Language is changing all of the time: what words we use, how we build sentences, even how many languages exist in the world. But can we predict how things might change for the future? It turns out, we can put together some pretty good hypotheses based on what's happened in the past, and the state of how language is now. For example, we can look at the past tense in English. Over time, English has lost many of the irregular past tense forms that it used to have, with dozens of exceptions falling in line and taking -ed as an ending. By looking at the rate of usage for those irregular forms, and how they've changed over time, we can have a good idea of which verbs that are still irregular might give in and regularize soon.
We also can make good guesses about how many languages that are currently in use will survive the next century. Depending on how you count, there are roughly 6,000 to 7,000 languages in the world at the moment, and linguists predict about half of those will die in the next century. And it's not hard to find even more extreme predictions: some linguists believe the number could go as high as 90% of remaining languages. There's a lot of information around online about this, like this atlas from UNESCO. But this one unfortunately seems likely to be accurate. There are many efforts to revitalize languages worldwide, though, and we can hope that some will succeed.
A different popular target for predictions is whether we'll all speak one language in the future, be it English or Mandarin or another contender. While this is definitely possible, we believe it's more likely we'll get a number of intermediate hub languages. Different languages will be valuable to different people in different regions of the world, and so those will have a lot of currency going into the future. This idea follows some recent research into links between languages in book translation, Wikipedia edits, and Twitter usage. English may be important, but there are a lot of other languages that get heavy use, as well.
Of course, these are all predictions, and we could be wrong! The only way to know for sure about the future is to travel there.
So how about it? What do you all think? Let us know below, and we’ll be happy to talk with you about the ways language might change in the future. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to say, and we want to hear what interests you!