There can be no doubt that the world in which we live is becoming ever more globalised and that the driver for this phenomenon has been the advent of technology such as the internet, IP telephony, fax machines, satellite TV and mobile phones. Although the cause may be apparent, the effects are ongoing and no-one can as yet predict where they will take us, however, the most apparent trend thus far, is globalisation’s highlighting of language barriers.
Globalisation has, perhaps for the first time in history, brought together many disparate cultures, who to date, may never have had any degree of cross cultural interaction. The first and most immediate manifestation of this meeting of cultures has been the sudden increase in the need for bilingual and multilingual personel.
This stage in cultural interaction can be illustrated in microcosm, with the example of the European Union. The European Union has some 20 officially recognized languages and when the European Parliament is in session, it requires the services of some 60 interpreters for it to be able to communicate with all of its members. The whole organization actually employs some 2,000 translators and interpreters in total, to enable it to function at all.
Although we are at the initial stage of the meeting of cultures…that which necessitates translators and language professionals, evolution suggests progression to another stage…that of a common medium of communication… and for its first manifestations we need to look back into the past.
A common second language as a medium of universal communication was first developed by L.L.Zamenhof in 1887 with his publication of Esperanto. It was formulated from all of the common European languages and had a strong revival in the 1950’s and 60’s. It was never to gain universal popularity though, but to this day, it still has a following of up to 2 million speakers.
What failed to happen by design, however, might well be happening by default. Looking at the two most popular internet languages we find that English and Chinese top the league, we also find that both these languages are gaining ground globally. English is of course, arguably, the de facto language for international business and finance and together with German, the language of science and technology.
Chinese, or more exactly the Mandarin dialect, is however, gaining ground. China has become the main engine of world trade and with its expanding global partnerships and trade deals, comes the expansion of Mandarin. The two continents where this is most evident are the southern Americas and Africa, but increasingly, Mandarin is a core requirement for the many global corporates establishing themselves within, or hoping to do business with China.
Whether we will witness the evolution of a common linguistic medium has yet to be seen. That languages can gain such ascendancy is a matter of historical record…I cite the use of Latin throughout the ancient civilized world. Until that time comes though, we will continue to require the skills of bilingual and multilingual professionals who can smooth the path between the present day linguistic diversity and a possible linguistic homogeny.