The future of language

5 minute read

Father time

Time is like a virus that affects everything and everyone. It is able to take down the strongest men to the most powerful civilizations that have existed in history. Time is so powerful that it can erase the records of the most prevalent ideas of a specific era; conversely, it can give rise to a language and culture.

Once upon a time...

Today, we study languages such as Latin and ancient Greek only to wonder of their original essence and the impact that they had 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. But how will generations look at languages such as English, Arabic, Spanish, or Mandarin 500 years in the future? This is an interesting topic among many.

The Roman Empire ruled most of the Mediterranean Coast throughout hundreds of years, being able to influence many of the territories it conquered with its language and change their linguistic identity to resemble their own. This is a phenomenon that we see happening today, with languages such as English and French. The imperialistic nature of the countries, such as the United States and France, have influenced cultures all around the world for better or for worse. During this residency of cultural entanglement there is an exchange of linguistic goods and the donation of cultural aspects from one nation to the other.

However, it is always the strongest nations that influence the usage of language, and therefore change the linguistic panorama of the region for many years to come. If we take the example of the United States and their annexation of the state, or the sovereign nation of Hawaii, we can see the cultural invasion and the linguistic invasion happening right before our eyes. The eradication of the Hawaiian language would have taken place if it were not for the intervention of concerned statesman who wanted to protect the native tongue from oblivion, after almost a century of silence. Around 50 individuals spoke the language at the time of the revival in the 1980’s.

This type of phenomena does not occur because the local society decides to change their native language to the imperialistic language of the conquering nation. This phenomena occurs due to the suppression and the systematic promotion of the more prestigious language. This process is not optional, it is an indirect manner of imposition of culture and linguistic policies that intervene and redirect the social path of a nation and control, inevitably, their fate as a unique and independent ethnic community.

Just around the corner...

The fate of languages is going to depend on a number of things. One of the most prevailing concepts that will interfere with a preservation of language 'purity' is the economic impact that some countries will have in an evermore globalized future. If the United States and other English speaking countries continue to disperse their transnational companies and continue to export their culture, therefore their language, it is almost inevitable the role that English will play in the majority of the world. Many modern languages now are already being shaped by English. We see examples of English terms being borrowed by languages such as Spanish and French. This process creates a hybrid that uses the lexicon interchangeably.

In 100 years time, it is still believed that the superpowers of today will have some sort of stronghold in future geopolitics. Therefore, the use of languages such as Spanish and German would have a high amount of English terminology. By this time, it is estimated that almost half of the more than 7,000 languages that exist today would have disappeared. This would inevitably create a necessity for the instruction of English and the implementation of English programs in the national educational reforms of many nations. With the use of social media, English would disperse among most of the corners of the Earth; being modified by the languages, dialects, and specific cultures of the regions and thus creating a myriad of English variants and dialects.

By 500 years time, the rise of globals superpowers such as China and Germany could have different effects on the future of language. The distribution of Chinese intellectual property, pop culture, and scientific articles would promote these languages’ characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Mandarin Chinese, by this time, could have integrated into a unified national language and begin to influence the international society. This could be made easier to accomplish with modifications in their language policy, such as character simplification and integration of foreign terminology. As it was with the case of English and other prestigious languages, the instrumental motivations to study a foreign language of power and prestige would hold Mandarin Chinese as the summit of the desired tools and abilities to have in the emerging new futuristic economies. The same could be said with Germany of its power and influence in the European continent. The political and economic influences that Germany would have could automatically place it in a position of dominance over the rest of Europe. Germany's possible involvement in leadership with NATO would make the German language one of diplomacy and international politics.

What awaits us?

It is difficult to predict, not only how language will be, but also how society will be in 1,000 years. Surely, we hope for the best and believe that our mistakes would be corrected and we would have reached a certain moral and intellectual balance. If that were the case, in this utopian futuristic society, then the use of languages, as we know it today, could be unnecessary. The processing of information that current human language portrays and conveys could be replaced by technological or metaphysical means. What could exist however is written code, this being an indexed language or meaning based logograms which would communicate important pieces of information. In the case of a dystopia, the complete opposite could happen. The separation of nations and the high social and economic struggle could force future generations to alienate from each other and therefore creating thousands of different variants and dialects of languages we use today. These languages or dialects would not be intelligible to us today just as we would not be able to understand someone who spoke old English in the modern era.

Language is one of the traits that defines and gives us our human identity. Just as humans, languages are in constant evolution. Languages and evolution are interconnected, changing each other continuously. The future of languages is uncertain, but what is certain is that many languages will perish. Many of the secrets and joys of that language, and culture, will die with it too. On a happier note, many languages will blossom and along with it the culture as well as the people who speak it.