Language is the primary means through which we communicate and express ourselves. Given that Man is a social creature and his growth and progress is dependent on his interactions with others, language does play a vital role in helping to shape his thoughts and ideas. Some may argue that with a common language, humans would be united in the ability to relate and communicate more effectively, ultimately eliminating communication barriers. However, having a common language may not help to make the world a better place. I personally believe that a common language would do more harm than good in today’s society. Instead, we should work together to accept, embrace and appreciate the diversity of languages we have today.
Across the world, language is a key feature that separates cultures and groups of people. It is also used to distinguish between different eras. In this sense, language helps to promote diversity and encourages people to embrace their own cultures. In China, although Mandarin is the common language between various ethnic groups, there are about forty-five different dialects still spoken, each representing a different ethnic group with their individual customs and traditions. If everyone spoke the same language, it would not promote diversity and this would lead to a decline in creativity and colour in society. Studies have shown that different backgrounds and cultures do shape a person’s outlook, all of which help to make a person more creative. Thus, there is value in preserving such an integral part of an individual’s identity. Through diversity, we also learn to become more understanding and accepting of differences between people. In Singapore, the four main races that make up the population, namely the Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians, coexist in harmony and there is easy intermingling between them. A unique trait of Singapore would be its colloquial language termed as “Singlish”, in which English words are mixed with terms from Malay, Mandarin, Chinese dialects and Tamil creating a creole that is truly distinctive to the country. Many Singaporeans often cite that Singlish creates a shared identity amongst Singaporeans and that it gives them a sense of belonging to the nation. This shows that communication is not limited to a single language and having multiple languages can still benefit people. In recent years, linguists even draw on dialogues used in local Singaporean productions to introduce to undergraduates and postgraduate students how Singlish has become a unique variety of the English language. In countries such as Italy, Germany and Japan, at least seven universities around the world have used Singlish as a case study in linguistics courses over the past decade. This shows that there is much to learn from the diversity of languages in society. Thus, the world would benefit from having the diversity brought about by speaking various languages, rather than just a single language.
Contrary to popular belief, having a single language spoken by everyone would also not help to reduce the prejudices and discrimination against others. Humans rely heavily on their senses and most stereotypes and judgements have no logical bearing. These are usually dependent on what one considers ‘normal’ relative to one’s own background and understanding of the world around him or her. One’s character and upbringing also plays a huge role in determining how one views the differences in languages around him. As such, differences in the way people look, act and talk all contribute towards how we discriminate against people. In more extreme cases, the Rohingya crisis is a sad example of how people are discriminated against purely because of their language and background. In August 2017, a deadly crackdown by Myanmar’s army on Rohingya Muslims sent hundreds of thousands fleeing across the border into Bangladesh. The United Nations has described this as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and ordered the Buddhist-majority country to take measures to protect members of its Rohingya community from genocide. At least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the month after the violence broke out, and as of today, more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the country and tens of thousands have been killed. From this example, we can clearly see how despite the similarities people may share, such as living in the same country and even similarities in their languages, other differences such as ethnicity can result in massive conflicts which bring about much pain and suffering. This illustrates how speaking the same language does not necessarily leave the world better off as hoped for.
Yet, it cannot be denied that there are advantages to everyone speaking the same language. Having a common language would eliminate the communication barriers that exist between people. Despite the fact that there are many races and ethnicities of people living within Singapore, with each having their own unique language, English remains a common language that unites everyone. This enables the population, especially those born in later generations, to communicate and interact with one another with ease. This has resulted in numerous benefits for society as people are able to come together to make positive changes. Research programmes in tertiary institutes have had teams make breakthrough discoveries in areas such as stem cell research and bioengineering. This would have been much more challenging to accomplish if language barriers existed between members of the teams. This shows the important role that a common language can play as a fundamental tool for effective communication and how it could make the world better off.
All in all, I believe that a common language does not necessarily lead to the world being a better place if the collective aim of everyone is not to benefit humanity. It has been asked, ‘If we were blind and had no choice, would we still hate each other by the tone of our voice?’ This aptly describes how, in spite of a common language, discrimination and prejudice will exist in society unless we make a conscious effort to accept people for who they are. Language can help to make us more accepting, but how we chose to wield it is another matter.