So when it comes to software we have a choice, GNU/Linux, a universal operating system and a lot of software applications that are ours and not controlled by a single company or imposed by commercial lobbies.
We cannot say the same for the universal, international language. Yep, we have English as the dominant lingua franca, which is dictated, so that you can compare it to Windows but, what's even worse, we are currently left with no viable alternative for global communication.
Language rights should be a fundamental part of basic human rights and this domination of English has become an unsettling ethical problem.
Everybody should object the choice of English as bridge language, since better alternatives could be developed or already exist. No natural language should prevail against others and be adopted for such a very specific role of "vehicular language". Even Esperanto, a "constructed language", seems to me to be too old, not so simple as we'd want and above all, too biased in favour of Europeans. E.g. Asians find it quite difficult and Chinese too, unless they already know English or French. By comparison, Lojban, is much more neutral, easier to learn for everybody in the world, including Asians and even apt to computer processing.
It seems there is a sort of English imperialism that is demoting both constructed and other natural languages. I believe the reason why the US has been pushing English is because of a will to dominate. One may agree or not with my view, but it is a fact that there's a big
business behind English teaching and certification, managed by the UK and the US only, and the choice of English as a bridge language clearly gives an unfair advantage to all English native speakers. As a result, most people whose language is very different from English, have to make a huge effort to learn it well, since it is required to access international higher education or to get a better job, even in their home countries where English is just a second language! And because of that they cannot find time to study any other language.
E.g. I can tell you about the situation here in Italy. Tuition of English is imposed starting from primary school and has completely replaced Latin both in compulsory junior high school and all technical secondary schools. The usual justification for this is: "Latin is a dead language and no more important, unless you want to become a bookworm". But this is untrue because Latin is deeply linked to our history, art and culture. It also helps to develop strong logical skills, especially in young pupils and enables a better understand and use of our national language - Italian - and all other Romance languages too. I'm not saying that Latin should be studied by everybody in the world, or become again the lingua franca in lieu of English (as it was until the 17th century in Western Europe). But certainly it should be studied by almost all Italians, since our language has been distilled from Latin by the genius of Dante Alighieri.
But here's another example: German, which is the most spoken language in Europe, is completely neglected in our schools, despite its commercial importance and immense cultural heritage.
I'm probably one of the many language idealists, dreaming a free - free as in freedom - universal language. One that could be defined and developed collaboratively by linguists and enthusiasts, in a process open to peer reviews and with no influence of any political and economic factor. It should enable people to communicate easily and effectively, powering the semantic web of the future.
Unfortunately this dream looks quite hopeless, even though we would have all means to make it come true, the most important one being the Internet. Governments are certainly not going to promote anything like that on their own initiative. Most of them are going in the opposite direction of promoting only English for reasons that are neither clear nor clean. A few states, like Hungary, have assumed nationalistic positions against English, but without proposing a constructive alternative, showing they aren't any better and do not really understand the problem.
Moreover, it is very difficult to educate masses to recognize the importance of a neutral and easy language and to not be content with learning a bit of English. It's no use knowing a second language badly as most people know English here in Europe, without ever achieving full command of it. But it's not their fault because English is really too complicated for them.
I believe that freedom in languages is required as much as in software to achieve the best "technical" results, to make people happy and to not enslave them. Software is certainly more subject to modification than languages, but languages are never static in time too. An auxiliary language that is used for such crucial evolving areas as science, technology, education and the Internet needs to be continually developed and refined too, just like a successful computer program.
I know the four basic freedoms of software cannot be applied literally to freedom in languages, but other kinds of freedoms, equally important to people can be easily found. For example "free" in the context of languages can mean "culture free", "neutral", "open" and even "free of complexity", that is to say "easy to learn and use".
With free software you are not held in hostage by a company, with a free language you are not subjected to a culture and can communicate as an equal. There would be no divide between rich and poor, between North and South of the world, and those who can afford English tuition and those who cannot, because the language can be made so easy that you can learn it by yourself. Because of this, I believe it would be a good idea to collaboratively develop a "free" language as it has been to develop a free operating system like GNU/Linux or a free encyclopaedia like Wikipedia.
I know there have already been some attempts to do that, but they all failed, for many complex reasons, both technical, sociological and organizational. I personally don't mind about business, but it's a really bitter pill to swallow that we can't have an easy universal language to facilitate education and information. I'm thinking about all poor children that do not speak English fluently, cannot afford the cost and effort to learn it well just and need a universal language to access the mare magnum of information found on the Internet, which could help them to snap out of their condition of poverty. What we are doing now with English is to put another big stumbling block to choke off any poor children's attempt of development from the very beginning.
I think the problem has never been addressed directly by the Internet community, relying on the non-solution of simply using English. This "language problem" still needs to be solved really, for the Internet to reach its full potential and be beneficial to everyone.
- Proposed Guidelines for the Design of an Optimal International Auxiliary Language, by Richard K. Harrison