Babbling on. Should the world speak in only one language?

Mission To Mars

Today I saw an interesting article about a long-duration isolation study which was conducted in preparation for a future space mission to Mars. In this study, a few would-be astronauts were locked up for 520 days in a mock space ship to simulate the isolation they would experience in a voyage to Mars. I found this experiment to be very interesting. Mostly because it makes a lot of sense. Before you send astronauts for an extended stay in space, you must test the psychologic impact that such a trip would have. Imagine being locked up for over a year without seeing any trees, breathing any fresh air, seeing your loved ones, meeting your friends, having sex. You couldn’t pay me enough money to be part of that experiment. No way. In fact, a similar study conducted in 2000 ended badly, with one attempted rape and one physical altercation between crew members.

Which got me started thinking about the language industry. Companies are spending fortunes of money on machine translation and speech-to-speech technologies which will allow people to communicate with each other regardless of which language they speak. Many people are researching semantic web and natural language processing technology which are designed to make the world a smaller place. But has anyone looked into the psychological and social impact of such a prevalence?

Someone used to tell me a joke about how the people in France are so cultured that even the garbage man speaks French. Jokes are all good and fine but reflecting on this joke, if we strip the language distinction from the French garbage man, all we are left with is the stench of the garbage. The beauty of language is that it distinguishes one group of people from another. People in different countries think differently because of the way the native language interacts with the thought process. Languages in each part of the world were formed by the culture and customs in that country. Indeed there are some words in one language that do not have an equivalent at all in another languages.

Chinese propaganda poster from 1958 Great Leap...

The more you think about it, once you strip out the language factor the human race will be become nothing but a bunch of robots committed to a common goal. The individual person would lose meaning in the face of the masses. China as an example, first the government created a simplified form of the Chinese language and then were able to brainwash the masses with the Great Leap Forward and other programs. All because over 1 Billion people were speaking the same language. Imagine 7 Billion people speaking one language. What would the world come to?

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