Armillary Sphere, Copyright Office du Tourisme Genève / Baud V. Maydell Global Peoples' Convention

30th December 2000

Geneva / Switzerland

Jet d'Eau, Geneva, Copyright Office du Tourisme Genève / Donald Stampfli


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World Languages

Which should be the official language, or languages, of a World Parliament-to-be?

It had once been suggested to use a "neutral" language like Esperanto in order to avoid the all-too-inevitable misgivings of those peoples whose mother tongue will not be used: Esperanto is nobody's mother tongue, it is an artificial language foreign to all world citizens alike. But then: is it wise to force the whole world to learn a language that is not spoken anywhere in daily life?

All told, there exist somewhere around six thousand spoken languages today, according to Ethnologue. About 300 of them are spoken as a first language by more than one million people each. So shall we use 300 official languages in our World Parliament? We would thus reach nearly 95 percent of the total world population!

In their 1999-publication of the World's Major Spoken Languages, Linguasphere Observatory presents a list of 83 Macro-Languages: They are spoken by more than 10 million primary + alternate speakers each, and they add up to a total of about 7 billion speakers (which is more than today's world population since many "alternate" speakers are counted twice). It is safe to assume that nearly every living man and woman has an understanding of at least one of these languages as a primary or alternate speaker. So, is 83 our number?

The United Nations today operate on six official languages only, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish. Notably absent from this list are representative languages of the South East Asian/Pacific region and the Sub-Saharan region (the latter having the highest density of spoken languages in the world) and the Indian sub-continent (Hindi/Urdi: nearly one billion primary and alternate speakers!) From a global democratic point of view it would seem fair to allocate the same number of tongues to every World Region and to each of the suggested three Global Groups. As a minimum, then, nine "World Languages" could be declared "official" for their use in a World Parliament-to-be:


 

Group "East"
1. Eastern European Region
2. Chino-Japanese Region
3. Pacific Region
 
Russian
Chinese
Indonesian 
Group "West"
4. Western European Region
5. North American Region
6. South American Region
 
French
English
Spanish
Group "South"
7. Sub-Saharan Region
8. Arabo-Persian Region
9. Indian Region
 
Swahili
Arabic
Hindi/Urdi

 



 

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Original text written by Peter Kasser
January 2000

Latest update: May 2010