An Idle Thought of my Own

…on the subject of language, triggered by John H. McWhorter’s piece in a recent Wall Street Journal. He wrote about the likelihood of English being the sole planetary language in 100 years. He suggests it’s very unlikely that English—or any other language—will become the sole language any time soon, and for a variety of reasons.

He never got into why that might be a good thing, though. He did mention

If all humans had always spoken a single language, would anyone wish we were instead separated now by thousands of different ones?

Which is what triggered my idle thought.

It’s good that we’ve never had a single language; it’s good that we developed a variety of civilizations from a plethora of languages.

Language is thought. Language is both how we express our ideas and how we develop ideas in the first place: the one feeds back into and informs the other. Differing modes of thinking produce differing modes of problem recognition and of solution. There’s no doubt in my pea brain that we’ve made, as a species, the technological, political, and social progress that we have because of our varying languages and their varying problem handling sets. A single language would have slowed us down a lot more, and it would have left us with blind spots and problems unrecognized and recognized problems unsolved that we have, in fact, worked through or are in the process of working through.

We need lots of unrelated languages, because we need the broad range of thinking. We’ll stagnate as a species when we are reduced to a single language.

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