In the previous post we looked briefly at the main factors that can lead to the abandonment and loss of a language. Let’s see now what happens nowadays to foresee if of the 83 major languages, one will surpass all others and be crowned THE language.
Part 2: What Is the Situation Today
Let’s say first that from a biological standpoint, the existence of only one language is not impossible. Our brains are hardwired to learn language, not a language. A child will learn the language(s) s/he is exposed to, regardless of their nationality. For example, a Chinese child will learn Chinese if s/he is exposed to Chinese, or Japanese if s/he is exposed to Japanese.
So, what is the situation today?
There is still immigration.
There are social forums, where people want to communicate and make friends with people sometimes in the other part of the planet, speaking a different language, so they need a lingua franca, a language commonly known.
There are new developments and so new vocabulary is used, and languages either create new words to cover that need or adopt the foreign word as is; there is osmosis, attrition, “languages” like Chinglish, or Spanglish.
There are movements of language revitalization: despite the efforts of the former Spanish dictator Franco to stamp out the regional languages of Spain, today Catalan is stronger than ever; similarly, efforts are made to restore Irish, Cornish and other languages whose speakers were forced to abandon them.
All these phenomena have been with languages since day 1. People have always come into contact and had lingua francas. Languages have always come into contact and borrowed or lent words; new words have always been created to cater for new needs. Creoles have been created.
But is there coercion? Is there loss of self-esteem? Is there conscious effort to keep up with the changes or are the changes too rapid for us to keep up pace with them?
Maybe the answer to the two first questions is no, or not to the same extend as in the past, but we must explore the third one more in depth. One word that characterizes “today” is “globalization.” People today come into contact more often than before, through forums, blogs etc. The reason why there were so many languages in the past was that people lived in small settlements of a few speakers, sometimes in complete isolation, and used a lingua franca whenever they had to communicate with other tribes; they met, solved their issues, and left to meet much time later, if ever. But today, people use the Internet on an everyday basis. Services are created that are addressed to the world as a whole. Translation of services is costly and sometimes it cannot be done automatically and hence on time.
Languages must keep up with the technological changes. If a page is not translated into someone’s native language but is translated into English and s/he speaks English, then s/he will read it in English. There is automatic translation but if only English is supported then the future of the other languages is bleak.
There is much need for an international lingua franca, and the English Language is the best candidate. The question now is, will it prevail? Are we - or rather our children’s children – going to experience an anti-Babel phenomenon?
Why give up a language when you can speak both your language and the lingua franca?
No reason, probably, but let’s look at what happened in Italy: Before 1861, there were many states in Italy and as many languages: if someone from Milan met someone from Sicily, they wouldn’t be able to communicate. After 1861 when all these states were united, through education, but more importantly for our topic, through the mass media, the Italian language has been homogenized and is now what we call “Italian.”
Can there be a similar case today through the Internet? Can people unconsciously start using one language more and more until they forget their native tongues?
This is yet to be seen.