I was thinking about the future when I started pondering what languages would look like in the future. One of languages is English and it is possible that it will become the lingua-franca of the whole world. What would English of the future look like? That’s the question I want to ponder on in this blog post.
If we are talking about the future, it is helpful to find out what future we are talking about. Let’s suppose it’s a hundred to a couple of hundred years from now because that is not too far away yet it is sufficient time for a language to change. Talking about change of English, I see two two options, the second of which is worth further inquiry.
The first option is that English would be the same as it is. We have standardized languages which have written grammars, vocabularies and grammar-nazis, all of which stabilize the language and make it change little. I have always wondered why we have the Americas, Australia, UK and a bunch of other countries and all of the Englishes of those countries are still pretty much intelligible. Maybe that will be it and the English you speak is the final English that will ever exist (give or take some vocabulary for new technologies).
The second option is that it will not. I can think of three arguments for that: natural language change, language shift due to immigration, usage of English as a second or a foreign language. I will go on analyzing some of these and their plausability.
Natural language change means that languages change naturally because people speak them. Natural language change is the main means by which we have moved from Latin to French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Romanian, for example. If it has happened forever ever, it should happen again. I have provided argumentation above why it is possible why it could not happen (which applies to all of the rest of the possible causes of change) but in the long term it probably should since it has always happened even if we had written text for thousands or hundreds of words depending on how you count. It is enough for English to have lots of natural speakers and we will expect change. Following the engco model, there will be around 500 million native English speakers by 2050 while there are around 375 million now so we might be up to lots of native speakers and lot of change.
Another possibility is that English will get “distorted” from the original by lots of immigrants coming to the English speaking countries and speaking the language. We know from history that what happens in that case is pidgins and eventually creoles. When adults come and learn the language they don’t wanna bother learning the complicated structures of the languages so they tend to simplify it in order that they can communicate. This way, for example, you have ben, bint, is, zijn for the words am, (you) are, is, (they) are in Dutch while the word in Afrikaans, which used to be a pidgin of Dutch in its first stages, is (and still remains) simply is. Why bother switching between those words while you can just get away with one. When languages develop further and they are learned by kids, they get more complicated structures and become creoles. Well, that’s how it is. To add to that, it will probably be that English will be used more and more as a foreign language in foreign countries. That should have similar effects on the language just like immigrants do although perhaps not as radical and systematic. After all, by 2020, native speakers will make up only 15 percent of the 2 billion people who will know English.
Finally, it might be be that English will just become very much apart and split up into a lot of dialects without any known standard. English has standard now but there is still variation. For example, you would say he’s real enthu to mean he’s really enthusiastic in Indian English, we’ll have a barbie this arvo to mean we will have a barbecue this afternoon in Australian English and I no know wetin u dey yarn for I don’t know what you’re talking about. It takes only about 10 years for China to double its GDP per capita income and it takes about 60 for the UK to do the same. I imagine that India’s figure would be similar to China’s. If that is true, and if people do business with India, they might dispense with learning standard English and just concentrate on learning Indian English due to its bigger influence. If that happens, Indian English might get even more influence and more speakers and it would change faster and get even further away. Of course, the same could happen to the other regional variations of English.
The final question is then… what will English be like? I saw speculation about how English will change but not what it will change to. The main problem is that it is very hard to predict that. Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? It means that little changes can have radical effects on the whole thing such as a butterfly in Africa flapping its wings and causing a tide in Australia. There is a theory that language change is one of those. However, let’s forget that and let’s speculate a bit.
Natural change… how would that happen? Two things would change: vocabulary and phonetics. There is a lot of study over phonetical change but there is no bullet-proof way to test it to my knowledge. Whatever the case, I must confess that I do not have experience in this area and my speculations would be total guesses. However… I would imagine sounds like th get dropped out and shift to something like [v]. Another vowel shift (one has already happened in English) would happen so words like feet would become fit and o would become softer. Words would drop endings and perhaps even the plural ending. Very immune to that would also be the ending s from thinks, feels, sees and so on.
What about the immigrants and second language speakers? Well, the possibilities here are endless. First of all, it will form pidgins of different sorts. Second of all, it will get lots of influence from other languages. Talking about pidgin, it is kind of easy to think what you could simplify in English: da spelin (the spelling), pronunsing (pronunciation), naun end verb formz (noun and verb forms). For example, you would probably just end up using have or do in all cases and get rid of words like has or does. You would also simply the forms so thought would become thinked, understand would become understanded and put would become puted. Then the tenses would probably get simplified: I had had would become I had, I was thinking would turn into I was think or I thinked and conditional sentences such as if I had understood would be if I understanded. What about influence from other languages. Well, if you look at immigration to English speaking countries, the three biggest groups are or will be Hispanic, African, Arabic and East-Asian language speakers. You already know the effects Spanish has been having, which include Spanish vocabulary (something similar to: I quero this cosa, I voy be aqui soon) and constructions, i.e. always saying I write instead of I writing and so on. What about Arabic? Well, you could get constructions as house my instead of my house, you would get words like I’m going madrasa instead of I’m going to school and other changes. Tenses would be simplified as well. For Asian languages, you would get extreme grammar simplification.
Since this would most likely be all of those, I have written a simple paragraph first in English and then in future English as it could be. Here’s the English version:
This is an example of English spoken in the future. This information is not based on any official calculations and none of this should be taken seriously. However, wouldn’t it be interesting if it happened like this.
Di a ekzampel of English speaked in da future. Di informa no baseado oficel aritma en nada janderstand seriuso. Kshi, i wo is interesant if i aco like di.
All of this is just my random guesses and I do not know about phonetic change, Arabic or Chinese or other big languages as much to make better guesses. Maybe you do? What do you think English of the future could look like? Share your version.
- English will fragment into global dialects – The Telegraph
- Global English – Put Learning First
- How English Is Evolving Into a Language We May Not Even Understand – Wired
- The Future of English (PDF report) – The British Council
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