LANG53 Background

1. LANGO  2. A Conflict of Brand Names  3. Esperanto & English  4. A New IAL Template


An effective international auxiliary language & script (IAL) is long overdue. Without one there is no alternative to translation, which is more expensive and less precise. International agencies spend £/$ billions every year on translation, the inadequacies of which have sometimes led to serious gaffes or misunderstandings.

There is, of course, more to the IAL than the saving of money and misinterpretation at international conferences. As the universal second language, learned by every schoolchild in addition to the mother-tongue, the IAL would facilitate accurate translation of the world's literature and bring the whole range of modern ideas to every nation through tourism and the media. Moreover, the creative effect of broadcasters, writers, advertisers, film-makers etc. using the IAL to address a global audience would inevitably cause it to develop independently of the mother-tongues, gradually acquiring their best features, and eventually - in the distant future - absorbing them altogether.

As is well known, there are two theories regarding the IAL: on the one hand, the laissez-faire idea that English (or another existing tongue) will become the de facto IAL; and on the other, that an IAL must be consciously-planned and "culturally-neutral" from the start (à la Esperanto). It's worth noting that these two different routes to the IAL would have to meet up at some point anyway. Any "natural" tongue officially chosen as the IAL would not long survive in a recognisable form, following the inevitable rationalisation of its spelling system and grammatical constructions, and the substitution of most of its vocabulary by words from other languages; and any "artificial" language would be transformed in like manner: the grammar and orthography might be changed less, but even more vocabulary would probably be replaced.

Moreover, since no major "organic" tongue (including English) exists without a substantial "constructed" element in its make-up - and vice-versa - a full combination of these complements in a viable IAL is obvious. (Could the optimum balance be 50/50, as in the two halves of the brain?) Briefly, both "natural/organic" and "artificial/constructed" elements are necessary for linguistic success.

The two IAL attempts featured on this site reflect this dichotomy and inter-relationship. LANGO would begin from a single existing language, whereas LangX would start from a judicious mix of the best grammar and vocabulary from many languages. Thus LANGO would be initially derived from the "naturally evolved" speech patterns of English, though subject to careful planning and guidance thereafter; but LangX would be more obviously constructed, though of more or less entirely organic elements.

"LANGO" by Robert Craig & myself (1996, since revised) was subtitled "a fully democratic approach towards an international auxiliary language initially based on reformed English". It proposed that a globally-representative committee should guide this potential IAL from the English-speaking world to the whole world - via the simplest grammar, a regularised orthography related to an international standard pronunciation, and the gradual incorporation of words from a variety of tongues.

LANGO incorporated the idea that grammatical reform must accompany spelling reform: a theory originally (?) promulgated by Professor JYT Greig in his 1928 monograph "Breaking Priscian's Head: English as She will be Spoke and Wrote" (but sadly neglected by English spelling reformers before and since). Greig's treatise seems to have been much influenced by Sylvia Pankhurst's 1927 classic "International Language", in which she demonstrated the superiority of analytic grammar over synthetic for IAL purposes (i.e. the advantage of strict word-order and isolates over free word-order and inflections).

A Conflict of Brand-Names

After Prof. Bruce Beach had generously posted LANGO on his World Language Program website, I received an email from a member of the East African LANGO tribe, who claimed that the name LANGO should be reserved for his language (and not without justification - the LANGO people living across a large area of Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan speak three dialects of LWO, one of which is also called LANGO). Our brand-name might have been defensible legally - there being a precedent in Lango du Mondo, an IAL invented by J. de Ria in 1788 - but morally - perhaps not!

There are also other arguments against LANGO. Firstly, the considerable international opposition to the use of English as the IAL would probably extend to a scheme which even started with English; for the same reasons, it might be difficult to persuade all parties that the international committee appointed to oversee the transition from English to a truly global language would carry out their task as planned. An IAL comprised of grammar and vocabulary from the various languages of the world would avoid this suspicion.

Secondly, the international prestige of English may have further declined since LANGO was published. With the almost simultaneous collapse of the communist state apparatus in all countries except China and its satellites, and the apparent victory of American-style capitalism, many serious commentators in the early 1990s were predicting the international triumph of the English language. A decade later the situation is entirely changed: left-wing governments are resurgent across the world and America finds itself in the throes of a severe economic downturn, which may consequently dilute one of the main reasons for foreigners learning English, not to mention an IAL derived from it.

Thirdly, radio and television greatly helped the spread of the English language, but for mainly financial reasons the Internet may end up doing the opposite. It costs a lot to set up and maintain terrestrial broadcasting media. Generally speaking, only the major languages have provided a sufficiently large market to make the enterprise worthwhile. As we described in Chapter 4 of LANGO, the minority tongues have suffered at the expense of the major languages as a result. Conversely, it costs relatively little to broadcast over the Internet, once the initial marginal purchase of a computer has been made. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that displaced ethnic minorities, who once had to learn a major language in order to follow media broadcasts, are now largely relying upon Internet newsgroups, radio and TV, broadcast in their own language.

Fourthly, the rapid growth of electronic communications is a serious drawback to a medium-term scheme such as LANGO. Internet-users are rightly impatient of translation; they want a fully-functional language now. The LANGO approach might be a theoretical possibility, but realpolitik demands an immediate advance by one foot or the other, which is why the only practicable alternatives are an existing language (probably English) and the right "neutral" constructed language.

Esperanto & English

Dr Ludwik Zamenhof had the genius to see this over a century ago. However, he somewhat overestimated both the linguistic ability of certain peoples and the capacity or willingness of fledgling international authorities to act - and thereby caught his excellent initiative in a double-bind. In Chapter 5 of LANGO we showed how the revision of Esperanto, and hence the prospect of its international endorsement, has continued to be frustrated by the inviolable terms of Zamenhof's "Fundamento". Esperanto will undoubtedly contribute hugely to the IAL movement in the future, as it has in the past, but isn't universally acceptable in its present form. In particular, Asians, English-speakers, and various others tend to find the grammar unnecessarily difficult. A number of sites present critiques - Justin B. Rye's being the most comprehensive.

Esperanto's hope remaining unrealised, at least under its current constitution, attention has gone to English by default. Of course, it would be very convenient for us English-speakers if our mother-tongue were adopted by fait accompli, but there are indications - some of which we demonstrated in Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4 of LANGO - that the real influence of English has actually declined over the past half-century - in spite of progress at the expense of French in a number of countries, and the international consolidation of English usage in some specialised fields.

A New Template for the IAL

It's worth remembering that the IAL will be determined by an officially-appointed global committee. They will form the IAL, perhaps by endorsing a slightly modified "national" tongue or constructed language, perhaps by formulating something almost entirely new. In any event, they will certainly be influenced by existing proposals, so the individual will continue to have an input (Chapter 7 of LANGO).

However, individual or minority endeavours should have recognised limits: attempts to exercise proprietorial rights over language - which is, after all, a public rather than a private phenomenon - have always been detrimental (vide Volapük, Esperanto, the French Academy etc.). But whereas the IAL must be a product of many minds from different cultural traditions, it might still be useful to have an illustrative proto-language to act as a catalyst or vehicle for progressive ideas (and hopefully to give fresh impetus to the IAL movement). In the absence of a satisfactory alternative, LangX is proposed for this role.

It is intended to be a democratic endeavour and, as such, exemplifies the dominant themes or characteristics within international languages: regularised orthography, analytic Chinese-type grammar, English script without diacritics, SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) syntax etc.. Missing from this list would be the consonantal script found in Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic etc.). This type of script has signal advantages which might be fully realised in the IAL, given a truly global vocabulary with a sufficient variety of consonant sequences within words.

Go to Introduction

Go to LangX - IAL Hierarchy

Go to Lang25 - Inaugural IAL

Go to Lang53 Orthography

Go to Lang29 Grammar

Go to LangX Vocabulary


Go to Contact & Criticism

Go to Relevant IAL Links

Go to Corres.

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