Multiplicity of languages
Language barriers to transfer of knowledge
Different languages arose because of lack of contact between people of different regions, but especially because societies with distinct economic, moral and cultural traditions required specific vocabularies and linguistic structures. But at the same time, even within communities, distinctions between social groups - especially between a dominant elite and the mass of the population - came to be reflected in differences in idiom and vocabulary, in the meaning given to certain words, as well as in pronunciation. Millions of people today speak languages that are not understood by neighbouring groups, even though close economic and social links have been established and populations have intermingled. Thus, paradoxically, the very richness and diversity of languages can render communication difficult, just as its elaboration can perpetuate privilege.
The exact number of languages is not known because of difficulty in agreeing upon the distinction between a language and a dialect. The figure of 2,700 to 3,000 languages is frequently encountered. Of these approximately 150 (60 in developed and 90 in developing countries) have more than one million speakers. In Africa, for example, with approximately half the population of Europe, over 1,000 languages are spoken as against the 60 in Europe. In effect the average African language is spoken by less than 200,000 people. At the other extreme, languages such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese and German are each spoken internationally by a total each of from 100 to 350 million persons. Mandarin Chinese is spoken by some 650 million people internationally. Russian, Hindi, Bengali and Japanese languages have limited use outside their motherlands and thus their 660 million speakers do not have the advantage of belonging to an international linguistic community. On the other hand, the USSR and India each has a considerable number of languages spoken internally, which in India's case at least has caused a great deal of friction. Both India and Japan frequently resort to English for international communication, while Russia turns to French.
As school is the place where most people receive their language training, it follows that the languages on school programmes of various countries determine to a large extent the size of the language problem. That means that the present inadequacy of communication is the result of the considerations taken into account at a time when school syllabuses were regulated by law. Those syllabuses are still not sufficiently adapted to the rapidly changing requirements of the times and do not conform with the worldwide variety of human contacts.
For intellectuals, opportunities are greatly enhanced by the foreign languages taught in school, as their foreign contacts are important; but for the less educated with virtually no possibility of speaking to other nationals, there is little value in learning a foreign language. Thus the concept of bilingualism serves as yet another wedge between different classes of people, rather than as a cohesive catalyst to uniting humanity.