A Future of Fewer Words? Five Trends Shaping the Future of Language: Natural Selection Is as Much a Phenomenon in Human Language as It Is in Natural Ecosystems. an Ongoing "Survival of the Fittest" May Lead to Continuing Expansion of Image-Based Communications and the Extinction of More Than Half the World's Languages by This Century's End

By Baines, Lawrence | The Futurist, March-April 2012 | Go to article overview

A Future of Fewer Words? Five Trends Shaping the Future of Language: Natural Selection Is as Much a Phenomenon in Human Language as It Is in Natural Ecosystems. an Ongoing "Survival of the Fittest" May Lead to Continuing Expansion of Image-Based Communications and the Extinction of More Than Half the World's Languages by This Century's End


Baines, Lawrence, The Futurist


Just after I moved to Oklahoma three years ago, I was invited to a meeting of the state's Department of Education to discuss Native American languages. I learned that, of the 37 or so Native American languages represented in the state, 22 are already extinct. The last speakers of the Delaware and Mesquakie tongues had recently died; several other languages had only one or two speakers left.

Vanishing languages are not unique to Oklahoma. K. David Harrison, author of When Languages Die (Oxford University Press, 2008), estimates that, of the 6,900 or so languages spoken on the planet, more than half are likely to become extinct over the next century Today, 95% of people speak one of just 400 languages. The other 6,509 languages are unevenly distributed among the remaining 5%. Hundreds of languages, most with only a few speakers still living, are teetering on oblivion at this very moment.

Why are the world's languages disappearing? Like living organisms, languages morph over time in response to continuous evolutionary pressures. Any language is in serious trouble if it is spoken by few people or is confined to a remote geographic area. Many of the languages in northeastern Asia, for example, are in isolated, inhospitable regions where low birthrates and high morbidity rates have been facts of life for hundreds of years.

Geography and Distribution of Languages and Speakers

Geographic isolation is a problem that Oklahoma's dying Native American languages have in common. For example, speakers of Ottawa, of which there may be only three still living in Oklahoma, live in the northeastern part of the state, a location that draws few tourists and little business. If the remaining speakers of Ottawa are still alive, there is a good chance that they are over age 70 and rarely travel outside of the community. Anyone who would want to learn the Ottawa language would have to journey down dirt roads and knock on some unfamiliar doors to find out where these speakers live. Once you arrived on their doorstep, they still g might not talk to you, especially if you are not a member of the tribe.

In New Guinea, a country that hosts a cauldron of language diversity villagers on one side of a mountain often speak a completely different language from villagers who may live less than a kilometer away on the other side. If travel to a geographic location is difficult or interactions with speakers of other languages is restricted, then a language has no way to flourish. Like a plant that receives no pollination, a language without some kind of interaction eventually dies.

A second factor contributing to a language's health is its social desirability. In some parts of the United States, children of first-generation immigrants often grow up in English-speaking neighborhoods, go to English-speaking schools, and come to think of English as the language of acceptance and power. Some of my Texas friends whose parents emigrated from Mexico do not know how to speak, read, or write in Spanish. One friend told me that his parents actually forbade him from speaking Spanish when he was growing up because they considered mastery of English to be essential for success in America.

According to the Global Language Monitor (www.languagemonitor.com, 2011), almost 2 billion people around the globe speak English as either a first or second language, making it the most widely spoken language in the history of the world. The closest runner-up is Mandarin Chinese, with roughly 1 billion speakers, the majority located in or around China. Spanish is the third most widely spoken language, with 500 million speakers, while speakers of Hindi and Arabic come in at fourth and fifth respectively, with between 450 million and 490 million speakers.

French was the most popular language in the world in 1800, but today, Spanish speakers outnumber French speakers worldwide by more than a 2:1 margin. English speakers outnumber French speakers by 10:1. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Future of Fewer Words? Five Trends Shaping the Future of Language: Natural Selection Is as Much a Phenomenon in Human Language as It Is in Natural Ecosystems. an Ongoing "Survival of the Fittest" May Lead to Continuing Expansion of Image-Based Communications and the Extinction of More Than Half the World's Languages by This Century's End
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.