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Culture

I'm Sorry I Don't Speak Mandarin

Population explosions in Asia and the Indian sub-continent are adding to the demise of English as the number one spoken language in the world, according to linguistic researchers.

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"Now, that looks like a B...or it could be a D..."

Anglo-American dominance is coming to an end -- at least in terms of global languages. That's the claim of linguistic researchers who have been studying changes in language trends across the planet.

Their research has led to the prophesy that a tide is turning and that international managers and scientists, who until now have been required to learn English to operate in global industries, will in the future need to speak Chinese, Urdu or Hindi.

International business leaders have long recognized that to succeed, their staff must be able to converse and understand processes in the English language. The "common tongue" of business and industry, however, could sound very different in only a few decades, according to the British linguistic researcher David Graddol in the professional magazine Science.

"The worldwide system of languages has reached a critical point ", writes Graddol. "After several centuries of ordered development, it has now become quite a mess." Graddol sees the rising world population as the catalyst for linguistic change.

Asian increases threaten English

The increases in the Asian world especially are beginning to have an effect on the perceived superiority of British and American English in the field of popular spoken languages.

Graddol also believes that the line where English would have developed globally at the detrimental expense of all other languages has long been crossed and that it is now the English language that is now under pressure from the rising numbers of people who speak other languages as their mother tongue.

The effects are already there to be seen. The English language, once safely atop the league table in terms of the number of native speakers, has now been relegated to the second spot behind Chinese. Considering that there are more than 1.1 billion people who grow up with the Chinese language in all its variations as their mother tongue -- three times more than the number of English native speakers -- it is hardly surprising that Chinese will become the dominant spoken language in these terms.

Hindi and Urdu could record huge gains

The future looks even bleaker for English. By 2050, according to Graddol, the English language may only scrape by with a third place in the list. Estimates put the Indo-European languages of Hindi and Urdu, which are widespread in Asia and are spoken from Qatar to Nepal, as languages that could well exceed the number of native speakers of English.

Only five percent of the world population now speaks English when 100 years ago the figure was nearer nine percent. Research shows that those languages that sit closely behind English could also make gains in the half century, particularly Spanish and Arabian. And behind them, an even stronger growth is predicted in the so-called "second tier" of languages, such as Bengali, Malay and Tamil.

German also in decline

English will not be the only European language which will suffer from this population-inspired explosion. German, with 102 million native speakers which has hung onto the tenth place, will fall out of the Top Ten over the next few decades.

However, it could have been a lot worse. Graddol estimates that from the 6000 languages used these days across the world, about 90 percent will not survive the next century. "Already today we could lose a language per day," writes the linguist. However, while languages unique to remote country regions become extinct, new languages in the form of mixed idioms and structure brought by the many different people who live together, will continue to develop in towns and cities.

Despite the development of a new linguistic system in the world, English will still have its place, even if it is only the language of the stranger. While researchers see the future as being multi-lingual, English will continue to be one of those languages that most people will learn and can use when in a foreign land of which the native tongue is not known.

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