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Universal language

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For other uses, see Universal language (disambiguation) .
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Universal language may refer to a hypothetical or historical language spoken and understood by all or most of the world’s population. In some contexts, it refers to a means of communication said to be understood by all living things, beings, and objects alike. It may be the idea of an international auxiliary language for communication between groups speaking different primary languages. In other conceptions, it may be the primary language of all speakers, or the only existing language. Some religious and mythological traditions state that there was once a single universal language among all people, or shared by humans and supernatural beings.

In other traditions, there is less interest in or a general deflection of the question. For example in Islam the Arabic language is the language of the Qur’an , and so universal for Muslims. The written Classical Chinese language was and is still read widely but pronounced differently by readers in China , Vietnam , Korea and Japan ; for centuries it was a de facto universal literary language for a broad-based culture. In something of the same way Sanskrit in India and Nepal , Tamil in India and Sri Lanka and Pali in Sri Lanka and in Theravada countries of South-East Asia ( Burma , Thailand , Cambodia ), were literary languages for many for whom they were not their mother tongue .

Comparably, the Latin language (qua Medieval Latin ) was in effect a universal language of literati in the Middle Ages , and the language of the Vulgate Bible in the area of Catholicism , which covered most of Western Europe and parts of Northern and Central Europe also.

In a more practical fashion, trade languages, such as ancient Koine Greek , may be seen as a kind of real universal language, that was used for commerce.

In historical linguistics , monogenesis refers to the idea that all spoken human languages are descended from a single ancestral language spoken many thousands of years ago.


  • 1 Mythological and religious universal languages
  • 2 Early modern history
  • 3 Modern history
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links

Mythological and religious universal languages[ edit ]

Main articles: Mythical origins of language , Adamic language , Divine language , and Language of the birds

Various religious texts, myths, and legends describe a state of humanity in which originally only one language was spoken.

In Jewish and Christian beliefs, the story of the Tower of Babel tells of a consequent ” confusion of tongues ” (the splintering of numerous languages from an original Adamic language ) as a punishment from God.

Myths exist in other cultures describing the creation of multiple languages as an act of a god as well, such as the destruction of a ‘knowledge tree’ by Brahma in Indic tradition, or as a gift from the God Hermes in Greek myth. Other myths describe the creation of different languages as concurrent with the creation of different tribes of people, or due to supernatural events.

Early modern history[ edit ]

Further information: Philosophical language

Recognizable strands in the contemporary ideas on universal languages took form only in Early Modern Europe. A lingua franca or trade language was nothing very new; but an international auxiliary language was a natural wish in light of the gradual decline of Latin. Literature in vernacular languages became more prominent with the Renaissance . Over the course of the 18th century, learned works largely ceased to be written in Latin . According to Colton Booth (Origin and Authority in Seventeenth-Century England (1994) p. 174) “The Renaissance had no single view of Adamic language and its relation to human understanding.” The question was more exactly posed in the work of Francis Bacon .

In the vast writings of Gottfried Leibniz can be found many elements relating to a possible universal language, specifically a constructed language , a concept that gradually came to replace that of a rationalized Latin as the natural basis for a projected universal language. Leibniz conceived of a characteristica universalis (also see mathesis universalis ), an “algebra” capable of expressing all conceptual thought. This algebra would include rules for symbolic manipulation, what he called a calculus ratiocinator . His goal was to put reasoning on a firmer basis by reducing much of it to a matter of calculation that many could grasp. The characteristica would build on an alphabet of human thought .

Leibniz’s work is bracketed by some earlier mathematical ideas of René Descartes , and the satirical attack of Voltaire on Panglossianism . Descartes’s ambitions were far more modest than Leibniz’s, and also far more successful, as shown by his wedding of algebra and geometry to yield what we now know as analytic geometry . Decades of research on symbolic artificial intelligence have not brought Leibniz’s dream of a characteristica any closer to fruition.

Other 17th-century proposals for a ‘philosophical’ (i.e. universal) language include those by Francis Lodwick , Thomas Urquhart (possibly parodic), George Dalgarno (Ars signorum, 1661), and John Wilkins ( An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language , 1668). The classification scheme in Roget ‘s Thesaurus ultimately derives from Wilkins’s Essay.

Candide , a satire written by Voltaire , took aim at Leibniz as Dr. Pangloss , with the choice of name clearly putting universal language in his sights, but satirizing mainly the optimism of the projector as much as the project. The argument takes the universal language itself no more seriously than the ideas of the speculative scientists and virtuosi of Jonathan Swift ‘s Laputa . For the like-minded of Voltaire’s generation, universal language was tarred as fool’s gold with the same brush as philology with little intellectual rigour , and universal mythography , as futile and arid directions.

In the 18th century, some rationalist natural philosophers sought to recover a supposed Edenic language . It was assumed that education inevitably took people away from an innate state of goodness they possessed, and therefore there was an attempt to see what language a human child brought up in utter silence would speak. This was assumed to be the Edenic tongue, or at least the lapsarian tongue.

Others attempted to find a common linguistic ancestor to all tongues; there were, therefore, multiple attempts to relate esoteric languages to Hebrew (e.g. Basque and Irish ), as well as the beginnings of comparative linguistics .

Modern history[ edit ]

Further information: World language

At the end of the 19th century, there was a large profusion of constructed languages intended as genuine, spoken language. There were created languages which don’t belong to any country and can be learned by everyone. Among these are Solresol , Volapük , and Esperanto , the most spoken constructed language nowadays. At that time, those ideas were readily accepted. With the advent of World Wars and the Cold War, these successes were buried.[ citation needed ]

The constructed language movement produced such languages as Latino Sine Flexione (1903), Ido (1907), Occidental (1922), and Interlingua (1951). [1]

English remains the dominant language of international business and global communication through the influence of global media and the former British Empire that had established the use of English in regions around the world such as North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. However, English is not the only language used in global organizations such as in the EU or the UN, because many countries do not recognize English as a universal language.

The early ideas of a universal language with complete conceptual classification by categories is still debated on various levels. Michel Foucault believed such classifications to be subjective, citing Borges ‘ fictional Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge’s Taxonomy as an illustrative example.

See also[ edit ]

  • Asemic writing
  • Characteristica universalis
  • Esperanto
  • Ido
  • Interlingua
  • Universal translator
  • Universal grammar
  • Global language system
  • aUI

References[ edit ]

  1. ^ Gode, Alexander , Interlingua: A Dictionary of the International Language , New York: Storm Publishers, 1951.

External links[ edit ]

  • Wikisource  Sweet, Henry (1911). ” Universal Languages “. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 
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      Why English is the universal language

      Home » Advancing your career » Why English is the universal language

      18Oct 24 Oct 2017

      Up to 1.8 billion people in the world speak English. But how did a language that was only spoken by people living in the British Isles 500 years ago become so widespread? Let’s find out why English is the universal language.

      The British Empire

      The growth of English is all to do with politics. After the language developed on the British Isles for centuries, it was taken around the world by the sailors, soldiers, pilgrims, traders and missionaries from the British Isles who were traveling around the world. Soon English had reached all corners of the world. The British Empire expanded across almost a quarter of the world’s, which is why the popular saying “the sun never set on the British Empire” . Because the sun LITERALLY never set on the Empire as it was spread across the Eastern side of the globe.
      English as a universal language

      Today, the British Empire may be no more, but English has stayed an important language in all their former colonies to this day. During colonialism, having access to English meant access to education. This created an educated elite, and everyone wants to be part of an elite. Because elites are good at self-preservation, after independence many formerly colonised countries officially became multilingual for the first time. But this was problematic, as a single language was needed so that the different language groups could communicate with each other. This language happened to be English.

      Unfortunately, there were a number of occasions when English pushed other languages to near-extinction, such as in Canada and Australia. But English only became the Lingua Franca since about the19th century. So what happened to give English its international status?

      The Rise of the USA

      After reaching the shores of the New World, the USA’s founders knew that a language was important for national identity. Therefore, because English was the language of the majority, it was encouraged. But it was only with the rise of the USA in the 20th century that English really took off. After WWII, Europe was picking up the pieces, but America flourished. American businesses than carried on the work the British East India company started centuries before and took English around the world, using it as a language of trade. The influence of this – plus the effects left by the British Empire – has made English the number one language of international trade. Today, all the top Business schools in the world give English courses.
      Universal language is English

      However, the cultural legacy of the decades after the war was very important to the growth of the English Language. American culture was everywhere – Hollywood movies and music had spread far and wide. American culture radiated confidence and success – exactly what a post-war world needed. It wasn’t only American culture that had an impact on the growth of English bands like The Beatles , Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin ensured English ruled the airwaves.
      English bands helped English spread

      Will English stay the universal language?

      For some, it may seem unfathomable that English could one day not be as popular as it is now, but looking at history suggests otherwise. Latin was once Europe’s most influential language for thousands of years, but today it is only spoken by priests and scholars. But however languages may change over time, it is highly unlikely that English will stop being the world’s number one language.

      The information in this article proves just how important it is to understand and speak English but unfortunately, not everyone can. If you happen to be someone whose first language isn’t English and you struggle a bit with English, don’t worry – there is a solution. The Language Teaching Centre is a language school that offers English courses in Cape Town . The centre offers English courses to suit everyone’s needs. Whether you take a general English course, a crash course, or an online English course, learning English in Cape Town has never been easier.
      English courses in Cape Town

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      by in Advancing your career , Interesting facts about languages tags English courses in Cape Town , language school , learn english , learning English in Cape Town

      Learning a new language is great for your career 2016 Cape Town Oktoberfest

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      Our teachers are highly qualified, native speakers of the languages they teach.


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