Friday, May 30, 2008

Globalization and Language

Freakonomics has a nice post asking the question "What Will Globalization Do to Languages?". They ask four language professionals (including Language Log's Mark Liberman) to respond. They have interesting views well worth the read (Liberman gives the most nuanced and linguistically savvy response, no surprise), but they all seem to agree that globalization and internet technologies are NOT going to allow English to "take over". Liberman offers this nugget of wisdom:

It’s obvious that globalized communications and popular culture will tend to homogenize local language varieties — but some varieties of English seem to be diverging more rapidly than ever.

I like John Hayden's point too:

English is a tool, just like a piece of technology. Much of the world’s economy is tied up in English-speaking countries and for that reason, English is like a cell phone provider offering the best plan. But if the dollar continues to drop, the most viable option could shift. Mexico and Korea don’t need English to communicate if Korea begins to find it profitable to learn Spanish.

Languages evolve via as-yet-unknown cognitive mechanisms. I suspect that "globalized communications and popular culture" will not change the way languages evolve. At best they will simply speed up the existing process.


Bill Chapman said...

The survival and growth of Esperanto seems to indicate that conscious intervention can change language use.

Esperanto is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states. Take a look at

Esperanto works! I've used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years. Globalized communications make it even easier to learn and to use.

Chris said...
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