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Will there be fewer and simpler languages in the future?

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As John McWhorter predicts in the Wall Street Journal?

And can information theory shed any light on the process?

But the days when English shared the planet with thousands of other languages are numbered. A traveler to the future, a century from now, is likely to notice two things about the language landscape of Earth. One, there will be vastly fewer languages. Two, languages will often be less complicated than they are today—especially in how they are spoken as opposed to how they are written.

Some may protest that it is not English but Mandarin Chinese that will eventually become the world’s language, because of the size of the Chinese population and the increasing economic might of their nation. But that’s unlikely. For one, English happens to have gotten there first. It is now so deeply entrenched in print, education and media that switching to anything else would entail an enormous effort. We retain the QWERTY keyboard and AC current for similar reasons.

Also, the tones of Chinese are extremely difficult to learn beyond childhood, and truly mastering the writing system virtually requires having been born to it. In the past, of course, notoriously challenging languages such as Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Arabic, Russian and even Chinese have been embraced by vast numbers of people. But now that English has settled in, its approachability as compared with Chinese will discourage its replacement. Many a world power has ruled without spreading its language, and just as the Mongols and Manchus once ruled China while leaving Chinese intact, if the Chinese rule the world, they will likely do so in English.

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5 Replies to “Will there be fewer and simpler languages in the future?

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    How about a “Chinese Pidgin English” or an “English Pidgin Chinese”?

  2. 2
    Mapou says:

    With the coming of easy to use and portable automatic language translators, people will no longer be motivated to learn a foreign language. This means that languages will not die out as fast as they have in the past.

  3. 3
    ppolish says:

    Ah, the BabelFish, I bet you’re right Mapou!

    http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Babel_Fish

  4. 4
    sdlawrence says:

    I believe that English will become simultaneously simpler with regard to daily communication and informal spoken English, and far more complex with regard to esoterica, as last century’s trend already shows.

    English isn’t even a single language to begin with. It’s an amalgamation of languages, and far more flexible and robust than any other on Earth. There is already an evolutionary trend in English as scientific and other esoterica have expanded the body of English dramatically. That won’t stop, we’re just warming up. There is another concomitant trend as English moves toward a much simpler spoken form (both grammar and sound reductions in common pronunciation) even amongst native speakers. A casual look at English speaking movies from each decade from the 1930’s to now reveals this trend clearly.

    Purists throughout time will fight the reduced pronunciation and simplified grammar trend, of course, but it’s always a losing battle for them, as common ‘bad’ usage today becomes tomorrow’s new rules.

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    The writer seems frightened to suggest the Chinese will not dominate mankind
    this is more important then the subject of language to him.
    He is saying the Chinease can dominate mankind without a dominating language.
    i say one can not.
    anyways domination is evil. let every people dominate their own nation.
    English is not a dominating peoples language but many nations/peoples speak it.

    It doesn’t matter about population since any single pop is a tiny minority.
    english is spoken by so many peoples in different nations and thats why its the future dominant language as it now is or almost.

    I don’t think China will become dominant in economy because we are on top and so many nations are rising as it will disapate the whole. Its not like the old days with just us,
    The writer got it all wrong.

    I don’t see wHY language would get less complex.
    Complexity of language is complexity of sounds to express complexity of thoughts.
    Language is needed because humans are so smart and think so fast and so much.
    Still our words fall behind our full meanings.
    thats why tones of voice are equally/more/less as important.
    the writer is another establishment drone and thus saying dumb things.

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