Could English (the language) and the leaving of the English (the people) unite the rest of Europe under a common tongue? This is the somewhat radical, and perhaps only slightly tongue-in-cheek, implication suggested by The Economist in this article.
Although it is clear that The Economist would potentially benefit substantially if it came to pass, something they allude to in the article, profits for publishers and publications aside, the prospect raises some interesting considerations about the future of the English language as the lingua franca in Europe and the wider world.
Just as the rise of Japan in the 1980s led to millions of would-be entrepreneurs and aspiring diplomats learning Japanese, the rise of China in the last decade has resulted in a similar flurry of language courses and schools popping up to cope with the perceived demand for learning Mandarin, leading to many to predict that Mandarin will be the next language of global communication.
However, Japan’s sudden fall from grace in the 1990s through a combination of many factors, including a burst economic bubble and declining fertility rates significantly decreased the enrolments of students studying Japanese almost overnight.
With the much-touted (but so far little-evidenced) decline of US influence in the world, and Britain’s retreat into self-exiled obscurity, it is inevitable that the continuing use of English as the de facto global language is undergoing reconsideration and facing challenges. Is English heading for the same fate?
According to the data presented in this article, it is unlikely that the English language will disappear or even decrease much in importance any time soon. Taking the EU as an example, it is evident that English is already well-entrenched as the most popular second language in all European schools, in addition to being the main language of the internet, business and education.
Globally, English is the most spoken language in terms of total speakers, and many countries have it as their official language, are considering making it one of their official tongues, or use it as their primary language. Even if the USA and the UK, along with all the other English native-speaking nations, suddenly withdrew from the world stage, their technological, diplomatic, business and educational legacies that are all in English would continue to play dominant roles in their respective fields for at least the foreseeable future, even in a region as linguistically diverse as the EU.