A World United by One Language [Writer's contest]

This is an entry for the Pulse writer's contest by Chima Emmanuel. "... Suddenly they are surrounded by people whose language, culture, and clothing are different from theirs. As a result, they become the target of ridicule..."

United people

Early on a Monday morning in April last year in Accra Ghana, I and my friend suddenly found ourselves in urgent need of a taxi cab. We were already late to school. Finally, one came along and we called the driver to stop. Our Ewe (Ghanaian language) which was spoken in that region being woefully inadequate and the driver understanding not a word of English became a big gap we could not fill. We bargained by removing few coins of cedi (Ghanaian currency) for payment and pointed to our wrist watches to indicate our haste and then pointed down a side street to indicate our destination.

The driver was most reluctant and frowning at our disturbance, but our insistence overcame his objections and down the side street he drove until we indicated our destination. After paying the fare with the use of the same sign language, we left smiling, while the cab driver, shaking his head and muttering something in Ewe, drove off.

This experience taught me that a united language or rather multilingual ability advances global citizenship and understanding. It also taught me that the language of a nation is the gateway to its culture. The more you learn the tongues of others, the many advantages you enjoy.  I could have added in the list of my friends this humble Ewe speaking driver who in appearance looked responsible, calm and easy going. Or I could have gotten less the cost if I had bargained in his language. How close language brings people together! It brought us closer to each other and endears us to one another.

The importance of being multilingual can never be emphasized considering the quantum benefit that it brings. This is true because millions migrate each year for exploration, studies, businesses and holidays, and many of them face major challenges of communication. Suddenly they are surrounded by people whose language, culture, and clothing are different from theirs. As a result, they become the target of ridicule.

The universality of complex language is a discovery that fills linguists with awe and is the first reason to suspect that language is the product of a special human instinct. No mute tribe has ever been discovered, and there is no record that a region has served as a ‘cradle’ of language from which it spread to previously languageless groups.

How much mankind is divided by speaking different tongues! Never before in human history has man traveled as much as in our time. When visiting another country, you have to communicate with people. But you will encounter a language problem because you do not know the language.

The world is a global village but still divided. Television brings foreign lands and people into our living rooms. Air travel makes it possible to visit those lands and share good times with its dwellers. Increasingly, there is economic interdependency among nations. Ideas, information, tourism has become a force for good, people travel  in search of others and their cultures, cultures merge and adapt to one another. Thus as the people of the world come together, we witness an emerging world culture that has the power to bring man closer towards solving mankind’s most sophisticated problems.

For many of us, however, problems come from a lack of communications with the foreigners with whom we come into contact - neighbors, workmates, or schoolmates. The problem is with language. The real identity of humanity is pegged in language.  To be able to create a united world free from tribalism, ethnocentrism and ethnic hatred, we need to encourage multilingual human society. Why do we need to learn other languages?

Language is the human ability to acquire and use complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system. Many nations agreed to live as one or form common boundaries with others because they understand the languages of their neighbors. Many disputes had been settled without bloodshed because parties involve hears and understands the language of peace in their own tongue.  A language barrier divides families, divide friends and close door neighbors. They may want to help in difficult times but do not know how to go about it.

The truth remains that if you are familiar with two cultures and can speak two or more languages, you have a real advantage. Your knowledge of two cultures increases your ability to understand people’s feelings and to answer their questions about your background and things that matters to you. For example in Nigeria, we speak English. We can cope in every English speaking part of the world. In some part of Ghana where I am doing my university studies, I was able to get along with classmates and neighbors because they understand English.

The reason was because we were colonized by Britain. They taught us English and we learned it as a means of communication. The use of English doubled also because Nigeria is a multilingual nation. The only way to communicate with others outside home was to speak English with them. Now I speak more English than Igbo my mother tongue. My teachers at school speak English, my friends speak English, and I speak English with my brothers and sisters. English is filling my head and pushing the Igbo out. My father tried hard to insist that we speak his language at home, but we didn’t want to speak Igbo. To us, learning Igbo which few thousands speak seemed like extra baggage to carry.

Our friends speak English. The TV programs we watched were all in English. Why do we need Igbo? Having come to know the benefits of learning another language has made me grow love for other languages. How wonderful it will be to be able learn all six official languages of the United Nations! That would make me a global citizen at least. These languages are spoken by billion of people earth wide. There is no excuse for limiting my language learning to English. The global world and systems demands global communication medium which language can only provide.

In addition to this is that being multilingual will help one to understand how others feel and help them to judge rightly in some course or actions they take. Learning a new language gives us global identity because we may likely meet people who speak our language outside our country or home. Certainly, if you are familiar with two languages and can speak them, you are then familiar with two cultures and you will have a real advantage. Your knowledge of two cultures increases your ability to understand people’s feelings and to form a close bond with them. We may also learn from language that no one group of people is superior to another, for there is no such thing as an inferior language. No matter where we live, who we are and what we think about others, language is a unique gift of nature that marvels us all. This tool is equally available to all people, no matter what their culture or the place where they live.

Since the very beginning, languages of all peoples have been complete enough to serve their purpose. Each one of them is worthy of respect, regardless of how many people use it. The truth about the unifying force of language has helped me share the same sentiment with Martin Alonso who says that ‘ no history can give us an idea so exact of the vicissitudes of a people, of their social organization and their beliefs and feelings, as an analysis of their language’. We need a global language. It does not matter if it is yours or mine, but a universal accepted way of communicating our thinking. The world will be better with everyone learning to use the same word for peace, unity, love. It will bring us closer to ourselves and we will feel the need to be one again.

Knowing other people’s language leads to faster and easier adaptation. In my personal belief, language is the lens through which we see the world; a time tested solution to many problems of our time. It is a tool for resolving some sophisticated pressures of a turbulent society, improve relations between people, and help them find hidden creativity while encouraging collective action against adverse challenges threatening our lives and barriers separating us. In as much as we can, we work to transform the life of every individual that walks though our doors, leaving a lasting impression in their memories forever. By showing love and reciprocity, understanding and solidarity, we join hands in support of one another.

In a way of summary, this timely truth that multilingual global system cannot only shape our world, our future and bring valued orientation to humanity in general, but it will preach global oneness and act as a panacea to world peace and understanding. The moral support it will provide will no doubt heal the many mistakes of the past and encourage one and all to forge ahead for a brighter future. No matter where we are and who we are, we are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter past filled with swill of wars and segregation, ethnic and religious cleansing and hatred, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, yet fighting for more unity, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that all of us no matter our tribe, religion and nation must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace. Language will only make this possible.

NAME: CHIMA EMMANUEL

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