Trying to determine which language will be dominant in the global economy of the future is like trying to predict which athlete will win gold in the Olympics. Sure, there are those favored to win, but there are those dramatic historical upsets too. With over 7 billion people on Earth with approximately 6,500 spoken languages, huge possibilities exist, although a few are considered the most likely.
The target date is 2050. The world will continue to be inextricably linked, even more so, by projected advances in communication technology and world trade. Transportation will continue to progress, resulting in greatly improved means for us to roam freely more than ever. The Internet has provided access to every continent and exposure to a multitude of cultures. So which language then, will move to the forefront?
While the Anglosphere has grown comfortable with English being the current lingua franca of global commerce, there are other languages that are pulling ahead in the communication race. And just like those medal contenders of the international games, it is anybody’s guess by looking at the shifting numbers and demographics.
Kirsten Winkler of Fairlanguages.com reports that according to the engco model of languages forecasting, Chinese, Spanish, and English will round out the top three spots for the future. According to Infoplease.com, there are 1,213,000,000 people in the world that speak Mandarin Chinese already, although this language is also one of the hardest to learn. For a list of the most widely spoken languages in the world, Infoplease.com has compiled a popular top ten.
What is the engco model? Through calculations regarding human development, economic and demographic factors, it creates an index of “global influence.” This snapshot is used to rank languages based on the number and wealth of speakers of a specific language and how likely these speakers will be part of the greater social networks.
Based on a report by the British Council, the future of English as the dominant language is growing less secure, but remains firmly entrenched in the world of science, technology, business, and entertainment. Although it is expected to yield to a wider variety of languages, it continues to be a sought after second language to acquire.
This is where an upset on the medal podium could take place. A study by investment bank Natixis earlier this year suggested that French could possibly surpass English and Mandarin as the next global language. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for Forbes.com writes that it has to do with the fact that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fast growing regions of the world, of which a projected 750 million residents will use French in daily communication.
Enter the dark horse. According to the field of technology, learning any one language for use in worldwide communication may be a moot point by 2050 with the up and coming machine translation apps and services. While currently free services such as Google Translate and Bing offer quick on the spot translations, sometimes with confusing or hilarious results, they are only improving as computers get faster and software gets smarter. R.L.G. of The Economist.com, ponders the future of language and how much of it will be determined by the ongoing evolution of machine translation. However, since language is a living, organic expression of one’s thoughts, it will take some time and plenty of fuzzy logic for machine translation to become a true contender. Paul Rubens for the BBC.com explains the complexities of this undertaking in depth.
There are many factors that will govern the dominance of any language as global tongue. Population growths and shrinkages, human development, strengths of economies, warfare, drought, famine, technology and entertainment all have their influences. Taken all together, you might stand a better chance at predicting the next medal finalists for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro than the language that will ultimately emerge as leader.
Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype