While I don’t believe we’ll have a universal language any time soon, it seems like the two obvious answers for one would be either English or Mandarin. This seems like a bit of a fight between east vs west, and I’ve heard good arguments from both sides, but I wanted to see if I could throw my own thoughts about this into the ring.
First, I find it ironic that the two most likely candidates for lingua franca are the two languages that are possibly the most complicated. English, with its various nuances and outdated rules, can certainly be hard to understand. However, I believe that the sheer size of the Mandarin language causes it to be much harder to grasp fully than english. While having a large alphabet combined with a large vocabulary may help in describing details, most international communication would be fine in just getting the general point across; and so I think more would be willing to describe less in order to spend less time learning a new language for business.
There’s also the fact that, due to eurocentricity, English has already had a grasp on global communications for quite some years now. With China not opening up broadly until roughly the 1960s, combined with the fact of the relatively isolationist nature of Asian cultures in general, Mandarin has had much less time to fester internationally. And while China’s population may have exploded in the meantime, this doesn’t necessarily translate to exponential cultural exporting. As English has expanded, more English-speaking generations have passed, and more people globally are prone to picking up English as their preferred second language.
Finally, to summarize this, I do think it’s certainly possible to have a lingua franca. In an age where the majority of people on Earth have endless knowledge at their fingertips, it becomes quite a bit more easy to learn a new language. And, with globalization becoming a key force due to such technology, more and more people need a common tongue to speak in.