There are currently 195 countries in the world, which gives us roughly 6,500 spoken languages, although around 2,000 of them have fewer than 1,000 speakers. Some languages are more popular than others, with Chinese Mandarin being the most spoken followed by Spanish, then English. This may be surprising to an English speaker as it’s the main language of business, travel and international relations – something that traces back to the days of the British Empire.
The novelty of everyone being able to communicate in one language is alluring, but we face a less diverse world without our multiple languages. It’s predicted that 90% of all languages will die in the next 100 years, leaving us with a mere 600 languages.
Language is constantly evolving – even in our lifetimes we’ve already seen some giant changes thanks to mobile phones and the internet. Internet slang has delivered us new words and phrases such as LOL, TTYL and BRB. Internet memes are aplenty and include phrases which navigate into popular culture before disappearing into obscurity again such as “Ermegherd” and “Howbow dah?”.
Traditional languages die out at a much slower pace than these internet terms. Languages tend to die out with the civilisations that use them, Rome fell and took Latin with it. Latin isn’t technically an extinct language, it’s a dead language. This is where there are no native speakers left in the world, but there are currently people alive who’ve learnt and speak the language still.
An extinct language is one where there are no original native speakers or any speakers of the language at all. These languages are ones like Biblical Hebrew, Sanskrit, Old Norse and Ancient Egyptian. These languages aren’t spoken and used to communicate in the modern world, however, they may still be used by researchers and specialists studying them.
We are currently in a world of shifting languages, with the Aboriginal peoples of North and South America abandoning their native languages. Allegedly, a language goes extinct once every two weeks across the planet. We’ve already seen this in the UK with Cornish and Welsh speakers turning to English, although some pockets of these languages are being preserved in local communities.
Could one hybrid language evolve?
According to Judeo-Christian scripture there was a time long ago when everybody spoke the same language. The tale of the Tower of Babel states that a communal language was spoken before Babylonians decided to create a “mighty city” and a tower to heaven, to which God reacted by confusing the languages of workers so they couldn’t understand each other. This act was because God was angered that nothing planned was thinking of future generations.
This story may just be religious symbolism, but humans have studied the possibility of one single mother tongue spoken by ancient humans. There is no evidence of it, but it’s been noted that there are lots of similarities between the oldest languages – Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. This suggests that all modern languages share a common source.
In 1887 L.L Zamenhof constructed a language called Esperanto. This language was created with the intention to be used as a worldwide standard language, which was not only easy to learn, but would help overcome the natural indifference of mankind. Currently, there are over two million people who speak Esperanto, but sadly it isn’t recognised as the international auxiliary language of the world yet, but there are still speakers hoping to achieve this.
Globalisation and dominant cultures
We live in a connected world, where you can easily travel from London to Sydney in 22 hours and 30 minutes, whereas taking a boat in 1914 would take over 40 days. Globalisation is one of the main reasons questions on having a universal international language arose originally. The social process of creating global economic, political, cultural, linguistic and environmental interconnections and flows means that country borders are becoming less relevant.
Globalisation is changing the way we communicate, allowing us to take our languages across the world and teach them to others. It also unfortunately allows for languages to die or become extinct where native speakers opt to use a different language. This is what we’re seeing worldwide with the English language. Where English is used for business, travel, education and more it’s seen as a “world language” by some. The allure of a world language taps into humans’ need to be connected, and their desire to be included in this world brain.
Some people aren’t pleased about English being used as the world language, as language is a huge part of every country’s identity. Without their language they may lose part of their inherent culture. In speaking English, you sign up to a set of rules and cultural etiquettes abided by native speakers. Some see this English takeover as homogenising their individual identities and interests, equalizing values and desires but doing the opposite for opportunities.
Despite the threat of globalisation and extinction of languages there are a few new languages creeping into the world as well. Fictional languages are surprisingly becoming more commonly known amongst fan groups, with some speakers being fluent in these languages. We wrote a blog about this “5 Fictional Languages that Became Real”.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see a world that speaks one language any time soon. Protecting each individual countries’ cultures is a huge barrier, but an important one to ensure our world is as beautifully diverse as it’s always been.
Contact Kwintessential for your translation needs
We don’t live in a world with one language, so you’ll be happy to hear that Kwintessential can help with any translation you need. We’ve got expert native speaking translators for all languages, plus we also specialise in business, legal and certified translations. Our qualified and experienced translators are ready to help.
Call (UK +44) 01460 279900 or send a message to [email protected].