The Language of the Future?


It has been a while since I last wrote my blog. There was a reason for it. My winter went on, apart from normal duties, writing a book for international audience. It takes enormous amount of time and effort to make it happen. This book, entitled “Patterns of the Future, Understanding the Next 40 Years of Global Change”, will be hopefully out later in the spring by a London publisher.

To write a book is also very much a thinking exercise. In my case, it challenges you to think about global. What are people in different parts of the world up to? Where are their intentions and fears. Where is their identity?

We all know how important language is for people. Philosopher Wittgenstein once said that ”the language we use is the world we live in”. Through the language our mind talks. It is the language through which we live our lives as human beings.

This all comes very obvious when we live in troubled times like we do right now. Refugees are knocking the doors of Europe. Our mother language is our refuge, sometimes our last resort where we feel at home. When an Arab enters Finland the language he has used to becomes his obstacle too, because without having the charge of the local language your chances to really enter into the society become weak. So language is the real means of integration.

As English has become somewhat our lingua franca, language that ”everybody” speaks, does it mean that we actually need it? Absolutely, if we think about that this flood of refugees might be just a beginning for a larger phenomenon in the world, where different folks around the world get moving. We might be in the threshold of a situation people, with different and motives and intentions, just start finding new pastures for living as people have done for millennias.

For Finnish people too, this should be nothing new. Right after second world war, we inhabited 400 000 people for those part of Finland that became a part of Soviet Union. That represented a tenth part of our whole population. In 1960’s, 300 000 people from Finland rushed to Sweden to look for jobs. This amount of people moving out meant that pretty much everybody knew a person that was a part of this movement.

But with all this human movement we see occurring now, do we all start eventually just speak one language, like English? I don’t think so. A great internationalist Ludovico Zamenhof spoke 12 languages and invented synthetic language of Esperanto that is based on finest ingredients of all these languages. But apart from being the language of World Esperanto Congress, there are no signals that the use of Esperanto is spreading.

Instead, we see the spread of some other languages that are becoming more common. According to US Census projections, Spanish is becoming nr 1 language in the United States by 2050. French is spreading in the former colonies of France and with their high fertility rates, the amount of French speaking population of the world is rising from 3% to 8% by 2050.

And there is of course the case of China. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surpised recently his audience in China by talking the first 30 minutes in Chinese. Chinese language is now being taught everywhere now in the world.

I believe that in the future world’s people are actually much more multilingual. Today only every four person in US is multilingual. Language will remain to express our identity while we try more and more to reach out to others. Technology becomes of our help here and translating programs, even those that does only do it in the “funny” way, are commonplace today. In fact, we are heading into much more oral world, where we talk to machines and they talk to us.

Moreover, we are actually heading towards world that appreciates more the variety of languages. Like the Celtic language in Ireland, which has experienced a total revival. Colonialism and statism led the languages of the world to decrease from 10 000 to 6000. Colonialism is more or less over now and statism is having a hard time. People like to express the identity with their language. Vive la différence!

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