A World Language

The Boston Herald

English is becoming increasingly a language for the world's business. It is more and more becoming the language of science, as Latin once was. In various countries, such as the Scandinavian nations, Holland, and Japan, men of science now write their works in English instead of in their own language, in order to bring them to the world's attention. The fact that English is now tending to supplant French as the language of diplomacy is a matter of prime significance. There is no good reason why it should not. The adoption of French for such purposes was due to the rank of France as a world power at the time, as well as to the standing of the country as a centre of civilization. But the English-speaking peoples are now the most powerful and their language takes a corresponding rank.

English has superior qualifications as a world language. It is more readily acquired than French, and it is far more easy to gain a mastery of its grammar, its idioms, and its pronunciation. The only serious drawback is its barbarous orthography. But for this, its adoption would be far more rapid. It has been suggested, and the suggestion appears to have met with favor, that a special form of English be adopted for world-language purposes by making its spelling strictly phonetic, according to the simplest possible method. In this form it would become, it is claimed. the universal speech of business and of diplomacy, while the language in its existing orthography would be retained as at present by the peoples using it. The chief obstacle to learning the language would thus be removed. It would be acquired, for speaking, reading. and writing, with extraordinary facility and celerity. It would thus become the common medium for the peoples of the world in communicating with each other, just as "Pigeon English" is the medium between occidental nationalities and the Chinese.

Should this ever really be done it would be enormously to the advantage of the English-speaking world, whose prosperity would naturally be promoted along with the consequent broadening of its commercial opportunities that would develop with a much easier communication with its peoples. The present direct value of a language so widely diffused as ours is beyond estimate, and to make it cosmopolitan would correspondingly enhance its worth. That English could be learned with extraordinarily little pains if it were phoneticized Lardly needs argument. The experience with Sir Isaac Pitman's admirably simple phonetic system, with its special alphabet, demonstrates that. Under that system foreign children have been known to master English in a few weeks, and with the facility thus gained they have very easily acquired a knowledge of the language in its ordinary form. For a world language, however, a special phonetic alphabet would not be so practicable. The ordinary European alphabet would more naturally be employed, with some modifications, such as the representation of the th consonant by a single letter. The vocal values would most conveniently be the continental—as in German, Italian, and Spanish—but what are known as the pure, broad sounds, in distinction from the obscure and flattened vowels represented in the French. English thus written would look oddly in our eyes, to be sure, but we should soon get accustemed to it. Our standard works would be put into that shape. and thus would be made accessible to all the world. We ourselves would quickly become conversant with that form of the written language, and it would be widely adopted for business purposes among ourselves. And since it would be so easily acquired, it might naturally become the medium for instruction in schools, on account of the enormous saving in time which it would effect. Thus, by a process of gradual substitution, it is conceivable that the "Wurld-Inglish" form might in time replace the existing orthography, which would then acquire a look as old-fash-ioned and obsolete as that which the English of Chaucer or Spenser has to-day.

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Wireless Messages across the Oceans
September 19, 1901

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