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The potential benefits to peace, security, education, commerce, science, arts and virtually every field of human endeavor are fairly obvious. English does serve as a kind of de facto lingua franca in a number of international settings, but it is not, from what I have read, taught universally in South America, many African countries, or in parts of Asia, at least not at an early age for effective language acquisition (and I am unaware of any evidence that English is projected to take over in a reasonable period of time on its own; I have read that in Southeast Asia, for example, emphasis may even be shifting to Chinese).

Are there any particular obstacles preventing an official choice of a language to be taught alongside native languages in all the schools of the world--whether it be an endorsement of a constructed language or of a pre-existing one like English, and whether it be by the United Nations or some body with some proportionality to population?

Are there genuinely powerful vested interests who would be against such a vote?

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    @BrettZamir Because you can't really just add, you must substitute. There is a limited amount of time and money for education. – Razie Mah Mar 13 '14 at 14:10
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    Because in the US any choice other than english will be rejected by ~90% of the population. In china there are already over ~1billion that speak mandarin and they are not going to convert to English just to spite the US and will not convert to Russian for the same reason. And Russia is not going to accept anything other than Russian. Then there is india with over a billion people and 10 languages and no money to teach them all another... – SoylentGray Mar 13 '14 at 19:47
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    @BrettZamir - It is more politics than nationalism. We all want to be the King and are unwilling to let anyone else be King if it is not us. – SoylentGray Mar 14 '14 at 13:45
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    "People are dumb" is a simple answer. – JonathanReez Apr 3 '17 at 9:08
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    This isn't even limited to languages. xkcd.com/927 – JAB May 9 '17 at 21:57
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Language is a primary component of a culture. Outsourcing it to anyone is problematic at best.

This is why many countries like France have l'Académie francaise, an organization dedicated to promoting the old lingua Franca (French). Likewise, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (not to be confused with Michael Dorn ) posits that language not only reflects the culture, but even shapes how the world is perceived. When Robert Greenburg suggests that the aria would only have developed in a vowel-rich Latin and the hymn in a consonantal German, he is merely extending the hypothesis.

I write these things to say that every non-English speaking culture has a vested interested in not seeing English become the dominant culture. Already, many countries complain about American "cultural imperialism" via Hollywood is every bit as insidious as its hegemonic role as "the world's policeman."

Indeed, the driving force behind Esperanto - designed as a world language - was that no one culture would be given such power over world culture. Its creator wrote:

"The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Białystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies.

The result, of course, is what you would expect. Regimes everywhere thought the idea nonsense. Might it bring a kind of peace? Sure - because the realized it was the same kind of peace that arose from when your culture was completely killed off. Replacing your culture with the culture of no one group in particular has proved well nigh impossible on its own - imagine if you had to agree on adopting the culture of an enemy, and you see why it just doesn't happen.

As such, the direct answer to your question of "Who would oppose English as a world language?" is anyone who wishes to preserve their own, non-English-speaking culture. It is a pretty formidable lobby.

Put another way (and here I'm channelling @Chad, so please forgive me all)- Russians will never accept English, French, or any language other then Russian as their national language. If put to a vote, it would fail miserably - there is no support. Same would hold true in China, India, France, and a host of other nations. Indeed, even in the Netherlands, where English is highly related and basically the language of business already, Dutch News could only muster 51% support for such a policy in an unscientific poll. Things would go south from there.

English is a powerful tool. Studies have shown that learning it brings about a 10% increase in wages for non-English speaking countries. That is an economic motivation for it, and its best hope of being adopted universally. Just don't expect anyone to like it.

  • Thank you for your reply, but my question was not necessarily about English being chosen. It was about any language being chosen by vote. Of course if English is indeed that popular then it could be chosen, but people would be more capable of expressing their culture to others using such a medium, even if it couldn't translate 100% (and if a choice such as English would give a temporary "advantage" to those already speaking it). As far as Sapir-Whorf it has been discredited in at least its extreme form; non-Western people are capable of understanding science written in English papers, etc. – Brett Zamir Mar 12 '14 at 15:34
  • As far as La Academie Francaise, it is for guarding foreign words used within French, not guarding against any use of English (and many French have come over to the role of English, even while not wishing to give up their own culture). Even countries which strongly support their culture can favor a common language shared with others (as many, many individuals do by speaking in forums such as this when English is not their native language). – Brett Zamir Mar 12 '14 at 15:36
  • As far as adopting the culture of an enemy, I recall reading that native American groups which adopted English were more successful in preserving their cultures. Economics can indeed be powerful, but they alone don't lead to standards; standards promoters and legislation ultimately does (somewhat of a catch 22 of course, but my point is that good ideas often languish simply because of a lack of effort not merely because the conditions aren't ripe--and they won't become ripe without effort either). – Brett Zamir Mar 12 '14 at 15:43
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    I'm not sure if I should upvote or downvote the awful Star Trek pun :) – user4012 Mar 16 '14 at 12:56
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    @BrettZamir and Affable Geek. If you must use the French definite article (it always felt odd to me, what's wrong with “the Académie française”?), note that we don't use “le” or “la” before a vowel but always “l'”. – Relaxed Feb 5 '15 at 1:05
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Indeed. Esperanto does work. We should not overestimate the position of English. 3.7 billion people in the world do not speak it :(

I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)

Your readers may be interested in seeing http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations.

Their new online course http://www.lernu.net has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can't be bad :)

  • Re: your London example, indeed; people complain in the U.S. about immigrants not speaking English while also maintaining it has already succeeded. I don't think it would be impractical and undemocratic, however, were there to be a global democratic vote on the issue and English were as popular as some people imagine. Some might have sour grapes about a success vote, but any language could serve the purpose and future generations would surely catch up if that were the majority will of the world. – Brett Zamir Mar 14 '14 at 0:04
  • If this is not the case, then a language like Esperanto might help break the impasse. I guess we really need polls to know what people would think, but it may be hard to judge since many misunderstand the whole idea itself upon hearing about it as they think it is one which aims to replace native languages, that it could only be Esperanto, or that it could only be English. – Brett Zamir Mar 14 '14 at 0:05
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I am one of many people who for decades have argued quietly that support for Esperanto as a lingua franca could bring many benefits to the world.

I see Esperanto as a remarkable success story. It has survived wars and revolutions and economic crises and continues to attract people to learn and speak it. Esperanto works. I've used it in speech and writing in about seventeen countries over recent years. I recommend it to anyone, as a way of making friendly local contacts in other countries. It has only been around for a little over 125 years. The major obstacle to its wider use is financial. Compared to the fortunes spent on promoting English (British Council), French Allioance Francaise) and so on, Esperanto is dependant on the efforts of volunteers within its speaker population.

  • I agree it could bring benefits. However, I like to point out that such a lingua franca would not necessarily need to be limited to a constructed language. In promoting the idea among Esperanto-skeptical audiences, I think it helps to promote a vote open to existing languages as well, as indeed many in at least the U.S. are very smugly defeatist in their view of Esperanto as a failure (despite the fact that financing, changing conditions, or more significantly, legislation to require it in at least some bloc or other, could possibly turn the numbers around for Esperanto). – Brett Zamir Mar 13 '14 at 23:54
  • So does your answer imply that you believe that only Esperanto could end up succeeding because of nationalism or what not (and thus financing of Esperanto is the greatest factor preventing a world aux. language)? – Brett Zamir Mar 13 '14 at 23:56

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