The need for communication is becoming more evident, and the boundaries between languages seem to be more and more transparent. How will we speak in the future?
The position of English as the international language of business is unshakable, despite the growing economic power of China, the famous German linguist is convinced. Professor Trabant shared the reasons for such confidence with us.
Information flows from year to year are becoming more intensive. Humanity is producing more and more texts, the need for communication is becoming more evident, and the boundaries between languages seem to be more and more transparent. How will we speak in the future? In what direction will the business language develop? Jurgen Trabant, a specialist in the field of philosophy of language and language policy, linguist from Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, shared his thoughts.
- How do you see the future of the German business language?
- Unwaveringly positive. It will be a mixture of English and German. Read the economic section in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Written on the basis of German, but the main terms are English.
- When I hear how Frankfurt bankers communicate with each other, then, I confess, at times I can not help laughing. They speak a wild mixture of English and German. As a linguist, are you not annoyed with so many Englishisms in business language? As far as I know, this is a global phenomenon, but in German speech this tendency is even more noticeable than in Russian.
- Basically, I don't like this tendency. But in this case it does not interfere, because special terms are used here. What if they are of English descent? In the old days, medical terms were written in Latin and Greek. The professional language is now striving for internationality, and if this is associated with the English language, then it is impossible to do without it. I am much more worried about the abundance of Anglicisms in the ordinary speech of an educated person. If scientists communicate not with each other, but with society, then you need to try to find correspondences to English words in their native language. But I don't think English ruins our speech, as some purists believe.
In France, Spain and other countries there are special institutes that monitor the purity of the language. Are they not a kind of brake on the national economy in the context of globalization?
- This is partly possible. There are practical limitations, but they are surmountable. If you want to promote a product, for example, in the Japanese market, it is better to give it an “international” English name, not a French name. Conversely, foreigners know that French language needs to be taken into account when exporting goods to France.
- The abundance of Anglicisms in business language testifies to economic power. It shows who plays the first violin. This is true?
- Oh sure.
Now there is a lot of talk about China, which is becoming more and more economically stronger. Should we expect the appearance of Chinese words and expressions in business language?
- The Chinese do not have that kind of strength. My colleagues and I in Moscow discussed whether Chinese would be able to take the place of English, and came to the conclusion that this depends on political evolution. The Chinese do not have the political power that the Americans have. In the case of English, we are talking not only about the United States, but also the countries that were part of the British Empire: India, regions of Asia and Africa. I believe that Chinese is not very suitable for the role of an international language. At least in the near future. It is a tonal language very difficult to reproduce. Instead of letters, there are hieroglyphs that are difficult to learn. Of course, you can write Chinese words in Latin, but then the Chinese will not be able to understand each other. You can use Mandarin Chinese as a basis. But, as far as I remember, only 30% of Chinese speak this dialect. The rest speak other dialects, and understand each other thanks to hieroglyphs. In other words, there are structural reasons that will keep Chinese from taking the place of English. And let's be honest, what did China give us?
For example, gunpowder
- Okay, gunpowder. But which Chinese writer would you like to read? Which Chinese movie can compare to Hollywood?
But we're talking about the future …
- Of course, the future is unpredictable. Perhaps there will be two international languages. I'm not sure Chinese will be stronger than English for the foreseeable future.
I noticed that in English it is more convenient for me to speak not with native speakers of this language, but with foreigners like me. International English is a simplified language. Does this not lead to the fact that languages will lose their "depth"?
- I do not share this cultural pessimism, such fears are not confirmed empirically. But it is true that foreigners speak fairly simple English to each other. It is easier for me to find a common language with a Swede than with a Scotsman, whom I practically do not understand. The international language is inevitably associated with simplifications, but this does not apply to the native language. I see no oversimplification either in contemporary German novels or in the texts of my colleagues. Of course, German teachers love to complain about students who do not speak the language as well as they would like. But this is largely due to the fact that not only German children study in schools, but also migrant children from ordinary families.
Do not the current migration processes lead to the simplification of the language?
- I do not think. You know, the complaints about language degradation are as old as the language itself. Based on my own experience, I cannot take them seriously. My students, in principle, write as well as we ourselves wrote when we were students. The changes are noticeable in something else: not in spelling and syntax, but in the structure of the texts. They are not built according to the laws of the usual logic. I believe this is due to the increasing importance of visual images. The new generation is used to pictures. And I get the feeling that the texts are built according to the "patchwork" principle, a colorful picture designed for simultaneous perception. Its meaning is determined not by the author, but by the viewer. But this is just my feeling. There are no serious studies on this topic yet.
Texts sewn from patches represent a completely different hierarchy
- She's not there at all.
Isn't this connected with the fact that there are a lot of information channels, and they all work at the same time? A modern young man switches from a conversation on Skype to a conversation on a social network, from one messenger to another, he can simultaneously listen to the radio and read newspapers on the Internet, watch videos and receive notifications of new messages by e-mail. Our life is composed of heterogeneous information blocks
- Yes exactly. The media reality has radically changed our lives. 20 years ago the world knew how to be silent, now it makes noise all the time. Notice that music is playing everywhere. We look at a lot of pictures every day. Of course, thanks to the Internet, we write more, but we do not yet know where this multimedia is leading. New generations will socialize differently than we do.
So what will the language be like, say, fifty years from now?
- This is a very general question. If we take into account the existing processes, there is a risk of creating two linguistic groups distant from each other: the emergence of an English-speaking "aristocracy" and a layer that does not speak this language and does not understand it.
That is, the professional language, for example, the business language will be even more English?
- In some areas only English will be spoken. In other languages - German, Italian, Russian - some areas will wither away, becoming predominantly English. The need to translate some things from English into your native language will disappear. However, we will always prefer to discuss some topics in the language that is closer to us.
A trip to the store, for example…
- (Laughs) For example, feelings, personal experiences. In the store, we can do without any words.