With TV, radio, film and other forms of mass media will accents and dialects slowly die out or transform until there is just one national/non-regional dialect?

Certainly the trend in many countries is for dialects to die out, particularly countries with a strong centralising tendency in culture and education. Greece and France are very good examples of this. Even in England, what survives is more accents with some variant vocabulary than the full-fledged dialects of two centuries ago.

Countries that have not as longstanding a centralising tradition preserve their dialects better: Germany and Italy are the best examples in Europe, and it is no coincidence that they only became unified countries in the 19th century.

There are centrifugal pressures that preserve linguistic variation: people don’t really *want* to all sound the same. The US for example has a Mid-Western standard, but it also has plenty of emerging vowel shifts hither and thither. (See Are we losing the regional dialects in the U.S.?) But mass media, combined with universal literacy, and population mobility all mean that there is more pressure on people to at least use mutually intelligible variants of the same national language. (The first blow to dialect diversity in Greece was not mass media; the media was in an archaic variant of the language that most people only semi-comprehended. It was universal conscription.)

That means that it’s harder now in a first world country for dialects to drift as far apart as they have done in Germany, and to have significant grammatical differences as well as phonetic and lexical differences. And peoples’ desire to speak differently can be satisfied by a different accent as much as by a different grammar. So the centrifugal pressure on standard languages is less effective now than it used to be.

Why do some languages have translations for cities while others don’t?

Some other factoids from Greek:

* Languages with inflectional morphology will tend to inflect town names, especially town names they care about, as Daniel Lindsäth correctly points out. Ancient Greek tended to do that a lot, though not universally, as you can see in the Geography (Ptolemy): most towns end up looking declinable, though some are left as they are.
* Town names can look different because they get into the language via a second language, which has more prestige or enables more foreign contact. Josh Lim points out the switch from Spanish to English as the donor language in the Philippines. In Early Modern Greek, the gateway to the West was Italian; so London used to be Londra.
* If the pedants start running your language, as happened in Greek (Katharevousa), then the donor language becomes an antiquarian transformation of names, to match the ideology of “we should be speaking Ancient Greek, so were going to make our foreign town names look like they would have in Ancient Greek”. So London stopped being Italian Londra, and started being Londinon, from Latin Londinium. Syracuse stopped being Saraguza (Sicilian Sarausa), and went back to being Syrakousai (reviving the Ancient form).
* If the pedants stop running your language, forms stop being translated. But the countervailing pressure of respecting the source language pronunciation, which is so prominent in English, is not universally felt: I just don’t see any possibility of Pekino (Peking) being displaced by Beidzing.
* If the pedantic form is easy enough to pronounce, the peasants will take it up: Greeks in Melbourne never call it anything but Melvurni. But if the pedantic form is harder to pronounce because it is too pedantics, the peasants may not. The pedants’ form for Adelaide is /aðela.ˈiða/. The breaking up of a-i into two syllables is not how the Greek vernacular works; and you’re far likelier to hear Greeks in Australia call it /ˈadelajd/.
* And of course there’s historical baggage as well. No Greek in Greece ever, ever refers to Istanbul as anything but Constantinople. Ever ever. The only time Ίσταμπουλ ever gets used is by Greeks living in Turkey. Such as, say, the Ecumenical Patriarch. Who notoriously got told off for calling Constantinople the wrong name.

What is it like to be able to fluently speak Klingon?

Surprising. You are aware of the gaps in the vocabulary, and they are annoying; but it’s a buzz when you manage to actually hold a decent conversation anyway. The last conversation I had in Klingon was the most surprising: at an airport, about how come deixis is pronounced with an [aj]. You wouldn’t think Klingon was well suited to discussing English phonetics, and it isn’t, but we managed it anyway. (My answer at the time was wrong, btw.)

I’m astonished to this day that I even managed a pun in a confrontational situation, when I first introduced myself to the Klingonists of America:

[Prominent Klingonist I had given offence to]: SaH ‘Iv? (Who cares?)
Me: jISaH jIH, naDev jIHmo’! (I’m present, because I’m here!)

How does Esperanto sound, to you?

One objection raised about the vowels of Esperanto by Kalocsay and Waringhien (the authors of the standard Esperanto Grammar Plena Analiza Gramatiko – Vikipedio) was that there was no alternation of vowel length, so it sounded rat-tat-tat — like Spanish and Greek do. They proposed introducing vowel length according to syllable structure, which was meant to be a post-facto systematisation of how Italians spoke Esperanto with an Italian accent. 🙂

There were lots of proposals in the standard Esperanto Grammar that didn’t go anywhere, and that was probably one of them: the norm remains rat-tat-tat, and I suspect Italians still speak it more melodiously. But yes, they proposed that good Esperanto should sound more like Italian than Spanish in its vowels.

And happy to see Jouko Lindstedt’s review of the grammar, where he savages them for doing so: Recenzo de Plena Analiza Gramatiko. (“Sekvas la parto “Fonetiko”, bedaŭrinde. Bedaŭrinde, ĉar ĝi estas preskaŭ ĝisfunde neĝusta, diletanta kaj misgvida, sub la nivelo de la cetera verko. Nu, almenaŭ Waringhien jam pli frue ekkonsciis pri iuj ĝiaj mankoj (vd. la menciitan intervjuon enLiteratura Foiro), kaj tial mi min detenas diboĉi per detaloj. La ĉefa kritikindaĵo estas, ke oni lasis la ĉapitron eniri en la novan eldonon praktike senŝanĝa; oni estus devinta forstreki almenaŭ la tutan doktrinon pri la du e kaj o en Esperanto.”)

Artificial Languages: What’s it like to speak Lojban?

Intense, mainly because of having to control the syntax coming out of your mouth, and remembering to to say the “bracketing” words (terminators). It was more intense for me than others at the time, because I was better at remembering to say the terminators. 🙂

This was still human communication, though, and context was still filling in a lot of the blanks. So for me, the syntactic challenge far outweighed any notion of semantic clarity. And with second language levels of fluency, you couldn’t always be sure people actually uttered what they clearly meant to say; so you made the kinds of allowances people make in normal languages anyway. 🙂