The future of the English language: it's crystal clear

“He belongs up there with Shakespeare, The Beatles and Tim Berners Lee”, said Peter Florence, as he welcomed linguist David Crystal back to the Hay stage for his 25th year.

“For every one native speaker of English, there are now five non-native speakers”, said the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language author. The number of people speaking English as a second language has vastly grown, and this sparks the question - what does the future of English really look like?

The language expert explained the number of English speakers in countries where English has a special status is increasing at an incredible rate. India has more English speakers than all other countries that speak it as a first language, he told his audience.

The English language has changed vastly over the past 15 years. “Whatever it was like yesterday, it’s different today, and will be different tomorrow” said Crystal. For example, no one would have predicted the suffix “exit” to have increased so much in usage before the year 2016, he laughed.

The language academic used the Heineken advertising strapline, “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers do not reach”, to explain how cultural allusions affect language interpretation. Phrases such as “I’ve just had my MOT” are known to native speakers only, he said.

“Everyone has ownership of it now”, said Crystal, as he explained we are becoming much more tolerant to different accents and dialects. “The attitude has changed” and new versions of English are being valued by world users.

If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.

Picture by: Paul Musso