English’s Bleak Future

So, we think English will be the all-dominant language forever, do we? Not bloody likely, if Nicholas Ostler is to be believed in his recent article for Forbes:

The status of English as an international language appears unassailable. It is simultaneously pre-eminent in science, politics, business and entertainment. And unlike any of its lingua franca predecessors, it has all this on a truly worldwide scale. There is no challenger comparable to it: Chinese has more native speakers, but every schoolchild in China now studies English. And India, set to overtake China in population by 2050, is avidly trading on its English expertise.

But English is not thereby immune to the principles of language survival. Above all, it is notable that beyond the 330 million or so native speakers, perhaps twice as many more use it as a second language. And this community of over 600 million second-language speakers, who make English pre-eminent as a world language, also make it vulnerable in the long term.

not the lead singer of the spin doctors
If you want to call me baby…just go ahead now

In 5,000 years of recorded language history, a few dozen languages have achieved the status of lingua franca, a language of wider communication among people whose mother tongues may be quite different. Spanish, French, Hindi, Russian and English have been lingua francas in the present age, as have been Latin, Quechua, Persian and Aramaic in the past. But this status does not come about by some utilitarian reckoning, or democratic selection. There is always a reason, be it conquest, trade, religious mission or social aspiration, which has selected a language to have this wider role, and that reason is hard to forget – and ultimately often hard to forgive.

This is seldom clear – at first – to native speakers. They naturally see their mother tongue as a simple blessing for the wider world. Pliny the Elder, writing in the 1st century AD of the then widespread use of Latin, boasted that it almost made the sky brighter; French author Anatole France (1844-1924) thought the French language was such a charming mistress that no one was ever tempted to be unfaithful to her. But neither language would have spread across Western Europe if their use had not once upon a time been imposed – by forces other than lucidity and charm…

Get working on those ‘transferable skills’ and preparing for an alternative career boys and girls! Read the rest of the article here.

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