourishing?

As I set out the nature of Lingua-U, you will hear me repeat and explain my initial assertion that Lingua-U is ALREADY our “Universal Language”. Far from being impossible, when it is properly conceived, a Universal Language is omnipresent and inevitable.

Lingua-U AUX, the Esperanto-like linguistic technology which is offered as an option for those who want such a thing, will never become the One Language to Rule Them All, nor is it intended to be. It is offered to the willing, those who want to push the reigns of their own evolution in fun and beautiful and enjoyable and ennobling directions.

About Kalen O'Tolán

Kalen O'Tolan is one of the Hanimwaa, an Immortal being who has served humankind quietly for more than 2,000 years, descended from the Son of Orr in the Third Wave. He is a philosopher, poet, and warrior. The story of his life, death, and return is told in The Kalendar, a series of fantasy/adventure books created in partnership with the Poet and Tangent Publishers.