The likelihood of Mandarin or any other non-phonetic language surpassing English is pretty slim. The character based writing system barely works on computers and only because the typist is able to use the pinyin version to select the appropriate character.
If I am wrong, God help us, learning the characters is nearly impossible for my poor mind.
The assumption that Mandarin will grow with China’s economic rise may be flawed. Consider Japan which, after spectacular post-war economic growth, became the world’s second-biggest economy. The Japanese language saw no comparable rise in power and prestige.
The same may prove true of Mandarin. The character-based writing system requires years of hard work for even native speakers to learn, and poses a formidable obstacle to foreigners. In Asia, where China’s influence is thousands of years old, this may pose less of a problem. But in the West, even dedicated students labour for years before they can confidently read a text of normal difficulty on a random topic.
Finally, many languages in Asia, Africa and the Amazon use “tones” (rising, falling, flat or dipping pitch contours) to distinguish different words. For speakers of tonal languages (like Vietnamese) learning the tones of Mandarin poses no particular difficulty. But speakers of non-tonal languages…
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