Some say love is the universal language; others insist it is mathematics. Thus far in recorded human history, though, a universal language has not been attained. Some theorize one existed a few hundred thousand years ago, at the dawn of the Homo sapiens, from which all the various modern languages have evolved. The other side of that debate insists that one must emerge organically, as English is doing, through a shared interest in global understanding and business affairs.
The idea of a universal language has been the subject of linguistics research and literary musings for centuries. Nevertheless, it can be said that these languages exist "universally" in only certain areas of the globe. For instance, in countries like China, or in whole regions such as the Middle East, a single language is observed — Mandarin Chinese and Arabic, respectively. Visitors to even these homogenized regions, however, still note differences in dialect and syntax that keep the languages far from universal.
Some religious traditions contain stories relating to a belief in a universal language that existed in prehistorical times. The biblical story of the Tower of Babel, for instance, describes how the world's conflicting languages, or "confusion of tongues," came from the original language started by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In India's Brahmanic tradition, as with the Judeo-Christian belief, a scattering of languages occurred as an act of a punishing god. The ancient Greeks insist that Hermes created the diverse tongues as a boon to mortal diversity and enjoyment.
Several centuries ago, the idea of a universal language was conceived, primarily in the interests of commerce and scientific discovery. The German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz and his French contemporary, René Descartes, both mused at length about what Leibniz described as a "characteristica universalis" — a mathematical means of expressing ideas across linguistic boundaries. Though modern calculus and analytical geometry have gone a long way to standardize complex ideas in a "universal language," these subjects are hardly universally understood.
Some have attempted to formulate their own universal languages, like Esperanto in the late 19th century and Lojban in the late 20th century. Both languages are still in existence, propagated by linguistics groups slowly growing in membership. Though the intent is creating what is called an international auxiliary language, none have come close to achieving a global acceptance.
Many consider English to be the universal language of the near future, largely due to the spread of British- and American-dominated capitalism across the globe. But more people are taught Chinese as a first language in 2011 than English, and by 2050, according to National Geographic news, just as many people will be taught Arabic, Hindi and Spanish. Perhaps the best chance the human race has of a universal language is epitomized by the U.S. Pentagon's development of a super translation computer that speaks in whatever language the user needs to understand.