One Tongue?

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In John McWhorter’s World Affairs article “The Cosmopolitan Tongue: The Universality of English,” he asks if it would be “inherently evil if there were not 6,000 languages spoken but one?”

McWhorter emphasizes the impossibility of preserving all the many variations of languages, especially ones where the population that uses them in daily interactions is dwindling. He believes that the death of a language is emotionally charged because of the belief that with the demise of a language comes a death of culture. McWhorter, however, believes that languages are not reflective of one’s culture but a result of geographical separation that led to “chance linguistic driftings.”

Others believe that if we look closely at the development of a word, we can see the culture behind the language. McWhorter disagrees, noting that many Native Americans do not speak their ancestral languages yet certainly maintain a sense of culture. He believes that the main loss that comes with the death of a language is a loss of aesthetic.

McWhorter discusses the idea of English as a Universal language, and the discomfort this development provokes for many. The associations of imperialism create this discomfort, yet we cannot arrange for another language to replace
the advances towards universality English has already made. Although he would lament a lack of linguistic diversity, McWhorter does not feel that these emotions are founded in logic. A lack of linguistic diversity would allow for better communication between cultural groups, and he, for one, feels English is the perfect candidate.


Nina Moog is a writer and director of photography based in Germany. She holds an MA from the University of St. Andrews and an MSc from the University of Oxford, where her thesis focused on photographic representations of prisons. More from this author →