I just read a report on the World’s 10 most influential languages. I found the statistic quite interesting and I would like to share some of my observation. The report is created by George Weber. It is one of the most cited paper in linguistic or cultural journals. The paper ranked the influence of languages base on the following criteria:
1. Number of primary speakers
2. Number of secondary speakers
3. Number and population of countries using the language
4. Number of major areas of human acitivity in which the language is important
5. Economic power of countries using the language
6. Socio-literary prestige of the language
To no one’s surprise, English is the world’s most influential language. It is very likely that English will become THE international language as the lingua francas, the mean of communication between people speaking different languages. Most people learn English as their default second language. I am surprise that number of second language speakers of French is even higher than English. French was the de facto language in Europe in the past few centuries, although it has lost most of its glory. The two major advantages of English are its official language status in many countries and the economy power of English-speaking countries. To my surprise, even though US and England are two most prominent English speaking countries, they do not have an official language.
Chinese ranked number 6, but its future is quite worrying. Chinese is the mother tongue for most people among all the languages, but it is not influential outside its own people. It seems the Chinese speaker don’t really care about spreading the influence of Chinese. Foreigners come to China are not expected to know Chinese, we are happily talking to them in English. Although we appreciate foreigners make effort to learn the language, but not really appreciate when they succeed. We are so proud of speaking a language so complex that others could not master.
There are three truly international languages: English, French and Arabic. Both of the former two have Latin roots, so they close to each other in the linguistic family tree. My bet is that English will replace French over time in term of influence. French will become a regional language like Russian or Spanish. Arabic has a different linguistic eco-system that is totally independent of the West. Its spread and use is mostly base on Muslim and the study of Koran. Here is my prediction for World languages usage in 22nd century. Most of the minority language, especially those without any official status, will mostly disappear. Major languages with sufficient population will remain prosper within the host country or even become dominant in regional level. English and Arabic would be the remaining two languages compete on the global level with English has a substantial lead. The clash of civilization will be between the English-world, including all the countries happily embrace learning English, and the Arabic-world that refuse globalization fueled with Muslim’s anit-Western mentality.