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Things I Learned on the Globalization and Language Quorum

I gotta say, the Freakonomics commenters are definitely some of the sharpest on the Net. A lot of the responses to the quorum on globalization and Language that we got to participate in were as interesting as the official post! Here are some things I learned from the 80-some posts that are up so far.

Even though as John mentioned in his contribution to the post, there isn’t a country that has volunteered to change its language to English for economic reasons, a commenter named Ari Fromm says there’s an industry that has done so.

English is currently mandatory for ALL air traffic control worldwide. That’s a pretty strong indication of what the universal language of the world is……

It’s clear that with the rise of English, multi-lingualism is on the rise as well. But what’s the most bilingual continent? According to a commenter named Bjog, it’s Africa, which makes sense when you think about it.

Every African is minimally bilingual–more than any other people on the planet. Every African speaks their native language, the language of nearby ethnic communities, plus the language in which their country was colonized–any of the Europhone languages.

The Koreans are hedging their bets when it comes global super powers. Alan says:

…note that there are 100,000 Korean students at Chinese universities and 100,000 Korean students at American universites.

Finally, people seem really preoccupied with this notion that English is going to morph and change into pidgin or creole English. Probably half the posts on the quorum are about this idea. It seems intuitive and it’s not new to us, but a commenter named Neil Wilson has a suggestion to the contrary.

Look at the written word. It seems to me that there were far more changes to the English language between Jefferson’s words in 1776 and Lincoln’s words in 1863 than between Lincoln and Obama. This is true even though it has been 7 score and 4 years (It hasn’t been 5 years yet.)

English is far more stable today than it ever has been.

Thou art quite right, sir. ‘Tis sooth that our English tongue hath been a changling historickly.

Though were English to change as rapidly as everyone suspects, would the result be horrible and Orwellian? A commenter named Ramon Cashon says, “Yes!”

Think of the users’ manual of a Japanese or Chinese product and apply that to the spoken word. THAT is the English language that will gain dominance… if you can still call it a language at that stage.

At least information about any language is available now. It didn’t occur me to that it’s easier to pick up a local tongue of another locality than ever before until this comment from Tieler:

You can’t go to your local library or bookstore and buy books on Kurdish, but go online and there is a wealth of resources for grammar, vocabulary, online dictionaries, and so on.

All in all, it’s great to see how much interest there is in this topic. And I can’t wait to see if I’m speaking pidgin, Mandarin or the Queen’s English in five years.

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