What if everyone spoke the same language?

You know the story about babel? Humans decided to build a tower, tall enough to reach the heavens, so they could become gods themselves. As they all spoke the same language, they managed to effectively cooperate, making the tower dream an actual possibility. God didn’t care for the idea, and as a preventive measure (and perhaps some sort of punishment for the attempt), he (or she) decided to make humans multi-lingual. With every worker speaking a different tongue, they could not communicate, and certainly not continue to build such a complex project. The building collapsed, and humans remained… human. With over 7,000 languages.
Now, imagine this: You’re in Rome. You stroll over to the Trevi Fountain, sit in a lovely sidewalk table of a nearby coffee shop, and immerse yourself in a fascinating conversation with some locals. Or maybe you’re in Romania, picking up a few of your favorite titles in a little bookstore. Or… you’re on a road trip in Laos. It’s a good thing you’re able to read all the road signs, an ask people on the way for directions. How would the world really be if we all spoke the same language?

1) Culturally, our world wouldn’t have been as rich
Language is so inherently based in local culture, there’s no way to actually separate them. Languages evolved over time and history, and they represent the same processes that led to the local culture. More than that, language itself is continually used as a tool to perpetuate and set those same cultural values. It’s easy to guess that one global language will cancel out a big part of the differences and social diversity on earth, the exact same ones that make humanity the fascinating species it is today.

Different languages are also used as a barrier, isolating communities from others. This isolation often allows the development of unique cultural personalities. Iceland, for example, experienced geographic isolation for many, many years, resulting in a special, unique and very different cultural world.

2) Would people fight less?
On the one hand, one uniform language enables communication and cooperation. Languages also affect the way we view reality, changing our points of view. Even as children, we interpret our world using words our parents taught us. People use a language (often their mother tongue) to think, and that same language also shapes the way they think. For example, researchers looked at people speaking various languages, and discovered they tend to view colors differently. For example, in Candoshi, one world – kavabana – describes all colors between green and purple. Based on the same logic, one single language will make us view our world similarly, bringing with it agreement, prosperity, rainbows, unicorns and all around joy.

On the other hand, a single language will damage variety. And in a less-diverse world, people naturally won’t be as open to those who are different. It’s true that one language will allow them to communicate much more easily, but independent thought will always exist (we may be overly optimistic) and original people will keep thinking outside of the box. In a monolingual world, they may get shot down before they even have a chance to start. Or huge, volatile arguments will develop, just as they do today – but in one language, it might happen even sooner.

3) The global village would have appeared much earlier
Technological developments in the past 200 years gave us greater mobility, faster communication and countless ways for diverse cultural worlds of different geographical locations to merge and impact each other. The prevalence of the English language was an assisting factor, making it easier for different peoples to communicate and find common grounds. But it took time.
The concept of Multiple Discovery or Simultaneous Invention states that a significant part of humanity’s scientific and technological discoveries evolved simultaneously in different areas of the world, more or less at the same time. So, for example, oxygen was isolated by Carl Wilhelm Scheel in Sweden in 1772, and by Joseph Priestly in Britain in 1774.. The crossbow was invented at the same time in China, Greece, Africa, Northen Canada and the Baltic Countries. Electricity was discovered by Benjamin Franklin in the US and by Prokop Diviš in Czechoslovakia only 5 years apart.

We can only imagine what would have happened if the world only had one language, but it certainly would have made it much simpler to share knowledge within the scientific community. Maybe such cooperation would have expedited countless scientific and technological discoveries, allowing humans to communicate over continents and oceans dozens, and maybe even hundreds of years earlier than they did. And even if it wouldn’t, monolingual exchanging of ideas, even a slow one, would have been much more effective, quick and pleasant, perhaps allowing (figurative) bridges to be built between countries a lot sooner.

4) People wouldn’t have been as smart

Ever try to learn another language? Countless studies show that bi- and multilingual people are smarter. Multilingualism contributes to brain development, increasing gray matter density. It also strengthens multi-tasking abilities. It was proven that multilingual people behave more efficiently and can better cope with several simultaneous tasks. And that’s not all. Researchers showed that multilingualism can help maintain cognitive function with people suffering from dementia, and even delay the onset of symptoms by up to 5 years. Elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease also showed less degeneration, compared to monolingual elderly patients. So put your brain exercises aside, and learn a new language instead! We recommend parseltongue.

5) It probably wouldn’t have lasted

Ignoring the biblical story of Babel, studies of the history of language development show that population growth and expansion, as well as cultural and historical developments, lead to the creation of new dialects. Throughout history, single-language populations split up to create new and unique dialects and languages, sometimes vastly different than each other. Even in the modern age, characterized by growing globalization processes, these cultural gaps are still impossible to ignore. So even if a great wizard will show up, waving his wand to make all of us speak the same language, it won’t take much more than a few hundred years (a heartbeat in historical terms) for that single language to become several different ones.

So what do you think? Are many languages better than one? You don’t have much time to make up you mind, as experts estimate that by 2100, 50 to 90% of the languages on earth will be completely extinct. Until then, let’s enjoy the advantages of our multilingual world.


Our world is vast

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