One language for the world
|From:||Tom Wier <artabanos@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, June 7, 2000, 5:47|
Nik Taylor wrote:
> > Of course, I don't much care for English, even though I was born and
> > raised speaking it. I really would rather have just about any other
> > language become the lingua franca on Earth.
> I've been thinking lately about that. It does seem possible that at
> some point in the future, only one language will be spoken on Earth.
> English seems to be the most likely candidate, but Spanish has a good
> chance too, if Latin America becomes an economic superpower, or perhaps
> Swahili if Africa becomes a major economic power.
Possible, but likely? Hardly, IMHO. Such a change would require
(a) genocide (b) nuclear holocaust or (c) both. The fact is, it takes
a vast accumulation of power to change people's language habits on
even a small scale (Atatürk could do it because, hey, you got shot if
you didn't). And, as any really good Macchiavellian despot knows,
you don't really need to *kill* lots of people if all you want is a certain
level of power that seems sufficient to you. No, people who are after
power are usually fairly pragmatic about getting it (witness the current
capitalist gerontocrats in Beijing). It's only ideologues, like Atatürk,
people who really *believe* that it must be done, that carry out such plans.
The current fashion of English is by no means assured. At the moment,
English is perhaps only slightly more widespread (due to mass-
communication and masseducation) than French was two centuries ago.
The major reason for the sheer numbers who speak English is the colonial
habits of the British Empire, whose commercial expansion entailed military
outposts which, in some cases, developed into full-fledged cities. Excess
population, too, was a reason for her North American colonies, and later
places like Australia and New Zealand. It is really only in these countries
where English wholly predominates. Elsewhere, English is a trading and
scientific language, no doubt, but often of questionable fluency (I think we
can all agree that the French and Germans, though nearly universally taught it,
are not so often required to use it as, say, the Quebecois are). The recent
proposal by the Japanese government to make English a second official language
is, I think, more likely than not a knee-jerk response to their current economic
woes than a serious belief that they will not continue to be a major player in the
next 100 years without according it that status. Moreover, the current geopolitical
underpinnings of English through the so-called 'Anglo-American' model of economic
organization and American economic and military preeminence are not assured
to last even one century, much less the centuries it would probably require to
accomplish a sort of 'anglicization' of much of the world. While neither China,
nor India, nor Russia are by any means ready to take on the role of world hegemon,
there is no reason to think that a European Union that gets its act together
couldn't fulfill that role. (Currently, though, even that looks bleak.)
That having been said, English seems like the best case for a world with
one language at this point. (!)
ObConlang: It just now occurs to me that Tlaspi, the protolanguage of my
current project, Phaleran, did in fact envision a star-roving empire united by
one (official) language. I am not yet sure how to go about simulating language
change across vast reaches of space. I can only surmise that communication
would have to reach distant provinces at superluminal speeds. This is not
entirely a fantasy, as our physics books teach us (the New York Times
recently had an article stating that scientists have indeed been able to go
faster, 300 times faster, by speeding it through cesium gas, which, predictably
oddly, causes the light to exit the tube of cesium gas before it has entered it),
but my question is: how would living on another planet affect language change?
Lexically, yeah, I could believe that easily; but grammatically I don't see any
reason for it to change in a fashion any different from the language change
already attested on earth.
Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
"Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero."