The Future of the English Language

future-city_1819612b-460x288It is a bright and sunny day as you ride the hover train to the space elevator which shoots up into the sky like something out of Jack and the Giant Beanstalk. Resting at the top is a space station which funnels the space ships that are constantly arriving and departing. The ships can come from any number of human colonize that have been set up on other planets or they could be returning from an exploration mission some from far off galaxy. As you take the space elevator up into the sky you see the massive super cities that cover earth’s surface, their giant buildings loom into the sky and make the cities seem closer than they actually are. But, you quickly lose sight of the cities as you pass through a layer of clouds and start to enter space. Normally there would be a loss of gravity at this point but with the artificial gravity machines almost anywhere can simulate the gravity of earth. The elevator slows to a halt and the artificial intelligence beams up from a side dock  and tells you that you have arrived and that you are to head to hanger 8 for your deep space mission.

It is the year 2114.  And you are on your way to an adventure.

Like the little story above and the tons of other science fiction stories that populate book stores there have been a great many ideas as to what the world will look like in 100 years. We could very well be living on other planets or have come into contact with alien life. Something that seems impossible today may be taken for granted in future days in the same way we take the technological inventions like the internet for granted.

Back in the year 1870 a novel was released by a French author named Jules Verne, the title “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. The book was about people aboard a craft which could go underwater for extended periods of time allowing for deep sea adventures.  “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” was known as a Science Fiction novel when it first was released but now it looks more like an adventure story because engine driven submarines have been around for over a 100 years and are no longer a thing of the imagination.

When the Jules Verne classic was first translated over to English it was wrought with mistakes and errors. But, this version stood as the standard English edition for almost 100 years before it was finally fixed in the 1960s to better represent the original and to also update the English language.

While the original English edition did need fixing because of the translation errors (one reason why getting a certified translator is important) it was essential to update the English language that was used because the language had changed so much in a 100 years. So this begs the question, what will the English language look like in 100 years?

In 100 years from now when we are driving our hover cars or having them drive themselves (thank you Google) will be speaking the same English we speak today or will it sound like gibberish in the way that old English sounds to us today? The obvious answer is that it will not be the same language we know today, but let’s go further.

The American author Mark Twain had his own answer to our question In “A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling”

“For example, in Year 1 that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s”, and likewise “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” would be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform “w” spelling, so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish “y” replasing it with “i” and Iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c”, “y” and “x” — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais “ch”, “sh”, and “th” rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.”

While his prediction is interesting it is more on the humorous side then on the possible forecast side. This is because the way the English language will change is not necessarily related to the way it is currently structured but rather who will speak it.

Since 2010 the number of native English speakers has been the minority of English speakers in the world with the majority of people speaking English know it as a second language. This trend of people learning English as a second language will continue as countries start implementing English classes at a younger and young age which they are already doing in many countries. This will have such a profound impact that experts estimate that by 2020 roughly 15% of the people who speak English will call it their native tongue.

With the emergence of English as the world’s second language what we will start to see is new English dialects popping up that reflect the native language of the speakers. The language will then diverge from having one set of grammatical rules to having a number of different rules and as this continues the language will start to separate into multiple different languages, which are incomprehensible from one another.

So when we reach the future of space elevators and flying cars the question should not be what will the English language look like but rather how many different languages will it become and what will they all look and sound like. But that is something that is almost impossible to answer because of the crowed sourced nature of the language. Every 98 minutes a new English word is invented and with it adapting to its new surroundings it is almost a certainty that if  we were to talk to someone from the future we would have a hard time understanding one another.

But in that lays the beauty of human language. It grows and adapts as the people who speak it change. It takes on a history of its own and represents not only just symbols or words but a people and their cultural journey.

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