Will the English language no longer be the universal language for communication – or worse, die out completely? Let’s find out.
Over the years, the languages we speak have evolved and adapted to the changing times alongside us. These changes may be minuscule in hindsight, but they can accumulate for the next decades or millenniums, rendering the language we once used in our everyday lives entirely new. As a matter of fact, English has already died many times over. We have moved past Old English and Medieval English to Shakespearian English, and in a few hundred years, Modern English should also change and die out.
Keep reading as we answer: “Will the English Language ever become extinct?”
The Spread of the English Language across the Globe
Before we answer the question will the English Language ever die, we must first learn how it became so prominent throughout the world in the first place. After all, how one started is always crucial for anyone who wants to know how it would eventually end.
From the seventeenth century to now, the English Language began to extend its global reach. And frankly speaking, it has done what it was sent to do so profoundly that it has become today’s universal language. The English Language is so ingrained in the culture and lives of people from several parts of the world. Ultimately, learning it has become synonymous with success. It has come to the point that learning to speak English is the key to a modest or successful life. It was too much that some schools promote learning English even more than learning the particular country’s native tongue.
This rapid and profound spread of the English Language throughout the world is due to several important factors. The list includes British Colonialism, the Industrial Revolution, American Economic Superiority and Political Leadership, and so much more. Now let us find out how they contributed to the spread of the English Language all over the world.
1. British Colonialism
It is common knowledge that before this expansion of English as a global language, there were other minor spreads of it throughout several seas, for example, the spread of English to Scotland because of the escapades of the military out there, particularly William the Conqueror’s back in the 11th century. This also includes the missions set out by Henry II’s Anglo-Norman troops in Ireland.
The spread of English began in the 16th century, when the language became a tool of imperial expansion. This went on for the next few centuries until it eventually gained a special place in the history of several countries throughout the world. As a matter of fact, as synonymous as the English Language is to America, specifically the USA, this was what happened to them as well.
Below are the different territories that use the English Language over the past centuries.
- Australia – Australia was first discovered by Captain James Cook in the 1770s, serving as the first penal colony. British prisons were overcrowded, and convicts were sent purposely to Australia – and by 1900, it had 4 million inhabitants from the British Isles. Contact between the indigenous tribes residing in Australia and the colonizers quickly led to borrowing items and cohabitation, leading to a new generation of people who grew up knowing English as their official language.
- Canada – French people were already present in Canada as early as 1530, and they vied with Britain for domination. As it turns out, the French would defeat Britain. However, although the French won, the English Language still became the more popular mode of communication within the territory for the next centuries.
- East Africa – East Africa was visited by English men in the 16th century but was not explored until the 1850s. The Imperial East Africa Company was founded in 1888, and a series of colonial protectorates were established. There are six main states with a history of British rule in East Africa that gave English official status when they gained their official independence. They are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
- New Zealand – New Zealand became an official colony in 1840, and by 1900, it would have a quarter of million people able to speak the English Language. People there are reportedly more inclusive of the indigenous population, which is one of the principal reasons why the language contains many Maori words, unlike Australian English. New Zealand opted to adopt British English rather than American English.
- South Asia – the third largest English-using territory, immediately following Great Britain and the USA. English developed as a medium of control, administration and education in the period of the British Raj, rendering the subcontinent an English-based subculture.
2. Industrial Revolution
While British Colonialism was the first step toward the expansion of the English Language across the world, the Industrial Revolution is perhaps the more important factor that contributed to the spread of English as we see it today. Back then, Great Britain was the leader of the Industrial Revolution.
It is the premier destination for everything production machinery and large-scale manufacturing. This is on top of other early technological advancements. Countries that needed these new industrial tools and knowledge had no choice but to adapt English as a communication medium, further empowering the language.
The development of new technologies happened side by side with the continuous spread of the English Language. This is because English was the language in which the new industrial technologies were written and developed, rendering it the international language for almost all new technologies at that time. Basically, it’s either other territories do their best to learn English or accept that they cannot catch up with the Industrial Revolution.
3. American Economic Superiority and Political Leadership
Although Britain had been the most powerful territory for the majority of the 18th century – politically, economically, and industrially- by the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the USA emerged as an economic and political superpower. During this time, the countries in the world began to join hands in international organizations, and they needed a medium to communicate efficiently and properly.
It was expensive to run multilingual operations. Eventually, the countries would agree to use the English Language as the method of communication in their international interactions. Furthermore, relevant authorities abolished The League of Nations in favor of the United Nations, ended up situated in New York. And thus, the world’s focus shifted to the USA and the English Language.
The rapidly growing influence of the United States alongside the economic and political factors and the sheer size of its population, all played a huge role in the spread of the English Language within that particular time frame. It is also worth noting that the United States has 70% of all native speakers of the English Language in the world.
Now that we are aware of how the English Language became what it is today, let us now proceed to answering our title query: “Will the English Language ever become extinct?”
Will the English Language Die Out as a World Language in the Future?
Contrary to what many people may believe, the answer to our very query of will the English Language eventually become extinct is as straightforward and definitive as it can be. “Yes,” the English Language we know today, the current universal language of the world will die out in the future. It may not be in the near future or within the next hundred years, but the time will eventually come.
As we have brushed upon above already, the English Language has already undergone several changes over the past centuries, rendering its previous iterations extinct in favor of a new one.
The very thought of a language completely becoming extinct may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t all that strange, to begin with. Most great “lingua franca” tongues in the past died out. This includes Classical Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. They all died despite having reached the summit of their glory, perhaps even more than the English Language we have today. Despite all the scientific and cultural achievements brought to the world by the aforementioned languages, they still died out.
“Change is constant.” This quote perfectly encapsulates why the most powerful and influential languages from before still reached extinction. The truth is, no matter how widely spoken and popular a language is, it will soon die out after the dominant culture that uses it eventually pass away. Classical Greek died out after the fall of the Mediterranean culture of Alexandria. Latin lasted longer since the Catholic Church inherited it, but as the Church lost it to European Science, Latin too soon became disused by European scientists. There are several more examples of this, and we can go on and on.
What the Experts Say
Skeptics may say that English is unlike the previous languages as it is a non-regulated language – it exists by itself because so many people around the world are using it. While it makes a ton of sense, that notion is not true. The English Language is under the regulation of the dominant culture which is using it. That used to be the British Empire, but it is arguably the American culture nowadays.
To keep it simpler, as long as America remains the world’s leading producer of scientific and cultural outputs, the English we know today will stay alive and well. While it is hard to imagine a time when the USA falls from its perch as a global superpower, it could certainly happen. When America falls away, which arguably must happen at some point, English will start to crack alongside it. People who use it as their secondary tongue will begin to use it incorrectly. Fast forward a few decades, and new languages will emerge from misused English. And, over time, the language of a new culture that manages to control cultural and scientific productions of the world in place of America would replace it. It could be an entirely new different language or future forms of Pidgin English. Nobody knows for now.
Keep in mind that English is not the “scientific language” of the world. Almost 90% of the scientific terms in English came from Latin and Greek. On top of that, English legal terms came from French. With all that taken into consideration, English may not be as powerful of a language as we initially thought it was.
The Unlikely Threat to the English Language
Now that the question: “Will the English Language ever become extinct?” has a conclusive answer, do you already have any idea what may replace it in the future? While we still don’t have an answer for that specifically, there is indeed a threat on the horizon, and it isn’t from any existing language: the “emojis” – perhaps unlikely, but a threat nonetheless.
More than we know, the world is already rapidly developing a universal language, one that everyone can understand without exerting much thought as long as they have smartphones in their pockets. While yes, it is already being used to write full-length books, it still needs to be more sophisticated to fulfill signage, journalisms, and definitely laws. However, the trend is clear. There will come a day when an “emoji” language could become strong enough for it to be used for international communication and hence, become a “world language.” Absurd as it seems, it can definitely become one in the future.
We aren’t stating that emojis will be the language to take the throne of the English Language in the future. What we are stressing here is that something similar to the emojis we universally use nowadays could be the one to do so. In fact, we already have them in some areas, like the “$” to denote dollars and the icon of a clothes iron with a red X to signify “no ironing,” and several things of the same nature. However, it is also worth noting that emojis and icons and all the other factors that come with them currently lack a dynamic element, meaning that they are only slightly more powerful alphabets. They still have a long way to go to become a “world language,” let alone replace the English Language as the universal communication method.
As it currently stands, we can vividly foresee a future where the world language everyone is using “moving writings” or “GIF emojis.” Imagine a world where your clothes have a label with moving, scrolling, or even dancing symbols instead of the traditional text – that is precisely when it will become the new world language, and English will start to fade to obscurity. It isn’t really hard to imagine considering the technological progress mankind has been through over the past few decades. In case you might not know, the common smartphone you now have with you has significantly more computing prowess than the computers that brought the first batch of humans to the moon.
Human beings are wired to understand visual communication better than anything. For example, infants can use sign language well before they can even speak, and anthropologists have shown that primitive sign language was used by ancient humans before spoken language. Clearly, humans respond and comprehend better on visual language. It is just that right now; they are more difficult to acquire than spoken languages. Nevertheless, once that particular barrier is crossed and the visual becomes easier to create, it will largely supplant spoken languages such as the English Language. As grim as it may be, there may indeed be a time when speaking would only be a second form of communication as everything would be relayed to us already visually.
Will the English Language stay in the next 100 years? Who knows? But one thing is clear; it will eventually lose its title as the universal language and go extinct, replaced by a new iteration or an entirely new one. The quote “Change is constant” applies to everything in this world, including the languages we speak today.