If everyone were able to speak English, what would happen to all the other languages?

By Cameron Wallis. Cameron, 15, studies at St Bede's School, in Redhill, United Kingdom. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

English. Rapidly becoming the world’s most popular language. Natively spoken in the United Kingdom, North America, Australia and New Zealand, as well as countless other countries and islands. It is also taught as a second language in the majority of mainland Europe, much of Asia, parts of Africa and even in parts of South America – Brazil for example. English takes third place in the world’s most commonly spoken languages, falling a long way behind Mandarin, and only a little behind Spanish. However, English is continuing to grow in speakers at an astronomical rate, and in this global society it is encouraged that English should become the world language. However, if this trend were to continue, what should happen if it really did become the ‘international language’, and what effect would this have on other languages?

Well firstly, the other languages would take an awfully long time to disappear (if ever), and in the most part of the world, the tongues of various countries would remain the same as they always have been – English perhaps becoming the second language. What is more likely to happen, is that in the world of business, English would take on the dominant role. It is thought, for instance, that currently just under 50% of the internet is written in English. However with increased usage of the internet in this modern era (both for industry and for people’s leisure time), this could quickly change as the profitable websites would be written in the language understood by most people. Like an infection, it is possible that English could spread into becoming the first language for many people (rather than a foreign one), but the majority of countries would almost certainly wish to keep their language – countries have a tendency to be rather proud of their native tongue.

If however, the case should occur that English did appear to be becoming the first language of the world – presumably spreading out from Europe as it became simpler to talk in this language as it was considered to be fluently spoken by the majority of people – then there would be a lot of opposition to it when this inclination would start creeping in. There would almost certainly be a large proportion of people who categorised themselves as part of the ‘sentimental group’ who wished to keep the old language and shun the idea of speaking the same thing as everyone else – whether it be simpler or not. There would also be the leaders of the ‘innovative group’ who would try to introduce the idea and gain supporters. This would leave a final group of the ‘inbetweeners’ who may well have learnt English (as a second language), but who speak their mother tongue when in a social setting. Though this group may at first be enormously bigger than the other two, it would probably turn out to have the least say in the outcome of the change. They would follow the flow of their nation, and either have no opinion on the matter, or not be strong-minded enough about it to speak out. If from this, the world looked as though it would follow the innovative group’s policies, then it would probably lead to the ‘hard-core-sentimentalists’ to raise their own children to learn both languages – if they were wise at least – but to try and never lose their original tongue – passing it down from generation to generation. There may well be societies set up for the ‘dying language’ like there have been in the past for languages like Celtic (which have now largely disappeared).

In the most unlikely of cases, where English internationally became spoken as the first tongue – in both business meetings, and when leisurely talking with friends and family – then this would raise a whole lot of other issues. For a start, the odd person who tried to defy this (people who I previously named ‘sentimentalists’) would probably face no choice but to follow suit – as otherwise, everyday tasks (or at least those which involved a civilised society) would be made impossible. This means that if English say became the first language of 80% of the globe over two hundred years, then the change between it going from 80% to 99% would be much smaller than the jump from 60% to 80% – as the more people who spoke it, the more people who would have less choice but to do the same. A key issue that would arise from everyone speaking the same language would be that some people would be able to speak it less capably or consistently than others. This would mean that whilst at a glance global communication may appear to become easier, it could quite easily go the other way!

To draw these loose strings to a tightly formed knot is a difficult task, as the idea of English becoming the global language is believable and could be fairly beneficial to the human race, but the change would have to happen over such a long time, with much global opposition and insurmountable upheaval. However, in answer to the original question, what would happen to the other languages should English be spoken by everyone, is probably that the other languages would still be spoken (perhaps trending in and out of fashion like some languages, and evolving like all languages), but English would be adopted as the universal language – and perhaps after some very unusual circumstances, taking place over a long period of time, it may become spoken as the first language in more and more places. In all honesty however, it is more likely that the earth be conquered by aliens and then the human race were forced to speak in their language, than it is that English become globally spoken in less than one or two generations – this may sound rather extreme, but the Romans brought Latin with them to all the countries they invaded (which has had a major impact on the languages still spoken to this day 1500 years later), and even the British Empire brought with it English to all the countries it conquered – most of these countries still speak English today.

3 comments on “If everyone were able to speak English, what would happen to all the other languages?

  1. vijayashree on

    Giving the other language people’s view: I would like to say that English language, is one lasting legacy left behind by the british empire and for a country like India, which has many languages spoken, english has been an effective communication language.

    And it has, and I guess, will continue, to co-exist, with other languages. The only pain that we feel is, when at school, we need to learn, three languages: our mother tongue, our national language and english.

    And if you are a person like me, whose mother tongue is an indigenous language, which is not taught anywhere, then you have to just keep speaking it, to keep it alive.

  2. Denis Villeneuve on

    I am sorry to tell you that English will never become the sole language spoken on planet Earth any time soon. You are a sentimentalist to believe that English or any other language can dominate any culture. Why? Simply because language is the expression of thought. And thought is the expression of culture or if you prefer, experience.


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