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Spanish Is the Language of the Future

Why the Spanish language will continue to adapt and survive

May 21, 2015

It is hard for me to talk about the future of Spanish without brandishing the usual arsenal of maps, statistics and census projections. Luckily, these factoids are usually at my fingertips, so without further ado, I will lay them out for you here in all their glory.

FACTS: Today, Spanish is spoken widely as a first or second language in 44 countries across the globe by approximately 500 million people, or 15% of the world’s population. In terms of total native speakers, on a global scale, Spanish ranks second, ahead of English at 328 million and behind Chinese at 1.2 billion speakers. Geographically, Spanish is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world with at least three million native speakers in the 44 countries where it is used (source: Ethnologue). Additionally, globally Spanish is the second most used language on the Internet as well as in advertising. 80 million people use Spanish on Facebook!

It’s also hard for me to talk about the future of Spanish without quoting Junot Díaz, contemporary U.S. Latino author whose book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. In a 2004 interview with writer Evelyn Ch’ien, Diaz asserted: 

“Spanish is not a minority language. Not in this hemisphere, not in the United States, not in the world inside my head. So why treat it like one? Why ‘other’ it? Why de-normalize it? By keeping Spanish as normative in a predominantly English text, I wanted to remind readers of the mutability of languages. So to mark how steadily English is transforming Spanish and Spanish is transforming English.” 

Díaz, here and elsewhere, underscores the power of Spanish to reconstruct the language that seeks to dominate Spanish. For so many reasons, the history of the Spanish language across the globe has always included a long and tumultuous path of conquest, dominance and survival; as a language, Spanish always stays the course and continues to spread. As Díaz states, it is not a minority language but rather one that transforms others. Diaz speaks not only of Spanish here, but also of bilingualism, of the blending and transforming that happens when Spanish comes into contact with other languages.

The future of Spanish looks bright to me. Census projections inform us that Spanish’s trend toward survival and adaptation will only continue to grow. According to 2012 U.S. Census projections, the U.S. will be the country with the most Spanish speakers in the world by 2050. What’s more, the Spanish language has continued to thrive even in areas and communities that are isolated from the language, such as the Sephardi community in Israel where a distant mother tongue persists in the memory of a country from which speakers’ ancestors were expelled centuries ago (source: Don Quijote).

Furthermore, Spanish is increasingly becoming more than a language of culture and civilization; it is gaining importance in the global business world as well. For all of these reasons and many more, anybody with even remote curiosity about the world and about language should hold learning and using Spanish as a goal not only for both intellectual and communicative purposes but also for investment in the future. 

Is Spanish the language of the future? I have no idea. However, given the past and present realities of this language, it seems likely to me that the adaptation and survival of Spanish will persist well into the future.

Photo courtesy of Italian Lasagna on Flickr

Sonja Burrows
Sonja Burrows holds a Ph.D in Spanish from the University of Oregon, and has taught at the University of Oregon and Middlebury College. Her fields of expertise and research aim to bridge the disciplinary gaps between literature and linguistics, and include Spanish Heritage Language pedagogy, Spanish in the U.S., and English-Spanish bilingualism. At Middlebury Interactive Languages, Sonja brings her experience with second- and heritage-language pedagogy to the areas of student performance and ELL curriculum development. A newcomer to Vermont, Sonja’s most important task consists of raising her three young children with good humor and hope, together with the help of her tireless husband.
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