Chapter Six: The International Auxiliary Language
The constructed languages have provided a paradigm, if not a realisation, as the strengthening bonds and links between the whole of humanity - whether forged through religion, science, commerce, tourism, sport, the media or in any other way - have increasingly exposed the expense and inefficiency of speaking about common purposes with a multitude of tongues.
But strong opposition to the concept of an international auxiliary language remains, in spite of this powerful testimony. Militant nationalists naturally anathematise the idea - and would proscribe any viable language in the same way that the Nazis banned the teaching of Esperanto in 1935. Such may well have had their day, but opposition is still likely from moderate nationalists who may well be concerned that the international auxiliary will imperceptibly suppress and eventually extinguish their treasured national tongues.
However, unless the constructors of the international auxiliary choose to learn nothing from history, they will refrain from repeating the mistakes of the past. For every tongue forced into silence later shouts out twice as loudly. Basque is but one prominent example. Every minority language has reacted in the same way to the extent that attempts have been made to extirpate it. But within other minority ethnic groups, which have not been linguistically oppressed, there is an even stronger appreciation of the educational, economic and political advantages of belonging to a wider speech-community. This is the dynamic, two-way but unequal, which is allowing many of the minority ethnic tongues to be absorbed by creoles; or by the great "national" languages.
But although there has been a willing abandonment of minority tongues predominately regarded as of very limited use in the modern world, on the understanding that these historic repositories of culture have been and are being carefully preserved and recorded, the alternative viewpoint, which insists that neither the creoles nor the national languages can adequately represent the phonology or vocabulary of the speech that is lost, is still a force to be reckoned with. Emboldened by the long-term political trend towards global subsidiarity, which is encouraging former regions to express an historic "national" identity, this ideological position argues that, since minority languages were formerly obscured by foreign rulers hostile to any tongues which might rival their own, the original tongues should therefore be reinstated and restored as symbols and vehicles of cultural independence.
This interpretation appears to be becoming the fashionable orthodoxy. For example, a report in the "Times" (1/5/96) which mentioned the revival of the Manx language and culture in passing, began with the apocryphal sentence: "A hundred years ago, any child who dared to speak Manx Gaelic in the school playgrounds of the Isle of Man would have a noose tied round their neck." No attempt was made to disabuse the uninformed reader of the implication that it was through political and linguistic oppression, rather than with parental approval, that the Manx language was killed off.
The phenomenon of minority ethnic languages is extremely complex because two separate issues are involved. One is the essentially political view that a major national language such as English, French or Russian, cannot express sentimental attachment to a distinct geographical area with a unique history; or, at least, it cannot when compared with a minority ethnic tongue which has evolved in the place for centuries and supports a personal sense of identity.
The other is a subtler argument, which is essentially linguistic, but also cultural in the patriotic sense of diversity within the body of nations. This asserts that, since any national language, however large the area it may represent, is by definition less than universal in scope, it cannot do full justice to the speech and thought of an area with a different outlook, sense of history, and cultural and religious experience, as expressed through language.
The minority language phenomenon has become one of those issues, like atmospheric pollution or disputed borders, which require a solution beyond the national level: for since the decline of religion as a metacultural bond, the connection between language and politics has been emphasised to the extent that it has become very difficult to hold together a modern nation formed out of old language groups - as Belgium, Canada, and many recent ex-colonies have found. These countries have also demonstrated that bilingualism (or multilingualism), however necessary in practice, is highly unsatisfactory and expensive - and is not a proper solution anyway since everyone always prefers one tongue to another.
The concept of an international auxiliary language addresses the minority language (or multilingual) problem from both the political and the linguistic standpoints. Those nations choosing to be an integral part of the civilised world could retain their mother-tongues for domestic purposes while employing the designated "neutral" international language for all communications outside of the indigenous culture. Every child would learn this specified auxiliary language at school as well as the mother-tongue. Thus it would no longer be necessary for everyone dealing with the wider world to waste time and resources learning several languages; nobody would need to learn more than two.
But this is not the end of the story: such an arrangement would have inexorable linguistic repercussions. The nations of the world are becoming more and more interdependent every day; the notion of self-sufficient or autonomous entities communicating indefinitely on a second-hand basis is no longer credible. Everyone may learn two languages at school for decades or centuries to come, but it is inconceivable that the auxiliary will not take on a life of its own - as a result of authors, advertisers, film-makers etc. writing in it directly to access the global market.
Assuming this came to pass, the relationship between the international auxiliary language and every national tongue would be comparable to that which presently exists, or has existed, between the minority ethnic tongues and the great national languages which entirely surround them. Thus, even as islands of minority ethnic tongues have been surrounded by a sea of English, every language would eventually find itself within the matrix of the international auxiliary language. And correspondingly, even as English has diluted and absorbed minority ethnic tongues in its midst, it would itself be absorbed, along with all other languages, into one universal tongue of enormous capacity and subtlety.
The history of the dogged survival of certain minority ethnic tongues clearly shows that such a process would never be achieved by force, rather would it happen for cultural and economic reasons. Thus, if speakers and writers were to deliberately use the international auxiliary language to reach the widest possible audience or readership, and listeners were to learn it - and tune into it - to keep up with the latest news and newest thought from anywhere in the world, there is little doubt that this common language would develop its own character as a truly global tongue, even as primary creative impetus went into it. If this did indeed happen - whether through neologism, transliteration, or other aspects of linguistic development - the national languages of the world could be expected to successively abandon their separate identities, over a period of centuries, in order to become part of it: in the same way that some minority ethnic tongues have hitherto become submerged in national languages.
Thus there is no reason to suppose that an international auxiliary consciously developed for creative usage would not gradually obtain the linguistic and euphonic capacity to incorporate all useful features, whether structural or decorative, from both "national" and constructed languages. Indeed, it might well display these assets more precisely and harmoniously than their own more or less irregular grammars, partial phonologies and ramshackle orthographies. In such a scenario the mother-tongues would continue to be preserved in written and recorded form, but ultimately for sentimental value rather than linguistic information.
NEXT Return to Contents