The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel reminds us that the notion of a universal language has existed for a very long time. There have been numerous candidates including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Babylonian, Persian, Aramaic, Greek and Latin in the West; and Sanskrit, Pali and Chinese in the East.
The motto of the U.S.A. is reproduced above to signify the goal of global language unification - which no doubt will be ultimately realised through an international auxiliary language. The authors of the Constitution of the United States would have been mindful of Latin as the most successful universal language when they chose this aphorism - linking what would become the foremost English-speaking country with the Roman civilisation of antiquity.
For almost two thousand years Latin had played the role of common language to the known world, but the founders of the American Republic would have known it as a long-unchanged predominately written language used by scholars. At that time, French was still the accepted universal language of culture and diplomacy, but subsequent events, influenced by the failure of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion in Scotland, conspired to pass the mantle of the international auxiliary language on to English - which still retains it, though with less than wholehearted support from other language groups.
Indeed, the unwillingness of the great powers to agree upon one of their own languages for use as a common tongue led to the concept of a politically neutral and orthographically consistent artificial language. The past 150 years have seen numerous attempts to construct such a language from familiar elements like common word-roots. Esperanto has remained pre-eminent among these constructed languages but has failed to correct serious defects of grammar and vocabulary.
As we have seen in Northern Ireland and former Yugoslavia, a shared language is no guarantor of peace; but it does allow a wider understanding of the issues, so that the cause of problems may be identified and rooted out. With the world facing an unprecedented range of potential disasters, from terrorism to ecological breakdown, the need for a universal language to facilitate co-operation has never been greater.
Moreover, unmistakable signs of progress towards a lasting peace and harmonious civilisation are evident throughout the world, inseparable from the remarkable 20th Century advances in standardisation, in all branches of arts and sciences, in religious understanding, and in education. This outpouring of knowledge, though pictured by a global media, can really only be shared through the use of language. A common tongue may not be the whole answer, but is certainly part of it.
The present account attempts to promote our belief that a reformed version of the English language, prepared according to democratic procedures, would now be the best starting-point for a planned international auxiliary language.
In theory there are two strands of thought here: the concept of an international auxiliary language, and the idea of English spelling reform. Hitherto, these causes have usually been treated separately - an artificial auxiliary language on one hand, and proposals to improve English for use within the English-speaking world on the other - but in practice they are already inseparably combined in the form of the pre-eminent multinational status of the English language.
The following 21 chapters build upon this realisation by advocating the orthographic reform of an offspring of English to an international standard, the substitution of words from other languages, and the possible incorporation of certain rationalised grammatical forms pioneered by the creoles. The intention is to initiate an empirical process of reform towards a revised version of English, not only for everyday usage, but also for the attention of the globally representative committee of linguists that will eventually be appointed to choose the international auxiliary language.
The cost of translation between increasingly interdependent language groups might well force the convention of this body of experts sooner rather than later. Currently it would have to choose between a traditional, organic, "natural" language such as English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic or Farsi, and one of the rationalised but limited constructed languages such as Esperanto or Glosa. We are offering proposals towards a third alternative which would incorporate and harmonise the essential qualities of both national and artificial tongues.
The suggestions in Chapter 19 are offered as concrete examples in the hope of stimulating discussion. The result of such schemes would be perfectly comprehensible to English speakers, at least for a considerable period of time, though the spelling would be different from the start. Moreover, a language so revised would always be an auxiliary - at least in name - so traditional varieties of English could remain in their present roles as long as demand for them continued.
It is all very well to set out the linguistic requirements of a world language, and project a path from an existing tongue towards it, but the exercise is merely academic unless various cultural phenomena expressed through language are taken into consideration. One of these is the now well-established democratic point of view which would challenge the primacy, though not at all the validity, of "autocratic" and "objective scientific" approaches to language reform.
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