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Does language prediction herald the death of translation?

Have you ever noticed how, in Sci-Fi movies, alien races only speak one language? Generally in these movies, whole civilisations are depicted as speaking a single language, usually named after the race itself. The reason why film producers or script writers do this can either be for the sake of simplicity, or because that’s how they, or we, perceive the future: a future where we only speak one language, human language. According to applied futurist Tom Cheesewright, this might actually happen decades from now.

One language to rule them all

At the 50th Drug Information Association conference that took place in the United States, Tom spoke about how technology will influence languages in the future, and speculated that translation will be an obsolete term. Since the first DIA conference 50 years ago, many industries have experienced profound change. Two of the best examples of this are the translation and localisation industries. According to Tom, the appearance of tools such as Google Translate will see the appearance of a bridge language that will spread around the world under the form of memes; these memes will then settle in each language, before equivalent terms will appear specific to those different languages. He contemplates the idea that 100 years from now we will only speak one language across the globe.

His predictions are based on technology, namely the internet, and how it helps break down language barriers and even currencies. The example he uses is PayPal. PayPal allows you to make purchases or payments anywhere in the world without the need to swap currencies, as the service will convert them automatically. So, just as PayPal is breaking currency barriers, the internet might also do the same for languages. In the next century, language technologies might make communication borderless, and we will forget about the specifics of each language and the complexities of translation.

This theory is also mentioned in this timeline website, which states that languages will be replaced by a lingua franca as the world becomes a smaller, more interconnected place, where old languages and traditions are either abandoned or forgotten.

Is the translation profession in danger?

Not exactly. In both theories, not all languages disappear. The world is moving towards a single, globalised language, but that won’t mean translation will no longer be needed. Quite the contrary; translation and interpreting might become rare jobs that are paid handsomely, as people will still need to communicate in the old languages, but many will not understand them. As far as machine translation goes, it will never be able to completely replace human translators. High-quality translation software might arise, but a human translator will still be required to edit translation, and take on harder projects like literary translation.

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