David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

How Long Will the Global Dominance of the English Language Last?

English is the dominant inter-language of the world and it is used and spoken by vastly more people than those who have it as their first or family language. How long will this last?

David Bellos: The situation today with respect to the diversity of language in the world is probably rather special.  It’s probably not got any real historical precedent.  English is the dominant inter-language of the world and it is used and spoken by vastly more people than those who have it as their first or family language.  Maybe up to a billion people speak English in the world who are not English speakers, if you see what I mean, to some level of proficiency.  It’s got nothing to do with the intrinsic qualities of the English language itself.  English is no more simple, no more complicated, no more accurate and no more fuzzy than any other language in the world. 

Although Latin performed a similar functional role for a thousand years between the Roman Empire and the 15th, 16th century as the language of science and as the language of theology and so forth in intercultural communication at a high level, I think English has spread much further both in the sense of the planet, but also much further down in terms of its usages.

This has one obviously negative consequence and that is that the relatively small number of people who speak English as their native tongue, as their dominant tongue and no other are becoming unique.  They are going to be very soon the only monolingual people in the world, lacking that double dimension that having another language always gives you.  So that’s the negative consequence.  

I don’t personally believe that the dominance of English as a global communication device is going to have any impact on the diversity of human languages.  People are going to go on speaking Chinese and French and Arabic and everything else.  Some of those smaller languages will die out, but other dialects and forms of speech will arise.  I don’t think there is going to be a kind of planetary unification of all forms of speech.  It’s not at all likely and nothing to be frightened of because it’s not going to happen.

It produces a sense of inferiority and irritation and annoyance and a degree of anti-Americanism amongst the speakers of those languages that in past centuries held the role of global inter-language, notably French, which was of course the international language for a couple of hundred years, but then so was Latin and so was Greek and so was Syriac and so was Arabic and so was Chinese.  I mean many languages have had this role and they’ve lost it.  After all Sumerian, remained a written language for a large part of the Middle East of the Assyrian sphere of influence for many centuries and the last uses of Sumerian for ceremonial and religious purposes date from the third century Common Era.  It had a run of 3,000 years.  Now English as a global language has had a run of, I don’t know, less than 50 years really, so we’re early days yet and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but the one thing I'm sure of is that nothing lasts forever.  

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

English is the dominant inter-language of the world and it is used and spoken by vastly more people than those who have it as their first or family language. How long will this last?

Malcolm Gladwell live! | Strangers, Storytelling, and Psychology

Join the legend of non-fiction in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Virgin Galactic uses space tech to create new supersonic jet

The space tourism company Virgin Galactic teams up with Rolls Royce to create a new Mach 3 supersonic aircraft.

Credit: Virgin Galactic
Technology & Innovation
  • Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic announces a partnership with Rolls Royce.
  • The space tourism company will create a new supersonic jet for super-fast travel on Earth.
  • The aircraft will travel at Mach 3 – three times the speed of sound.
Keep reading Show less

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Keep reading Show less

Map of the World's Countries Rearranged by Population

China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is. 

Strange Maps

What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?

Keep reading Show less

Scientists solve the origin of Stonehenge’s sarsen stones

Most of Stonehenge's megaliths, called sarens, came from West Woods, Wiltshire.

Culture & Religion
  • Researchers have known Stonehenge's smaller bluestones came from Preseli Hills, Wales, but the source of its sarsens has remained a mystery.
  • Using chemical analysis, scientists found at matching source at West Woods, approximately 25 kilometer north of the World Heritage Site.
  • But mysteries remain, such as why that site was chosen.
  • Keep reading Show less