Preserving Unity through One Global Language

Human are homo sociologicus, therefore no human can live alone. We are all interdependent on social contact, which led to global communication to bridge our need. The new pattern of global communication is endorsed by today’s modern technological advancement. Dissemination of information growing rapidly alongside the culture behind the language speakers. Globalization creates no boundaries and interacting with international people need to emerge understand and value in diversity since the world we live in comprises of individuals and groups from diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. This situation also creates dilemma of how to balance cultural diversity with national unity since foreign culture can influence local culture through modern technological advancement. Since there are a myriad of languages over the world and communication is a very essential part of human needs, we need to develop a way to solve this problem. No humankind can understand all languages and speaking one certain language can only be understood by one speech community. Therefore a single common language needs to be developed and created in the hope of washing away all misunderstandings. Sharing mutual intelligibility is a prerequisite to avoid misunderstandings and promote global citizenship. In addition to understanding and knowledge, skill, and values and attitudes, global neighbourhood and global community cannot function effectively without a global language. The use of one single global language should promote better understanding, hence unity and peace. If there is no such single language that preserves unity in diversity, then it would spell a misunderstanding in communication. Then, does it mean other languages should be demolished in order to avoid dissension?

Before going through the function of creating such a language and its role to unify the world, let us first take a look at the definition of language. Some linguists have stated their opinions on languages. According to Duranti (1997), language is also the prototypical tool for interacting with the world and speaking is the prototypical mediating activity. The view of languages as a set of practices, emphasizes the need to see linguistic communication as only a part of a complex network of semiotic resources that carry us throughout life and link us to particular social histories and their supporting institutions. In a word, language is an instrument and a product of socializing and culture. Edward Sapir (1884-1939), the most famous scholar in the history of linguistic anthropology, also saw language as a prerequisite to the development of culture. Thus I suggest the notion that language is a tool of communication to transfer information consisting of sounds, words that reflect one’s gender, identity and culture.

It is important to note the difference between “language” and “a language”. “Language” refers to the human activity to communicate using particular types of signs including gestures, mimic, and body language organized in a particular type of units (e.g. sequence) and “a language” refers to a particular socio-historical product, identifiable with a label such as “English”, “Sign English”, “American Sign English” (Duranti:1997).

The world has squared up to the difficulty in choosing one single language, so did Indonesia also square up to the difficulty in unifying the ethnic groups. The Indonesian archipelago consists of thousands of islands and ethnic groups which means athousand languages. It was not an easy thing to bridge interethnic communication. Against all odds, Indonesia has successfully unified groups of people from diverse ethnicity, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Youth Pledge in October 28th, 1928 was a milestone for Indonesia to attest Indonesian unity. It was the day when Indonesian nationalists pledged to unite the country through the collective use of Indonesian as the national language, Bahasa Indonesia. This pledge is based on Indonesian slogan ‘Bhineka Tunggal Ika’ which means ‘Unity in Diversity’ which is to be found in Indonesia. Historical tradition, political expediency, and the desire for commercial, cultural or technological contact can be one of the reason for choosing a particular language as a favoured language. The most interesting fact why Malayan was selected to be the National language of Indonesia, while its speakers were only 500,000? Why is it Malayan, and not Javanese? The answer lied on the spread of the speakers across the Indonesian archipelago while Javanese was only centered in Java island. It showed that there was a very large representation of Malayan in Indonesia. The representation of Malayan in Indonesia was a root of developing Bahasa Indonesia that enabled them to communicate interethnically. In a similar vein, the reason why English was chosen as the global language.

The geo-historical explanation shows how English reached a position of pre-eminence. As quoted by Pitman (1873) and Russel (1801), ‘The British Empire covers nearly a third of the Earth’s surface, and British subjects are nearly a fourth of the population of the entire World(cited by Crystal 2012:78). Political development is a major propeller for spreading the language through its power. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain had become the world’s leading industrial and trading country. By the end of the century, the population of the USA (then approaching 100 million) was larger than that of any of the other countries of Western Europe, and its economy was the most productive and the fastest growing in the world. British political imperialism had sent the English language around the globe, during the nineteenth century, so that it was a language ‘on which the sun never sets’ (Crystal:2012).While the socio-cultural explanation shows the way people around the world become dependent on English for their economic and social well-being. Broadly speaking, social-cultural explanation maintains the eminence of English, above all, the language behind the US Dollar is English. Both political and economic reasons might present cogent arguments in favour of spreading English.

Due to the great development of communication and transportation and the rise of mass media, the danger of global language is inevitable. Aitchison (2013) provided the theory for language death. The death of language is liable to happen by two conditions. First, language suicide and language murder. Language suicide happens when a language does not have equivalent words for certain terms, therefore the speakers gradually import forms and constructions from the socially dominant language. As long as the USA political and economic reasons might still call the shots, the linguistic imperialism of English still hold sway.

Second, language murder. It happens when a language being suppressed out of a lower prestige. It happens in interracial marriages when a wife is absorbed into her husband’s life. Consequently, the usage of the first language of the wife decreases. In this case, language murder is a social phenomenon because it does not meet the social needs of the community who speak it.

Inserting English words into conversation among non-English speakers become common since the development of technology greatly influence language. It does not make an exception to Indonesians. There are many reasons why some Indonesians insert English words into their conversation. Some people think it is more comfortable since finding out the equivalent words is hard and some also believe that using English words make them appear more educated and sophisticated. As a result, it slowly demolishes itself until it destroys its own identity, whereas Indonesian is greatly influenced by English and uppermost the Dutch. This is what the Indonesian government fears and this problem calls for swift action from the government.

Some speakers of a language feel that their language needs protection because the survival of a local language is threatened by the increase in popularity of English. Due to the copious amount of vocabularies which have been borrowed from foreign languages especially English therefore the Indonesian government copes with this problem by adding hours for Bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language) taught in schools and it has been applied since July 15, 2013. This action is a kind of natural epiphany from Indonesian government in the hope that the invasion of the English language does not make Indonesian language in the doldrums.

French is one of the healthiest language also has tried to protect itself by law against the malign influence of English therefore it is illegal to use English vocabulary where French already has that word, whereas English is greatly influenced by French. Purists saw that in order to be set free from social oppression, their pronunciation should be set free first.Fortunately, we are cognizant of preserving our tongue from vying with English, a global language. If we do not preserve it, who will?

Two countries above have shown their action to protect the purity of their own languages even though those countries belong to the expanding circle countries. The expanding circle country is one of the third concentric circles. Those three concentric circles were introduced by Braj Kachru, a US linguist based on the spread of English, how English has been acquired and how it is currently used.

l The inner circle countries

The inner circle countries refers to the countries where English is a native language because English has been passed down the generations as a first language. The countries are the UK, Ireland, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

l The outer circle countries

The outer circle countries refers to the countries where the English language has become part of a country’s chief institutions and plays an important role in these countries and being taught as a second language since these countries have a history of colonialization by English-speaking countries in the inner circle countries.

l The expanding circle countries

The expanding circle countries refers to the countries where the English language is neither any native tradition of English speaking, nor having an institutional use of English, that is why it is being taught as a foreign language. These countries do not have a history of colonialization by members of inner circle countries nor have they been given any status in institutions. Therefore English is not an official and joint official language as defined by law. These countries involve Indonesia, France, Russia, China, Greece and a steadily increasing number of other states.

Not all countries fit in this approach neatly but this approach is a rough illustration of how English occupies the world. Even though Dutch is a language from which Indonesians borrow the most, English is the primary foreign language taught at schools. The term foreign language is used to denote a language acquired in a milieu where it is normally not in use (i.e. usually through instruction), and which, when acquired, is not used by the learner in routine situations (Kleine, 1986:19).

What is clear at this point is that the emergence of a global language can influence the structure of the other languages. But it is simply not deniable that the use of a global language can enrich vocabularies of the other languages. Based on the two languages, Bahasa Indonesia and the English language, present cogent arguments in favour of unification the world and promoting global citizenship. Why does global citizenship matter? It certainly matters because global citizenship encourage us to practice cultural empathy as the goal of our education is intercultural competence and to make this world a better place to live because intercultural understanding can wash away intolerance and ignorance as we live in borderless world.


Aitchison, Jean. (2013). Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arifah. (2013, November). Bahasa dan Nasionalisme. Majalah Dikbud, 06, 05.

Barbel, Charles. Beal, C. Joan. and Shaw, Phillip.A. (2012). The English language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, David. (2012). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Duranti, Alessandro. (1997). Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hamad, Ibnu. (2013, November). Momentum Memuliakan Bahasa Indonesia. Majalah Dikbud, 06, 25-27.

Holm, John. (2000). An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kleine, Wolfgang. (1986). Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maryani, Yeyen. (2013, November). Bahasa Indonesia dan Identitas Bangsa. Majalah Dikbud, 06, 06-07.

Lagos, Taso G. (20 November 2002). Global Citizenship – Towards a Definition. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from

Green, Madelaine F. (January 2012). Global Citizenship: What Are We Talking About and Why Does It Matter?. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from

This essay has been submitted to Many Languages One World Essay Contest 2014. Unfortunately, I didn’t win.

9 thoughts on “Preserving Unity through One Global Language”

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