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Universal Language: 10 Types Of Human Communication


“Love and kindness are the universal language of all creation.” 

― Debasish Mridha

As more and more languages become extinct every year – an estimated 20 languages per year – the question of a universal language becomes inevitable. Will the world someday – sooner rather than later – speak one common language which will become a universal way for all humans to communicate?

Here are ten forms of communication that are close to being universal between the humans.

1.   Facial Expressions

What we feel is what we express! This sentence is apt when it concerns our facial expressions. Our face acts as a mirror to our feelings. Our facial expressions change when we are happy, sad, angry or anxious.

Human express core emotions on their faces as a primal form of communication.

Facial expressions are form the primal form of communication. And these expressions are shared alike across cultures.

Facial expressions were recognized by renowned naturalist Charles Darwin, who mentioned about it in his third book titled, “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”. According to Darwin, key emotions can be read on animals as well. Research reveals that chimps laugh when they are tickled. Just like us, the animals can also read our emotions through our facial expressions.

While facial expressions for emotions might be close to universal, they lack nuance. You might signal the world is falling apart and you are about to cry but you probably can’t tell someone how to bake a cake or fix a car. Profound but not practical.

2.    Gestures

Gestures act like an extension for facial expressions. Facial expressions, when coupled with gestures often make a meaningful communication. For instance, gestures play a pivotal role in signaling directions or to signal a target of interest like you, him, her, etc.

A thumbs up gesture is often regarded as an approval sign (Image Source)

Gestures vary across cultures. In western countries, eye-contact is considered as an important part of any polite conversation while in Japan, eye-contact is a sign of aggression.

3.    Music

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quotes “Music is the universal language of all mankind.” Music is often considered as a universal language just like love. This quote of Longfellow has been backed by science as well.

In music, the term note has three primary meanings: A sign used in musical notation to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound (Image Source)

Music is used to express emotions, feelings, and moods that are indescribable in words. Music has a language called as rhythm, which is shared commonly by almost every culture. Rhythm is the noise pattern that is created using different types of musical instruments. For example, music played by a tribe in the Congo and citizens of Montreal display similar emotional responses and physiological reactions to music, in spite of various music preferences.

Our brain tends to respond to different musical note combinations in a variety of ways. We can differentiate between soft and peaceful music from a loud noise. By listening to a song, we can say whether it is sad or a happy song. Even the background scores that are used in our movies heighten our emotional responses.

4.    Emoticons

With the advancement of technology, we use some applications like Whatsapp, Facebook and much more to connect with people from all parts of the world. These applications offer a universal language called as emoticons. Emoticons are used to express one’s feelings and gestures.

Almost, every little thing that is used in our day-to-day life finds a place in the emoticon section of our gizmos. For instance, if we agree with some opinion, we only send a thumbs up emoji. Similarly, when we are happy, we send a smiley face.

Symbols have the advantage of being language-independent.

An emoticon is certainly a wordless language with pictures that speak a thousand words. Easy to use and interesting too, emoticons work as a fantastic aid to communication but fall short as a full-fledged form of human communication.

5.    Hobo Signs

The hobo signs were used in the 1880s. They were non-verbal symbols that were used until WWII. Emoticons are the refined version of the hobo signs. Hobo code or symbols were widely used during the Depression where they would appear on any clean and flat surface right from walls to fences. For instance, a slanted T-shape indicated to get out fast while a tic-tac-toe symbol was used to mark a house of policeman.

Beginning in the 1880's up until World War Two, hoboes placed markings on fences, posts, sidewalks, buildings, trestles, bridge abutments, and railroad line side equipment to aid them and others of their kind in finding help or steering them clear of trouble.

These symbols were language-independent. However, the primary challenge was the implementation of these symbols as a mode of communication.

6.    Sign Language

Sign language is an integral form of communication in the deaf community. With sign language, deaf people who would have difficulty speaking and learning language like people who can hear are able to communicate as efficiently and seamlessly. However sign language has been an essential aspect of communication throughout human history. Since the beginning of human communication, sign language has changed and evolved into the system that people see today.

Pedro Ponce de León, a Benedictine monk, is regarded as the father of education for the deaf. He founded the first manual alphabet for fingerspelling. Perhaps, Helen Keller’s fingerspelling is considered the most famous in history. Helen Keller was blind and deaf after encountering an illness during childhood. She wrote and lectured extensively before working as an educator and a humanitarian. She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which has changed the lives of many people who were unable to speak, hear or see.

The history of sign language has an interesting past, being the first form of communication in early man.

The French sign language gained momentum in the second half of the 1700s and led to the widely used form, American Sign Language (ASL). Today, an ASL speaker who knows only Greek and an ASL speaker who knows only English can still communicate fluently with each other.

Finger-spelling aspect of signing is still language-dependent. There are more than 100 versions of sign language that are used across the world. Hence, not all signing systems are mutually intelligible.

7.    English

English qualifies as among the top five candidates for the first universal language owing to many factors. It is easy to learn and uses the Latin script which makes it simple to write as well. English has been a language that is associated with upward mobility.

World map showing which countries teach English in regular school and to how many students. Red, all students. Magenta, most students. Green, some students. Dark Red, native language.

When we add the number of non-native speakers of the top five languages, the numbers may increase, but not as dramatically as English. The number of English speakers in the world is as high as two billion. In many places, English is the universal language of science and technology, business, and entertainment.

However, there is a probability that English might be overtaken. Numbers suggest that French is gaining popularity, especially in the sub-Saharan Africa. China is also leading in number when it comes to language teaching. While there is a decline in language teaching in the US, there are many Chinese classes that are rising.

8.    The Big Five Languages

According to Ethnologue, there are more than 7000 languages that are spoken on Earth, most of them have restricted its set of speakers. Only eight languages have more than 100 million native speakers, and around 4000 have less than 10000 speakers. 692 languages have less than 100 speakers, and some of the languages are nearing extinct. For examples, out of 68 languages that are spoken in Mexico, Ayapaneco is the most endangered one.

More than 7,000 languages are spoken on Earth today

The ‘mega-languages’ that are ruling the globe are Chinese (1.2 billion speakers), Spanish (400 million), English (360 million), Hindi (350 million) and Arabic (250 million).

9.    Math

Math is a universal language that describes the way the world works. Math literacy is called as numeracy. All cultures follow arithmetic in a similar pattern. For example, Pi is always regarded as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter and is equal to 3.14.

Right from counting your money to landing a rover on the moon, math is same for all countries across the globe. While the fundamentals of math are universal, the numbers aren’t. For instance, if a child reads “2+2=4” in English, you will hear “two plus two is four, or equals 4.”

Math symbols and numbers (Image Source)

The numbers in the western countries are based on Arabic numerals, but Arabic numbers are different from the western countries. Chinese use pictograms while Hindi uses the Devanagari script. Variables are codified, especially when it comes to universally recognized constants but are described differently in spoken words. For example, the famous E=mc2 equation stands for energy, mass and speed of light. Einstein originally wrote this equation in German which was transitioned to English after he settled in America.

10.    Programming Languages

Computers connect us to people from all parts of the world with a mere click. Right from banking to the Internet or looking for intelligent alien life, everything can be done with the help of a human-devised programming language. There are thousands of programming languages when it comes to computing. They are written in the language of logic and math, with the help of symbols that are taken from English.

There are thousands of programming languages, their general concept: the speed of uptake means they are ‘universal.’

Programming languages were invented in the English-speaking countries and were devised by non-native speakers in English. These languages have vocabulary and word order or syntax just like our actual languages. Some keywords help in defining the functions to perform a particular task. The symbols like quotes assist in organizing the logic and actions like multiply or divide.

There are non-English programming languages which only a part of the world can read and write. Programming codes run chatbots that imitate the human ability to communicate in the language.

However, the hope remains that may be someday, a team of programmers will write a universal translator software that will bind us all together under one universal language.


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