Whither our global linguistic future?

Two recent TED talks present a striking contrast in what the near-term future of human communication might be like — a multilingual world increasingly enabled by technology, or one where we all learn a lingua franca to participate in global public discourse.

Given that one out of every six people on the planet speak Mandarin as a native language, the latter possibility is easy to imagine. And, when you take second language speakers into account, English is certainly a contender for that number one spot, as Jay Walker’s recent TED University talk makes abundantly clear:

But what about when technology enters the mix? Taken in aggregate, the “long-tail” of languages (that is, everybody else) is a pretty big group. As websites and mobile communication devices increasingly enable electronic communication in the world’s languages, and people realize the advantages of communicating with people in the roughly 6,500 languages of “home and heart”… well, maybe the long tail is itself a contender.

Here’s a glimpse of what that future might be like:

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