Speculating on the Career Path of the English Language

The Roman Empire lasted two thousand years expanding like the blob, absorbing everything it met along its path and covering a vast expanse of the world but today no one speaks Latin. Is this to be the fate of English as well, as America continues its charitable tradition of international freedom giving?

The parallels between Rome and America are numerous. Romans took much from the Greeks and made it their own. America has borrowed much from the British. Rome under Julius Caesar slashed through the clans and tribes of Europe while in America, settlers, pioneers and gold-rushers trampling to its west coast showed no restraint in rubbing out a few pesky Native-Americans.

The might of the most advanced military technology of the day, cultural ubiquity and rule through proxy states are all corresponding points. And while the government of The United States of America hasn’t yet signed the “Former President Deification Act” into law, the idea exists all the same.

Language spread was another facet of the classical hegemony, as it is of today’s. The Roman Empire eventually collapsed, and following the death of the last native Latin speaker, the language died. But it left behind a large stock of written material, poetry, philosophy, law et al. Latin continues to flourish in the Roman Catholic Church, it is broadcast over the airwaves in Finland. It is the language for mottos of institutions of all types and is actively used in various applications such as law, medicine, mathematics and the sciences, most obviously in classification.

In some time, the fall of the American empire will remove the necessity to retain English as a lingua franca. What will happen then? It could evolve into independent variations of its current state with Australian, Canadian, American, South African, English, Indian, Singaporean, Ghanaian and Caribbean all becoming mutually unintelligible “Englishes” and likewise just as distinct from the English of today, what perhaps will be called “Twenty-first Century English” — bearing in mind this is just one of the numerous possible fates of English. Evolution would include syntactical morphological, semantic, phonetic and lexical change. The degree and direction of change in each of these aspects varying between the Englishes and will determine their color and character.

Twenty-first Century English will leave behind a legacy of books, films and other materials much greater and more complex than Latin, as well as a fantastic set of in-depth linguistic analyses of itself.
Twenty-first Century English probably will not replace Latin in its current modes of usage. But rather, like Latin, it will be part of the linguistic fabric of the future holding up in various niches resistant to all socio-cultural-linguistic cleaning agents and posses that may inquire about its whereabouts.

One can postulate, like the Vatican, an independent, or annexed under special status, republic of Texas where Twenty-first Century English is still spoken. A new pontificate with headgear no less unusual spreads his message to the faithful.

However, it seems fair to expect English to linger in the places where it is most prominent: business, advertising, public relations, strategic communications and information communication technology for example. That is, the spheres of activity that have developed in this language and are the particular property of Twenty-first Century English will retain certain terminology regardless of what course the language takes. Specialized terms like: venture funds, EBITDA, CAGR, pink sheets and Bermuda swaption will remain in place, as will: email, upgrade, and download. Words like these will not follow the general drift of the language.

And what about the “classicization” of Latin? It is widely considered to be a fundamental necessity for a proper Western mind. Certainly Twenty-first Century English will be regarded with a historical respect for antiquity. There will be a standard distribution of opinions but in general the attitude towards it will be based upon the general attitude toward the areas in which it is retained, that is if advertising, information communication technology and these areas are regarded with respect, then Twenty-first Century English will be respected as well. If these areas are disdained as attributes of a fractured society, then English will be regarded likewise. Much will depend on the values of the day.

English today is truly a global language and its growth shows no sign of slowing as U.S. territorial expansion continues. While its death may seem less probable than winning the lottery while being struck by lightning, unquestionably, it will transform and in two thousand years will not be the language it is today. Come what may, we can rest assured that the next Cogito Ergo Sum will sound quite different.