I realize that most people still believe the Earth is being overpopulated and we are running out of resources. In reality, with the exception of the African continent, almost all other regions are either stable or experiencing population decline.1
We take it for granted today that we can find someone skilled in almost any trade, fluent in more than one language and able to do the work we require in the language industry. Yet how many LSPs are already struggling to find specific expertise in lower population density languages? Take Japan for example.
Japan is considered to be one of the countries facing an extreme situation already with the prospect of losing two-thirds of its population between now and 2110 at the current rate of decline.2 At current birth rates, without immigration, the last Japanese child will be born in 3011.3 In 2014 Japan had more deaths than births by roughly 268,000.4 To offset that loss of population, Japan requires massive immigration which is unlikely to happen any time soon, and even if it does, how long will it take before an immigrant learns Japanese? Would you hire a fresh immigrant to do your language service work knowing it is not his or her native tongue? Much like Gaelic, there may still be people around who speak, read and write Japanese fluently, but with a very small population remaining; will there be a market need for that language pair?
Look at how many countries have birth rates below the level of 2.1 children per couple (which is the number required to just maintain a given population level), and you will see that most of the areas currently involved in language industry work are in serious trouble.5 We are almost 20% into the 21st Century and most reading this won’t be around when global population numbers really start to shrink rapidly, but the impacts on the language industry will be felt much sooner.
This is not a new phenomenon but rather a problem governments recognized back thirty or forty years ago, and the impact of which is starting to show up in a visible way.
Yes, you will be able to find someone to translate general text, provided you aren’t too picky on the error rates, but when you need that nuclear physicist, toxicologist, astronomer or other highly skilled expert in a given field, the answer may be…”Our last one passed away yesterday and we have no replacement.”