Saturday, June 11, 2005

Will the world speak a single language?

For those born in the English world, who have lived all their lives talking and communicating in one language, the idea that the entire world may speak one language in a slightly distant future may not be very disturbing nor novel. For those in the non English world, it may sound a little disconcerting, but only so. For historians, culture specialists and others, it would be very very disturbing. From a global perspective, it seems like a great idea.

Lets take a case in India.For the record, India speaks many languages.
One generation ago, my parents were educated in Malayalam and continued in English after their 10th grade/standard since higher education is usually in English. A generation before that my grandparents were educated in Tamil.
I was educated in English. Today, I can talk in Tamil, Malayalam and read a bit of both. Most (all, I guess) of the books I read are in English. I recently read a Marathi book which was the first ever book I read in a language other than English. It will probably be the last one too.

During my school days in Mumbai, there were Marathi medium (schools which used Marathi as a medium of instruction) schools. The number of students who enrol into non English schools is decreasing day by day, atleast in urban areas. They prefer an English medium school since fluency (and not just basic understanding) in English opens many doors later on in life. I was educated in an English medium school with Marathi and Hindi as second languages. Parents (and students) in rural areas would prefer English medium instruction of they had access to such schools. And why not. English opens many doors (with the IT and BPO revolution, knowledge of English is more a necessity).

Rural areas are helping sustain languages, but how long and for whom? If people dont read regional language papers and novels, who will write? (For all practical purposes, active linguistic populations of these languages are more than many European nations), for how long? Higher education is in English in any case, since most research is done in 'English' so to say.

With the boom in IT, English is no longer a matter of choice, it is de rigeur. Notwithstanding linguistic chauvinists, it is only a question of time before English becomes the first language of choice atleast in India and perhaps the world. The position for second language may well be taken by our mother tongues, but over time, they may be reduced to dialects.

This trend has been observed not just in India I chanced upon a report from Australia. Is there something that should be done about it? Or is it just the ebb and flow of globalization? Even the Chinese are taking to English, so is English the language of the future global world? (as much as the French may fret and fume)

13 comments:

Half Sigma said...

Yes, English is like the QWERTY keyboard. Not the best keyboard from a theoretical standpoint, but the only one anyone uses.

English has become established as the language of international commerce, so more and more of the world's population will speak it until it's the universal language of mankind.

Monjo said...

Most of the world doesn't use a QWERTY, Europe uses AZERTY (though you are right that many are moving more towards QWERTY), China etc have others. Some people even use DVORAK.

Even QWERTY varies, not the main 26 alphabetical keys, but there's numerous small differences between a British and US keyboard - I guess a bit like the English language in that regard.

rattlerd said...

This really is an unfortunate inevitability. The only thing that can slow it is a fierce, near-religious commitment to preserving a language in its native-speaking population - but even then, it's a losing battle. Witness the slow death Gaelic and Welsh are dying - a fate I fear will soon befall languages like Finnish and Estonian, unbelievable intricate tongues spoken by tiny, tiny populations. In the future, they may become like Esperanto - kept alive only by academics and cultural hobbyists.

MaoBi said...

The utility of a language is in the fact that the sender can encode his thought into a common medium/protocol for the recipient.

If no one uses a protocol anymore then it will fade away into. Why is this a terrible thing?

If no one speaks Finnish or Estonian then what does it mean in real terms for the rest of us?

Neelakantan said...

What does it mean if certain languages are not spoken. Great comment. I will write in detail, once I give it a thought!
English, though English has its own flavour all around the world, thats another beauty of language and the way we communicate.
Sad, but true, Sanskrit is a great language which has been kept, as you put it, alive by hobbyists and academics.

crsathish said...

pretty good article sir...

Jeff Cornelius said...

Like the QWERTY keyboard, English is often awkward. Also like that keyboard, there is no central authority to regulate it, so variations abound, with modifications introduced whenever found useful and preserved in the usage of those who still find them so.
Languages like Latin, Sanskrit, and Gaelic survive in cultural or technical niches as long as people find them useful or interesting. Each has a complex cultural structure underlying, as do the modern evolving languages, and for that cultural baggage they are more desired for cutural communications like song or poetry.

Jeff Cornelius

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Thoughts said...

Yes, English will become a world language. Yes, it is a good thing. Yes, all other languages will be kept alive or documented. Yes, there will be resistance; no, it won't matter. A more interesting question might be will the world become ________ (insert preferred religion here, I choose Agnostic).

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kevinhil123 said...
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Tanner Newell said...

I think it would be a good thing to have one language, everyone would understand one another.