How will we speak in 100 years? 90% of languages will become extinct because of migration, linguist claims
- Columbia University linguist predicts 600 languages will remain in 2115
- This will be due to the movement of people and parents not teaching their children ‘native’ languages used to particular parts of the world
- Dr John McWhorter says languages will also likely become more simple
- Translating tools will not be enough to preserve linguistic diversity
- He said that a scenario where only one language remains is ‘impossible’
Sci-fi visions of the future may focus on soaring skylines and flying cars, but the world in 100 years may not only look different, but sound different too.
While there are more than 6,000 languages spoken globally at present, less than 600 are likely to endure in 2115, and they could be simplified versions of what we recognise today, one linguist has claimed.
He told MailOnline that the advent of technologically-advanced translating tools will not be enough to save the diversity of Earth’s languages either.
A linguist has claimed that less than 10 per cent of the world’s 6,000 languages will endure in 2115 and they could be simplified versions of what we recognise today. However, Dr John McWhorter has dismissed the likelihood of a Tower of Babel (illustared) scenario where the whole world will speak a single language
Writing in a piece for The Wall Street Journal, Dr John McWhorter said that in a century from now there will be ‘vastly fewer languages,’ which will be less complicated than they are today – especially in the way they are spoken.
The American studies, philosophy and music expert at Columbia University, predicts that 90 per cent of languages will die out to leave around 600.
He said this will probably happen because of globalisation. As people migrate to new areas, cultures will become fragmented.
Lesser known cultures and their unique languages will struggle to survive, leaving widely spoken languages such as English and Chinese to swallow them up and in turn wipe them out.
This has already happened in some places because of colonisation, such as America and Australia, for example, where most native languages are extinct or about to die out.
People moving away from areas to find work, for example, could cause the same problem.
Dr John McWhorter (pictured) predicts that 90 per cent of languages will die out to leave around 600
Dr McWhorter believes that there is a danger that speakers of languages only used by small groups, will stop passing them on to their children, because they don’t think they will be useful.
Unless the language is written down, once it skips a generation, it is all but lost.
‘To the extent that there are fewer languages, there will certainly be fewer cultures, but even if there are 600 cultures, people in the future will not see themselves as living in a monolithic world,’ he told MailOnline.
He said that a sci-fi reality where everyone on Earth speaks a single, universally understood language is ‘impossible’, also ruling out a Tower of Babel-like scenario.
‘A language is not just a collection of words and rules; it’s part of a culture, learned early, used with kids, the vehicle of the most intimate and warm feelings,’ he explained.
‘When it comes to large, solid cultures, it’s hard to imagine how parents would start using English with their children and reading to them in English.
‘The only way this would happen is if population movements were so rampant that a critical mass of people were dislocated from their cultural milieu.
‘That would require some kind of global catastrophe, I suspect. So, 6000 languages? No. Four languages? Equally impossible.’
He predicts that languages such as English, for example will become more streamlined when spoken, laregey because people learning them as a foreign language (illustrated with a stock image) take on board a simplet form without complex sayings, for example
WHAT WOULD EARTH’S DOMINANT LANGUAGE BE?
A couple of centuries ago, it may have seemed likely that should a single language conquer the world, it would be English.
Some experts now argue that Mandarin Chinese would be the most likely candidate, because of the rate of expansion of the Chinese population and economy.
But Dr McWhorter thinks that English will continue to be a dominant language because it simple got there first and is entrenched – even in electronic devices where the QWERTY keyboard is used.
He also says that the tones of Chinese are difficult to master beyond childhood and the writing system is notoriously difficult to learn without being born into it.
However, he has ruled out a world where everyone will speak just one language, such as in the Biblical tale of the Tower of Babel.
The story, in the Book of Genesis, is about the origin of language.
According to the tale, everyone spoke the same language, following the Great Flood and migrated east to the Land of Shinar.
There, they built a vast tower to make a name for themselves.
God said that as one people with one language, everything they sought would be possible, but he then confounded their speech so they couldn’t understand each other and they dispersed over the world.
The unfinished city was called Babel.
He said that despite increasingly good translation devices, such as Google’s new Translate tool – which can interpret speech spoken in a foreign language into a listener’s native tongue instantly – technology will not be enough to keep all the Earth’s current languages alive.
‘It’s been said that instant translation will keep languages alive, but the concept only works so far,’ Dr McWhorter explained.
‘When a language is no longer spoken to kids, then those people will have less interest in technology that translates the language because they won’t speak it.’
For example, he said that with most Native American languages, there aren’t enough speakers left to transform speech into computer data.
He noted that thriving languages such as English, for example, grow in complexity over time and that it would still function without words such as ‘gonna’ and lots of irregular verbs.
But the new words and quirks that make them rich are hard to revive when they are lost.
Valliant efforts to teach dying languages such as Irish Gaelic in schools arguably leads to ‘new’ versions of languages with smaller vocabularies and simplified grammar.
Dr McWhorter believes that efforts to preserve old languages and inadvertently creating new ones, will lead to the birth of less complicated languages that people will speak in 100 years’ time.
He said this started to happen when people began to travel to different parts of the planet, so that adults started to learn new languages that were useful for them – usually neglecting the details.
For example, after the Vikings invaded England, children picked up on ‘broken’ Old English and the result is incorporated into the language we known today, which is dramatically simpler in terms of grammar, than ‘proper’ Old English.
He said that the second wave of simplification happened when African slaves were taken to plantations and adults had to learn a new language extremely fast.
Because they typically learnt a few hundred words and very basic sentence structure, slaves often invented their own language to fill in gaps of meaning, resulting in Creole languages.
Now modern population movements are creating a third wave of language streamlining, he said.
AND YOU CAN WATCH TV SHOWS IN DYING LANGUAGES
A TV service called Viki offers channels in approximately 50 languages that are classified as endangered or emerging, including Breton, Cornish, Yiddish and Maori.
It’s hoped that the service could help keep Udmurt alive for example.
The dialect is only spoken by 350,000 people in the former Soviet Union and the language isn’t supported by the Russian government, so there are few books and two hours of daily television programming available.
A TV service called Viki offers channels in approximately 50 languages that are classified as endangered or emerging, including Breton, Cornish, Yiddish and Maori, shown on this map
GOOGLE TRANSLATE APP INTERPRETS CONVERSATION
Last week, Google launched a translation tool that interprets conversations indifferent languages.
Both iOS and Android users can use the app to get a written translation of what someone is saying, in real time, on the screen.
The move builds on Google’s current tools, which offer written translation of 90 languages, as well spoken translations in a select number of languages on Android devices.
When using Google Translate, users can tap on a microphone to enter translation mode.
It will automatically recognise which languages are being spoken by both members of the conversation.
Once they have been recognised, the app translated the speech and shows it on a device’s screen.
Google has also updated its Translate app’s Word Lens tool.
Word Lens lets people use camera mode to take a photo of text and get a translation in 36 languages.
Now, while using the Translate app, users can point their camera at a sign or text and see the translated text overlaid the screen – even if they don’t have a data connection.
This instant translation currently works for translation from English to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, and Google said it is working to expand to more languages.
‘In cities world-wide, children of immigrants speaking many different languages are growing up speaking among themselves a version of their new country’s language that nibbles away at such arbitrary features as irregular verbs and gendered objects,’ he writes.
Dr McWhorter said that it’s a compromise between the original language and the way their parents have grasped it. One example is ‘Slinglish,’ which us spoken in Singapore.
He explained that such languages will likely not be written down for posterity, unlike simplified text language, for example.
The expert believes there is little danger in text speak replacing ‘real’ English.
‘Textspeak will be texted in – how we talk and how we write essays will always be a different „track,”’ he said.
‘Just as people can speak two languages, they can write in two ways without the two melting into one another.’
While it may be tempting to think of the loss of unusual words and complex grammar as a decline in language, Dr McWhorter says this will not be the case.
All the remaining languages will be ‘full’, just as the English we use today is not considered a poor version of more complex Old English.
‘On the simplification, it’s neither good nor bad – languages are ordinarily much more complicated than they need to be, for no reason, but it doesn’t hurt anything because kids can pick up anything.
‘So, if later circumstances shave languages down some, it’s still every bit as much a language – no language has ever been discovered that leaves speakers somewhat tongue-tied.’
He noted that modern technology can at least be used to record rare languages and while we may regret the loss of 90 per cent of the world’s dialects, it will at least mean that more people will be able to communicate without as many barriers.
Simplification of English has already happened. For example, after the Vikings invaded England, children picked up on ‘broken’ Old English and the result is incorporated into the language we known today, which is dramatically simpler in terms of grammar, than ‘proper’ Old English. A re-enactment of a Viking trip is shown