If the rise of China (the PRC becomes a hyperpower) occurred, can Mandarin replace English as the lingua franca?




Tom Graves

What are the chances of Mandarin replacing English as the lingua franca in international communication? Why or why not?

There is only a very small chance that Mandarin will replace English as the lingua franca in international communication, because the writing system with Chinese characters is not easy to learn, whereas, in spite of the obtuse method of spelling with the English language, there are only 26 letters and no diacritics.

Plus English is already well established in India, parts of Africa, and North America. And English is also the most learned 2nd language. Most of the academic literature is now published in English. It would take an extraordinary set of circumstance for Mandarin to supersede English at this point in history.







Susanna Viljanen


Is the jury still out on whether Mandarin Chinese is the only language in the world that can directly compete with English as an international lingua franca? How would you position Chinese in terms of its global usefulness? Still bigger than Spanish?

The problem with Mandarin is that a) it is monosyllabic b) it is tonal and c) it is written in Hanzi. To learn Mandarin, you have to either start in a very early age or study really, really, hard.



a) 它是单音节的

b) 它有声调

c) 它是用汉字书写的。


English is a goddamn bad language for the international lingua franca, but it happened that Britain has had the largest empire in the world and USA won the World War Two, so we have to deal with it.

Personally, I would still prefer Latin as it was the international lingua franca in Europe all the way up to the 17th century, and all the Romance languages, which stem from Latin, are mutually comprehensible to some extent. Another good candidate would be Sanskrit, as most of the languages spoken in India are derived from it, and Farsi and Sanskrit are related to each other.







Thomas de La Marnierre


Why is English considered a global Lingua Franca when Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more people in the world?

It does not matter that there are more Mandarin native speakers if those speakers are geographically concentrated and if few people are learning it as a second language.



By definition, a lingua franca is a language used as a medium of exchange. It implies that people are learning it. Mandarin does fill that role whithin the Middle Kingdom/Zhongguo between many ethnic groups that speak many different languages, for example. However, globally, languages like English, French, Castillian, Portuguese, Russian have more geographic dispersion. There are even laws to restrain the use of Russian in the Baltic states as it was seen as a menace to their languages.






Michael Moszczynski


Citizen of the World: Will a language ever replace English as the lingua franca?

It will be replaced - but there's no reason to think it'll be based on current geopolitical trends. It might be some language that doesn't even exst yet, from many linguistic communities coming together over the next couple centuries. If you'd asked a person if Latin would ever be supplanted as the language of academia, they'd have told you definitely not! Similarly, if you'd told a Chinese scholar of the late nineteenth century that all academic output would be in vernacular Chinese, not Classical, they'd have thought it completely absurd.






Right now, we're probably in a period of regional consolidation, and of regional lingua francas (the pedant in me really wants to say linguae francae). Swahili might emerge in the next decades as a unifying language of the African internet for example, though educated elites in the relevant countries favour English. There's an emergent Arabic standard based on dialects coming out in the forums and chatrooms that's very unlike the Modern Standard you hear in the media.


Mandarin is a popular answer, but who knows whether it will just assimilate into the broader current English consensus - most Chinese diplomats and workers in, say, Africa, use English to communicate. Nothing threatens English in the short term. But we know from history that all cultures see their suns set - and see their languages change in ways they could never have imagined. We won't live to see it, but one day, if humanity can make it that far, they'll study our language as a historical curiosity, the common tongue of a once-dominant culture.





Nathan James


If China wanted to make Mandarin overtake English as the world lingua franca, what should it do?

There is no reason for China to make Mandarin the lingua franca. Other countries may choose to learn Mandarin in order to facilitate trade and commerce (a wise move), but that’s entirely optional.



The world does not choose a lingua franca. The choice is entirely organic, the natural consequence of a country’s growing economic dominance. Such was the case with Great Britain and America.

As China grows into the world’s dominant economic power, I expect that same organic development to occur. But I wouldn’t be surprised if English remained the lingua franca — most everybody, including the Chinese, already know some English.






Paul Denlinger


When China finishes overtaking US as the leading economic power, will Mandarin replace English as a lingua franca? Or is it too hard to learn by foreigners, and we'll see the resurgence of Esperanto or other constructed, easy to learn languages?

Yes, it already is replacing English in many parts of Southeast Asia.

I expect it to replace English in Russia and the nations of Central Asia and Middle East, and it will be even with English in central and eastern Europe.




English will remain strong in western Europe, but will lose ground in south and central America and Africa to Mandarin(spoken) and Chinese(written).

These divisions will be largely driven by politics because the world is swiftly changing to pro-US and pro-China blocs. Much of the interest in learning Chinese is in learning about Chinese politics and the Chinese worldview, which is very different from and is in strong contrast to the US/western worldview.

People will adopt the worldview they are most sympathetic with, and this will drive whether they want to learn Chinese or English.







Daniel Ross


When another country, such as India or China, replace the U.S. as global superpower, will English remain the Lingua Franca and language of business, or will it be isolated to the countries that speak it and Mandarin Chinese or Hindi will become L.F.?

English is the first global lingua franca. That’s a more stable position than any previous lingua franca. And today, English is used by many more non-native speakers than native speakers, including business and government interaction between non-English speaking countries.

Although things could eventually change, I think it will take a lot to displace English. It’s in place. And it’s used internationally.







George Regnery


Do you think that Mandarin will replace English as the Lingua Franca of the world?

No. After childhood, Mandarin is very difficult to learn for anyone outside that language family. It uses a series of tones, and the characters are difficult to learn.

English uses a 26 letter alphabet that is familiar to many people scattered around the globe. English is relatively easy to learn the basics. Chinese is not. English shares a significant vocabulary with Germanic and Romance languages, which cover a significant portion of the globe (all of North and South America, most of western Europe, and large chunks of Africa). English is also fairly dispersed worldwide.







Bill Chen


Chinese is the written root of Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. All three borrowed the mono-syllabic Chinese script and used it in parallel with the spoken multisyllabic local tongue. Vietnam, in particular, persisted with the Chinese script into the 20th century.

Yet all three societies decided the Chinese script demanded too much of the user. One had to learn Chinese history, culture, philosophy, literature and the sciences in order to wield the Chinese language fluently.




In effect, wielding the Chinese written word is the essence of being Chinese, and the KJV peoples didn’t want the educated populace to turn into half-Chinese citizens. They all adapted Chinese block writing. Korea spelled sounds with blocks, Japan appropriated a hanzi subset and liberally adopted a new set of logic and meaning, while Vietnam developed their own pinyin on steroids, resulting in a mostly monosyllabic script.

It will be the same calculus today, and into the future. English is a lingua franca the world over precisely because one doesn’t have to know much about Britain or the United States in order to wield it.



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