Bilingualism, Cartilage of the Organism

Living in the United States today are millions of people with the capability to speak only one language.  Bilingualism is a very common trait to have though and more than we even may want to believe or deem necessary.  Borders of nations may be clear-cut and divisive but the beauty of language is it knows no boundaries.  Like the river when it meets the ocean, language flows and blends while simultaneously growing, expanding, fading, and eventually dying, becoming one with the rest of the sea.

A World Without Bilinguals
A World Without Bilinguals

Go north from the United States for example, and French-English bilinguals can be found; to the south Spanish-English bilinguals are common; in Korea meet the Japanese-Korean or Chinese-Korean bilinguals; within Europe where nations are as intertwined in language as they are financially, culturally, and historically, it is no longer bilingualism but trilingualism or more.  In my opinion–and to cut to the chase–you could say that these bilinguals are the glue that hold our world together, the cartilage between the bones so to speak that make the entire structure move easy politically, socially, etc.  Can you picture the world as an organism?  In many ways the human race as a whole is becoming more and more like a single organism: the internet connects us like a nervous system, worldwide organizations respond to aid natural disaster victims like white blood cells to a cut, language is tied with our culture as a kind of bone structure holding it all up, and bilinguals work between nations as intermediaries like the connective tissue called cartilage that makes the walking smooth.

Imagine a world in which humans could not ever learn more than the first language that they hear at birth?  The entire history of humans would be radically different!  How would language have evolved?  Then again, this begs the question of how we define the end of one language and the beginning of another language but  that is for another blog post. A world in which humans were bound to a single language would be a world riddled with far more disputes and wars because of the slow and incomplete ability to compromise amongst ourselves. Could we communicate between nations at all if that was the case?

To illustrate, consider walking into a restaurant and ordering from a menu by pointing at an item, for a drink simply making hand motions, for the check just pulling out your wallet.  No words have been exchanged at yet you still enjoy your meal.   How is that?  Was language important?  Yes!  Here is one hidden language that has no words: body language.  Again, that is the subject of another blog entry but my point is this: The restaurant is in Korea, the waiter is Korean, he only speaks Korean and though he will understand my body language just fine like any normal human being…throw in even just one Korean word (Gahmsamnida, “Thank You”, would be a good example) and the entire situation changes.  A stranger becomes familiar, a straight face turns into a smile, a perhaps tense situation becomes friendly.  It is the miracle of bilingualism.

Start learning a second language today.

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