By Emma Clarke
“Nǐ hǎo! Zěnme yàng?” Did you understand? No? Well, on the bright side, perhaps you will by 2100! It has long been reported that Mandarin Chinese will be the global language of the future. How likely is it that the next global lingua franca will, and is, emerging from China?
Despite popular Western beliefs, Mandarin has several advantages compared to English. China is not only one of the largest manufacturers of goods, but with its immense population it also has a vast number of consumers. It must also be noted that about one fifth of the world’s population speak Chinese as a native language, of which 850 million Mandarin Chinese; that’s nearly 1 and a half billion people in total! Furthermore, according to the Telegraph, China will have the biggest economy in the world by 2025. Can the U.S. keep up?
As the US Dollar declines in value, countries like Brazil and China are choosing instead to trade in the renminbi (the official Chinese currency). Could this devaluation of the currency also spread to the English language?
Many American families are already convinced of Mandarin’s impending domination and are making every effort to ensure that their children are bilingual. The Wall Street Journal cites a number of language learning examples, including Skype chats, tutors in Beijing and relocating to Singapore for a year.
However, there are some aspects of Mandarin that could put off even the keenest of linguists. Not only does writing in Chinese characters take years to learn, but there are also 4 distinct tonal sounds that are very difficult to master. Intonation is a key component to mastering the Chinese language, so misusing it can produce some funny, but also pretty embarrassing faux pas, e.g. try not to confuse wǒ gǎn mào (I have a cold) with wǒ gàn māo (I copulate with cats).
A much more important factor is the role of culture and history in learning languages. While the Western World is working towards this predicted trend, some of China’s neighbouring countries are not as easily swayed. After spending 2000 years resisting Chinese invasion, Vietnamese people are not rushing to adopt Mandarin. How come the Vietnamese have embraced English when the Vietnam War involving the U.S. only ended in 1975? BBC journalist Jennifer Pak claims this is due to the fact the founding father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, made sure the Vietnamese differentiated between the “American Imperialists” and the ordinary people. In order for Mandarin Chinese to become a global language, China would have to repair relations with its neighbours.
Whatever the outcome may be, I’m off to practice my tonal sounds. I wouldn’t want to get funny looks when I tell a Chinese person I have a cold!
What do you think about this? Will English ever be toppled as the global lingua franca? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
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