Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Language of the Future . . .

This post is not a poll, though if it were what would you predict as the language of the future?

According to a recent study by a French investment bank, it appears that in a given future (2050) and according to a given (problematic) methodology, French may just be the most up-and-coming language. I have yet to find the actual study by Natixis bank, but I will share it when I do. According to an American news source and a French news source, the study asserts that French will be the fastest-growing and perhaps most widely-spread language in a few decades.

It is important to note, first, that there is a restricted sense to this idea of any "language of the future." French will certainly not be the only language, or even the lingua franca since that will still be English. The most rapidly growing language is the category under discussion, so some of the news headlines are misleading at best (though thereby antidotal to other bad headlines that are negative rather than positive in regard to the French language).

In second place, the biggest problem with the study is its methodology, as the Forbes writer points out. The study lumps together all inhabitants of countries where French is an official language as speakers of French -- and obviously not everybody is francophone in every francophone country. We are not talking about minor percentages either. In some of the African countries that may have the fastest growing populations and economies in 40-50 years, the French-speaking populations are very small.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I would point out that the biggest category of language on the Forbes' chart, both today and in 2050, is that of "Autres." Now, this requires a bit of explaining. "Autres" is a highly technical, French linguistic term that means "Other." So both today and when I am (God willing) a grandfather in the mid-21st century, the most "important" language will not be French or English or Spanish or Chinese but all other languages. What does this mean? This means that all languages are significant to varying degrees and that legislating language (on which French and most other dominant languages have depended for their advancement) is not advisible, given the swath of humanity that it negatively affects. This also means that "language of the future" may not be a terribly helpful linguistic category.

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