The Best of Andy Rooney

For most of my adult life I've made my living writing the English language.

It's the one of the biggest and most diverse languages in the world, and I love it. I think it's the best language, but what do I know?

Spanish is the second most popular language in the world. At the top is Mandarin Chinese, with more than 850 million speakers. Hindi is way up there, too.

I wish all the nations of the world would get together and decide to use the same language. I'd go with the crowd, but naturally I hope they'd pick English as the universal tongue. I can read and understand most French, and I like it, but it isn't in the same league with English. French has a much smaller number of words in its vocabulary. (Je Parle Francais mais pas beaucoup.) German has an even smaller vocabulary. The only other contender for a universal language is Spanish.

I don't have any statistics, but I'd guess that more books are written in English than in any other language because the most people who can read in the world, speak (and read) English as their first or second language.

How was it that people all over the globe speak so many different languages? The total number of languages in the world is estimated at 5,000 to 10,000. I read somewhere that six official languages were adopted by the United Nations: English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and French. German and Japanese didn't make the cut, and the officials from those countries are probably still mad about it. When the six languages were chosen, there must have been some serious arguments in the UN.

It's bad enough when we don't agree on important things, but it's even worse when different languages prevent us from understanding whether we agree or not. It's a good idea, but I realize it's impossible for any nation to give up its language and take on a new one.

I've heard that over the years there have been several attempts to make "Esperanto" the universal language. It was even proposed for use in the United Nations but never adopted. This invented language was created in the late 19th Century and is well known among linguists. It's still spoken in parts of northern Europe, Eastern Asia and Iran. I spent some time many years ago trying to learn some Esperanto, but I wouldn't know how to order a hamburger using the language today.

Somewhere, maybe at the United Nations, there's a person who knows more languages than anyone else, and I'd like to talk to him or her and ask which language they prefer to speak. (I'd insist that they accept their own.) I'll bet the language picked wouldn't be English. I use it all the time and it's good, but, as you may have noticed, flawed.

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