If we can get to the point of having handheld devices that can accomplish live translation of spoken word, what exactly is the point of different languages anymore?
Also, bravo to Microsoft; I'll remove my jaw from the floor after I watch your video a second time.
So if we can all talk to each other across the world in real time, and we can all understand each other because of this technology, what exactly is the point of different languages anymore?
Trying to understand or think like an American is a completely different experience from trying to think like a Chinese which, respectively, is completely different from thinking like a German. These modes of thinking not only make each culture/country/peoples unique, it actually facilitates various strengths.
Primarily, the Chinese language actually allows humans to remember and store more information in short term memory when compared to more Western/romantic languages. Most humans can store 7 (+- 2) bits of information (bits being defined as one contextual idea: 25 + 23 are 3 bits, Picasso's Mona Lisa is 1 bit).
The Chinese language actually facilitates math/short-term memory because many things are spoken/read/written as one contextual idea. When remembering a large number (602-112-5097 for example), English speakers tend to remember this number as:
Area code = 1 contextual bits
Each individual number = 7 contextual bits
This happens because the English language separates non-related digits into individual ideas.
In Chinese however, masses of digits are written and spoken as one long contextual idea. Similarly, in memory, these long numbers are more easily stored as one contextual bit and take up "less" space.
Conversely, English (and to some degree romantic languages) happen to have lots of descriptors (what we call adjectives and adverbs). This, respectively, is one of the reasons why English speakers tend to be more creative with how they express themselves.
Does this mean that we'll eventually tend towards an universal language that implements all the good points of current languages? Perhaps.
Personally, I enjoy the uniqueness of each language by itself.
A bunch of things. First and foremost: cultural representation. There are many things that are simple words in Chinese that have no English equivalent. The values and traditions of a culture are subtly communicated via its language, and even if we can instantaneously translate the literal meaning of what is being spoken, subtext will be lost.
This is why at a high level (beyond "where is the restroom") translation is a highly involved field.
Secondly is the usability of this system. Even if it is 100% accurate and immediate you'll just end up with the UN problem: communication becomes asynchronous because you need to wait for the translator. You'd say one thing, the other person would listen to your translator. He'll say something back, and you get to listen to his translator. It's a hell of a lot better than nothing, but there is still a tremendous advantage to being able to converse in real-time.
True. This is why I will be teaching my children Basque and Basque only.
New languages might have originally emerged due to separation, but that doesn't mean lack of separation will cause already existing languages to go away.