Would you consider English the universal language?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by science man, May 4, 2010.


Would you consider English the universal language yet?

  1. yes

    21 vote(s)
  2. no

    15 vote(s)
  1. I don't think we've reached that point yet. i.e. The French don't speak English because they don't like us Americans for some reason.
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  3. Mr MacGillivray Banned Banned

    There are more people not speaking english than there are speaking english.


    I most countries English only gets you around as a tourist. It will not get you a promising career in your profession unless it is one of those special marginal professions, such as football player, scientist, or occupying soldier.

    Ever traveled through Brazil? Amazing how few people can or want to speak English. Ever been in Germany? Amazing how few young people can or want to speak English. Ever been to France? Amazing how few young people can or want to speak English. etc.

    It's not even close to being universal.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The figures in this Wikipedia article are typical of the estimates of the number of speakers of the world's major languages. It lists separate figures for primary and secondary speakers, and a combined total. Mandarin beats English by a factor of three for primary speakers and a factor of two for all speakers. Spanish is a close third in primary speakers and a contender for secondary speakers. Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese and Russian each have more than half as many native speakers as English, and French joins that list if you include secondary speakers, since it has more secondary speakers than any other language.

    As for the adverb "yet," that may be obsolete 20th century thinking. The world is changing. Chinese and Spanish are now important languages in business; Arabic, Russian and Farsi in politics.

    You younger members will undoubtedly live to see really good language translation software. This will vastly reduce the need for people to bother learning a second language--much less a new primary language--except for scholarship, migration or cross-cultural socialization or marriage.

    One would expect diplomacy to be the one profession that mandates fluency in a foreign language, but in fact it is routinely conducted through interpreters and diplomatic staff are shuffled from one country to another.

    Here is Wikipedia's list by total number of speakers, primary + secondary, for all languages with more than 100 million.
    • Mandarin 1.12 billion
    • English 480 million
    • Spanish 320 million
    • Russian 285 million
    • French 265 million
    • Hindi/Urdu 250 million
    • Arabic 221 million
    • Portuguese 188 million
    • Bengali 185 million
    • Japanese 133 million
    • German 109 million
    Notice that the speakers of all of these major languages taken together barely add up to half the world's population.
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  7. BigFairy Hi Im Big Fairy! Registered Senior Member

    English is terribly structured. You do not write the words in the way you pronounce them and vice versa
  8. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Maybe not, but it is the "universal language" of aviation and nautical traffic.

    Yes, and I found the reverse to be true.

    See above.
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    French is worse. It's slightly easier in French to figure out how to pronounce a written word, but it's utterly impossible to figure out how to write down a spoken word. Half the letters in every word are silent. Aiment is pronounced "em."

    It's not fair to use a written language to indict the spoken language. Writing changes more slowly than pronunciation so in almost every language spelling lags behind pronunciation. Most nations periodically reform their spelling rules to keep up with the modern spoken language. Italian, Spanish and German all did it in the late 19th century. (That's why the scientific name for the extinct species of humans is "Neanderthal," while the name of the valley where the first fossils were found is now re-spelled Neandertal.) Finnish, Czech and Swedish did it even more recently. Turkish adopted a completely new alphabet 90 years ago.

    English, unfortunately, hasn't had a serious spelling reform in half a millennium and it was never really done with proper scholarship. We still spell many words the way they were spelled in Middle English, when a long A was pronounced AH and the E on the end of words wasn't silent. Now that so many sovereign countries use English as their national language it's going to be very difficult to get them to agree on a timetable for changing their spelling rules. Oddly, although one would expect just the opposite, it was the British who changed to the metric system while we still stubbornly cling to inches, gallons and acres. I wonder if they'd so easily give up their spelling?

    And this is greatly complicated by the fact that we don't pronounce our words in the same way. Even within the USA, "I can't" is pronounced "Ah cain't" in Mississippi.

    We'll probably have to wait for electronic storage to completely replace paper, so spelling updates can be performed by software, and everyone can read the version they're comfortable with.

    At any rate, two of the world's most important languages--Chinese and Japanese--don't even have phonetic writing systems. And some that do, like Hindi and Arabic, are so complicated that they're not much of an improvement over our occasionally near-random assortment of symbols.
  10. BigFairy Hi Im Big Fairy! Registered Senior Member

    Thank you for the knowledgeable post. I didnt think of it in that way.
  11. Mr MacGillivray Banned Banned

    Have you tested out the automatic translation option that comes with Chrome? The translations are remarkably good. There is the occasional nonsense but the technology has made significant progress compared to a few years ago.

    This option has actually already opened up possibilities. I used to avoid certain local official sites because I just couldn't make sense of the information, and the english pages were limited, but now with this automatic translation you can really get a good overview of the content in the local language.

    I can only imagine how much progress they will make in the next few years and I think you are certainly on the mark with your prediction.
  12. Mr MacGillivray Banned Banned

    You are just one datapoint. I have based my view on three datapoints.
  13. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    As for me being just one data point, how many visits to those countries would you like? In company with whom? For what length of time and what sorts of interaction?
  14. Mr MacGillivray Banned Banned

    I assume you are not suffering from split personality so you are one person. One data point. I know at least 2 other people who have confirmed my view to me personally. Hence 3 people, three datapoints.

    So far i had nobody say the opposite.

    Of course everything is relative. Obviously there are more young people speaking english and wanting to speak english in Germany than there are in outer mongolia. But I had formulated the null hypothesis as in: all young people in the different nations speak English and want to speak English equally well.

    This is not the case based on my limited dataset so far that is based on personal experience. Unfortunately there is a bias because the experimentator is also a datapoint.

    And in my experience the null hypothesis is wrong and if you would compare the different countries I don't think countries like Germany, france and Brazil are topperformers in this test.

    Compare that to nations like the Netherlands where you have a hard time finding someone who doesn't speak English, unless it is a german tourist. But luckily these people also speak usually German.
  15. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Ah, that's what I assumed you meant, but you hadn't previously mentioned those other people.
    How many of my friends/ fellow ex-students do want me to call up to confirm my view?
    Or did you assume that I have no friends and was relying solely on my own perspective?

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    You see, again I beg to differ: the last time I was in France I was at a conference with ~150 people, Thai, Belgian, German, Italian, Slovenian, Canadian (1 person), French and English (3 people).
    Everyone spoke English. The most linguistically challenged were the (other two) English guys who managed what they remembered of their French from school (merci and bonjour was about their limit), the Canadian (English only) and then the Thais (Thai and English). After that everyone else was comfortable in at least three languages, if not more.
  16. soullust Registered Senior Member

    yes, If you don't speak English, or have a translators.

    Don't show up to a UN convention.

    Nuff said .
  17. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I'd think to know your native language along with english would be great. Now those who only speak english should try to learn another language so that they could converse with someone of a different culture as well as their own.
  18. Cowboy My Aim Is True Valued Senior Member

    If English isn't he universal language, it's probably getting close. The fact that people all over the world make a point to learn English is a testament to that. Sure; there are more people speaking Mandarin Chinese than English, but almost all of them are in China.
  19. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    Actually Japanese has two phonetic writing systems, hiragana and katakana, with the latter used for similar purposes as italics in English -- for foreign words and emphasis.

    During the Meiji reformation, circa 1850, most of the rules of writing Japanese were streamlined and most of the hiragana and katakana pronunciation rules were simplified with special rules applying virtually only to "ha" and "he" -- common particles.

    That being said, your main point that Japanese reading comprehension as a functional member of Japanese society cannot possibly rely just on the phonetic systems stands. The Meiji reformation restricted the everday complement of ideographic characters to less than 2000 (specialized fields and study of historical texts may require many more) and restricted their standard phonetic values somewhat.
  20. What do you mean? Young people of France want to learn English? hmm I guess things have changed in the past decade because when my dad went there he she it was really hard to get around with English over there.
  21. Omega133 Aus der Dunkelheit Valued Senior Member

    Isn't math the universal language? I thought numbers were something every country knew.
  22. I think that the only reason why Mandarin beats out English is because of China's huge population.
  23. Think about everything you're able to say in phonetic language . The only things you translate with math are things the have to do with math which isn't isn't much at all.

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