NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 28, 2004

As the world economy becomes more integrated, many of the world's languages will become extinct by the middle of the 21st century, say linguists. Although the proportion of the world's population that are native English speakers is expected to decline, English is becoming the world's preferred second language and will be transformed by its widespread use.

According to David Graddol, writing in Science Magazine.

  • Ninety percent of the world's 6,000 languages are expected to become extinct by 2050.
  • In 1950, approximately 9 percent of the world's population were English speakers -- the second most common language -- but that proportion is expected to decline to about 5 percent by 2050.
  • Over 80 percent of Europeans claim to speak fluent English -- in fact, German, currently ranking last of the "top ten" most commonly spoken languages, is not expected to make the list by the year 2050.

Various forms of English -- known as "hybrid" languages -- are popping up in urban areas as different cultures integrate. By mid-century, says Graddol, it will not be uncommon for individuals to speak two or more languages and to switch back and forth between languages for common tasks.

Concerns over syntax theory and grammar will become less important due to hybrid languages and the increasingly digital, fragmented and image-oriented nature of written texts.

Source: David Graddol, "The Future of Language," Science, February 27, 2004, 303, no. 5662.

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