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?

22 months of war - condensed in a 1-minute video

No, the Syrian civil war is not over. But it might be soon. Time for a recap

Strange Maps
  • The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
  • This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
  • Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.

content.jwplatform.com
Videos
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less