Many of us know the story of the tower of Babel. It went something like this: after the flood, Noah’s descendants travelled to an area of Iraq and started to build a tower in Babel. At that time, people had one language and one topic of conversation. This didn’t please God so God confused their language and scattered them all around the world. Since that time, people have had many different languages and a lack of a world language – according to the story.
There have been attempts to create world languages and one of them was in Poland in the late 19th century. At that time, Dr. Zamenhof published a man-made language which is today known as Esperanto. Esperanto was planned to be an easy-to-learn and politically neutral world language that would make communication between people with different national languages easier. However, for different reasons Esperanto didn’t become the world language. Nowadays, only 10 000 persons speak it fluently and only 10 000 000 persons have studied the rudiments of Esperanto world wide.
Anyhow, today, we have English. English is the most important language of science, business and culture. It’s estimated that English has about 320-380 million native speakers and 1.7 billion speakers altogether world wide. There are some reasons for the success of English; for example the British Empire which spread English language around the world. At the beginning of World War I, the British boasted that the sun never set on their empire, they had for instance areas of Canada, India and Australia. The second reason for the success of English was a rise of US in superpower after World War II and thirdly English has become a major language of the Internet.
Today, we are nearly in the same kind of situation that mankind was before the tower of Babel. We can speak about same news all around the world thanks to the Internet and satellite broadcasting. We can speak to a person who lives on other side of the world in real time via Skype or mobile phone. If you can speak English you can discuss at some level with a quarter of the world’s population. The world is much smaller nowadays than it was hundred years ago when our grandparents’ parents lived.
Text: Simo Keskinen, student of Independent Study in English -course