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Posted by Dawud ( on February 14, 2002 at 21:08:08:

In Reply to: Re: Various comments on Baha'i auxlang policy (long) posted by Brett Zamir on February 14, 2002 at 16:09:22:

My support for the Roman script (and "easy" spelling/pronounciation) is based on the superiority of a pure alphabetic system over half-measures such as the East Asian syllabic systems (Hangol, Katakana, phoneticized Chinese) which are too inflexible to incorporate foreign words without butchering them. Of course the Roman script lacks letters for aspirated or retroflex sounds, which somebody will have to decide whether we want to represent. (I vote no, too many people can't pronounce them.) Other important reasons arise from the fact that the Roman alphabet is already familiar internationally (my Chinese-speaking little friends, 5 and 6, know the ABC song), and can't easily be replaced in technological and business fields.

I haven't decided where I stand on Sapir-Whorf. Some language changes (political correctness, for instance, or the old Soviet argot) seem to generate their own backlash rather than change minds, Orwell-style. (If Baha'is want to make the word for "prejudice" something like "wrongthought," then sign me up for the nationalist resistance.) Logjam and Loglan try to be as logical as possible (you can't learn them without learning set theory, for instance), which seems too much to ask of the rank-and-file. On the other hand, just as Shakespeare seems to have unconsciously chosen words that were in his acting lines, to use while composing new plays, so do language situations seem to incline our thoughts in certain directions. At least this is my experience with Tibetan and Esperanto.

You seem inordinately confident that machine translation *won't* follow the path of the calculator, and get cheap and reliable enough to solve the language problems of most people. I think it's a live possibility--hell, we *already* use clunky versions, including free programs on the internet. The basic problem is that computers don't understand what they're reading, maybe never will. If this obstacle can be gotten around, then maybe Barbie won't *have* to learn math...

Behind all this is an important issue of process. Baha'is are ideologically committed to having the language picked by some sort of council, which apparently will also be "democratic" and "representative" in some sense. But the devil is in the details. Who's doing the voting, and the nominating? Is this going to be like the "Delegation for the Adoption of an International Language" (Paris, 1906)--which by the way chose Ido--except backed more effectively by governments? Or is this going to be more like the UN's decisions on working language, which are a posteriori decisions based on political clout? The boundary between political clout and practicality is very fluid, it seems to me. So, whose opinions should matter most--linguists, politicians (including Baha'i activists), businesspeople, or ordinary end-users?

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