Is English going to be the World's Language?

I had a discussion with my co-worker today about the prevalance of English in the world today. He believes that for a number of reasons, including:

1] English is an easy language to learn
2] English is already the language of acadamia, science, and diplomacy etc
3] It’s necessary to know English to be successful in almost every other country
4] The world is so interconnected that the spread of english will continue indefinately, even if America declines in power

and other reasons, that English will virtually be the World’s Language, since all other languages will become obsolete.

I, however, disagreed, for a number of reasons including:

1] The preponderance of English is contingent on the preponderance of America, and that once America becomes less important in the world, English will become less important.

2] English is spoken all over the world, but usually as a second language. For example, although a person in China may learn English as a second language. Learning english does not mean that he forgets mandarin. He merely picks it up as a tool to be more successful, he could just as easily drop it.

And other reasons.

So, to me, saying English will always be the international language is about as foolish as a 3rd century Roman saying that Latin will always be the international language. I simply can’t imagine the entire nation of Japan or India abandoning their native language and beginning to speak English, even over the course of a few hundred years.

So, where do you think the history books of 3,000 AD will place the English language? Or will they be written in English?

It’s quite possible that some history books will be written in English. Of couse, the English will be as different from what we speak as what we speak is different from what the Saxons spoke when William conquered them.

And why does he think that english is particularily easy to learn?

Replace ‘America’ with ‘Christian Europe’ and replace ‘English’ with ‘Latin’, and you have all the reasons that Latin was and would continue to be the world language. Until it died.

If it were true that a dominant lingua franca would supplant other languages, then the world should, logically, be running out of languages. Dominant languages like English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese should be eating up other languages like potato chips.

But in fact nothing of the sort is happening, or ever has. There are THOUSANDS of languages, and while some die, others grow or split off from others. Embattled languages can be remarkably resilient. And no dominant lingue franca has ever done what the OP’s friend expects English to do. We don’t all speak Greek, or Latin, or French.

It makes no sense at all to expect English to do something that thousands of years of history has proven never happens.

True, but there is a slight difference in that english is actually institutionalized in everything from aviation to computer coding. While Latin was an academic (and often religious) necessity, it was not used in daily trade use. Merchants didn’t count their chickens in Latin. But if youi’re going to work in any semi-advanced industry, you’re going to need to learn english at some point - for instance, computer programming. Every major language is based on an english character and language set.

Then there is the Internet. While there are a growing number of sites with regional interest, almost all of them translate into English. Not only is English the language people use to communicate to English-speakers, it is the language they use to speak to other people who speak different languages.

For instance, I spend most of my day online chatting with friends in Europe and abroad. Norwegians, Swedes, French, Germans, Japanese, all over. The Norwegians don’t speak German, and the Japanese don’t speak Swedish, but they all speak English, and that is how they communicate; without English, they would never understand each other.

Which is a pity, because this is a horrible, horrible language.

Why not?

While I agree that no language has ever taken over, the world has never seen a level of communication interconnection like we see today. Languages used to be refined to regions, simply because you never talked to anyone more than x miles away from you. Now, we have instant global communication, and a common language can (and probably will) begin to take root.

This isn’t to say that everyone will speak english and only english - but it will probably be (and usually is) a second language in any developed country.

What’s so horrible about English, Zagadka?

And no, I don’t see any signs that all the world’s other languages are dying out, either.

English is by far the number one international trade language. As such, it is very useful. compare with say French which was the international diplomatic language. While most passports and customs forms may still have French, French has never taken hold as the language of commerce.

Second, given that the world is on internet speed, English has a strong advantage of being the 800 pound gorilla in data terms.

I would argue that the worlds languages are shrinking. You can probably google it. If you take China’s case, regional dialects are slowly disappearing owing to TV and radio. The process will take many generations. However, many of China’s current generation are learning Mandarin as the first language and the local dialect as the second language. 100 years ago most people in China only spoke their very specific local dialect. Heck 20 years ago in the Chinese countryside, most people could only speak the local dialect. Now it’s passable mandarin as a second language. Again, this will take many generations, but dialects are on the decline.

IMHO English will be the dominant language until a better business language takes over. I don’t see anything on the horizon that would do that. Mandarin and Japanese may be important, but the fact is a lot more Japanese and Chinese have learned english than vice versa.

I agree on English being well on the way to being everyone’s first, second or at least third language. In my state the start of English lessons has shifted from 5th form (age 10) to 1st form (age 6) since last year, and parents are overwhelmingly in favour of that. (some are organizing private lessons for kids who happened to be one or two years older).

English being everyone’s first or even only language is quite another proposition. It would mean nations cutting themselves off from their own history and cultural tradition, and for no compelling reason at all (as speaking English as second/third/etc. language is entirely sufficient for purposes of international communications). I believe this idea owes a lot to a blinkered notion of foreign languages as a specialism rather than part of general education in most English-speaking countries.

It’s not just arguable, and it’s not just dialects. Languages are disappearing at an astonishing rate. Example cite

On the other hand ‘forever’ is a very long time. As English spreads, it fragments. Already we recognize British, North American, Australian and Indian variants of English. I would suppose in fifty years we will have an East Asian and African variants as well.

Which one is ‘real’ English?

If in the Year 3000 textbooks are printed in some sort of Turkish English, does that mean it is English? Even if we could not understand it? I dunno.

  1. Isn’t modern technology (air travel, mass communications, internet etc) consolidating the use of:
  • a) “standard” English as opposed to regional variants, thus reversing the age-old trend of languages splitting and growing apart, and
  • b) English as the primary world language, even though its spelling is infuriating and its grammar irregular?
  1. Is there an alternative?

‘Yes’ and ‘no’ would be my respective answers.

From The English Company

Now I know that these figures may not mean a lot but I find it interesting that the number of people who speak English as their first language is declining.

The English Company (UK) Ltd is a specialist producer of books and eLearning materials in applied linguistics and English Language Teaching. The company also provides consultancy and research services relating to the global spread and international use of English.

You might find this report answers a few of your questions, it was first published in the '98 I think so they may have underestimated the speed and growth of the internet but there are lots of good statistics. It aslo talk about varieties of English such as “Strine” or “Australian English” with the so called “Friendly endings” (uni = university, arvo = afternoon, journo = journalist etc.) & “Singlish” a variety of English spoken in Singapore which incorporates words from the local languages such as Malay and would be very difficult for a speaker from the UK to understand.

Well, let’s see … maybe I should warn you that I’ve been “Teaching English as a Foreign language” for the last 10 years? True that English is very easy to communicate in - it is easy to get your message accross with relatively little vocabulary or grammar but to speak well, use different registers and nuance ? Now that’s a different thing entirely :wink:

Curses ! Ponster beat me to it - quoting the report I gave a link to. Obvioulsy some people have more time on their hands and less work to do eh Ponster ? :smiley:

It’s true that a lot of languages and dialects are dying out, but it’s also true that existing dialects are continuing to diverge from the “standard” version of the language to which they belong. At some point some of these dialects may be considered languages in their own right. It won’t happen at anywhere near a fast enough rate to replace the languages that are disappearing, of course.

Interestingly though, even as English, Spanish and a few others seem destined to take over, minority languages (in Europe at least) are undergoing an upsurge. Kids are now able to complete their schooling in languaes such as Welsh, Breton & Basque which less than a hundred years ago were considered barbaric and adults are learning to reinforce their cultural idenities.

(A bit off subject maybe but I’ve always found it strange how some people will put so much time and effort into learning ‘invented’ languages such as Klingon when there are so many real languages out there which could do with a boost.)

Sure, but this is true with any language. I’ve absolutely no clue about German, but I can write “Ich wollen kaufen krapfen” with the help of my dictionnary (just bought it yesterday for some reason). Do german speakers on this board get my message across?

Just communicating basic ideas only require minimal study. In any language.
And I find spanish much easier to learn than english. Much more regular, pronounced as it is written (which certainly isn’t the case with english) and much closer to french. This “english is easy to learn” idea is totally arbitrary and unfounded.

1] English is an easy language to learn
As a former ESL teachr, he is utterly wrong. It and Chinese are probably the two hardest to learn of all the major languages. The grammar is highly irregular and American English depends havily on colloquialisms.

Both generally true. International business contracts are often done in English, even if it is not the native tongue of either of the parties.

Anyone who makes predictions about “forever” is wrong.

The preponderance of English is because of America, but is not neccesarioly dependant on it; a standard linguistic currency is desirable despite it’s origin. Latin was a vital and important language centuries after Rome fell.

English will be the dominant language for the next hundred years or more, but anything beyond that is speculation.