Lingua Franca of the Future: English or Machine Translation

The question is simple: What will the language of the future be? Many contend that English will remain as the Lingua Franca of the world. However, others contend that machine translation (MT) will overtake English and replace the entire idea of lingua franca.

Many people may be inclined to say that Mandarin Chinese will overtake English as the next lingua franca. However, there are some facts working against this view. Firstly, Mandarin has a very small spread, that is few countries have many native speakers. Chinese is spoken mainly in China. The median age of a Chinese citizen is 36.7 years old, the total fertility rate is 1.6 children per woman (which is below replacement), in short, the Chinese population is slowly ageing without enough children to replace them. Furthermore, almost every Chinese person receives some education in English. Given these factors it seems unlikely that Chinese will replace English.

Many people predict that English will remain the global lingua franca of commerce, entertainment, and, increasingly, culture. Most with this view hold it in a predictive rather than hopeful mindset. They predict that one day every child will receive English education. They say that the internet is providing students today with easy access to English media, news, entertainment, etc. Many contend that MT, though getting every better at document translation is heavily impaired when it comes to translation of the spoken word. However, believers in MT disagree.

Those that hold the view that MT will overtake English, also contend that MT will displace the need for a lingua franca at all. Instead everyone will use simple MT for their cross-language communication. They hold that business will have a greater impact on international customers through the use of MT on their websites, they will be able to reach the people that do not know English. Further, supporters of MT state that it is getting batter and better each day in both areas of document translation and spoken word translation. What is more, many supporters of MT say that it will help save indigenous languages, by removing the prestige of a lingua franca and providing a platform for them to speak in their language and be understood be the wider world.

It is impossible to predict the future. It is unlike that anyone in the late 1800s would have predicted that English would displace French, not only as the lingua franca in diplomacy, but in culture, art, and entertainment, by the close of the next century. Few would have predicted the displacement of German as the language of technology by Japanese and English. It is not clear what the future will hold for English, MT, and the global lingua franca. What is clear is that no matter what happens, both MT and English will have a future.

Sources:

C. S. W. (2012). ‘Machine Translation: Babel or Babble?’ The Economist. Retrieved from   http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2012/06/machine-translation

R. L. G. (2014). ‘Johnson: English Against the Machine.’ The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2014/06/future-language

Smith, M. (2015). MT- The New Lingua Franca. Retrieved from http://www.capitatranslationinterpreting.com/mt-new-lingua-franca/

World Fact Book: China. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.htmlCIA .

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