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The Future of Languages

Last week we wrote a blog on the creation of languages, how they were born and how the morphed into the modern languages we know today. But what happens when we look to the future in our rapidly changing language landscape?

 

There are roughly 6000 different living languages around the globe today. Here’s a table of approximations (no sources seem to agree on exact numbers) of the most popular languages spoken by native speakers:

  1. Chinese (Mandarin & Cantonese) – 1.2 Billion
  2. Spanish – 450 million
  3. English – 360 million
  4. Hindi – 310 million
  5. Arabic – 290 million

As you can see China takes a clear lead due to its huge population. But when studied languages are considered, the ‘league table’ looks different. English takes a big jump to around a billion speakers, European languages also swell to higher numbers, whereas Chinese stays at the same mark. When looking back in history to see when and where languages have grown, there is a clear correlation between economic growth and prosperity and language popularity. Like the Roman empire before it where Latin was spread throughout Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea, the far-reaching effects of the British Empire and its industrial revolution can be seen throughout the world today. So, the truest way to judge the future of language might be to look to the future of growing economies. China is the one of the stand out growers over the past few years, and consequently its number of foreign learners is growing. An interesting case is India, which has also seen major growth; due to the influence of the British Empire, English is used in the higher levels of government and is the ‘lingua franca’ (bridge language) for business in the country.

As the world becomes more globalised it seems that the more popular languages can only grow. English looks to become the most widely used language to due Britain’s colonial past and because its relatively easy to learn - especially compared with Chinese – and we may see many smaller languages die out as the bigger ones become more popular. An interesting notion is that we may see more cross-languages as immigration rises in urban areas and languages seep into each other.

So, it seems that English is the ultimate lingua franca for now and looks to stay that way in the near future. As for a few centuries down the line? Your guess is as good as ours…

 

 

*As it is nigh impossible to get true data on the number of different language speakers around the world, we’ve purposefully been vague with the statistics in this blog*



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