English on the Edge?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 6:54 PM

Imagine if fifty or a hundred years from now those living in your hometown spoke a tongue alien to yours. It is, in my estimation, something extremely possible in the United States.

I think back to the language my distant ancestors must have spoken. Anglo-Saxon is as alien to me as perhaps American might be someday. It is not until well after the Norman invasion that the dialect of well connected London (which was absorbing the Normans' Latin-based French) that things start to be readable. For instance, I can understand:
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of march hath perced to
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour…
You Know the Source, Don't ya?
But I cannot process this nearly as easily, although I can assemble the meaning, despite it being written approximately the same time:
SIÞEN þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye, Þe bor brittened and brent to bronde and askez,
Þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wrot
Watz tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erthe….
10 Points to the Person who knows what this is.

While I'm taking the long way around here, it is all aimed at a simple point: presently, we have a massive immigration into this country from Mexico. Unlike the Anglo-Saxons, we are not being “invaded,” but we are having a major influx of people who speak a Latinate language come into this country. These days, it isn't unusual to be walking around a store and hear people some speaking Spanish rather than English.

I suspect it will soon be hard to do business without knowing some Spanish (something I really should learn one of these days). Eventually, one of two things could happen: (1) Spanish could supersede English completely or at least among the lower and lower-middle classes; or (2) we could end up with a hybrid language. I tend to think the latter is the most likely, considering that English speakers who learn Spanish for the sake of communicating with the increasingly large non-English speaking minority would take English syntax and phrases with them and mix them in common dialogue.

This could be a good thing, considering that English has been rather stagnate in the last 500 years compared to the 500 prior to that, although as a whole I think it is a sad scenario to consider (with no offense intended to my Spanish speaking friends). English is — I admit bias here — beautiful partially because of its simple, mostly inflection free system of grammar. It is something different. It is not, by any means, the most technically elegant language, but none the less, it serves its purpose well. It is odd to think that someday not that far from now people might have trouble reading this message, much less any of the classical English works.

Is the US alone in this? No, not at all. Consider the massive immigration of Muslims to Europe. At the rate it is going, the day is not far away when the continent, and likely the UK as well, will have more Middle Eastern Muslims (the majority of which would probably prefer their native Semetic and Iranian languages over the Romantic and Germanic ones) than Europeans. I'll lay off on bets as to the longevity of languages in Europe, but I tend to think we are on the cusp of a massive change.

Alas poor English, I knew it, Horatio.


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