It was the Global Voices summit in London (Dec. 2005) that inspired me to start blogging. I attended the summit to mention Esperanto to people, as one way to breach the huge language barriers that block the free flow of information between peoples, countries and continents.
As the Esperanto-language blogosphere keeps on growing, it has had a mention or two on Global Voices in the intervening ten months, with the latest (“A trip through Esperanto-land“) appearing today. Hopefully, on Esperanto Day this year (December 15th) a good number of blogs across the world will be posting bilingually about language issues.
As I said at the summit last year, I believe the use of English as an international language to be ultimately incompatible with the aims of Global Voices. The use of any national language in an international role blesses the native speakers of that language with a large, perpetual, but often overlooked advantage over the other 90-odd percent of the global population — hardly conducive to a free, two-way flow of information between all world citizens, when participation in most countries is restricted to a small, highly educated elite, and even then only as second-class participants behind the native speakers (in terms of power of expression, ease of participation and risk of looking foolish through making mistakes).
The fact that English also happens to be the language of the USA also makes many people uncomfortable. Without getting into a debate about US foreign policy, I don’t think it’s too contentious to say that the US is currently regarded by many across the world as at least in some way threatening — some would go further and say “bullying”, “aggressive”, and worse — and having their language imposed in international relations is, I believe, resented by many.
However, even accepting all of the above, it’s undeniably true that many more people speak at least some English today than any other language, and that situation’s not going to change this month or next. Given that as a starting point, it would be somewhat foolish and counter-productive for any international project to do anything rash like banning its use on purely idealistic grounds. We have to start from somewhere.
Looking to the future though: translation certainly has a valuable place, but it is famously labour-intensive; English as a second language will undoubtedly play a large role for some time to come, possibly being threatened by Spanish and/or Chinese in the not-too-distant future; but Esperanto is also a solution that is currently in use on all continents, has a growing number of speakers and readers, and presents a much more egalitarian, neutral (not to mention significantly easier to master) complement to national languages.