English Is The New Latin

In the Middle Ages, in Europe, educated people, i.e. those who learned to read and write, learned to read and write (and speak) Latin, whatever their native language might be. This meant that educated people across the whole of Europe could talk and exchange ideas using Latin.

With the rise of nationalism (or was it earlier than that?), people started to read and write in their various native languages and Latin became sidelined, so losing the former ease of international discourse.

These days, another language has grown up to replace Latin, namely English. Educated people across Europe (and the rest of the world?) now all learn English as a second language. So English is becoming the new Latin.

-- StephenHutchinson
As one who regularly works with non-native English speakers, my experience is that English is not the Lingua Franca you suggest. Perhaps many people learn it, but their facility with the language is often lamentable. Personally, I favour the introduction of an InternationalAuxiliaryLanguage? for enhanced communication (e.g. LojbanLanguage), but inertia is a sociological phenomenon as much as a physical one.

One of the tricks in learning a new language is immersion in the language's culture: reading books, newspapers, magazines and watching their movies and tv shows. Latin, technically a dead language, has two sources of culture to draw from: Ancient Rome and the Catholic Church. That's probably the reason there are more KlingonLanguage speakers than LojbanLanguage speakers.

Very likely true. This isn't the place to get into a debate about which language to choose for an InternationalAuxiliaryLanguage? - there are, after all, thousands to choose from. My experience is that KlingonLanguage is severely limited in its expressive power, EsperantoLanguage is very much a regularized IndoEuropeanLanguage, LojbanLanguage is simply weird, and none have particularly good source material for gaining mastery. (I trust that is a sufficiently balanced viewpoint/summary).

"none have particularly good source material for gaining mastery" ... I can't speak for Klingon or Lojban, but there are plenty of good materials for intermediate-level students of Esperanto - I can think of eight or ten collections of easy-to-moderate graduated readers, etc., without taking time to look at the ELNA or UEA book catalog. There are also (at least) two monthly magazines, Kontakto and Juna Amiko, that specialize in easy or graduated articles. Several of the books aforementioned are available for free on the Internet. That's besides the (probably much larger number of) introductory courses and textbooks in various languages. After I started learning Esperanto in mid-1996, I studied for about two years using free materials from the Internet before I bought any paper books in the language.

VolapukLanguage also has some graduated reading material available on the net, but the language has a much smaller number of speakers - roughly the same number as Lojban, I'd guess (about 10-20).

I consider it a valid summary, but it all adds up to an overall weakness of ConLangs. The more people speak a language, the more source material there is, and thus the more readily the language will be picked up by others. But practically every conlang has few, if any, native speakers, and very little original material. Language geeks may learn Esperanto, and Star Trek fans may learn Klingon, but not so many that the general public finds it useful to learn either. That's also why English is becoming "the new Latin": English-speaking countries are producing a lot of information that is of value in non-English-speaking countries. In Amsterdam, I met a Brazillian who spoke nearly perfect English, and learned most of it from gaming magazines. Perhaps if JapaneseLanguage weren't so culturally specialized and hard to read, it would be a contender to replace English. -- NickBensema

But a LinguaFranca is usually a reduced subset of the original. The problem with English arises when fluent native speakers are communicating with reasonably fluent non natives, who miss nuances and/or idioms. But communication between groups of non native speakers works well e.g. Swedes and Germans. -- AonghusOhAlmhain

Another interesting effect is that these languages all attempt to be culturally neutral. Yet, the more material is generated for a ConLang, the more of a culture it acquires. It may be a unique culture, but it is nonetheless a culture all to its own. Thus, cultural neutrality is a myth that should not be strived for. This is why the Indo-European centric nature of EsperantoLanguage does not bother me one wit. -- SamuelFalvo?
Someone once said that the new world language is English as spoken by non-native speakers. There are far more people in the world who have English as their second language than who have it as their first. -- SoerenMors?

An important point! Some implications are discussed on EnglishLanguagePrescriptiveness.

Also, please see the discussion of American English as the potential universal spoken language of the entire race on EnglishPleaseDiscussion. Perhaps that whole discourse could be moved to a page better supported by spoken language experts? Something that compares the relative values of modern languages?

Another tangent to Aonghus' point is that non-native variations of a language often gives birth to new languages. That's how Latin became the Romance languages. See VulgarLatin for a discussion of how that happened. --NickBensema

FWIW, I've heard it quoted that English is the most common second language and French is the second most common second language. I'm fluent in the first and I can get by in the second, and between the two, I've been able to communicate in several bits of Europe and Russia (primarily in English although the few times people didn't speak English, they spoke French). This is mildly bizarre to me, but I suppose that there's some holdover from when French was the "Royal language" and it was considered civilized to learn it. -SeanDuggan?
See: ConLang, ChoosingaConLang and pages therefrom.


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