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the100thmonkey's avatar

What do you think will happen to English in the next 30-40 years?

Asked by the100thmonkey (11059 points ) October 17th, 2009

What do you think will happen to English in the next 30–40 years?

Do you believe it will split into multiple varieties and of the language, as Latin did? Do you think that an “international English” will evolve that, while clearly indebted to native-speaker varieties, will hold different, self-sustaining norms from the Englishes that are spoken in countries such as the United States and the UK?

Why?

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41 Answers

Samurai's avatar

The way we communicate throughout the world already dooms us to the same language, English is sure to be the world language of the future. Unless aliens invade and decide to make us slaves and speak their language trough grunts and snarls.

XOIIO's avatar

Lol nice! In the next 30–340 years.

What made you chose those figures?

All language will cease. Cell phones and testing will evolve until they merge with our brains, and we will lose our vocal cords.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Oops!

Clumsy typo. My apologies – it should say 30–40 years!

laureth's avatar

More people speak Mandarin than English. Just as last century was Britain’s empire and this century is America’s,perhaps the next century will be China’s empire and all of our descendants will have to learn Mandarin for business and international communication?

the100thmonkey's avatar

@laureth: True, but more people speak English as a second language than speak any other language as natives.

Mandarin is also highly localised in that it is largely spoken only in China. The opportunities for it to change and be changed by its speakers is, therefore, bound much more closely with its speakers’ identities as Chinese than we might see with English and its speakers.

laureth's avatar

Currently, these things are true. However, China is on the move, as far as its economy is concerned. And we’re crumbling. :(

the100thmonkey's avatar

Fair enough (although I disagree with your thesis that everyone will switch to Mandarin)

This doesn’t address the question, though:

What will happen to English within the next 30–40 years?

filmfann's avatar

OMG! IDK! 2Weird!

NewZen's avatar

يتكلم اللغة العربية. المقاومة هي محاولة عقيمة.

jamielynn2328's avatar

Since 40 years ago was 1969 and English was in the same basic shape it is now, I am going to gamble and say that it is going to say the exact same language!

NewZen's avatar

@jamielynn2328 So was the internet and the other stuff called technology. Oh, and Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam – Africa – and well, too much has changed to waste time trying to recall everything.

There are currently about 2 BILLION Arabs (bless them Allah) – resistance is futile. You will be assimilated – English will become Arabic, a will all languages. Allah is Great!!! Death to you Infidels!
Link for proof of the future.

figbash's avatar

Actually, I’m afraid it will continue to degrade quickly into something we no longer recognize as regular English. It seems that even in the past two decades we’ve slipped into some horribly casual efficiency language that slips further and further away from some of the English I read, or was taught as a kid.

It’s depressing, really.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

I think that all languages will continue to meld and permeate one another, but English really is a forerunner. I see @laureth‘s point about Mandarin, but I don’t think that it will become the language of international communication, at least not in the next 40 years.

DarkScribe's avatar

ths s wht wl prbly hppn – txtspk wl bcm th nml mthd f cmnk8tng.

NewZen's avatar

@DarkScribe OMG, u r sooooo rite, luv. Shee-eesh – my #1 grrrrl sez – dada – gimme u card, da 1 wit da visa onit. Tanx dada – luv-u!

TitsMcGhee's avatar

@DarkScribe: Well, the brain is able to comprehend, within reason, some words without vowels because it can automatically compensate for them…

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

@DarkScribe—god, I hope I’m dead before that happens. I hate text speech, it is a sign of laziness and lack of a functioning brain.

and if I had a dollar for every time I saw someone on a phone while driving, I’d be as rich as Bill Gates.

breedmitch's avatar

I’m with jamielynn. 40 years really isn’t that long a time. 340 years actually would have been a more interesting question.

As to text speak: Most people I know used text speak, or at least a shortcut here and there because we were using those highly un-efficient numeric keypad phones. Now that most have switched to smart phones that have full keyboards, text speak is not used. I think text speak might be viewed in the future as a temporary departure from correct grammar.

DarkScribe's avatar

@breedmitch I think text speak might be viewed in the future as a temporary departure from correct grammar.

Kids write it on their blogs/Myspace/Facebook etc., using keyboards. It is already past temporary.

laureth's avatar

I see txtspeak all over the place, as @DarkScribe said. It’s grating to the eye.

Of course, people from Chaucer’s day would probably look at our “standard, correct” English and think it’s all gone to hell.

Noon's avatar

@figbash (and to a few others on this thread) Why is the natural evolution of language depressing. Just because it’s not the English you grew to know and love does not make it any less of a language. Keep in mind that many of the languages we consider “beautiful” and “complex” came from Latin. All these languages (ie. Spanish, Italian, French etc.) are “badly spoken” Latin.

To say that what is happening to English is “horribly casual” and “depressing” is to not acknowledge that languages are a living mutating “thing”.

@Samurai (and others who think English is bound to dominate) Only a few years ago this was said about French (ok many years ago, but as far as language is concerned only a few). The majority of the “developed” world spoke French as a second language. If you have an American passport it is still to this day written bilingually in French and English. English will come and go, it’s just the way it has been. Until, as a united people of the world (if/when that happens), we pick a world language for easy of communication.

As for what are some of the things that will change in English (original question ;-)

The cot-caught merger will continue to spread through America. As will probably the father-bother merger, and possibly the pen-pin merger (starting in California). So most likely we will have fewer vowels, something like 10, maybe less. But there is apparently a vowel shift happening in California that is adding diphthongs where there “shouldn’t” be, so who knows we may get a few more back.

Also I think we will most likely drop the adverbial ”-ly”. It’s already starting to happen. “Drive Safe.” not “Drive Safely.”. Also the complete drop of “whom” has more or less happened. Give it a few more years and I think any remnant of Germanic accusative cases will be lost (me, us, them, him, her) will become nominative, and we will loose the distinction of case. “Me and him went to the store”. “Me and you told her”.

Also the irregularity of the copula will become more regular. “We be, you be, I be” Or something similar. And most likely marking past tense with the word “done”. “I done told you” or possibly loosing the need for the past in “told” there by making the sentence “I done tell you”. This and much more are possibilities we have looking forward.

That being said, this all will take more than 40 years, and more complications may also creep into the language. Languages are fun, not depressing ;-)

laureth's avatar

Also, modern English is poorly spoken Old English. ;)

the100thmonkey's avatar

@Noon: what about other Englishes?

I disagree with the marking of the past tense with “done” on those grounds – it’s very American, and almost never happens in British English (obviously: to my knowledge)

@laureth: I speak vulgar proto-Indo-European.

Noon's avatar

@the100thmonkey Oh there will most definitely be Englishes. There already are. But I think those will most likely slowly vanish as a new lingua franca develops. Instead of everyone in the world speaking their on “English” people will start speaking their own “Mandarin”. And although “done” is very American, America (like it or not) has control of the majority of English media. And for some reason the majority of international English speakers attempt to replicate American English over other Englishes.

And my statements are not at all that educated. I mean we could all start speaking martian in a few years you never know. You can’t really predict these things all that well. ;-)

Oh and I don’t know about you, but my Proto-Indo-European is bomb-ass.

DarkScribe's avatar

@Noon And although “done” is very American

Most Americans who I know will shudder when they hear it. Unless you are making a case that most Americans are less than erudite it is not a valid claim – it is nescient American not literate American.

_America (like it or not) has control of the majority of English media.__

Maybe you should check and see who actually controls most of the US media. It isn’t the US.

Noon's avatar

@DarkScribe True the people who are actually behind US media may not be Americans. But the ones who are speaking (Actors, TV Personalities, Musicians) are, for the most part, Americans. And it’s those who are speaking who control the language.

As for the “done” past tense marker being a sign of a non-literate American I believe only strengthens my point. Language is not controlled by the Literate, but by the masses. It was not the Latin Scholars that started writing in French, the illiterate working class of France was speaking French long before it was written down and accepted by the “literate” class.

DarkScribe's avatar

@Noon _Language is not controlled by the Literate, but by the masses. _

Not so.

As long as the literate set the school syllabi then they determine language usage. If you were right English would have become unintelligible before Shakespeare – back when schooling was only available to the wealthy. The masses in those days used a very rough and crude variation of language – but it still survived in the manner that the literate decreed.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@DarkScribe: sorry, not true.

Prescriptive accounts of language – such as “don’t put a preposition at the end of a sentence” are controlled by the “literate” (I read ‘controllers of social and cultural capital’ here) to an undefinable extent.

Language varies. Language use varies. People speak multiple varieties of the same “language” (howerver you choose to define language – it is a problematic term in and of itself). You use multiple varieties of English – you do not use the same ‘voice’ when speaking with your family as you do when in a bar with your best friends. You likely do not use the same ‘voice’ at work as in either of the previous situations. This can sometimes be pretty extreme – I can switch between a dialect peculiar to South-East London, English RP and Scottish RP at will. However, the situation I am in determines my choices. Moreover, you do not write English in the same way that you speak English.

There is ultimately no ‘real’ version of a language, language varies from speaker to speaker (idiolect), and from region to region (dialect), and diatypically (register; politeness) within each idiolect and dialect.

I also take issue with @Noon‘s assertion that varieties of English will disappear – I feel that quite the contrary will happen. As English replaces and displaces native languages aroudn the world, it will be commandeered and altered to suit the local identities of its speakers. In much the same way that it is often possible to place a British English dialect speaker to within 20 miles of their native dialect region just by their pronunciation and dialectic word choices, it will be possible to place a speaker of ELF to their home country.

A unified Lingua Franca may emerge, but I feel its usage, forms, and ultimately subvarieties will be defined by the social contexts in which it is used.

In short, no-one controls language.

DarkScribe's avatar

@the100thmonkey sorry, not true.

We will disagree.

Yes, language varies, and in some areas far more rapidly than others. I am not suggesting that it doesn’t change, only that the “masses” don’t change it. They don’t revise dictionaries or set standards.

you do not use the same ‘voice’ when speaking with your family as you do when in a bar with your best friends.

You might not – I do.

you do not write English in the same way that you speak English.

You might not – I do.

There is ultimately no ‘real’ version of a language, language varies from speaker to speaker (idiolect), and from region to region (dialect), and diatypically (register; politeness) within each idiolect and dialect.

This applies to spoken language, not to grammatical standards. A very different thing. Dialects do not supersede grammatical rules, they just break them.

Noon's avatar

@the100thmonkey Thank you, said much better than I would have in response to DarkScribe. I do still feel that the written form of a language slowly but surely bows to the spoken form, and the more “formal” slowly gives way to the more “casual”.

As for the idea that English’s Variants branching off into sub varieties, that may actually be the case for some peoples. But I just don’t think English as a lingua franca has been around for long enough. Look at places that have been colonized over and over again. The Philippines don’t speak Spanish anymore, and although Tagalog has many Spanish borrows it most definitely is not Spanish.

I think that for many people who are learning English as a second language but still have some connection to their native language, English will not be around long enough to completely displace their native language. But there are a few cases where English may have completely displaced the native language. I do not know enough about the Language situation in India, but I am guessing this may be an example. (although they still do have a strong media in Hindi if I am not mistaken)

Noon's avatar

@DarkScribe
Then you mustn’t be referring to the Oxford English Dictionary, or Websters. Because these two are written on the descriptive principles.

This would be why these dictionaries contain the words

Crunk
Irregardless
and
ain’t

the100thmonkey's avatar

@DarkScribe: By your logic, I could claim that American English is “inferior” to British English as it is a corruption of the original standard.

Are you comfortable with that?

DarkScribe's avatar

@Noon Then you mustn’t be referring to the Oxford English Dictionary, or Websters. Because these two are written on the descriptive principles.

Your response makes no sense in relation to anything that I have posted. There are many thousands of words in all kinds of dictionaries that list language that is idiom, slang, archaic, etc., plus with every revision new words are added. It still has no relation to the fact that the revisions are made by educated and erudite people, not by the “masses”.

DarkScribe's avatar

@the100thmonkey By your logic, I could claim that American English is “inferior” to British English as it is a corruption of the original standard.

If assessed from the point of view of someone educated to a British standard of English – yes. If from the viewpoint of an American – possibly not.

the100thmonkey's avatar

There is no “possibly not” here – your own logic is either impeccable (and therefore inescapable – there is one correct form of a language – it is therefore categorically not American English); contains a non-sequitur or has faulty premisses. I will reiterate my point – there is no actual “standard” for a language other than that which the organisations with money and other forms of capital choose to publish, and which you choose to accept.

The way you talk is defined by who you are socially (I don’t buy your assertion that you speak the same way all the time with all people, incidentally). Apart from random drift, there is (as far as I know) no other workable mechanism to account for why languages change than the hypothesis that different forms of language become more-or-less prestigious over time, based on economic, cultural and social circumstances, and therefore more-or-less worth adopting.

Question: Who asked Oxford or Merriam-Webster to “tell” us what was correct? No-one did. As it stands (and as @Noon previously wrote), modern dictionaries and grammar books are written descriptively rather than prescriptively. That is to say that they draw their meanings and usages from corpora – databases of language in use. They do not set out to tell us which form of a language is correct. However, you are right in that linguistic prescriptivism is practised in both compulsory and post-compulsory education. That doesn’t make the different forms of the language spoken by different people any less real or correct, it indicates which form(s) of the language are considered prestigious.

Basically, I am suggesting (strongly!) that an insistence that there are immutable rules of grammar is similar to Cnut commanding the waves to turn back – the elite are not in control of language any more than the plebeians are – language changes; its innovations are not planned.

DarkScribe's avatar

@the100thmonkey

I suggest that you re-read the thread. You are debating things that were not said or implied – not by me.

the100thmonkey's avatar

As long as the literate set the school syllabi then they determine language usage. If you were right English would have become unintelligible before Shakespeare – back when schooling was only available to the wealthy. The masses in those days used a very rough and crude variation of language – but it still survived in the manner that the literate decreed.

I was disputing this.

XOIIO's avatar

People always say look forward to the future, but every day when I wake up it’s still the god damn present!

Chatfe's avatar

Since I’ve spent years living in non-English speaking countries and working with people who don’t speak English, I’ve both become trilingual and have developed a way to speak English simply. That means leaving out idioms, having a flat accent, and even adopting “incorrect” grammar, if it is more easily understood. I think it was Mark Twain who when referring to the English language said something like: The British may have started the company, but the Americans hold most of the stock… Now, neither of those countries have most of the English speakers, so really the future of the language is in the hands of the rest of the world.

_zen_'s avatar

We’ll all speak Chinglish – and order flied lice.

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