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Baha’u’llah advocated one language as the greatest means of unity and the basis of international conference. He wrote to the kings and rulers of the various nations, recommending that one language should be sanctioned and adopted by all governments. According to this each nation should acquire the universal language in addition to its native tongue. The world would then be in close communication, consultation would become general, and dissensions due to diversity of speech would be removed. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 232-233.

By now, we all know that we continually handicap international communication and understanding by the inability of all parties in any world-wide initiative to communicate directly, clearly, and understandably. A lot gets lost in the translation.

So imagine the distinct, enormous benefit, to all the peoples of the world, if we possessed an agreed-upon, global, common language, selected by all of the nations, taught in every school and spoken everywhere. We could define this common lingua franca as an auxiliary language, in order not to displace any national or ethnic language already in existence. In a generation or two, every person on Earth could become bilingual, speaking their own native language and a universal one.

How would the world go about accomplishing this vitally important task?

First, the world would need to make a decision, involving linguistic experts and the input of all nations, to select a single language. It won’t be an easy choice, and would have to take into account many political and strategic considerations. However, the language need not be one of the current languages; it could be an invented or syncretistic language, thus distributing equal responsibility and effort throughout the globe, and favoring no nation or national interest.

Second, we would need to give some recognition to the extensibility of the language. Extensibility—the principle of system design that takes future growth into consideration—recognizes that no language is static, and some languages adapt to change better than others. When the world community adopts a single language for global use, we will greatly increase the frequency of extension. In other words, the universal language we select has to easily accommodate new forms, idioms, vocabulary and usage.

Third: once we make the selection, an extensive period of preparation would have to occur. We would need to codify the alphabet used—assuming here that we would select an alphabetic language, rather than a language with a system of logograms or symbols—and standardize its word definitions, spellings and pronunciations. In all technical fields, we would need to carefully identify usage parameters, and resolve conflicts and questions. This extremely large task has to encompass medical, social science, chemical, engineering, and other fields.

Fourth: All schools, throughout the world, must prepare to teach the language. For adults, opportunities should exist for each to learn to speak and write the language. The training of the teachers will comprise a large task, itself.

Some think of this great undertaking as a dream, impossible to achieve. However, leaders of governments, businesses and educational institutions generally recognize that a universal auxiliary language would represent a major benefit to the world, for commerce, for science, for diplomacy, for peace and for personal communication of any and all kinds.

The Baha’i teachings clearly envisage a time when humanity will accomplish this tremendous goal:

The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home… – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 166.

When you think about the impact of a universal auxiliary language, you’ll find it very easy to recognize the potential benefits of such a change to world-wide culture. The immediate effect for all travelers would be huge, making it possible to go anywhere and communicate easily and clearly. International diplomacy would be greatly improved. At present, when all important diplomatic communications must be carefully translated, and the translations carefully studied for the perhaps intricate meaning(s) in a translated phrase, a very large opportunity exists for miscommunication, with extremely important consequences.

Beyond the practical aspects of this necessary change, the cultural impact of a universal language would have serious positive consequences for understanding each other. Can you conceive of reading and understanding the great literature of cultures and religions in a language you can understand, and what that might do to advance our appreciation of other lands and Faiths?

This development, which the world desperately needs, will eventually take place. Baha’is work, hope and pray for its quick realization.

4 Comments

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  • Owen Allen
    Nov 14, 2015
    Hi Leon, personally I believe that the common language will be chosen organically, ie as the forces of human society choose, and so may not be a governmental based decision. Nonetheless there may come a time when there is peaceful room enough in the world for nations to look at language. 30 years ago i wrote a bad short story about the creation of an entirely new language from all the languages of the world using computer processing and mathematical software that could treat language rules etc in an organic manner, chaos theory, fractals, social dynamic modelling etc. I ...think one of our losses in the global society are the smaller languages which are becoming extinct. Many have great phonetics. And language and sound have a lot to do with how we perceive the world, so the loss of diversity in language can be a loss of access to some quite wonderful possibilities in perception. From perception we have conversation, from conversation we have plans, from plans we have action, and from action we realise the world and civilisation. So language is, quite literally, the design of the world. The third possibility, designing a new language, is trickiest of all because we will be using the old languages to design the process of design. How do we break through from just old wine in new skin type of thing? One way is to try to see the world differently, then trying to create new phrases out of old langauge, to describe that new way of seeing, so that we can still communicate the concept, however pooly. Then maybe generations of students of such endeavour will come to new words to express these new ideas. Can we find anything in Baha'u'llah's language and text that could indicate such newness? I think Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha's generative (positive, future based, uplifting) language is one thing that could characterise a new language system.
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  • Alexander Leith
    Nov 14, 2015
    Very interesting article, thank you. Could one argue that by default "Business English" has already become the auxiliary language? I know in principle, choosing a neutral language free from pre-existing regional idiosyncrasies and nuances of meaning seems the most "sensible" idea; however a language is only effective if people choose or want to learn it. All the governments of the world could agree on a new language, but unless the population actually want to use it for communication, it is of no purpose. I sometimes wonder if Shoghi Effendi's choice of English (he also considered French) as the European language ...that the Baha'i writings were translated into perhaps unleashed a spiritual force which made English the leading language of business and entertainment (Hollywood) that drives the desire in people around the world to lear it.
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  • Nov 13, 2015
    Thanks for bringing this issue up. As a 'Global Citizen' I learn Esperanto because a GS needs a Language - It's an absolute fundamental / core principle of the Faith. The steps outlined above are academic. Ideas IMO ( call me old fashioned ) are to be taken up by people with a belief and conviction in them. 'It' has happened - however not many people are taking it up.. - for reasons explained http://claudepiron.free.fr/articlesenanglais/psychologicalaspects.htm