Issues Surrounding Adoption of a Unified World Language

Intellectuals who review the unifying value of a common language for a people or a nation make the argument that if this works at the nation level, it should also work at the global level; thus, there has been a somewhat consistent pressure from certain circles for the development of a common language for all of humanity.  In some cases, a manufactured language, such as Esperanto, has been proposed.  In other cases, thinkers have pointed to adoption of a flexible “lingua franca” that had gained world-wide presence through business, commerce, and political historical fact, i.e. English.  On a superficial level, it is easy to accept such an idea, yet there remain serious issues, which Sri Aurobindo indicates are critical to the long-term vibrancy and development of the human race.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…it makes for a real, fruitful, living unity, only when it is the natural expression of the race or has been made natural by a long adaptation and development from within.  The history of universal tongues spoken by peoples to whom they were not natural, is not encouraging.  Always they have tended to become dead tongues, sterilising so long as they kept their hold, fruitful only when they were decomposed and broken up into new derivative languages or departed leaving the old speech, where that still persisted, to revive with this new stamp and influence upon it.  Latin, after its first century of general domination in the West, became a dead thing, impotent for creation, and generated no new or living and evolving culture in the nations that spoke it; even so great a force as Christianity could not give it a new life.  The times during which it was an instrument of European thought, were precisely those in which that thought was heaviest, most traditional and least fruitful.  A rapid and vigorous new life only grew up when the languages which appeared out of the detritus of dying Latin or the old languages which had not been lost took its place as the complete instruments of national culture.  For it is not enough that the natural language should be spoken by the people; it must be the expression of its higher life and thought.  A language that survives only as a patois or a provincial tongue like Welsh after the English conquest or Breton or Provencal in France or as Czech survived once in Austria or Ruthenian and Lithuanian in imperial Russia, languishes, becomes sterile and does not serve all the true purpose of survival.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 248-249

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