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During the 20th century, we have already seen the loss of hundreds of languages in favor of more international and widely-used languages. The United Nations, for example, uses Arabic, French, English, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish as its official languages. Within the near future, i.e. the 21st century, to what extent will this continue? Approximately how many languages will still be spoken fluently (ILR>3) by a significant portion (>0.1%) of the world population past 2100, and which languages might they be? (Note: This is not a duplicate of this question; that question refers to 2500, while this question asks about the relatively near future.)

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closed as off-topic by L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica, Mołot, Azuaron, a CVn, Josh King May 23 '17 at 13:35

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica, Azuaron, a CVn, Josh King
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ What do you consider a significant portion of the world's population? $\endgroup$ – sphennings May 22 '17 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Can you please give a number to, (or more clearly define) 'significant portion'? For instance would you include (or exclude) Esperanto as a currently still-used language? $\endgroup$ – Konchog May 22 '17 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ The very concept of a language is vague. Many languages (take the English or German language as text book examples) are just constructed and then eliminated regional dialects that might have made their own languages (and some German dialects have, take Dutch or Luxembourgish). Look at English, you already have multiple distinct flavors, from Canadian to Australian English. Arabic is an even better example. A lot of Arabic speaking people do not understand each other. Please be aware of that. Please be more specific what you mean by language and by "used" $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 22 '17 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ I have edited the question to define "significant portion" as >0.1%. According to the UN that would make 0.1% of 11.2 billion around 11.2 million speakers, which would currently exclude Esperanto (as well as every other constructed language.) Also, by "used" I mean fluent to level 3 or greater on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters May 22 '17 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @AmbroseWinters But most languages are constructed. Please learn about these things when dealing with such complex issues. Btw, I do not think there will be any significant change in that until 2100, especially with our current foreign language education systems around the world (which are really bad) $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 23 '17 at 8:35
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I think you'll find that this question is far more complex than you had ever imagined, and that is because humans are complex creatures. With ~7 billion people making choices based on their own individual needs and desires, making accurate predictions becomes about as easy as predicting next year's weather for a specific locale.

Take a look at the Hawaiian language. Sixty years ago, it was headed towards extinction. Its use in public places such as schools had actually been banned. But a wave of cultural interest brought it back to life, and now there are immersion schools in which students speak nothing but Hawaiian. I doubt anyone would have predicted such a thing in 1960. Something similar happened with Irish Gaelic.

At present, India would seem to be a likely place for language consolidation. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of local languages spoken in India. As a whole, India could probably benefit from settling on 1 or 2 languages for everyone to speak. But languages are deeply personal, and something that people don't give up easily. History shows that they have a way of sticking around even in the face of political pressure.

For the near future (within the next 100 years), I doubt there will be much change from the status quo. Spanish may gain influence if the Latin American countries ever emerge as world powers (either collectively, or one or two on their own). People in the world of business may begin learning Chinese in greater numbers, as a second language. But Finns, Greeks, Nepalese, etc. are unlikely to stop speaking their respective languages in favor of one of the big 5 or 6.

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  • $\begingroup$ India has over 800 languages and at least 15 root languages. In general, I agree with your conclusions. $\endgroup$ – Konchog May 22 '17 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it's difficult to predict. Pick any one language with few speakers. People are switching from this obscure local language to English or Spanish or Chinese so that they can communicate with more people. Suppose you chart it and say, look, there are 1,000 fewer speakers every year (or whatever number, of course). But when the number gets very small, it may well be that people will say, "Hey, this language is about to become extinct and it is part of our heritage. We must preserve it." $\endgroup$ – Jay May 22 '17 at 23:28
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To quote from the wikipedia article on endangered languages:

Language shift most commonly occurs when speakers switch to a language associated with social or economic power or spoken more widely, the ultimate result being language death. The general consensus is that there are between 6000 and 7000 languages currently spoken, and that between 50 and 90% of them will have become extinct by 2100. The 20 most common languages, spoken by more than 50 million speakers each, are spoken by 50% of the world's population, but most languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people.

Language extinction is a complex issue. Assessing the health of an individual language is based more on the average age of the speakers than the total number of speakers. Since the biggest factor for a language's survival is young people speaking it, a lot depends on educating the next generation of speakers. There have been some very successful efforts to revitalize dying languages in places where preserving cultural heritage is important. Simultaneously discouraging the speaking of native languages is a common tool of governments looking to control ethnic minorities.

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Since life expectancy keeps increasing there will not be any major changes to what languages are spoken in the next century. After all today people will be born that will be alive in 2117. Thus there are not enough generations to change anything regarding the linguistic level that comes to nation level languages we have today. French people will keep speaking french in the 21st century.

Languages that are in danger to disappear are languages talked by small minorities, like Eskimo tribes that only have a mere few thousand members. Such languages, that are spoken by merely a few thousand or less people, will likely disappear, as such people don't teach their old language to their kids. The process is sped up as these people move to cities where nobody will speak their rare language. Thus, no matter what you do, such minor languages will erode as the chance to use it anywhere is none.

However, english likely becomes even more of a global language that most people can speak, regardless of their nationality.

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    $\begingroup$ Linguistic dominance is tightly linked to political/cultural/economic dominance. If, for instance, the US implodes into isolationism or economic impotence (both of which are real possibilities for various reasons), whoever steps up (China, perhaps) will quickly inherit the title of global language. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast May 22 '17 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast Maybe but not necessarily. Long after the Roman Empire collapsed, Latin was still widely read and spoken. $\endgroup$ – Jay May 22 '17 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Jay Because no other empire the size of the roman empire emerged to substitute it. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft May 23 '17 at 7:36

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