What Would A World Without Languages Look Like?

With the risk of being accused of using a deceitful title, the question I am more interested in answering is…what if all the humans of our planet (so disregarding any other planets) would understand each other – if they would basically speak the same language? In a world without any languages, we would all presumably look each other in the eyes meaningfully and that would be the end of our interaction – but how would the world look like with only 1 language spoken by everyone?

Attempts have been made throughout history to address the issue:

  •  in Medieval Europe, Latin was widely used by the literates;
  • in the early Modern Europe trade languages were used (”lingua franca”) such as Koine Greek;
  • the Islamic tradition of using Arabic as its universal language for Muslims brought communities together, the same with the ancient Pali language for Buddhists;
  • Classical Chinese language was widely read in China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan.

RO no languages intextSome languages proved to be more successful than others, as they are still in use today; some languages have ”died” (we miss you, Latin!). But none of these managed to become truly universal languages.

In the 19th century, we have the constructed languages built with the express purpose of being universal – they have a simplified grammar and are accessible to everyone (although controversially they are quite biased towards European languages). Esperanto is the prime example, as it is the most popular constructed language nowadays. But what Esperanto is lacking, its detractors say, is a sense of culture, a meaning behind the plain words. Also, people aren’t very willing to learn a language that doesn’t serve any sort of practical purpose.

Getting to the present day, we have English as a dominant language for international business and global communication, established through the influence of global media coming from the US or the UK and as a result of the former colonial British Empire’s extent – and it seems English is here to stay, until further notice that is. But is English truly global? It isn’t, at least not yet.

Seeing as mankind has had the need since ancient times to communicate, in order to trade, have a chat or build relationships – and seeing how all the attempts to get us to use the same language failed, does it still make sense to ask the question: how would a world with only 1 language would look like? Is such a thing even possible? I think the answers rather belong to the land of imagination as the potential for practical observation is quite limited.

If I may though, I’d like have a go at it: a world speaking a common language means that nothing gets lost in translation anymore, people won’t fear or hate their neighbors for speaking a different language (they are still plenty of reasons why people hate their neighbors, I’m merely eliminating 1), artists will have access to fans everywhere (removing the “small culture” barrier), travelling would be made easy as well as global business. But then we wouldn’t have translators anymore and that is something that us here, at bab.la, don’t look at kindly. Just taking the pros and the cons…


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