|11. Present and
future status of the main contenders
English vs. Russian—Is Chinese a Possibility?—The Resurgence of French and German—The Claims of Spanish and Italian—What of the Smaller Languages?—Status of the Classical and Constructed Tongues-Does Consciousness Exist?
The world emphatically does not need additional candidates for the post of international language. With 2,796 natural tongues, and 600 or more constructed languages, all the elements for an immediate choice are at hand.
Zonal languages of the Stalin variety are merely a recognition of the status quo, and offer no true solution. Combinations of zonal languages, as envisaged by Thommeret, present the same unsatisfactory feature, plus the difficulty inherent in learning three or four different tongues. The "Bilingual World" made up of English and French (or of any two languages, for that matter) might be an excellent thing for the speakers of those languages, but for anyone else it would impose a double burden of language learning, and resolve itself into a trilingual situation. Simplicity and efficiency demand that no one be required to master more than one tongue in addition to his own.
This means that if things are to be done speedily and well, the world's choice will have to fall upon a single language, natural or constructed, which will serve the purposes of international exchanges and run side by side with each national language in each country. What shall that language be?
It is useless to deny that despite the vast number of natural languages at our disposal, only a handful will be seriously considered by the world's peoples. Yet the "dark horse" possibility is there, as at a political convention. Despite the large number of constructed tongues that have been and are being proposed, only two or three enjoy sufficient popularity to be known, at least by name, beyond the circle of their immediate proponents.
Leading the field, by reason of their political, military and economic preponderance, are English and Russian. Chinese, as the tongue of the greatest mass of people on earth, must be considered. French, the former language of diplomacy and international culture; German, numerically and in other important respects the leading language of the European continent; Spanish, the tongue of great areas of the New World; Italian, the language of music and art—all have their claims. We should not, of course, forget such great Oriental tongues as Japanese, Hindustani, Indonesian, and Arabic, but the factor of world-wide distribution is against them. In the case of all these languages, particularly the two world leaders, English and Russian, the adverse factor of international jealousies and the charge of cultural imperialism must be taken into account, and this opens the way for the consideration of "dark horses," small, obscure tongues, unaffiliated with major language groups, and against which no charge of cultural imperialism can conceivably be raised.
Among the constructed tongues, there are at the present moment only two that can advance the claim of having achieved some measure of success and general acceptance. They are Esperanto, with its variants and offshoots, such as Ido, and Interlingua.
In an international linguistic congress, there is little doubt that the first vote of the representatives of English-speaking countries would go to English. How many non-English-speaking representatives would join them is a matter of conjecture. English has displayed a mighty power of penetration into practically all lands, but even while it continues to expand in numerous areas, there are signs of recession elsewhere, and not only behind the Iron Curtain. Mexico and other Latin-American countries object to too many English-language billboards. French newspapers protest at the invasion of English terms like "standing," "pep," teuf (for "tough"), trilleur (for "thriller"), "living room," "week-end," "knockout," skoot (for "scout"). Russia, which forces the replacement of English-language courses with Russian in the satellite states, barely accepts "O.K." The Philippines, South Africa and Israel are in the process of abolishing English as an official tongue.
Most distressing, from the standpoint of English as an international tongue, is the news that comes from Asia. While the Bandung conference did use English as its main language, Ceylon drops English as an official language in favor of Singhalese and Tamil, Pakistan replaces it with Urdu and Bengali, India not only drops English road-names, but replaces English with Hindi in the secondary schools, and this despite the fact that Nehru advocates the continuation of the English-language tradition for practical uses. At the same time, the number of newspapers published in India in English falls behind those published in Hindi.
Nevertheless, English continues to be the first choice in the high schools and universities of practically all countries of the western world. It is perhaps an exaggeration to say, as does a Yugoslav newspaper, that 600 million people can be reached with English, but the figure is probably not too far off.
Russian is definitely a language on the make. Restricted not too many years ago to little more than half the population of the Soviet Union, it is now expanding in all directions, among the satellite countries and in the East. But Russian encounters hostility and rejection at the borders of the Communist world. It has gained relatively few students in the west, and practically no one outside the Soviet domain would care to sponsor it as an international tongue.
French, which has recently lost considerable ground, is still a formidable contender. Relying on the weight of tradition and cultural prestige, it can also point to its bridge function between east and west, since neither the adherents of English nor those of Russian would regard it with the same uncompromising aversion with which they view each other's languages. While French does not possess the mass of speakers that other languages can boast of, it is nevertheless native to nearly 70 million people and is handled fluently by additional millions who enjoy the distinction of being the most cultured, and therefore most effective elements of their respective countries. It has of late become fashionable for supporters of French to hitch their wagon to the rising star of English, and advocate some sort of Anglo-French bilingualism. This probably weakens rather than strengthens their position, since in any such combine English would be the dominant partner, while the Communist world, which might be persuaded to accept French alone, would resent the Anglo-French condominium as much as it would resent straight English.
The standing of other great tongues is definitely influenced by their respective drawbacks. Spanish is primarily a Western Hemisphere language (as is Portuguese), while the great cultural traditions of German and Italian are at the present moment obscured by the lack of political, military, and economic power of the major nations that speak them. The great Asiatic languages, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hindustani, Indonesian, are removed from the scene of major world activity, at least for the moment, hampered by widespread illiteracy, save for Japanese, and divided by dialectal differences among their speakers, again with the same exception.
Dark-horse candidates among the minor languages are as numerous as the languages themselves, but the embarrassment of the choice among them would be truly impressive. A good many among them are subject to the same charge of partiality toward a major language group that besets the great languages. Scandinavian tongues or Dutch would be accused of leaning too heavily in the direction of the great Germanic tongues, English and German. The minor Slavic tongues would favor Russian. Minor Asian languages, to which no one has given a serious thought, might tend to fall within the Chinese, or Indian, or Indonesian, or Arabic orbit. Tongues like Finnish, Turkish, or Hungarian, representing a minor language family concerning whose imperialistic tendencies no one is worried, might well be a possibility. There are also American Indian, African Negro, and South Sea languages to be thought of, but the task of equipping any one of these to become a tongue of common intercourse for the civilized world would be staggering, though not insurmountable.
Among the constructed tongues there are many and excellent possibilities, as we have seen. But it is undeniable that as of the present moment only two, Esperanto (or a modified version of Esperanto) and Interlingua, are in the running, so far as popular favor and acceptance are concerned.
A few scattered facts about Esperanto were brought out at the latest Esperanto Congress, held in Oslo, which attracted 1,600 delegates from 32 countries. The number of Esperanto speakers throughout the world today comes close to half a million (though something like eight million are said to have some acquaintance with the language), and Esperanto is taught in no fewer than 625 schools located all over the globe. Esperanto has been used as the language of the invading "enemy" force at American Army maneuvers. There are more than 50 monthly broadcasts in Esperanto from European countries alone. Over 7,500 books, translated and original, are available in the language, with over 100 periodicals.
Stamps in Esperanto have been issued by four countries, and the language is acceptable, along with Latin, for international telegrams. In the United States and Britain, Esperanto has been tested in the schools as an introduction to the study of foreign languages, and the experiment has successfully demonstrated that Esperanto-trained youngsters did better in the languages they took up later than did the ones who had not had the training. So far as popular favor is concerned, a Gallup poll conducted in smaller European countries like the Netherlands and Norway showed that Esperanto was second only to English as the people's choice for an international language.
Interlingua, a much later arrival on the scene, seems favored by scientific and technological groups, which appear to find the language particularly suitable for the printing of formal papers circulated among their members. A striking demonstration was given recently in Washington at the meeting of the second World Congress of Cardiology, where 2,200 delegates from 50 nations agreed that they had little or no trouble understanding the common artificial language, at least in printed form.
Among constructed languages, as among natural languages, there are numerous dark-horse candidates, each with its own small body of followers. It is not inconceivable that at a world linguistic congress designed to select one language, natural or constructed, from among the many to serve as the international tongue of the future, a delegate might resurrect Schley-er's Volapiik, Sudre's Solresol, Peano's Latino Sine Flexione, or even the forgotten a priori creation of Bishop Wilkins or Cave Beck.
The time for deliberation, planning, study, and creation is past. The need is immediate. What the present-day world needs is not a process of greater refining of existing systems, but the selection of one of the many already in existence. We have planned for four centuries. It is now high time to go into action.
The world's peoples, as has been fully proved by Gallup and other polls, want a language that they may all hold in common. They want it in order that they may get better acquainted with one another, because they sense that despite all the artificial factors dividing them, they are all fundamentally akin. They want it in order that their living problems may be simplified, that one of the major roadblocks to their efficient cooperative activity may be removed. But above all, they want it for their children, who will live in the world of tomorrow, a world in which there will be no distances and no barriers to material communication, in which people of different races, nationalities, and backgrounds will be forced to rub elbows as they never have before, and will need to exchange thoughts quickly, easily, and directly.
Why delay the process further? Why wait for further improvements on what fundamentally cannot be improved-language?