“Do you speak-a my language?”

Is the English language dying? If Nicholas Ostler, a scholar of the rise and fall of languages, is right in his prediction, the days of the English language as a world lingua franca are numbered.

Lingua franca is a language widely used to communicate between persons not sharing a mother tongue. Languages spread across foreign lands through conquest, trade and religion. One of the earliest lingua franca was Persian, a language still spoken in Iran. Around 539 BC it was spread through conquests from Babylon to Central Asia to Antolia and the Middle East and onwards to India.

Phoenician was the language of convenience for traders. It spread from its home in what is now Lebanon to the coast of North Africa till it became the language of the Carthaginian empire. But Carthage and the Phoenician language fell to ruins when the Romans conquered the region.

In contrast, Greek survived both the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and remained the language of the Mediterranean for a 1000 years.

More than a billion speak English worldwide but only 330 million claim it to be their mother tongue.  Nicholas Ostler feels growing nationalism and the growth of speech-recognition technology and computer translation, will weaken the importance of English till it fades as a world language.

So the future of the English language rests with people who are not Anglophones. Oh, what the British Empire has come to …

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2 responses to ““Do you speak-a my language?”

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