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Is there something you have always wanted to know about language? We might have an answer! On this page we answer questions about various aspects of language asked by people outside of the language researcher community.

Will we all speak English one day?

It is not unreasonable to expect that English will become the global language, as in many respects it already is; English is the language of the internet, English is the language of academia, English is the language of lots of mass media. Moreover, many languages are threatened with extinction; it is estimated that about half of the 7000 or so languages currently spoken will be extinct by 2100.

English dictionary from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johnson_Folio_and_Abridged_dictionaries.JPG

Image: Jkarjalainen

However, while new technology means that people all over the world are exposed to English, it also means that there are new and exciting ways to help keep languages alive. Social media is perfect for showing language diversity; many people use English (or Mandarin, or Swahili, or Spanish, or other dominant languages) for professional and formal work while using their own native languages for conversations with friends and family. Until recently, many of these native languages were unwritten and unused outside the home, but the rise of text messaging and social media has revitalised these languages and made them relevant to younger speakers.

Another reason that English (or any other language) is unlikely to become the one global language is that people always use language as a means of emphasising their own identity. Even within English, there are various different types of English, and the usage of English can be a highly divisive issue. For example, native speakers of British English are very protective of their own style of English, and British hostility towards Americanisms (words or phrases which are particular to American English, like the American "oftentimes" as opposed to the British "often" and the American "I have gotten" as opposed to the British "I have got") can be surprisingly vitriolic. Language protection is always linked to identity; if you are living in the Netherlands you only have to look as far as Belgium to see how.

English might be a bit like a sandwich. Just because you can buy a sandwich almost anywhere in the world, people are not going to stop eating curry, lasagne, burritos, or stroopwafels...

 Written by Gwilym Lockwood & Katrien Segaert

Further reading: 

50 of the most noted examples of Americanisms (link)

About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.

 
Questions and Answers

whiet question mark on MPG green 124pt, stroke 2pt

This project was coordinated by:

Katrien Segaert 
Katerina Kucera
Judith Holler

Sean Roberts
Agnieszka Konopka
Gwilym Lockwood
Elma Hilbrink
Joost Rommers
Mark Dingemanse
Connie de Vos