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Will Mandarin Chinese replace English as the next world language? Show more Show less
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English became the world’s international language through British colonization in the 17th-18th centuries, the growth of science and technology through Britain’s Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, and the rise of the United States as a leader in economic, political, cultural, and scientific power in the 20th-21st centuries. Today, English (and its many varieties) has the greatest number of speakers in the world (1,268 million), followed closely by Mandarin Chinese (1,120 million). Yet, with the rise of the People’s Republic of China as a global economic superpower, many speculate that Mandarin Chinese (China’s official language) will soon replace English as the language of international affairs.

No, English will remain the world's international language Show more Show less

English is here to stay because of its widespread use in international politics, business, scientific knowledge, the Internet, and pop culture.
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Mandarin is too difficult

Mandarin's writing system, with its 20,000+ characters in a modern dictionary, is too complex to achieve a widely used lingua franca status around the globe. In contrast, English is much easier.

Context

Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language for English speakers.[1][2] Even as many linguists and businesspeople see the possibility of Mandarin becoming a more widely used, Mandarin will likely never become a global language because it is too difficult to learn.

The Argument

The main difficulty is that Mandarin uses a written character system. Languages like English, Russian, and Hindi use an alphabetical system, which helps users learn the language easier as speaking, reading, and writing in these languages are related, intertwined processes. With Mandarin's character system, however, writing and reading must be mastered separately from speaking and listening.[3] Mandarin's written character system will hinder its spread as a global lingua franca in a world dependent on technology. Technology for writing and the QWERTY keyboard are designed for the Roman alphabet. Global written media in the QWERTY keyboard is not compatible with the 2,000+ Chinese characters considered necessary for basic literacy in Mandarin.[4] In terms of a written language, English is much easier and adaptable.[5]

Counter arguments

No language is too structurally difficult to become a lingua franca. Languages become widely used due to the language becoming economically or politically necessary or through becoming culturally significant.[6] In fact, though Mandarin's character system and tones are difficult to learn, Mandarin has several features that make it much easier to learn compared to European languages. Mandarin does not have subject/verb agreement, plurals, conjugations, or tenses.[7] People do not have to fluently read and write Mandarin for it to be widely spoken People around the world do not fluently read and write English because they just use English as is necessary for their purposes, and English is still widely used.[8] Professor at the Flinders University College of Humanities Jeffrey Gil stated, "The inconsistencies and irregularities of English’s writing system show that linguistic properties alone do not determine whether a language becomes global. I conclude that a character-based writing system will not prevent Chinese attaining global language status."[9] Thanks to technological advances, written Mandarin is no longer a barrier to widespread Mandarin communication. Handwritten Mandarin is no longer a basic skill since smartphones and computers can generate characters from Pinyin Romanization or speech-to-text. Many Chinese people just use smartphone technology to communicate in written Mandarin.[3]

Proponents

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
  2. https://www.digitaljunglegroup.com/the-future-language-of-business-english-vs-mandarin/
  3. https://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-china-mandarin-20160603-snap-story.html
  4. https://hbr.org/2015/01/why-english-not-mandarin-is-the-language-of-innovation
  5. https://medium.com/english-language-faq/why-did-english-become-the-global-language-9bbc14b532cd
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_franca
  7. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-learn-mandarin-2278445
  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200518111712.htm
  9. https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/05/14/campus-press/chinese-language-can-become-global-language-aussie-university-academic/724610/

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This page was last edited on Tuesday, 25 Aug 2020 at 18:55 UTC

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