From The Browser:
It’s widely presumed that the English language will become entrenched as the world’s lingua franca and that minority languages will continue to die out. But you don’t really buy into this theory and have argued that new technology might allow minority languages to thrive. I wonder if you could expand on this?
I try to look at things from a historical perspective rather than just what’s happening in this decade or century. I look at the progress of languages over centuries and millennia – my book Empires of the Word starts in 3000 BC and ends in modern times. Each of us only lives two or three generations, so it’s quite difficult for us to get that perspective without really striving for it. When it comes to languages, we tend to be familiar only with the one that we use on a daily basis. When we are also conscious that in the last century or two that language has spread out all over the world, it gives us a very foreshortened perspective. What I’m trying to do is to correct that.
There have been many lingua francas and English, although it is the most widespread that we know of, is a relative latecomer. We still can’t tell the full form of its life history yet because if you look at a really established lingua franca like Latin it lasted for one and a half millennia. Just when it was thought that it was on its way out with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, it got a new lease of life through its association with the Catholic church. So these things are difficult to predict.