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The Impact of Monolingualism upon the Unification and Fortification of Communities

About the Author: Bryan Pinsky

Bryan Pinsky is currently studying Bioengineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is on track to graduate in the month of May in the year 2016. He was born in the United States of America and his first spoken language was English. However, Bryan has recently discovered that his family originally spoke an endangered language, Vilamovian, which has sparked his interests in the topics of monolingualism and language extinction.

By Bryan Pinsky | Considering Another Side Essays

Arthur Schopenhauer, the eminent German philosopher, once stated, “One should use common words to say uncommon things.” Schopenhauer is describing how communication works best: when it takes place in a medium that both people can understand. The global trend towards the adoption of a single language is pervasive on both the national and international levels and has occurred in tandem with economic development and the political consolidation of unified nation-states. As language is the primary means of communication between humans, the adoption of a common language is central to cooperation between ethnic groups in the domestic sphere, and between nations in the international sphere. This paper will demonstrate that monolingualism benefits society by strengthening education, increasing economic efficiency, and creating a sense of common identity.

First of all, the trend towards monolingualism can be beneficial in education, as major languages are used almost universally to teach people around the world. The world is transitioning from a multitude of languages to domination by just a few large international languages, such as English, Chinese, and Arabic. Currently, eighty percent of people speak just one percent of the world’s languages (Erard), and by the turn of the century, half of the languages in the world will most likely be extinct (Anderson).  Therefore, for educational purposes, it is beneficial to teach students national or international standard languages. Students will be more likely to understand a commonly spoken language and there will be a greater abundance of teachers able to teach in more major languages. Learning a national or international language instead of an ethnic or regional one opens students up to a wider world of experiences, and also increases their opportunities for future employment. In many non-Anglophone European countries, English is already the medium of instruction for science and mathematics courses in secondary schools and universities (Coleman 6). A common global language would also facilitate intercultural understanding in education and allow for a free exchange of ideas from around the globe.

Just as monolingualism in education makes the educational process more efficient, monolingualism in the workforce benefits the economy by allowing employers to use only a single language to communicate more efficiently with their workers. In multilingual countries, workers learn the national language or lingua franca in order to increase their marketability to employers (Grin). A single language also helps companies in service industries (anything from food service to technology consulting) more easily communicate with their customers, and helps industrial and commercial firms better communicate with those who buy their products.

One example of how monolingualism leads to economic growth comes from the field of development economics. Many African countries are moving towards monolingualism in English in order to accelerate economic growth by allowing native people to communicate more effectively with other nations and transnational corporations (Brock-Utne 70). Rational choice theorist Francois Grin suggests that societies will choose to speak a language that maximizes their economic wealth, balancing the benefits of knowing the language with the costs of integrating the language into their culture (Grin 34). Since English is the most spoken language in the world, learning this language enables the developing nations to maximize their production and trade power by being able to communicate with other regions around the globe. This potential benefit might seem extremely appealing to many African nations attempting to build their economic systems.

Moreover, there are numerous examples of nations where policies of monolingualism have increased cost-effectiveness. When a nation has multiple languages (such as Chad, Morocco, Canada, and India), they must create product labels, informational materials, and media that cater to many different speech communities. For example, Canada’s official bilingualism is estimated to cost its government $1.5 billion dollars annually (Vaillancourt et al 109). This policy is irrelevant to provinces that have no French speakers (such as Saskatchewan) but still have to create products with French labeling by national law. This policy may have especially limited benefits in Saskatchewan, as according to the Canadian census, significantly more people speak English and even more people speak German rather than French in that province (Government of Saskatchewan).  If nations declared a single national language, manufacturers would not need to translate product labels into other languages, eliminating an additional expenditure. Hence, monolingualism can help save money for manufacturers.

In addition to positively impacting education and economics, monolingualism also impacts patriotism. Political scientists typically define the concept of a “nation” as a group of people who believe that they constitute a distinct community because of a shared ethnicity, culture, religion, or language. Such evidence is presented in book written by James Sneddon, the Head of the School of Languages and Linguistics at Griffith University in Brisbane, in which he investigated the history of the implementation of Indonesian as an official language in the year 1945. According to Sneddon, in order to consolidate their power by creating a unified nation-state, many ethnically-diverse postcolonial states such as Chad and Indonesia have adopted policies to promote the use of a single national language (Sneddon 128). With the spread of the common language (French in Chad and Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia) through education, Indonesians have acquired a national consciousness and identity in which they view themselves as one with Indonesians of other ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds, allowing groups as disparate as Achéhnese Malay Muslims and Ambonese Papuan Protestants to come together and participate in a unified social, economic, and most importantly, political life (Sneddon 5-6). Based on the finding of Sneddon, a common language shifts people’s identities from the tribal or ethnic level to the national level, allowing notions of patriotism to develop, thus increasing social cohesion and the efficiency of the political process.

With patriotism as a goal, many Americans believe that English should be declared the official language of the United States because most of the people in the United States speak English, and English is the language of government affairs, higher education, and business. Many also believe that declaring English the official language would strengthen patriotic sentiment and national identity by giving Americans of all backgrounds a common, definitive language as integral to the American sense of nationhood as Kazakh or Greek are to their respective countries (Barbour 7). Although imperfect in its development of language policies, Kazakhstan was able to redefine its political and ethnic identity as well as develop a fairly strong economy and educational system during the late 1980s through the use of language laws (Fierman 176). By declaring English to be the official language, the United States will be able to improve society by making education, public policy, and information services more efficient, as was the case in Kazakhstan in the 1980s with the Kazakh language. This language policy would also help immigrants of diverse origins come to identify as a part of American culture, and integrate into their new country socially and economically, benefiting both the nation and the immigrants themselves.

As demonstrated, the movement towards adopting a single, universal common language facilitates communication and removes barriers between people, improving the state of education, economics, and national identity. People are more likely to cooperate if they can understand each other, and the more they understand each other, the more productive and beneficial their cooperation will be. The world becomes less localized and more interconnected every day, with telecommunications and mechanized transport bringing even the most isolated communities into contact with the wider world. Adoption of first national, and next international languages, allows people to not only be in contact, but also in step with the global community that they have been made a part of, and gives them a greater ability to engage with the outside world on equal terms. The world is moving closer to singularity politically, economically, and socially, and it is only fitting that it be unified linguistically as well.

Works Cited


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