What the World Will Speak in 2115

BN-GG149_cover_J_20150102112722John H. McWhorter at The Wall Street Journal:

Yet more to the point, by 2115, it’s possible that only about 600 languages will be left on the planet as opposed to today’s 6,000. Japanese will be fine, but languages spoken by smaller groups will have a hard time of it. Too often, colonialization has led to the disappearance of languages: Native speakers have been exterminated or punished for using their languages. This has rendered extinct or moribund, for example, most of the languages of Native Americans in North America and Aboriginal peoples of Australia. Urbanization has only furthered the destruction, by bringing people away from their homelands to cities where a single lingua franca reigns.

Even literacy, despite its benefits, can threaten linguistic diversity. To the modern mind, languages used in writing, with its permanence and formality, seem legitimate and “real,” while those that are only spoken—that is, all but a couple hundred of them today—can seem evanescent and parochial. Few illusions are harder to shed than the idea that only writing makes something “a language.” Consider that Yiddish is often described as a “dying” language at a time when hundreds of thousands of people are living and raising children in it—just not writing it much—every day in the U.S. and Israel.

more here.