|13. The only
two possible solutions: war or accord
Historical Solution of the Problem—Languages and Individuals— The Esthetic Choice—The Practical Choice—The Hour for Decision
Historically, the solution of the language problem has been more often a violent than a peaceful one. Languages can easily coexist for centuries under the same sovereignty, but normally only on condition that one language predominate, officially or unofficially.
In the ancient world, we find, at various epochs, the predominance of Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Old Persian, Greek, and Latin. None of the empires that spoke these languages was monolingual, to be sure. Yet the records of antiquity are filled with the names of forgotten tongues that were forced to give way and disappear before the inroads of the predominant language. In the case of Latin alone, with whose history we are best acquainted, we find that not only the ancient languages of Italy (Etruscan, Oscan, Umbrian, Sicel, Messapian, Venetic, Liguric, and scores of others) eventually vanished, with their speakers turning into speakers of Latin, but also the Iberian of Spain, the Gaulish of France, the Dacian of what is today Rumania, and the Punic of North Africa.
A language depends for its existence upon a speaking population, and if the latter turns elsewhere for its linguistic medium, the language shrivels up and vanishes. It is a question of speaker's choice, and the choice of the speakers is only occasionally determined by esthetic and cultural factors. Far more often, it is a matter of social and economic prestige and political and military might.
Latin was at the outset the rough tongue of a group that was at first nomadic, later agricultural, and had nothing in particular to recommend it as the world choice in preference to older and more cultivated languages, such as the Etruscan and the Greek from which Latin so widely borrowed, or the Punic of the Carthaginians which Latin rejected almost in its entirety. Yet in due course of time Latin became one of the most polished, expressive, and majestic tongues the world has ever known. But most of this development took place after, not before, the period of expansion of Rome as a world power.
Castilian imposed itself in medieval Spain, Francien in medieval France, by reason of political and military, not cultural predominance. The choice of Anglo-Saxon English over Norman French in medieval England was, more than anything else, a tribute to the numerical superiority of the Anglo-Saxon element in the English population. The French of the Normans was esthetically a far superior tongue, and proved it by producing a flourishing Anglo-Norman literature at a period when English could only offer the Ormolum and the Ancres Riwle. On purely esthetic grounds, French, not English, should have become the language of England.
At the present time, it would take considerable hardihood to claim that the recent vast expansion of English and Russian is based primarily on cultural or esthetic factors. The economic power of penetration of the. one language, the military preponderance of the other, the political force of both, are the main factors leading to their expansion and to the consequent restriction of the other great languages of European culture, French and German and Italian.
If a peaceful solution of the language problem is not reached, it is more than likely that a solution will come anyway, as the outcome of the clash (which need not be military) between the two great political systems and social ideologies of the twentieth century, collectivistic Communism and capitalistic Democracy. If no third force develops, and the expansion of the two continues, the language that is the symbolic standard-bearer of the one or the other will emerge victorious along with the political ideology it represents.
There will emphatically be no question of ease or logic, of literary or cultural values in a choice that is left to historical chance. English, with its drawbacks of spelling and grammatical looseness; Russian, with its disadvantages of grammatical complexity; both languages, with their difficulties of pronunciation to those who do not speak them as natives, will stand a far better chance of becoming the world tongue than any of the more graceful, refined, euphonic languages that have vied with them in the past, or any of the phonetic, logically constructed artificial tongues that man's fertile brain has evolved.
The choice will be a practical one, as it was a practical one for the speakers of Etruscan, Iberian, and Gaulish who turned into speakers of Latin. The tongue that carries prestige and is valid under all circumstances will emerge as the world tongue.
This solution may be viewed with alarm for what concerns its political and social implications. Linguistically, it need not arouse any deep concern. English and Russian are each thoroughly qualified to play the role of world tongue, if it is the verdict of history that the mantle once held by Latin is to fall on either of them.
The question is rather whether we should seek a solution based not on the old historical determinism of power politics, but on the free, intelligent choice of all men. Granted that this is a startling innovation in a world that has always been run by force, it might perhaps be more in line with the democratic tendencies to which so much lip-service has been paid in recent times by both sides.
Outside of an element of power that ultimately resolves itself into the brute force of arms, is there any valid reason why a choice should not be offered to the many peoples of the world (and they form the overwhelming majority of the world's inhabitants) who subscribe to neither English nor Russian, in the matter of what language shall be used for purposes of world communications?
It is quite possible that if such a democratic method is employed in the field of language it may serve as an inspiration for the application of similar methods in the solution of other international problems, with definite advantages for the cause of peace.
On the other hand, there is no good reason why the establishment of an international tongue should be linked to political factors, save in the most general way. One of the errors made by interlinguists in the past has been precisely that of linking the choice of an international tongue with the establishment of world peace, which has had the effect of arousing suspicion among those who do not favor foreign entanglements, the United Nations, or the theory of world government.
An international language will emphatically not be tantamount to a world government. It will not, all by itself, lead to world peace and the abolition of international conflicts. All that it will do will be to make world communications easier, like the international postal union, to which no one in his right senses objects today. If, as a by-product, it serves to allay international tensions among governments and individuals, that is all to the good. But as matters stand today, the international language is to be viewed purely as a tool for international communications, not as an instrument of international policy.