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We have thousands of languages in the world, which seem to have evolved differently due to lack of communication methods (it wasn't quite easy for a Chinese guy to speak with French people thousands of years ago, for example). Currently, the lack of one common language across the world wastes an awful amount of time of the humanity, as translations need to be made and one has to learn multiple languages.

Would it be possible for an Earth sized civilization to evolve to have a single language, with maybe few dialects (like American English and British English)? What is needed for this to happen?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking about a species which had no more than one language (at a time) during its evolution, or about a civilization which evolves in a way that there is just one language? There can be multiple civilizations across the history of a species. $\endgroup$ – o.m. May 25 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ just view it like you already have a single language, say eg. human speech, with a few dialects, like those thousands of "languages". maybe all the languages are just dialects of an old language + a very long time to diverge... $\endgroup$ – n611x007 May 25 '15 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ Of course it's possible. Simply kill everyone who speaks another language. $\endgroup$ – John Saunders May 25 '15 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ An important point missing from the question and answers is that languages tend to break apart by social striations as much as geographical ones. Age, profession, wealth and slang can have a huge effect on the nature of communication, and then these differences evolve over time. So even if everyone speaks the same language at some point in time, they might not 20 generations later unless some force is keeping them cohesive. This is how the modern language diaspora occurred, and it's yet to be fully seen how technological advancements will affect this historical fact. $\endgroup$ – iabw May 25 '15 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ I think an edit needs to be made to define what a "single language" means. Perhaps a better phrasing is "people speak sufficiently similar that any individual can understand the speech of any other individual, if both parties want to?' $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica May 25 '15 at 22:24

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Yes, it is absolutely possible.

There are 3 easy ways to achieve this I can think of right now:

1: A civilization could advance to a point were global communication is as easy as (or easier than) it is in current day earth and then through some referendum decide to change the official language everywhere to a single global language. Such a change would not happen overnight, and it is very likely that, at least for the first few generations but possibly forever, the 'official' language is just a shared second language. EDIT: It doesn't necessarily have to be an official referendum, it is plausible that given enough cultural/technological/political influence a certain language can in time be spoken by (almost) everyone.

2: Given that most lifeforms start at a certain point and then spread out. If your dominant species never expands further than they can reasonably communicate, they would most likely speak the same language. The most viable reasons for this would be an obstacle preventing expansion that was naturally removed after the species developed a language and afterwards enough contact was kept to maintain similar language (for example huge walls of ice) OR an obstacle overcome by technological advancements that are at a level where long distance communication seems simple enough to quickly implement.

3: The planet is inhabited by a subgroup of a species from another planet speaking the same language that already had the technology for planet-wide communication upon arrival.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with the added note that prior to global communications on an earth-like world the answer would be no and I agree that odds are there isn't just going to be one language...there will still be many, just one that most everyone can use. $\endgroup$ – James May 26 '15 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer. Just to add to it 1) need not be referendum. Look how English has become the defacto language for international business. I've been told programers program in ENGLISH, mostly because all the documents and resources they need are English. if everyone used the same business language long enough it could be the sole or primary (everyone needs to know) language. In short one nation with a defined language being in power long enough after global communication could result in a shared language without intentional referendum. $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 26 '15 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen - Re the programmers it's much more than documentation. Commands such as loop, write,document,if-else (and everything else) are all in English not to mention: http (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) www (World Wide Web) and 100s of other examples. $\endgroup$ – Mayo May 26 '15 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ This is really what makes programming a sort of universal language-- the keywords must be in English for most modern languages, though the variables might not be. The larger the system library is (e.g. .Net has a very large library), the more readable the code will be for an English-speaking developer, even if they don't know how to translate the variable names. Reading source from non-English developers is an interesting fusion of English and (Spanish, French, Japanese, whatever). The requirement for English keywords lends context to the non-English variable names. $\endgroup$ – phyrfox May 26 '15 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ It really depends on the country/culture. In the Netherlands we all used English in our code, even though no non-Dutch person would ever read it. $\endgroup$ – Nicholas May 27 '15 at 1:32
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Yes, large empires generally enforced a common language for administration or trade. Sometimes religion or diplomacy extend this. Much of Europe still uses languages derived from the policies of the Roman empire. In the Americas and Africa the languages of the colonial powers are still used.

So if you have a global empire and it wishes to have a single administrative language, your world will have a global language. Alternately you can have multiple Empires splitting the world that for historical reason use a single common language.

Although it should be remembered that once the political unity is lost the languages will start drifting apart. Romance languages are considered separate languages and while lots of northern Africa and the Middle-East speaks Arabic people speaking different dialects do not necessarily understand each other without some effort. Obviously common religion has helped resist the drift somewhat.

So if you have a global unified empire that has enough stability to rule the world for generations and enforce a common language policy, the world will end up with a single language with multiple dialects. I think a global empire would generally require fairly good ships to connect the coastal areas and gunpowder to control the interior. Magic can substitute for either.

Also needed is an expansive culture such as early Roman Empire or the colonial era or a vision driving the expansion. Like the jihad that drove the Islamic Caliphate or how the Chinese believe in the existence of China even if it is at the moment divided into multiple states and nationalities. There are other possible driving forces, the point is that there needs to be a reason to rule the world. It is hard work, you know.

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  • $\begingroup$ forcing the empire's language to things that would otherwise endanger its status quo... $\endgroup$ – n611x007 May 25 '15 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @naxa Sorry, I do not understand. Is there maybe a typo in your comment? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 25 '15 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ quite possibly, but I can't see where. Anyway, I was just feeling dissent. $\endgroup$ – n611x007 May 26 '15 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi I think he wants to say: An empire like Rome enforced the use of Latin in daily life, enforcing a romanisation and thus integration by sheer means of necessity for the conquered areas. Some historians think that this behavior helped in destroying several languages. $\endgroup$ – Trish Nov 5 '16 at 11:08
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I'm going for a not feasible to develop naturally, but a few scenario's can result in it.

Deviation in language is caused by lack of integration and communication. In today's society, communication is very ready and it's somewhat difficult to isolate a population to the extent a new language would form. That said, pre-telephone communication wasn't instant and much of the worlds population lives in isolation from one another. How would Roman and Chinese language be close to the same when there is no chance that 99.9999% of the Roman population is anything but completely unaware a 'China' existed? You don't even need to go that far geographically to get these divisions in language...English and French speaking people occupied the same land for much of their development, yet their languages each evolved along it's own path.

From that standpoint...a planet in pre-industrial age communications is likely going to see many languages fragment and several alphabets come to use. I see it as near impossible on a planet the size of earth not to have several languages develop.

That being said, there are ways of the multiple languages being suppressed down to one dominant one.

Conqueror - Romans did this decently effectively in killing off the celtic language in mainland Europe...one people overtaking and conquering another, removing all traces of the conquered peoples language, and repeat until the world is one whole. Of course, this one language also runs the risk of fragmentation pending on communication technology.

Vote - A sufficiently advanced population could vote in a single language as the worlds standard. There's actually attempts to make a common language that aims to be a method of communicating that most people could understand and speak to some degree...so this could be a vote to adopt a new language derived from others, or it could be a vote to make one dominant language the main language.

Beyond this...there's one other scenario that might result in a less diverse set of languages (if not one language world wide). Humans are travelers/explorers and runners capable of moving pretty great distances across the globe. This resulted in humans reaching out across the globe early in their development, then coming upon the need for language and a written alphabet (we were spread out and isolated from one another when we started to create language)...of course many different languages using a wide variety of sounds and alphabets were developed because they were developed isolated from one another. Had the Human species been less mobile early in it's development and had reached the point where they were beginning literacy (IE, an alphabet) prior to expanding across the rest of the world, then each of these branches would contain a common element to their language that isn't seen in today's world. However, without near instant communication, you would see these languages deviate from each other despite having a common alphabet and sounds (Such as Latin and it's influences across the Romance language has today)

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  • $\begingroup$ “Conquer” can also be by virtue of political expediency and business needs. Some regions in today's world haven't been strictly “conquered,” but adopt more populous languages (or those associated with wealthier neighbouring regions) out of convenience — at least as a popular second language. eg: Serbians with German; Mexicans with US English. $\endgroup$ – BRPocock May 26 '15 at 18:34
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Assuming the species remains technological yet biological (for example, no all-changing technological singularity), then I see it as not only possible, but inevitable. As soon as communication is free, there develops a common language, on all levels including the global level. Currently on Earth it is English, and it is likely to remain so, as English is the only language, which is widely taught everywhere on the globe as an important, often as the primary foreign language (as far as I know, feel free to provide a counter-example).

So, give it another generation, and practically every young person will be able to use English well because there's just too much information out there which won't be accessible to them otherwise. Give it a few more generations of global travel, and English will take over as the default language of all teaching, because populations just become too mixed. Give it a few more generations, and children will first learn English (which will have evolved a lot from what it is today of course), because that generation will largely not care what their ancestors' native languages were, except as curiosity.

I think this kind of cultural evolution is inevitable. It has happened on increasingly larger scales since the dawn of written history, and there's no reason for it to not happen on the global scale once global instantaneous communications network exists. Whatever language happens to be "on top" when a civilization develops global communication will become the world language. Determined protectionism of regional/national languages may delay the inevitable, and a global crisis like a major war may reset the situation and give another language a chance, but eventually there will be a sufficient time of stability for one language to take over, unless the whole civilization is snuffed out.

And no offence to those who don't like English. It is rather a horrible language, really, but but what can you do...

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. --James Nicoll


In conclusion, even if you don't agree on the inevitability of this, I think it's safe to say that this development is plausible enough for any fictional purposes.

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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. I've been seeing this happen in China. One of the things the communists did was mandate the teaching of the Mandarin dialect of Chinese. There was no rule against teaching the local dialect also, the generations living under that rule grew up speaking both. However, these days there aren't very many people around that don't speak Mandarin and most of those are no longer in the business world. In many areas the generation growing up now sees little use for the local dialects and aren't bothering to learn them. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel May 25 '15 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ It really depends on what is meant by a "single language". English is clearly the dominant language today on a global scale, but the world population is very large. There is still a massive amount of people who don't speak English. $\endgroup$ – sumelic May 26 '15 at 1:19
  • $\begingroup$ @sumelic It hasn't been all that long that there has been that much of a driving force towards English. It takes a lifetime for the old languages to die after they have been rendered moot. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel May 26 '15 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel: Well, English has been a significant language for a while, but it's true that there were other influential languages before it. It will definitely take longer than a lifetime for other major languages such as Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, and many others to die, though, if they ever do. English will not become the language in the world anytime in the foreseeable future, or even a universal second language, if that's taken to mean that "everybody" in the strict sense will speak it. There are people in the world who never go to school in their lives. $\endgroup$ – sumelic May 26 '15 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ @sumelic It's not merely a matter of significant, but the degree to which people need it in their lives. Already a recent college graduate probably has it. This will cause an increasing amount of their output to be targeted to the widest audience--be in English. In time this will push down the educational spectrum until eventually those uneducated people grow up around English. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel May 26 '15 at 4:18
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If you mean "at no point in its history did this Earth-sized planet ever have more than one language" then the answer is no.

Languages naturally diverge. There are a number of languages spoken today, called Romance languages, that are all basically 'the local version of Latin, 2000 years later'.

The population required to support a language is relatively small. In Papua New Guinea, there are a very large number of languages, most of which are spoken by fewer than 1000 people.

Also, languages can change gradually -- you can have a bunch of villages where everybody can understand people from the neighboring villages, but not from far away. Say we have villages A, B, C, and D. People from A understand B, and B understands C, and C understands D, but people from A and people from D can't understand each other at all.

To even try to prevent multiple languages from arising at all, we'd need an unrealistically high capability for communication (as soon as the species evolved an ability to speak, but long before they get technology) and an unrealistically low rate of migration and population expansion.


If you mean "could a large civilization divided into many subsections, each with its own language, permanently eliminate all but one of those languages, and prevent the One True Language from splintering into mutually incomprehensible sub-languages" then the answer is not quite no, but almost.

First, they could try force. Say Hitler won WWII and decided to make non-German languages illegal. Trying to do this, though, would take a lot of work, and would likely make most of the conquered territory harder to control. The slight efficiency gain (if it worked) would be outweighed by the problems it caused. Even if it worked, the effort would never go away, because they'd have to keep every dialect of German mutually intelligible.

If you're trying to make your civilization look better than ours because of the single language, the "we slaughtered all the heretics" approach doesn't help.

Second, they could try a vote. Say the UN became the world government and tried to vote on which language would become the official language of the world.

How do you convince, say, the Chinese that despite Chinese having more speakers, the official world language ought to be English, darn it, and I'm not just saying that because I happen to be a native speaker and therefore wouldn't have to learn anything myself. Or French, and it's not because I'm from France and want to increase the prestige of France. Or Japanese, because it's the most beautiful language in the world, and no, that statement is not biased by my being the Japanese ambassador to the UN, it's just true. And so on.

Official languages don't necessarily prevent other languages from being spoken. In Papua New Guinea, which has an enormous amount of linguistic diversity, there are 3 official languages: Tok Pisin, English, and Hiri Motu.


You could try to invent a new language and get people to want to speak it, in the hopes that, not having any native speakers, it would be more politically neutral. This has been tried before, and Esperanto is the most famous and successful attempt at it. Looking at the Wikipedia page, it has various estimates for the number of speakers, the largest of which is 2 million.

That may sound like a lot, but it isn't: English has 232 million in the U.S. alone, German has over 94 million, Dutch 20 million, French has 51 million in France alone, Spanish has at least 280 million, Portuguese over 160 million, Romanian about 20 million, Russian 214 million, Hindi 200 million, Hungarian 14 million, Finnish 5 million, Turkish 45 million, Tamil 48 million, Vietnamese 58 million, and Chinese over a billion.

I'd guess that the probability of Esperanto or any other invented language becoming very widely used as very low, although not impossible. Part of the problem is that if I, a native speaker of X, want to talk to a native speaker of Y, then there are lower effort solutions: I could learn Y, or he could learn X. If we did decide to both spend the effort to learn an entire new language, what advantage is there of learning an invented language with a few speakers over learning a large and popular native language?


If you mean "could I tweak the psychology of my aliens until this would work", then sure.

You just need to figure out how to make the aliens different enough from humans that it becomes plausible. For example, if the aliens reproduce by dividing into two people while keeping all their old memories, they would be 'born' knowing a language, reducing the tendency of languages to change considerably.


There is a misconception I'd like to address in the question: you assume that there is an enormous amount of inefficiency involved in dealing with language barriers, to the extent that we ought to do something about it. Most of the problems can be solved quite adequately with one or more of hired translators, bilingualism, and Lingua Francas. Most of the rest can be solved with creoles, pidgins, dictionaries, and computer programs (like google translate).

If you revise your goal to "everybody on the planet understands language X, and can speak it, more or less", then this is much more easily achieved, and would have very nearly the same communication benefits.

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    $\begingroup$ Translators and bilingualism are not really a solution to the language barriers, since their effort is spent to overcome a problem. If we all spoke the same language, there would be no need for translators or for people to learn multiple languages, time which humanity could benefit from in other, arguably more useful ways. For example, a translator, instead of dedicating his life to overcome language barriers, could dedicate his life to writing novels. $\endgroup$ – Paul92 May 26 '15 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Paul92: Considerably more effort would need to be spent to enforce a one language scenario. Whether the effort is spent on killing the heretics or persuading them to turn from their wicked ways, it still needs to be spent, or we don't get to avoid translators. Even if we already had a single language situation, a great deal of effort would need to be expended to keep people from inventing slang, making up new words, assigning new meanings to old words, or in general talking like they normally would. Effort would be required from everybody, not just a small minority of translators. $\endgroup$ – Michael Shaw May 26 '15 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ Some people say that Indonesian is a planned language, to some degree. Not quite invented, but a standardized form of some dialects, which became the national language of Indonesia. $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann May 26 '15 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ For planned ("invented") languages like Esperanto, there are advantages compared to one of the people learning the other's language: Esperanto is usually easier to learn for both of them, compared to each other's language. (This is not the case only for languages which are quite near to each other anyways, like Czech and Slovak.) (Of course, this is only for the limited-group scenario, we still have the critical mass problem.) $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann May 26 '15 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ An invented language like Esperanto has the advantage that, because it is invented, it can be made simple and logical: one set of conjugations, no irregular verbs, etc. This should make it easier to learn and use. But the gigantic catch is: how do you get it rolling? Say you invented a new language tomorrow. No one in the world speaks it except maybe you. Why should I learn your new language that will let me communicate with one person, when I could learn Mandarin and be able to communicate with a billion people? There's no reason to learn to speak it until a lot of people speak it. $\endgroup$ – Jay May 27 '15 at 13:32
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Speaking from a linguistic point of view I'd say that, without technological aid, it is definitely impossible.

Let's start with the obvious and take English as our first example. Here in Switzerland children are taught French and English from a young age on (normally starting around 9 years). However, only a small minority of adults is really able to use the language. Outside of the Indoeuropean strain it gets even worse. I have been to Mission Schools in Tansania, Japan and China. You will barely find a single adult (and I had to do with bank/insurance managers, constables and other "high-ranked" people) able to form a complete, understandable sentence in English (resp. French in parts of Tansania).

All the really important daily business can be done in your local language. There is no need to resort to any other. Have a look at why languages die out: It is very often not because the native speakers stop using them but because said native speakers are dying out and their language with them. To eradicate a language and replace it with another it is necessary that important aspects of one's daily life have to be handled in that new language. Those things you normally handle within your own peer group where your native language is spoken. Our native language (which we probably already start learning in the mother's womb) is the easiest and we will always resort back to it as soon as it is possible, even in an environment where a majority is using another language (have a look at how Spanish is replacing English in the south of the US or what issues European have with the integration of foreigners - language is the main issue). Furthermore: There are also new languages emerging, just not noticed yet in many cases. Some are combinations of existing dialects, others evolutions of such.

Furthermore think of this: You are used to regularly surf places where people speak English. A large number is native speakers the other large part are foreigners who mostly are well educated. How many labour class members from non-English places does this site have for instance? Many of my friends are from that milieu, they are car mechs, painters, bricklayers, etc. They do not speak English well thus they are not on fora like this one. They have their own ones where they write in their own language.

Last but not least: Think of history. We have had many linguae francae in ours. There was Greek until about 800 AD, then it was Latin in Western Europe until about the 1750ies when it becane French and German in Western Europe until English took over in the 20th century.

The only way I could see is in a totalitarian system which is able to control people even in the very private parts of their lives. As long as the family can get together without being heard by the authorities, they would still speak their native language.

So, as a conclusion, or the tl;dr version: No, it's not going to happen. Language is a "fluid", you cannot force it into a shape.

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According to UNESCO's Endangered Languages webpage information:

It is estimated that, if nothing is done, half of 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century.

So, right now, in this planet, the number of languages is about to roughly halve within a century.

Extrapolating from there, there might exist one only language in about 13 centuries, i.e., circa 3300. Which is not that far away in time, historically speaking.

Off course, extrapolating is always prone to large errors, and, as UNESCO also say:

this process is neither inevitable nor irreversible

and they aim to slow down and eventually stop the process.

So there is also a clear prospect that the number of languages may decrease but then stabilise at a possibly small and manageable quantity of them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would disagree. This process is inevitable and irreversible, (or at least, to reverse it would require the destruction of the Internet, which is such an ingrained part of our lives by now that its loss would be a global catastrophe,) and more than that, it's a good thing. The term "barbarian" comes from the ancient Greeks, to describe people who spoke an unfamiliar language. Its meaning changed over time to mean "people who are not civilized," because people who you can't communicate with are unable to work with you to build civilization, no matter how rich both of your cultures are. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler May 26 '15 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler I disagree with both - the Internet is already highly fragmented, especially in the connections between its user base. It would not take more than a few signatures on paper to make it even moreso, and consider the situation in China. Sure, people have access to VPN's and can get "real" internet to an extent but in general, not at all. Things like facebook already filter the posts we see from our own friends and relatives, so we may think we're communicating with a group and in fact only a few select individuals get the message. Entropy ensures some information is lost. $\endgroup$ – Darren Ringer May 27 '15 at 0:21
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A few additional thoughts. It wasn't said if this were fiction, so I'll peruse that avenue:

  • If the species had some form of telepathy, then one "main" or first language seems likely.
  • If God were a common physical manifestation, the species would probably speak that language.
  • If ancestors/aliens/God created a monolith in one language, it may become the "norm."
  • If the world government was totalitarian, and forced all inhabitants to learn one.
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It certainly would be possible. The easiest way for this to happen would be if the whole planet was colonized by a civilization speaking the same language, and variance never developed. I am assuming by the way you phrased the question though that we are talking about an earth-sized civilization that previously spoke many languages evolving to speak only one. This would require much more widespread education and communications technology than we currently have. For example, in places like Sweden and Holland, most people are completely fluent in English, and in Holland a lot of higher education even happens in English rather than Dutch, as English is the international academic language. It is easy to imagine small languages such as Dutch dying out if the whole population speaks English and uses it for business and study. On the other hand, huge numbers of people live without electricity or schooling. In Cambodia for example, two thirds of the country has no electricity and most people live in the countryside. Such people are unlikely to learn ditch their own native language in favor of a global one, because the global will not touch them too much. A global language completely replacing other languages would require electricity, education, communications technology, and economic globalization to touch every corner of the planet. Such interconnectedness would also be necessary to keep the population speaking the same language, as isolated communities will evolve different languages even if they started out speaking the same one.

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Yes, it already has in some sense.

Math, science, the metric system, and HTTP to name a few have become universal methods to communicate logic, reasoning, measurements and to propagate communication itself while the spoken and written universally understood language has become English (more approachable than Chinese dialects). The world's diversity of spoken languages will continue to shrink over time as large business and mass media (i.e. internet) further permeate and saturate into all corners of the world, creating a feeling of familiarity and boredom throughout the land.

However, one could easily argue that specific domains of knowledge have their unique vocabulary unto themselves creating their own dialect, even if spoken in English as its base.

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  • $\begingroup$ HTTP (Hyper text transfer PROTOCOL) is not a language but a communications protocol. It is universal though but it is a mean to transfer a language, same way that ears and mouth is means to distribute a language but not a language it self. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse May 26 '15 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ I changed my wording. Thanks. Also, it's "means" to transfer to help you as well. $\endgroup$ – Jason Sebring May 26 '15 at 12:35
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Is this set in the past, present or future? A planet at the equivalent of 2000 B.C. Cannot possibly have a single language for obvious reasons. As time and technology progress, so will the chance of languages re converging.

Rome had successfully made the standard language in almost all of Europe Latin. The reason it was Latin is because the conquerors spoke it, and when they conquered a region they wanted the locals to understand them and learn Latin, and didn't want to learn Gallic. The only Roman areas where Latin was not dominant was Greece, where the locals were already "civilized" by Roman standards and language was similar enough to Latin for administrators to want to adopt. There is a reason that all Western European languages have roots in Latin.

From this we learn something - the leading language has to be the language primarily used to govern.

As technology increases, certain nations are bound to become superpowers (think USA and USSR). These superpowers will each have zones of control where their nation's dominant language turns into their puppet's dominant language. The USSR broke up before puppet nations began adopting their language, but I suspect that if it lasted for another century the primary language in Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Cuba etc. would be Russian.

To get a one-world language overnight is unrealistic, however creating a dominant language that slowly increases in popularity under a one-world government (also see this question) is extremely possible, even probable.

How you go about creating this government and keeping it in power long enough to effect language is your choice, although the linked questions should give you a few ideas.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree that it is almost infinitely easier to make a language dominate by "pull" factors rather than "push" factors. The Romans did not force Celts to learn Latin - but Latin was the route by which ambitious Celts in Britannia or Gaul could get on in life. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Jun 2 '15 at 13:35
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One language for the world.... that's difficult, but possible. No government can force it of course, because it would merge with local languages or not help speakers in proper survival. But still, there is the possibility of using our brainwaves- or more precisely, reading through our neural networks. That's what the world will be in a few thousand years. Or we could use antennae to communicate. Whatever it may be, you can't call it a proper "language", but rather a universal way of communication. If that doesn't happen, through a similar technological approach(writing/speaking and machines translating it), we could narrow down learning multiple languages.

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It's not just possible; it's already happening. This is sociology fact, not science fiction.

What is needed for this to happen?

Because the purpose of language is communication, in theory, what would be needed for a global language to arise is a global communication system. In practice... that's exactly what we're seeing. Look at how rapidly English is becoming the lingua franca of the Internet ever since the rise of the World Wide Web. It's already accomplished more, in a few short decades, than the combined resources of colonizing empires, missionaries, and traveling ESL teaching programs have in centuries.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with your point, but the internet is still limited. 40% of world's population have access to internet and this doesn't imply their willingness to learn English. I know a lot of people happy with local websites. Also, I notice a trend towards internationalization of websites (providing multiple versions, in multiple languages). $\endgroup$ – Paul92 May 26 '15 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Paul92: Well sure, obviously it's not going to be finished quickly. But look how much has already happened in just two decades. Give it seventy years or so, for the bulk of the generation born before the Web to die off, and we'll all be speaking English. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler May 26 '15 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ Don't you think it would be possible for internet users to use just local sites or versions of the website in their own language? As I said, there is an increasing interest in making versions in different languages for a website. $\endgroup$ – Paul92 May 26 '15 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Paul92: Possible, sure, but not likely over the long run. It defeats the purpose of having a global communication system in the first place, and the longer it's around, the more people will understand that. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler May 26 '15 at 22:24
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What about some kind of global catastrophe, something that wipes out the majority of mankind, except for a people in a specific region. That region's language becomes the de-facto global standard when re-population of other regions happens in following generations.

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You could probably get down to like Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, English, Russian. Good luck convincing the people that speak English to change to one of the more common tongues though. England and the US are both convinced of their own superiority.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Paul, Most speakers of most languages are quietly convinced of the superiority of their own language, I don't think that English speakers are worse than others in this respect. A far bigger factor in the reluctance of English speakers to learn foreign languages is that the payoff for their effort is genuinely less because English is the current lingua franca. An Italian person learning English gets more benefit than an English person learning Italian. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Jun 2 '15 at 13:45
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Yes, it is absolutely possible, in fact it is happening right now. It takes a long time, but as soon as you have instant global communication, the process speeds up.

I'm putting my bets on English becoming the global language within the next 100 years. That doesn't mean there won't be local languages, but English will become the first language of practically everyone.

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Yes in the literal sense, but even in English we have different versions of English between neighboring states. It is possible but words could and probably would have slightly different meanings. An example of this would be the words for soda, some people call it Coke, some call it pop and some just call it soda, and that difference can be seen between NY and PA.

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Your headline says "Earth-sized world", and that's the question I'll answer, because it's easy. Take an uninhabited Earth-sized world. Land one person on it. Now everyone on that world speaks the same language.

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We do in some fields like medicine where all the parts of the body and species identification is in Latin. I music all the notes are understood my musicians. Computer code, art, etc. With translating apps any language can be understood.

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  • $\begingroup$ The point was not about translating apps. Yes, they can ease the understanding, but there are still multiple languages. Although it's a good point with music/code. $\endgroup$ – Paul92 Sep 19 '18 at 21:29

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