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The Hegemony since day 1 of its formation in 2041 has enforced a single global language for: education, legal documents, announcements, and for communication between citizens across the various states and even planets.

In my mind (might be a bit ethnocentric) English, albeit reformed/fixed to standardize some of its quirks (which changes exactly I'm not sure of just yet) could serve as a global language. Of course I'm always open to another solution like Esperanto.

Would English be a good choice for a global language or do better alternatives exist already? By alternative it should be easier to learn and teach as well as have the capacity to be picked up by virtually anyone with minimal difficulty.

Notes:

  • English would be the language of the state and bureaucracy. However the Hegemony still supports local cultures and languages within the larger global culture established by the Hegemony.

  • English wouldn't have to be anyone's first language they would just be required to be fluent in it.

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    $\begingroup$ english already is the most spoken language on earth by number of speakers, followed closely by chinese. It is the language of trade for most of the world. English is a second language for most of the globe. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 11 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ I always thought Spanish would be a better global language, despite not speaking it: of the most spoken languages in the world, it has the best correlation between written and spoken language (i.e. you always know how to speak a word by reading it for the first time), so it is easier to learn. $\endgroup$ – lvella Feb 11 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ This idea is double plus good! Big brother approves! $\endgroup$ – Aron Feb 12 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ I note that for ten years now, airline pilots and air traffic controllers are all required to be able to speak English. $\endgroup$ – Eric Lippert Feb 12 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Eric Lippert But Mandarin is the primary language used domestically in China. All Air Traffic Controllers need to use BOTH languages, and respond in the language the pilot first uses. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 12 at 21:09

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  • The Russians did it: the Russian Empire, and its successors the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation established Russian as the language for official and inter-ethnic communication. It worked. Georgians, Armenians, Kazakhs, Turkmens, Azeris and so on learned Russian in school and used it as the language of culture, learning, justice, trade and official business. And Russian is in no way, shape or form easier to learn than English.

  • The Chinese did it: the Chinese Empire made Mandarin the language of official business throughout the territory. Its successors, the Republic of China and the People's Republic, went further, and, copying the Russian model, made it the language for learning, trade, justice and inter-ethnic communication. All the various peoples under the rule of Peking learned Mandarin Chinese and used it as the language of culture, learning, trade and official business. And, while Mandarin Chinese the language is indeed not that hard to learn, its writing system is a horror descended straight from some Lovecraftian nightmare; and yet, with enough encouragement, they learned it.

  • The Indians failed: after acquiring its independence, India embarked on a program to make Hindi the common language of the immense country. They failed abysmally, and to this day they use a form of English as the language of official business, learning, trade, justice and inter-ethnic communication.

What we see in this examples is that how hard or easy to learn a language is matters but little. What really matters is how determined the empire is, and, most importantly, how strong are the incentives. The Greeks did not set upon a program to make every barbarian speak Greek, and yet for a thousand years Greek was understood from the Pillars of Hercules to the Indus; the Romans did not go about setting up schools teaching Latin to the barbarians in the provinces, and yet the Gauls, the Iberians, the Afri, the Illyrians and the Dacians learned Latin -- and some of their descendants still speak it, albeit in very debased forms, which are now called the Romance languages. The British did not send armies of teachers to India to teach Indians to speak English; and yet Indians not only speak English, but, given a choice between using English or one of their bewilderingly different native languages, chose to continue to use English long time after the British Raj fell to dust.

Why does it not matter all that much how hard or easy to learn a language is? Because how hard or easy to learn a language is depends enourmously on what other language or languages a person already knows. For example, according to learned blog post by Colin Marshall, as mentioned on the admirable LanguageHat, native English speakers find the Romance languages and the Scandinavian languages easiest to learn among European languages, with German being harder, Greek and the Slavic languages harder still, and the Finno-Ugric languages hardest; and we can believe this ranking, for it is derived from the actual practice of the British Foreign Studies Institute. Now consider the same languages of Europe from the point of view of a Russian; undoubtedly, the Slavic languages will be easiest.

All children learn their first language with equal ease; after that, any language will be easy for some people and hard for other people. There is no "easiest" language for all the people on Earth; but all the people on Earth can learn any language given the right incentives.

P.S. About Esperanto: Esperanto is a tiny little bit easier to learn than English for some people (basically, people who speak natively a Romance language, mostly because acquiring vocabulary is somewhat easier, and Esperanto grammar works superficially similar to Romance grammar); it is just about as hard as English for speakers of German or a Slavic language; and it's harder than English for everybody else on Earth -- Esperanto has more morphology than English, and it requires agreement between nouns and adjectives; it also has such relatively rare feature as reflexive pronouns and future participles (where we see that its inventor liked Latin very much).

Per peeve: just like English, Esperanto lacks grammatical gender but has a set of three personal pronouns in the third person singular; this, as in English, makes pronouns carry lexical meaning, which, in any reasonable language, they shouldn't. For example, consider the difference between French elle est venue and the apparently identical English she has come; while the English sentence tells that it was either a female being or a ship, the French sentence tells nothing about whether the person or object who has come is male, female, animate or inanimate: all it tells is that the word replaced by the pronoun is one of a class which requires feminine pronouns and adjectives.

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    $\begingroup$ "All children learn their first language with equal ease" Not true. A Danish child at 15 months will on average know about 80 words, while a Swedish kid will know closer to 130. But that has more to do with difficult pronunciation than any formal grammar or syntax. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Feb 12 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ The Scandinavian languages are similar, but Danish has a kind of swallowing of unstressed syllables that makes it harder to understand for "newcomers" - and perhaps including children? $\endgroup$ – Stefan Feb 12 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ The linguistic shortcomings of Esperanto aside, the pragmatic problem is that when placed at random in any city of a few million people, you have a better chance of meeting a fluent Urdu speaker than a fluent Esperanto speaker, so, I guess, learn Urdu instead? $\endgroup$ – Eric Lippert Feb 12 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Here is a Danish popular science article on the subject, with a couple of references at the bottom. Two of the references look peer reviewed, but I haven't been able to look at them myself. The big hurdle to learn a language (as a native toddler) seems to be perfectly correlated to the number of vowel sounds that the language has, according to that article. At least with the seven languages they looked at. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Feb 12 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond It's not about the child's ability to pronounce, but to discern. And Danish has phonetic properties which makes it more difficult than many other languages. Having many vowels and having words meld into one another are two of the effects mentioned in that article. It's established in the link I gave and its references that some languages are more difficult than others to learn as a native child, and Danish is one of the difficult ones. I also heard that using "baby talk" doesn't really hurt the child's language development, as long as it hears real language as well. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Feb 12 at 23:23
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English will work fine, but then any language will work fine, as other answers have explained. The fact that English is closer than anything else, with Mandarin as the only real competition, means you might as well start there.

But I think your real problem is that you're thinking too much of enforcement:

… enforced a single global language for: education, legal documents, announcements, and for communication between citizens across the various states and even planets.

I think this is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.1 You do need to teach everyone L2 English, but you don't need English-only education. And you need to allow people to use English when dealing with even local government, business contracts, etc., but I don't think you want to enforce it.


In fact, I think supporting local cultures and languages is not just something to grudgingly allow, but the potential key to a global language taking off.

Look at Europe today. What happens when a Swede is in Prague and meets an Italian? They communicate in English. In fact, they may each even do more communicating with the locals in English than by pulling out phrase books or translators to try to speak Czech. If you have a wide range of (unintelligible) local languages, and people traveling widely among them, all you need is for all of them to have a shared L2 language, and they'll use that language.2 How do you get that kind of travel? Obviously you need EU-style freedom-of-movement laws, and various things like prosperity, vacation time, transport infrastructure that you already want anyway. But having distinct local cultures also helps here. People like to go places that have different cuisine, unique historic sites, or even just different attitudes to late-night clubbing. Without any of that, nobody in Europe would bother going anywhere but Spain and Greece on vacation.

The same thing works in business. If two Italians want to do business, they do it in Italian. If an Italian and Swede want to do business… well, they could hire expensive interpreters, and then hire bilingual lawyers to check everything over after the fact, but it's easier to just do business in English. In fact, in fields like tech and banking, there are even companies that operate mostly in English instead of in their local languages, because it's worth trying to attract the best people in the world instead of the best people in your town.

You want people to absorb enough hegemonic culture that they keep up their L2 English instead of forgetting it after school. But just supporting language communities of around 5-50M people seems to already do that. That's enough people to have a native entertainment industry, but not one so big that it can make people ignore English entertainment. It's enough that high-profile programs can be professionally dubbed, but nowhere near everything that anyone want to watch. It's big enough to get people talking about those subtitled shows in their native language, but small enough that fans have to go to the international internet to really be involved in fandom.

As pointed out by Celestial Dragon Emperor in the comments, higher education is also very handy. If you make it reasonably cheap and easy for anyone who qualifies to go far from home for university, the best universities will soon all be teaching primarily in English, and soon most universities will, without being forced. (I believe this is exactly what's happened in India over the few generations since independence.)


The only real problem is how you deal with Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. Those language communities are large enough that people can arguably get enough travel, entertainment, and business without knowing English.3 But you're talking about "planets", so maybe that will take care of itself.


1. I'm assuming you don't want a highly centralized and repressive government, and that you mean what you later say about "supports local cultures and languages".

2. A couple centuries ago, if a Swede and an Italian met in Prague, they'd communicate in French. What's different today is that travel and L2 English are ubiquitous for commoners, in the way travel and L2 French were ubiquitous only for aristocrats.

3. Just encouraging local languages will help. As will modernizing orthography. If Hokkien and Cantonese speakers don't share hanzi spellings for their distinct languages, don't share L2 Mandarin, and do share L2 English, they'll start speaking English with each other. But that still leaves hundreds of millions of people with L1 Mandarin, L1 Russian, and L1 Spanish, which is still too many.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Feb 11 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ "Enforcement", had already basically happened in the world of aviation. You just can't have foreign flights coming in from everywhere, and nobody understands each other, yet a 747 needs to land. So, it's English. All pilots, at least if they fly internationally, are required to communicate in English, at least with entities outside the plane. As had already been mentioned, it doesn't matter which language everyone uses, as long as everyone is on the same page. It's about efficiency. $\endgroup$ – sthede Feb 12 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @sthede Sure, you do probably need to enforce it in cases where the field is internationalizing rapidly and people are going to die without a standard, as with pilots—but there aren't too many of those, and almost all of them are already taken care of. (There are a few holdouts—e.g., diplomatic assistants are still required to know French as well as English—but I don't think that will last until 2041.) $\endgroup$ – abarnert Feb 12 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ "Any" language is probably a step too far. Esperanto, Klingon, Hawaiian and a host of other small-island languages simply lack the vocabulary to be used for running a modern empire unless you plan to invent a lot of specialised words very very quickly. $\endgroup$ – Richard Feb 12 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Richard True, but you actually can invent those words very quickly, or just borrow them. Which is exactly what happened with Esperanto, and Hawaiian. Or look at modern Turkish: even if you try to enforce rules against borrowing (which you obviously shouldn't), that only holds things off for a single generation. You can talk about Bremsstrahlung or noncommutative operators or quantitative easing or claims of meruit in Esperanto and Turkish just as in English (which, of course, borrowed "Bremsstrahlung" and "meruit" from German and medieval Latin). $\endgroup$ – abarnert Feb 12 at 20:35
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There are two issues to be considered:

  • sociopolitical aspect - if the world in 25 years resembles anything like today democracy and listening to the "will of people", then it won't be acceptable. Period. If the hegemony has enough clout to just "order" common language, then it can choose whichever language it wants, be it English, Esperanto or Kanka-bono (on the pain of death sentence if necessary).

  • linguistic aspect - English is rather unsuitable for a global language. It has way too many vowels, weird consonants, wonky stress system, orthography, well, let's not even talk about the orthography, complex tenses, weird mixed vocabulary, unusually high word/syllable ratio (makes oral communication in noisy conditions worse than necessary). English is also marching towards isolating language, but is not there yet, however its syntax is already showing some patterns in this direction.

The only reason why the hegemony would choose English is the number of speakers and the fact that it is already almost a world language.

As for constructed languages, there are some that are quite easy and reasonably world-neutral (glosa or interglosa), or at least Europe-neutral (Novial). However, only Esperanto (and with a big, big "maybeeee" also Ido) is used enough to have all the wrinkles and ill-defined features already noticed, smoothed and resolved. There is nothing to replace a large body of speakers and existing literature.

Yes, Esperanto is too Eurocentric. But English, almost by definition, is even more Eurocentric (and those quirks of English grammar and syntax are not in favour of simplicity and ease of learning). And, if the Hegemony does not like the accusative, they can always order to drop it from the (formal) language...

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  • $\begingroup$ The Hegemony basically just declared their version of English as the official language of the Hegemony. So in a way a bit authoritarian, but in this case it's to simplify things $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Feb 10 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ Esperanto has only a small number of afficionados, whereas English is already the semi-official language of international commerce, technology, and safety. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Feb 10 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ English has the habit of freely adding words from other languages, and then quickly adopting them. This has its advantages. $\endgroup$ – jmoreno Feb 10 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for mentioning Ido. $\endgroup$ – aloisdg Feb 11 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ Inglish verri hard to mungle is past you me not understand other. How do Russian and Chinese compare? $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Feb 12 at 19:05
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Would English be a good choice for a global language or do better alternatives exist already

English is Okay. It's currently the language with the largest total number of speakers, though I suppose Chinese might exceed that in this century or the next. You can see other contenders on that Wikipedia page.

Chinese is time-consuming to learn, apparently, especially to read and write -- that doesn't appear to be stopping the Chinese from being competitive e.g. technologically. Apparently the grammar and vocabulary is relatively simple.

English spelling is atrocious, it's hard to guess how a word is spelled if you hear it, and vice versa.

Pidgin OK too, no need complicated.


As an aside, one of the comments says, "I had six years of Latin at school. Today only fragments of that are left".

Well conversely I have 6 years of French in school and still get by, it stuck, the difference is that my primary schooling was in nothing but French (and I practised a bit since then).

Apparently that happens in France too: i.e. people go to school to learn a standard French.

If the Hegemony wants everyone to share a language, then IMO they need to use that language (perhaps exclusively) in school. The way I remember it, I went to grade 1 knowing about four words of French (my Mum helpfully taught me "je ne comprends pas" to prepare me for my first day), and I don't remember much from that first year but by the end of it I understood what was being said and taught in class.

Not that "full immersion" is necessary in school, lots of people (e.g. Dutch people) get by in English without having studied it exclusively in school, but I think it's sufficient.

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  • $\begingroup$ Mandarin is now spoken by 1.1 billion people, English by only 983 million people fluentin3months.com/most-spoken-languages $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 10 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ What held Mandarin back in the early computer age was the difficulty in developing a Mandarin keyboard, a Mandarin CRT display, and a coding method for Mandarin into binary storage. These difficulties have been overcome with high resolution graphic display screens and exponentially larger computer memories and CPU word widths. Mandarin is a graphic language. English is a 'line and circle' language. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 10 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ I thought that Chinese reading and writing was difficult (or, at least, took a long time to learn) even in the pre-computer era, because it's not a bit phonetic/alphabetic. $\endgroup$ – ChrisW Feb 10 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ The Song of Lament in Canadian high schools in the 50's and 60's - when it was compulsory for University - 'Latin is a dead language, it is plain enough to see. It killed off all the Romans, and now it is killing me.' $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 10 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ +1 English spelling is atrocious $\endgroup$ – jean Feb 12 at 13:14
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To go off at a different angle: it does not matter at all which language they speak. Just that they have a common language as well as their home dialect. Imagine, if you become a huge success your books may be translated, and what then?

Depending how many centuries in the future you are, the language would change, and 21st century people would not understand it, just as most of us today would not understand Chaucer in the original.

Tolkien got around this by calling the common language "Common speech" without further explanation. Just about everybody spoke some form of it, even the orcs, because the plot demanded that they communicate. (Picture junior orcs in school chanting verbs...) Some SF authors call it Anglic or Galactic, but it's the same thing. Easier to write about than the handwavium translator implant (which is actually more likely IMHO).

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NO

Canada has a french-speaking population and an english-speaking population. Practically, it made sense to impose english as a common tongue. The french regions tried to secede. Twice. Don't discard a third attempt in the future, despite a much more relaxed fully dual english-french bilingualism for everyone.

In Spain, spanish is the common tongue. Catalans are pushing to secede. In France they used the impulse of the french revolution to impose french as the common language. Nearly two centuries of corsican terrorism ensued.

Of course, the language was not the only reason for these movements, but it acts as a flag to rail after, and sure it is the main collective feeling of the community, their common soul. Whenever they're not happy with your government, whenever there's a problem, an economic crisis, a perceived offense, real or imaginary, they will gather against the tiranny of the english-speakers.

Sure, you can impose your language. The romans did it, the spanish did it, the russiand did it, the english did it. You only need a big army and a healthy disregard for human life. You conquer their countries, lay waste to their cities, kill the population, enslave the rest. After some time, out of the need for survival, they learn the language of their masters. It's far easier if they can't write, or their tongue does not have a rich literature of their own, since the language of the conquerors is perceived as a language of culture and power, of people of wealth and authority, but with enough time and harshness it works even against fully mature languages. It won't be quick, however, and it will be nasty. Expect problems all the way. As a matter of fact, don't expect your Hegemony to survive the troubles.

I don't know if this is a problem with people who's monolingual, or at least raised speaking english, but it's not the first time I see a question like that, always asked with an naivety it makes me shudder. You really, really don't know the can of worms you can open meddling with an issue as sensitive, as closed to the individuality of people, as language is. There's a reason the EU hasn't tried to enforce any kind of common language, be it english or german, and settled for three different working languages (and that, after much fight and trouble) and just traslating everything else. It's because if they tried, the EU would dissappear next morning.

The intelligent move is doing nothing, just like the EU has (not) done. English is nowadays learnt as foreign language in almost every country which does not speack it as a first language. Make the documentation and common proceedings of your Hegemony be in english. Translate everything that is sent to it to english for storing and internal work. Don't dictate anything about languages, and let people sort their communication problems as they can.

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    $\begingroup$ "a sane disregard for human life" - a what now? $\endgroup$ – TessellatingHeckler Feb 11 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft You are only using examples of language repression. The Hegemony isn't repressing any languages they are just highly encouraging the use of one as well as using it as the official language of the Hegemony in general. It's not like the Hegemony is banning other languages. $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Feb 12 at 2:38
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    $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor Neither french in Canada nor catalan in Spain are forbidden. Only, a language is being "highly encouraged" instead. It is the same. It allows people speacking the encouraged language to move in elsewhere and not bothering learning the local language, thus forcing the local population to communicate in the common one. And just like a drop of black ink in a pool of water, it doesn't need many people to achieve this result. In the URSS, russian was highly encouraged too, but when it splat the new countries made clear that living there speacking only russian was not polite. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Feb 12 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft I don't hear of many issues from French Canadians. I'm pretty sure Canadians in general get along fine they just have two official languages (I think three?). Catalan was banned in Spain however during the Franco era. Personally I don't think the USSR is a good example because they flipantly banned languages within their borders. I believe they banned Cechyan, Polish, and Lithuanian for a time during unrest in those regions. $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Feb 12 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ 'Practically, it made sense to impose english as a common tongue.' Are you EVER out of touch with what is happening in Canada. French is one of the official languages, and EVERY consumer product sold has packaging in English AND French equally. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 12 at 21:05
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  • Enforcing a common second language in school sounds mostly workable.
    Keep in mind that quite a lot of people go to schools without learning a foreign language, and that even for those who do the practical communication skills might be rather limited. (I had six years of Latin at school. Today only fragments of that are left.)
    So what happens when one of those goes to an office? Tries to file taxes?
  • Supporting local cultures and a common global culture are contradictions.
    If the Hegemony wants to maintain local cultures in their distinctiveness, it has to support their primary languages. If it does that, there will be people who speak no foreign language.
  • Going to other planets might be the filter.
    Your Hegemony could require all astronauts and off-world colonists to be fluent in the common language, for safety reasons if nothing else. They could subtly or not-so-subtly discourage ethnic groupings in space. Earth might be the only place where the "old cultures" live. The rest is homogenized, bland "Hegemony default culture."
  • Enforcing a language for communication between citizens sounds pretty totalitarian.
    They might get away with requiring it in public documents, with the problems noted above, but is the "language police" going to swoop into pubs where people speak the old language? If they do that, they're pretty much on the way to eradicate all other cultures.
  • Don't forget religion.
    Christian ministers have to learn Latin, ancient Hebrew, and ancient Greek. They're not using it for day-to-day communication, but maintaining those skills is important for their job definition.

Oh, and depending on what kind of future you want to paint, the language might be Chinese and not English.

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  • $\begingroup$ No the language police won't swoop in for speaking in public. Unless it's in the context of refusing to speak common to security. Ex: when pulled over $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Feb 10 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ I assume that if you learned common (English) since you where young you'd retain it. $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Feb 10 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ To the best of my understanding, a fairly large number of countries teach English as a second language right now, so perhaps it already is de facto, a global language. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 10 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @James, I'm trying to highlight the difference between "had some English classes" and "speaks enough English to communicate." Quite a lot of people forget what they learn at school as soon as the exam is finished. Only constant use keeps a skill alive. You're reading what I write, right? But if I had to talk to a cop I'd think about requesting a certified translator ... $\endgroup$ – o.m. Feb 10 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ "even for those who do the practical communication skills might be rather limited. (I had six years of Latin at school. Today only fragments of that are left.)" I suspect that problem of loss through disuse wouldn't be as significant for English where there's so much accessible pop culture available in the language, films, music, books, etc, especially with a language that's already a de facto international common tongue for so many. $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Feb 10 at 18:27
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Personally, I would suggest that Mandarin is going to become the global world language.

However since few American or Western writers OR readers can speak it, I suggest that anyone writing for this audience sticks to English.

The 'global language' that any book adapts, of course, will be the language of its readers.

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  • $\begingroup$ you could end up with a society that uses English as the official language, but a majority also know Chinese, Spanish, French, Hindi, etc. That way you still have wonderful blade runner esque city speak which is a amalgamation of all these languages, but still having one official language citizens are highly encouraged to be fluent in $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Feb 10 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ If I were absolutely truthful, I would have suggested that 'binary' would become the universal language. 'dib' would be zero, bit would be one, and we would speak like 'dibdibdibbitbitdib bitbitdib.' Simple,elgant, only three phonemes. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 10 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ Mandarin isn't going to be the world language. English the the language of business, the internet, computers and science. If you go to China, all the kids want to talk to you to practice their English that they are learning at school. Ditto for India $\endgroup$ – Thorne Feb 10 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Thorne And in Vancouver, all the English kids in school want to learn Mandarin, because it is the language of business there. A business student who does not know Mandarin in Vancouver has no future. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 10 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ Not here it isn't $\endgroup$ – Thorne Feb 11 at 1:44
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If the Hegemony wants to hang on to its power, it had better pay attention to how people will be actually communicating in 2041. Back in the 1930's Otto Neurath & his friends in Vienna created "Isotype", which is "a method of showing social, technological, biological and historical connections in pictorial form." (from Wikipedia). A few years ago the Chinese artist artist Xu Bing created "Book from the Ground", which is "A book without words, recounting a day in the life of an office worker, told completely in the symbols, icons, and logos of modern life." (MIT press). And lately in America effective use of emojis has become important in politics (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is gets it, Mitch McConnell doesn't).

You can see where this is headed. Verbal and textual languages have always dominated visual and pictorial languages, but the competition has always been unfair, because words and text were cheap to produce while images were expensive. But that's no longer the case because of computers & smart phones.

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It wouldn't be the first time language was forced upon multiple societies. when the conquistadors came from Spain they forced language among other things on the preexisting civilization. the same thing happened to the native American groups; with the new American colonies spreading westward.

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At this time English is growing into a global language (and has done so over the last century at least) and with a bit more encouraging might become the 'first foreign language' in most of the world without force needed.

Spanish, Russian and Chinese are the main languages in parts of the world but those languages are not that popular as second languages where they are not spoken by officials. Chinese has a disadvantage that while the written language has a wide spread, the spoken versions have smaller areas and are often not understood by speakers of a different version.

There are no areas where Esperanto is spoken as the main language and there are very few native speakers who have used it as first language around the house from birth.
So I would rule that out even as a forced language. If it had been 2142 maybe, if in the mean time it had become a first language for a big group of people. But not in under 25 years.

When you look around in Europe, which countries have been happy with English as 'first foreign' language or just 'a foreign' language, it is the ones where a lot of entertainment is shown in English, with subtitles on TV, or freely available on internet these days. In France it went from a hardly spoken foreign language to one that almost all young people speak, with the young people getting English language content via internet, in the last 20 or even 10 years.

I think the way you can get one language in your world empire is to award people who speak that language, (whether it is English, Spanish, Russian or Chinese,) by better jobs, influence in local, regional and maybe national/world level, like only get voting rights when you have passed a basic language level test.
And spread that language by it being on TV (subtitled if needed) and other communication methods. By teaching it in schools for all age levels but only as language lessons and not as the language for all classes till it has been mastered by most and accepted as first language for that area. And do not forget (fun) courses in it for the adults and elderly.

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There are two aspects to this question, this two to the answer.

One: English sucks. If you're forming a new government, consider implementing something like Orwell's Newspeak, which is a language that was designed for the purpose of limiting one's ability to express such concepts as freedom and liberty. If you're constructing a new government and want a universal tongue, I recommend a Conlang, that is, a constructed language. The language can be much simpler than any existing language because it hasn't gone through centuries of evolution. Someone can design it in such a way that it is easily learned and taught to everyone, taught in schools, and within one hundred years that will be the only language around, except sparse native tongues here and there, ever-dying and rare bits of French and such. Dying languages could be used as interesting subplots.

Two: English is great. Everyone knows it, it already exists, and stating that everyone must know it and using it as the official language is a good choice. Other choices would be Madarin or Arabic, both the most common of tongues.

That's my answer! Hope it helps.

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The BBC recently argued that the need for one global language could soon diminish, as automated translation will make it possible for anyone to understand English content without actually knowing any English.

"Computerised translation technology, the spread of hybrid languages, the rise of China - all pose real challenges." -- Robin Lustig

Taking this idea to its extreme, laws and contracts could theoretically be written in a language which no living human understands directly!

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Of course I'm always open to another solution like Esperanto.

Bonege! Tiam vi certe ne uzos Guglo-tradukilo por legi ĉi-tiun respondon, ĉu ne? La vorto "malferma" uzita tiel malserioze, zorgigas min. Estas pli facila diri "mi uzos alian lingvon, se mi bezonas", ol faru tion. Eĉ kompreni ĉi tiun lingvon bezonas tempon kaj penado. Okdek procento de la mondo ne Angle babilas, eĉ plu ne Esperante.

Ĉu estas sufiĉe da instruistoj por instrui la tuta mondo dum dudek kvin jaroj? Ne. La lernantoj lernos malsimilan version de la lingvo. Vi havos "babilatan lingvon" kaj "skribata lingvo", kiel la Franca.

Diru al homoj ke ili devas lerni, ili ne volos. Diru "via historio estas ___" kaj ili kolorigas kaj trafas defendi ĝin. Oni/vi/unua ne povas "venki".

(Bonvolu pardonu miajn erarojn, mi ne estas fluanto).


English wouldn't have to be anyone's first language they would just be required to be fluent in it.

What I mean is, learn another language as an adult, one chosen by someone else, spend several years doing that, and then imagine you're not allowed to do the important bits of your life in English ever again, and English is relegated to "a provincial cultural relic you're permitted to use in low-importance situations" and say you wouldn't feel resentful. (And if you do say that, I won't believe you).

Go on, Google some foreign Government website and imagine every announcement, law and tax and official communication from now until the rest of your life is in that language, and wonder how long it would take until you just paid someone to translate it to English - and felt yourself a righteous and helpful "good person" for doing so.

@AlexP says

P.S. About Esperanto: Esperanto is a tiny little bit easier to learn than English for some people (basically, people who speak natively a Romance language, mostly because acquiring vocabulary is somewhat easier, and Esperanto grammar works superficially similar to Romance grammar); it is just about as hard as English for speakers of German or a Slavic language; and it's harder than English for everybody else on Earth -- Esperanto has more morphology than English, and it requires agreement between nouns and adjectives; it also has such relatively rare feature as reflexive pronouns and future participles (where we see that its inventor liked Latin very much).

The real win is not how easy Esperanto is to pick up, because actually learning to think and express yourself in another language is a lot of effort and work no matter how familiar the base words are, the real win is that Esperanto is so fixedly regular that even as a second language you can know when you have some part correct or incorrect because they fit simple patterns with no exceptions.

Claude Piron said that, and Thomas Alexander said that; when speaking a natural language as a second language, you always have to defer to a native speaker, but with Esperanto you can say "plural is -j" and it is true for everything so you know you have it right and you know that as truly a native Esperantist. In English, plural can be anything: -s, -ae, -nothing, octop/uses/odes/i so you can never learn a word and then talk about the plural with total confidence, without also learning the correct plural. Someone tells you a distance is "ten foots" and you instantly tag them as foreign, childish, or a bit stupid. People love status signalling and in-groups and status games, like knowing the "correct" plural is "feet", and I suspect that will break any attempt at a world language, long-term.

I doubt if even that kind of "simple" is enough to keep a world language identical, because it requires people to learn and use the language with that goal in mind - saying clunky words like scii (ss-tss-see-ee) and using phrasing from the 1800s because keeping the overall pattern simple is more important than making every word comfortable, that isn't how people live day to day life. Strong verbs exist, commonly used words get common shortcut forms, and people enjoy inventing new words for things - especially words for "being drunk".

However the Hegemony still supports local cultures and languages within the larger global culture established by the Hegemony.

"The Hegemony allows people to plot against the Hegemony in languages it can't understand". Then it will fall, no?

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  • $\begingroup$ I doubt letting people speak hindi, spanish, etc at home will lead to collapse $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Feb 12 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ "ten foots" is really 3.045 meters. Oh, the metric system. International, except for three countries, including the United States. But we engineers and world travelers understand metric. And why do they still sell meat, fruits and vegies "by the pound" in Canada? $\endgroup$ – Baruch Atta Feb 12 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ @BaruchAtta "foot" and "feet" are words outside measurement; "the podiatrist examined ten feet that morning". And that would be "metre" in the UK (which is not obvious to anyone except native British English speakers, which is again the point I was trying to make - Esperanto spelling and pronounciation are fixed to make it easier for people to speak and spell, as it were). $\endgroup$ – TessellatingHeckler Feb 18 at 15:03

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