In 1887, the Polish physician Dr. Ludwig L. Zamenhof published his own language, billed as the universal tongue for the world. This was Esperanto. Of all the similar ideas proposed since then, Esperanto is the only constructed language that is spoken widely today, with a purported two million speakers globally, up to 2,000 of which are ‘native speakers’ with Esperanto as their first language. Even if it has not become the language spoken universally across Earth, Dr. Zamenhof’s creation has done well.
The idea of universal language is one that has appealed to people for hundreds of years, with strong attempts to bring about change in more recent times, from Volapük (created in 1879), to Interlingua (developed between 1937 and 1951). Yet languages have constantly evolved, generally in a trend towards making them simpler to understand by the wider populous. From Shakespeare’s Early Modern English spoken from the 1500s, replaced by today’s Modern English in the early 1700s, to simplified Chinese that was constructed and promoted in the 1950s, language always changes.
Symbols as a first language
A change to language needed today is for those that communicate in symbols, and that change will not help only those people, but all people, everywhere. For children and adults who are unable to communicate verbally, English is not their first language; symbols are. Yet this means they can only communicate easily with other people trained in using these symbols, limiting their ability to socialise.
However, at the moment the companies that create and license the proprietary symbol libraries that these people live by, own the user. Who owns the Roman alphabet? Who owns the Arabic abjad? What about the Jewish script? No one does; they belong to us all. Everyone can learn to speak them and everyone knows they will be with us for as long as we need them.
Yet if you use symbols to communicate, what if the company that created and licences those symbols goes out of business, or decides to scrap them? What happens to you, who grew up using them as your only means of communication?
Global accessibility for all
What we need is global accessibility for all; we need a universal symbol library. This would open up the world for children and adults who currently can only speak using symbols.
Today, many mobile operating systems not only include predictive text, but predictive emojis. Start to write ‘happy birthday’ to someone, and a little birthday cake, some streamers, and a party hat pop up as additions or alternatives to your communication. While many people will send just emojis to each other to express themselves, young children, who are as yet unable to communicate using the written word, are able to communicate wholly in this way. Why not everyone?
It is for the good of all humanity, for the greater good of all people, if we collaborate and come together to design a universal symbol library. Even those who currently ‘sell’ their own symbol libraries will not lose out in the long run; those libraries are in use by millions of people globally who will not stop using them overnight.
Additionally, a universal symbol library will not be able to contain the many nuances and inflections, the intricacies and minutiae of each language on earth, and so those existing symbol systems will be able to offer a more in-depth reach into individual countries.
Shorthand for people everywhere
This universal symbol language would create a shorthand for people everywhere, from the child that cannot speak without symbols to be able to communicate easily, to the child in Thailand that could speak without a language barrier to a child in the Ukraine. And for business travellers and holiday makers, the idea of symbols that everyone could understand would literally open up the world.
For technologists and developers, a universal symbol library would be a blessing. They could integrate this universal language into everything, like Apple’s iOS has its own set of emojis and WhatsApp has created its own, this universal symbol library could be another set of ‘emojis’ for users to access on every operating system, on every app, on every gaming console, every computer, everywhere.
With a universal symbol library the entire world would finally be truly connected, a place without barriers according to ability, age or education. It is time to step up and make a real change. What do you think?