In his recent book, The Last Lingua Franca, the linguist Nicholas Ostier offers a new analysis of the domination of English as a global language. According to Ostier, even though English currently holds the role of principle international language for business, it is doomed eventually to be toppled. This premise may sound surprising as more and more individuals are following English training courses around the globe and most international organizations now operate in English. So, what are the factors allowing linguistics to predict the disappearance of English as a global language in the years to come?
Historical evidence supports Ostier’s prediction. If we look back, other languages such as Latin in the West and Persian in the East once occupied the same position that English does today. They are no longer spoken and only studied for academic purposes or intellectual curiosity. Even if the historical context is different, English is likely to follow the same path: decline and giving way to another global language. Mandarin, which counts the largest number of native speakers (850 million) and Spanish, whose progression (particularly in the US) is constantly increasing, are probably tomorrow’s dominant languages.
Ostier also points out that the very use of English as a Lingua Franca is a threat to its survivability. He defines a Lingua Franca as a language individuals have to learn but do not use outside work or other special occasions and, thus, not as a mother tongue. While this position seems advantageous, it will not protect English when another language rises to take its place. On the contrary, the fact that “only” 300 to 400 million people use English as their mother tongue (which is not many when compared to the 1.3 billion people speaking all Chinese dialects) is not enough to protect it from losing its place as the global language.
Ostier insists that technical progress and computers’ increased power will eventually give birth to a universal translation system interacting not only with “major” languages but also with a wide range of other languages. The benefits of this kind of tool would be immense as it would allow every individual to express themselves fully in their mother tongue without the worry of not being understood. It would also make language training obsolete and ease communication across cultures. Even if this possibility sounds appealing to some, losing the possibility to learn another language will come with some major downsides. The ability to speak another language is a formidable opportunity to develop your capacity to communicate effectively: it is much harder to build human relationships on a personal or business level without the warmth of a shared language.
Even if these predictions seem to be backed by history and seem very likely to happen, we may not witness them any time soon. After all, the reign of Latin over Europe lasted for centuries – and you might argue that it still exists embedded in the modern languages of Europe, including English.
Alastair is a freelance writer and has supplied this article on behalf of Communicaid a company which provides business English courses amongst its services. For more information go to http://www.communicaid.com