English the universal language? (1922)

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English the universal language?

Is English to become the Universal Language? Many people think so.

Volapuk, an artificial language, intended for international use, has had its trial and has failed. It was invented in 1879 by Schleyer of Baden. Its roots were borrowed from the Romantic, Germanic and English languages, and the orthography was strictly phonetic. It had some vogue up to the ’90s.

Esperanto, another artificial international language, is still a going concern. It was announced in 1887 in a brochure by Dr L L Zamenhof of Warsaw. It has been introduced as an international auxiliary language in commerce, in science, in travel, in international conventions, in schools and in literature. It is constructed from elements largely common to the Aryan tongues. Its grammar is absolutely regular. The pronunciation and orthography are simple and phonetic. Esperanto seems to be making progress. Twelve foreign governments were officially represented at the sixth International Esperanto congress in Washington. More than 100 periodicals in Esperanto are now being published.

French, until recent years, has been the language of diplomacy? Is English crowding it out? It appears so.

The house of representatives the other day was considering a joint resolution approving the holding of an exposition in Philadelphia as an appropriate celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 1926 of the Declaration of Independence. Representative Simeon D Fess of Ohio, in discussing the resolution, had some interesting things to say concerning the growth of English as a world-language. He made these points, among others:

The remarkable fact is the growth of the English language since the Declaration of Independence, especially where compared with other languages. There are more than 15,000,000 people throughout the world who are today speaking the English language. It is heard in every civilized country in the world, including the islands of the sea. It is difficult to accurately state the number with any degree of exactness. One of the most remarkable observations to be made is in the Orient, where in various centers you cannot only hear the English language spoken today, but you can read publications printed in English for perusal by the inhabitants, some of whom do not read the ancient language of their native country, while many of the educated natives have learned to both read and speak English.

The time is already here when English has not only become the commercial language of the world, but it is rapidly becoming the diplomatic language, and will continue to be more so as the days come and go.

The growth of this language is one of the most phenomenal things, not only in the history of ethnology, but in the history of civilization.

An ethnological map of the world will show English as the vernacular language in the British Isles, in all North America, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa. It is the leading foreign language, or what might be styled as the second language in western Europe outside of the British Isles, Mexico, southern South America, portions of south and eastern Africa, and the oriental countries, including China and Japan. It is spoken to some extent, but not as a second language, in Russia, the Near East countries, India, west coast of South America, and the islands of the sea. It has reached the “Seven Seas” of classical history. Its comparative growth compels admiration.

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Reports by scholars show that in 1900 there were from 150,000,000 to 160,000,000 people speaking English. A conservative statement made not long ago assets tha more than 150,000,000 people speak the English, 120,000,000 the German, 90,000,000 the Russian, 60,000,000 the French, 55,000,000 the Spanish, and 40,000,000 of each Italian and Portuguese. When considered in percentage of growth, the English has surpassed all other languages. If the rate of growth since the year 1800 is continued, it is estimated that by the end of the present century there will be 1,100,000,000 people speaking the language.

In view of this expansion the question is at once raised whether English is to become a world language. Dr. Brander Matthews, one of the best authorities on the subject, believes that a world language may be possible. He also believes that it will not be either the French or the German. With him most of the scholars of the day agree. The French has had its chance and has failed. The German, although a very vigorous tongue, as shown by its growth, is not a contender for the place. The English more than doubles the French and is far beyond the German; its expansion in the last century is quite remarkable.

It is supported by two of the most energetic, determined, and enterprising nationalities of history; nations best designed for linguistic growth not possessed by other languages. It is a combination of Romance and Teutonic tongues. These go to the people who speak rather than the language spoken.

The Anglo-Saxons are less tied to the soil. Like the Hebrew, he is more given to enterprise which seeks new lands. As a world trader his wares are found in every part of the world. Modern industrialism by aid of the agencies of communication are making the world but a neighborhood. The application of electricity permits the resident of Hong Kong to read at his breakfast table the latest news of his American neighbor’s activities on the other side of the world, while both in common observe the doings of the balance of the world. This relationship invites, if it does not demand, and international language, which is believed by more and more to be the English. Recent spasms for a newly constructed language are recalled. No artificial language is likely to ever develop to supply such necessity. On the other hand, English is supported for such position, first, by ease with which it is learned; second, the literature which appeals to the educated of all the world; third, character of the Anglo-Saxon people in trade ability which compels the inter-communication; and, fourth, the spread of this language through the agencies of commerce, which has already made it the vernacular in two great nationalities and the second language in much of the world.

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Our own country has long been known as the greatest training field for the spread of this tongue. At a very early period we adopted the common-school system, and later made public educations compulsory. To our land come almost every nationality of the earth, bringing with them their own vernacular. At an early period many of these vernaculars were the only language spoken by them. But through the agency of the public schools English entered these homes, and in many, if not most, cases in time entirely supplanted the native tongue. One by one the language of the immigrant gave way to the language of the country of adoption. In this way this country has become a great training place for the spread of English in other lands.

For some years there has been growing up a strong sentiment not only to make English the language in the public schools, but to refuse the use of public funds to teach any other. This sentiment is grounded upon the growing belief that by immigration dangerous dogmas are being imported into the country and promulgated through a foreign tongue.

During the World War, this fear was greatly augmented and gave a new impetus to a demand for English as the one language to be taught. There is a cultural value in the study of other languages which will not be underestimated.

The position of the United States before the world, linked with the power and influence of the British Empire in all matters international, will generate a new impetus for making English the diplomatic language as it has long ago become the commercial language of the world. The recent arms conference in Washington is a comment upon this statement.

With the inevitable cumulative importance of economic America to the world, her far-reaching influence on the spread of popular government among other peoples which demands a greater regard for popular education, the language spoken by the citizens of the republic, representing almost every nation of the earth, will be further stimulated through self-interest of the nations associated with us.

International trade is an established accomplishment. Such trade is most largely under the direction of the nations who speak English. As this commerce expands throughout the world do will the language of commerce grow, until it may become the world language. Its growth is one of the phenomena of modern civilization.

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