This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast on what the future might hold for the English language.
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Hello, my dear listener. My name is Stephen Greene and I’d like to welcome you to a new episode of the English with Stephen podcast.
Today I am going to talk for the third time about what I think the future holds for English. Previously, I spoke about whether another language was going to overtake English to be the world’s language and why we might not even need a world language in the future.
Today, I am going to talk about what might happen to the people who speak English and whether they will continue to understand each other.
All of that, after this.
Before we start, just a quick reminder that you can find all the past episodes of this podcast on any of the most popular podcast providers. Podcast hosts like Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcast all have my past episodes. If you use a podcast app, make sure you subscribe so you never miss a future episode. You can also find all of the past episodes on my site EnglishwithStephen.com, along with free transcripts for all of the episodes.
And now, back to the future of English.
Nothing lasts forever. This is as true for language as it is for anything else. I am sure that the Romans who spoke Latin assumed people would speak Latin for the rest of eternity. But who learns Latin nowadays apart from a select few?
So, just because English is all over the world at the moment does not mean that English will always be all over the world. In fact, it does not mean that English will continue to exist at all.
In two previous episodes, I discussed how I don’t think any other language will become the world’s language instead of English. I then looked at how the use of technology might mean that we won’t actually need a word language as computers will be able to translate everything for us.
But what might happen to English?
It is often useful to look to the past to predict the future, so let’s look at the language I mentioned earlier, Latin.
For over a thousand years, Latin was the dominant language of Western Europe. Other languages existed, but Latin was the language of government and politics and trade. Even after the fall of the western Roman Empire in the late 5th century, Latin continued to be the language of the church and of education.
The question is, then, what happened to Latin and could the same thing happen to English?
The most obvious thing that happened to Latin was the fall of the Roman Empire. With no Empire, there was no need to speak the language of the Empire and no central authority to maintain education in that language.
With different communities being distant from each other and separated by things like mountains and rivers, differences in the languages started to appear. There were also pre-existing languages in different parts of Europe that had not disappeared and so either returned or influenced the speakers in a variety of ways.
Because of these geographical distances, languages like Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian appeared. Over time, with the growth of nation-states, these languages began to be promoted by the elites as a way to create a national identity.
In other areas, for example England, invading barbarians assumed political and economic power, and so their languages became more important than the Latin of Rome which had never really dominated in the British Isles. This can also be seen in Wales where the Anglo Saxons were unable to conquer for a long time and so the native Welsh or Brythonic language managed to reassert itself.
Latin continued, for some time, to be the language of communication between these communities, but eventually, there was no need for it as other languages became more important.
In terms of English, there are certainly parallels to Latin. The British Empire has gone, and the American Empire which followed it certainly seems to be struggling at the moment. There are a number of English language communities, but they are spread all over the world so that there are large distances between them.
The varieties of English that exist are influenced by other languages that are near them, as well as the people who learn English. There is also a drive in some areas to make their English different as a way of expressing pride in their regional or national identity.
I can easily see a future where, for example, the English of New Zealand is not understandable to an English speaker from England. Or perhaps an English variety of India is impossible for a speaker from Singapore to understand.
I can also see a future where there is a kind of international English that people learn in order to communicate with other speakers around the world. This could be a form of, for example, CNN English or BBC English. Even now, there are many people who can speak two or more dialects of English. The way I speak at home in Birmingham in the UK is different to the way I speak English in Brazil. My goal is to communicate, so my accent is softer, and I don’t use the same idioms or expressions.
This means there is no reason at all why English could not go down the same route as Latin and break up into a number of regional or national languages with an international form of English remaining for communication between those regions. And then, just like Latin, something else could come along that would make that international English no longer necessary. It could be another language or technology.
However, I don’t see any of this happening any time soon. Technology shortens the distances between different communities, so the language change that we saw in France and Spain, might take longer. There is also an idea among some linguists that it generally takes 1, 000 years for two languages to move apart so much that the speakers can no longer understand each other and there are two languages instead of two dialects.
What about you? What do you think is going to happen to English? I’d love to read your comments, so please leave me a message on my site, EnglishwithStephen.com, or on any of my social media.
And don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast so that you are always up to date with the latest episode.
Thanks for listening. I look forward to meeting up again with you next week.