What would happen if all the children in the world learned another language along with their own? Not just another language, but the same language?
In thirty years there would be no need for interpreters. Our children could travel around the world and learn the customs and thoughts of other people in foreign lands first hand, easily and naturally.
One of the greatest needs in the world of today is a language spoken and understood by everybody. But this need will be far, far greater in the world of tomorrow, the world of our children and their descendants.
Does this common language of the future have to be a constructed, artificial one, like Esperanto? Does it have to be one of the big national tongues, like English, French, or Russian? Not necessarily. It merely has to be whatever language, national or constructed, may be selected, in common accord, by the nations of the world.
To be effective, the teaching of this language should start in the first grade, side by side with the national language; better yet, in kindergarten.
Why is all this so necessary? For a very simple reason.
There was a time when very few people left their homes, or, at the most, their own countries; when the individual's chances of coming in contact with the speakers of another language were slim indeed. The last fifty years have changed all that. Today, the probabilities that you, whatever be your walk of life, will be called upon at some time or other to travel abroad are at least one out of ten, as against one out of a hundred in the nineteenth century. The chances that you will want to communicate with a non-English speaker on your own home soil are practically one hundred per cent even now.
For your children, the chances of foreign travel and foreign contacts are at least double yours. For their children, they will be fourfold. Within a century, the man or woman who has no occasion to travel abroad will be as rare as is today the man or woman who has never left his home town.
This casts a new light upon what was for centuries a pleasant intellectual exercise—the creation or selection of an international, universal language, a tongue for everybody, to be spoken, understood, read, and written by all the peoples of this earth.
The problem was not urgent back in the seventeenth century, when it was first given some conscious thought. It became immediate only in the nineteenth, when modern means of communication and transportation began to appear. Today, when the jet plane brings all countries of the earth to within a few hours of one another, it is almost as imperative as is the problem of survival in the face of nuclear weapons.
The only real difficulty lies in the method for choosing a language, national or constructed, that will serve as the international tongue. Once this hurdle is surmounted, the educational resources of the modern world will be ample to insure the success of the project.
The question is often asked: "Who wants an international language?" To this query, the word "anyway" is occasionally appended, in token of skepticism. The answer is: "Practically everybody."
Everyone knows about the troubles encountered by UN diplomats, with their complicated systems of simultaneous
translations, by scientists who attend international congresses, by students and visiting professors, by tourists and sightseers, by missionaries and technicians, by people engaged in international trade, by immigrants and emigrants. That all these people would favor an international language is self-evident.
Far more to the point is the response of populations at large. A Gallup poll conducted a few years ago in the United States, Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands revealed that nearly eighty per cent of those polled, in each of the four countries, favored an international tongue, to be taught in the elementary schools of the world on a basis of complete parity with the national languages, with the implication that the children of each country would grow up speaking two languages, the national and the international tongue, with equal fluency.
Surprisingly, in a country like the United States, where interest in foreign languages is supposed to be far from pronounced, there was no noticeable difference in feeling about this issue from what existed in lands widely exposed to international currents, like Norway and Holland.
This popular interest takes the question out of the academic realms and brings it squarely before the bar of public opinion. It is not merely a few diplomats and government people concerned with translation problems who want an international tongue, or a few million tourists worrying about the location of a hotel. It is not even a large number of migrants concerned with the vital problem of seeking a job in a foreign land. It is the rank and file of the population. It is fathers and mothers thinking of their children's future welfare and happiness, young people who want to communicate with other young people in other lands. People in all walks of life who have at some time or other been up against the blank wall that the lack of a common language produces want to tear down that wall.
There is a big difference between voting "yes" on a Gallup poll question and undertaking to do something about it. The majority of the world's people are too busy with their own concerns, with the everyday job of making a living and filling their places in their own limited social group, to go out into the streets and agitate for an international language the way the suffragettes agitated for women's right to vote back in the early days of this century.
But this, if anything, makes the point even more overwhelming. Without the support of any great, concerted movement, without open and flamboyant agitation, without picket lines or demonstrations or brick-throwing or Congressional lobbies, the international language is accepted in principle by four-fifths of those who are asked their opinion about it.
It is therefore high time to go into this question in detail once more, not on the basis of advocating any one particular solution (something that goes on all the time), but on the basis of an informative study of the entire issue.
What is the need? Why does it exist? In which fields of human activity is it most keenly felt? When did people first become aware of it? What steps did they take? What unconscious, partial solutions had previously been worked out? What languages served through history as tongues of common intercourse for groups speaking two or more different languages? At what point did the idea of a constructed, artificial language begin to take hold, and how was it received? In the light of present-day conditions, what solutions are feasible? Could a national, natural language be used? Could it be modified to serve the purpose? Could a combination of languages work? What is the status of "neutral," constructed tongues today? What machinery would have to be set up to select a world language? What machinery would be needed to impart it? What would be its fruits, and how soon would they mature?
As this book unfolds, we may see the answers to some of these questions.