(WSJ Saturday Essay) What the World Will Speak in 2115

This streamlining should not be taken as a sign of decline. All of the “optimized” languages remain full languages in every sense of the term, as we know from the fact that I’m writing in one: An Old English speaker who heard modern English would consider it confounding and “broken.” That any language has all irregular verbs, eight tones or female tables is ultimately a matter of accident, not design.

Hopefully, the languages lost amid all of this change will at least be described and, with modern tools, recorded for posterity. We may regret the eclipse of a world where 6,000 different languages were spoken as opposed to just 600, but there is a silver lining in the fact that ever more people will be able to communicate in one language that they use alongside their native one.

After all, what’s peculiar about the Babel tale is the idea of linguistic diversity as a curse, not the idea of universal comprehension as a blessing. The future promises both a goodly amount of this diversity and ever more mutual comprehension, as many languages become easier to pick up, in their spoken versions, than they once were. A future dominated by English won’t be a linguistic paradise, in short, but it won’t be a linguistic Armageddon either.

Read it all.


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