June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Many of us may have heard about Baha’u’llah’s call for the future adoption of an international auxiliary language. However, the implementation of the idea seems so far away that most of us haven’t thought much about the specific guidance on its implementation and the role it will play in society.
What do the terms “international auxiliary language” mean? Do we pick a language or create one? Will it be an organic process or a more intentional one? My aim with this article is to look through the Baha’i Writings for guidance and clues as to how Baha’u’llah envisioned the international auxiliary language and to answer 10 questions I had on the topic. I hope you will find my exploration interesting.
1. What is an international auxiliary language?
The idea of an international auxiliary language – also sometimes known as an IAL or an “auxlang” – is that everyone learns a language in addition to their mother tongue, to facilitate communication with people who don’t speak the same mother tongue. At various points in history, English, Arabic, Mandarin, and Esperanto have been used as auxiliary languages – though never with a global scope.
O members of parliaments throughout the world! Select ye a single language for the use of all on earth, and adopt ye likewise a common script. 1
He also says:
The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. 2
3. Why is it important to have an international auxiliary language?
As per my understanding, the Baha’i Writings suggest that efforts towards world peace are hindered by the inadequacy of communication among the peoples of the world. Having an international auxiliary language will not only impact big picture issues like world peace but also our everyday lives: movies will only have to be subtitled in one language for everyone to understand them. Baha’u’llah describes its impact with these words:
[it] will be the cause of unity, could ye but comprehend it, and the greatest instrument for promoting harmony and civilization, would that ye might understand! 3
Baha’u’llah also paints a picture of the impact of an international auxiliary language on unity among the peoples of the world.
The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home. 4
4. Will the IAL be an existing language or an invented one?
According to the Baha’i Writings, both options are possible. Baha’u’llah states:
We have enjoined upon the Trustees of the House of Justice either to choose one language from among those now existing or to adopt a new one… 5
Some sources suggest that Esperanto and Arabic are not likely to be chosen as the IAL, though in the end it is up to the Trustees of the House of Justice to decide. 6
5. Who gets to choose which language it will be?
As mentioned in the previous quote, it will be the Trustees of the Universal House of Justice who are described as:
…a committee that will study the whole matter and then either choose one of the existing languages or create a new one to function as an international language. 7
To that end, Abdu’l-Baha said that the language might be:
…made by a Council representing all countries, and must contain words from different languages. It will be governed by the simplest rules… 8
6. Will it be English?
Since English is so widely used in the world today, many people speculate that English might become the IAL by default. There doesn’t seem to be any definitive statement about this in the Baha’i Writings except a reference in Century of Light, a book commissioned by the Universal House of Justice about the profound changes that the world underwent during the 20th century, which states:
Until a decision is taken by international agreement, the effect of such developments as the Internet, the management of air traffic, the development of technological vocabularies of various kinds, and universal education itself, has been to make it possible, to some extent, for English to fill the gap. 9
So although English might or might not be the international language, it seems it might well “fill the gap” for now.
7. What is the relationship between the Baha’i Faith and Esperanto?
Esperanto is a constructed international auxiliary language that gained popularity in Europe and North America in the early 1900s but was not widely adopted internationally. It was created by L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish linguist. Efforts for its international adoption were unsuccessful despite considerable interest by certain enthusiasts.
Abdu’l-Baha encouraged the learning of Esperanto but also confirmed that Esperanto would not be the international auxiliary language to be chosen by the House of Justice, because of its complexity:
[Esperanto] is a fine invention and a splendid piece of work, but it needs perfecting. Esperanto as it stands is very difficult for some people. 10
In the early 20th century, some Baha’is began to learn Esperanto as a prototypical IAL, including Hand of the Cause Dr. Adelbert Muuhlschlegel. Some Baha’i Holy Writings were also translated into Esperanto.
8. What purpose will an IAL fulfill in society?
The Baha’i Writings indicate that the IAL will act as a medium for the world’s literature, will be used in the courts, parliaments, and other institutions of the world, and will be taught in schools alongside native tongues:
A world script, a world literature… will simplify and facilitate intercourse and understanding among the nations and races of mankind… 11
This international tongue will be used in the work of the parliament of man… 12
This is quite interesting: it suggests that the language will not just be a medium for communication for people across different parts of the world but will be used among people who share the same native language in certain environments — such as work, institutions, courts etc. — while their native tongues will be used in more casual environments.
9. How can we prevent the other languages from going extinct?
Most modern objections to the implementation of an international language is it may lead other languages to become extinct. The notes to The Kitab-i-Aqdas describe two stages to the development of the future IAL:
The first stage is to consist of the selection of an existing language or an invented one which would then be taught in all the schools of the world as an auxiliary to the mother tongues… The second stage, in the distant future, would be the eventual adoption of one single language and common script for all on earth. 13
10. How much longer until this happens?
Did Baha’u’llah decree that an auxiliary language would be put in place during His Dispensation or is it something that could happen at a later point in the future? Century of Light refers to a letter from Abdu’l-Baha on this subject, which states that:
…it will be decades—or perhaps a great deal longer—before the vision contained in this remarkable document is fully realized. 14
No matter when it will be established, it is definitely something to look forward to! As Baha’u’llah said:
…the greatest means for the promotion of that unity is for the peoples of the world to understand one another’s writing and speech… Let not man glory in this that he loveth his country, let him rather glory in this that he loveth his kind. 5
I hope you found my questions and answers about an international auxiliary language helpful! If you’d like to read more, we also wrote about it here on Baha’i Blog.
Das Haus sieht der Gerechtigkeit wird auf jeden Fall das richtige machen und auch die richtige Sprache für die Einheit der Menschheit bestimmen. Sie sind ja das Volk Gottes und da kam nichts falsch sein. Es braucht einfach noch ein wenig Geduld und viel Mut. einige Völker fürchtet sich noch vor einer neuen Sprache. Wenn die Völker aber einmal das Vertrauen der Bahai gewonnen haben, dann wird die neue Weltsprache ohne Probleme und schnell von statten gehen. Schafft Vertrauen zu den Menschen damit sie bereit sind von den Bahai zu lernen und den Bahai Vertrauen mögen. Viele Menschen vertrauen dem Glauben Baha’u’llahs noch nicht so recht. Mit dem Vertrauen kommt die neue Sprache. Die Sprache der Einheit und die Weltsprache, die Freude an einer Einheit -Sprache , das Interesse daran und die Neugier. Hab Vertrauen in ihren Glauben, dann wird alles von alleine viel weniger schwierig.
Margrit Rita Hurni (October 10, 2018 at 2:14 PM)
Nothing is more heart warming and uplifting than reading a beautifully articulated article that invites us to give serous consideration to the notion of auxiliary language to pave the way for a journey towards the world peace
Thank you Rohan for engendering hope in our hearts
Dr Kay (October 10, 2018 at 5:29 AM)
May I very much recommend the following title for the further study of the readers on this subject:
The Greatest Instrument for Promoting Harmony and Civilization
edited and introduced by Gregory P. Meyjes
Quotations from the Bahá’í writings and related texts regarding the adoption of a common language as ‘the greatest instrument for promoting harmony and civilization’ among the peoples of the world.
Bernhard Westerhoff (October 10, 2018 at 10:04 PM)
Nerp kizuwa huzan mfo ukwi po dudulika Istu Baha’i dzika hilwe deme kzor na oliwe mbiro kovorne ktarn zi huze ngufiwo la.
Wairu (October 10, 2018 at 3:02 PM)