Some Observations about the International Auxiliary Language

The following "thread" resulted from a message posted on 21/1/01 at the Deja newsgroup "alt.language.artificial" under the title "Some General Observations regarding the IAL":

[1]  21/1/01  Antony Alexander

The IAL will begin as an auxiliary, an international pidgin, the only language children in every country will be required to learn at school in addition to the mother-tongue. However, even as pidgins sooner or later become creolised or fade away, the IAL - not permitted the latter option - will eventually take on a life of its own as authors, advertisers, film-makers etc. use it directly to address the global market-place. The end result of this process will be a single global tongue.

The IAL will develop in two phases. It will begin as no more than a universal second-language; its grammar will be simple and entirely regular (and probably analytic, with SVO syntax and rigid word-order); its vocabulary will be chosen from existing languages according to the most popular phonology (probably no more than about 20 consonants and 10 vowels); and in all likelihood it will have neither consonant clusters, nor diacritics, nor rules regarding prosody.

The IAL will be formed by an internationally representative congress. Anyone who doubts this - except from conviction that English will become the de facto IAL - has underestimated the politicisation surrounding this issue. We should be certain that the initial composition of the IAL will be very much determined by the need for universal acceptance. For instance, English-speakers will be unwilling to accept Esperanto's level of grammar, as will many Asian peoples. In fact a European-based IAL is now out of the question. The rise of Middle-Eastern and East Asians countries towards economic parity with the West is not without consequence. The Chinese rate of development, if projected onward from the past quarter-century, would enable that nation to surpass all others within a few decades. If a compromise IAL is not implemented soon, schoolchildren two generations hence might be required to spend months learning Chinese characters, rather than a far more logical and assimilable alphabetic script (the inferiority of Chinese script is compensated by superior aspects in Chinese grammar, vocabulary and word-formation).

The same applies to phonology (and hence vocabulary). The international committee formulating the IAL will have to take into account both the speech preferences of various nations and the need to promote a unified and coherent system. They will have to steer a middle way between the lowest common denominator tendency, which would jettison all but the few phonemes that all nations can accept unreservedly, and the highest common factor tendency which would argue that children possess the inherent capacity to master unfamiliar phonemes, and might easily do so but for nationalist education and class acculturation.

Briefly, neither too simple nor too complex an IAL would be countenanced, whatever reason be given. A compromise will have to be found between the extremes. But this won't mean an absolutely equitable outcome. Inevitably, the IAL will be easier for some than for others. There is no way around this. No compromise could possibly suit everyone, and in some things compromise is impossible. Take script, for instance. Script normally reads from left to right, or from right to left. One or other of these directions must be chosen - both at once would be disastrous! Similarly, alphabetic script does not mix with certain kinds of logographic, ideographic and pictographic script.

It's not unlikely that the IAL will start with English script, without diacritics. Peoples whose script goes from right to left, isn't Roman, or isn't even alphabetic, will find this a challenge. They will have to be compensated, in all fairness, probably by getting an extra dose of familiar vocabulary and/or grammar. Nations with a relatively large phonology will have few problems with the initial IAL vocabulary, but those with a narrower - though probably more allophonic - range of speech sounds will find many common words difficult to pronounce correctly, in spite of the best efforts of the international committee. SVO syntax - probably the front-runner at present - is hard for those habituated to one of the other five basic syntactic structures, and so on.

Peoples differ widely in their political, social and linguisitic advancement. Anyone who doesn't believe this should travel more. The consequence of this essential fact is that the IAL will have to remain fixed, subject to the repair of any obvious defects, until the more linguistically backward sections of global society get up to speed with it.

And this will take a long time - decades or centuries at least. Meanwhile it is inevitable that many people will begin to use the IAL in a more complex manner, informally, though upon the same fixed basis. They might do this by increasing the scope of the grammar and introducing transliterated words from outside of the minimum phonetic range - at the very least there is likely to be a feeling that the correct pronunciation of names should be reflected by the orthography.

There is no reason why these accretions should be discouraged. However, those who wish to be understood everywhere and to reach the widest possible audience, should limit themselves to the official IAL. Additionally, there should be no grounds for any suspicion that the mother-tongues were being suppressed or extirpated. Finally, it will come to pass that all nations use the IAL with confidence, at which time the second phase should come into operation.

All the words and grammatical expressions validated and perfected by informal usage over a long period of time should then be incorporated. In practice this will mean the best features of the mother-tongues, which everyone will have already willingly abandoned, finding in the IAL a better means of communication. In effect the remaining mother-tongues will have died a natural death, though they continue to subsist in recorded form, and only one language will exist.

[2]  22/1/01 Ernobe  

Gees! If those are the "general observations" I hate to think what the particularities will look like!

[3]  26/1/01  SleatorESM

That was a weird post. Just plain bizarre (not to mention wishful).

[4]  2/2/01 Alan Giles  

We all have our own reasons for getting involved in language creation. For some it is the wish to see an international auxiliary language, for others, the simple satisfaction of creation and intellectual stimulation.

For those of us who have a particular interest in an IAL, it is necessary to lift our gaze from our navels sometimes and look around the world and also to look into the future. By thinking about the practical realities of the worldwide adoption of an IAL, Antony has drawn our attention to aspects of language development that we are going to have to take into account, whether we like it or not.

The basic theme of the IAL, starting as a second language and eventually becoming a first language, makes a lot of sense. Hence the importance of building in right from the start sufficient flexibility to absorb particular national language characteristics. As an example, Antony mentions the need for an ability in the orthography to include the correct pronuniciation of names. This is an important point that we need to take into account right at the beginning if we hope that our particular IAL will be attractive to all foreign language speakers.

There is also no doubt that the matter will eventually become highly political, since national governments would need to agree what IAL would eventually be taught in their schools.

With regard to the role of an international committee, I see this as the only politically acceptable way that an IAL can be agreed. However I do not see such a committee playing a part in the initial development of the IAL itself. Committees study, modify, refine and finally agree, they do not create. There is a saying that a camel is just a horse designed by a committee!

There is still a role for the individual or small team of language inventors to create the IAL.

[5]  2/2/01 Antony Alexander

Thanks a lot, Alan. I think you're right that the coming international language congress or committee will have a mainly passive role. It's most unlikely that they will be called upon to create an entirely new language and script out of thin air; most probably they will ratify a previously agreed scheme, though with certain modifications, so as to assert their authority as a united body.

The EU currently spends over £2 billion ($3 billion) p.a. on translation (often mistranslation); the UN and other international agencies even more. The EU consists of 15 members going on 27. For pressing social and economic reasons an IAL is going to be instituted in the not too distant future. Left to themselves, the politicians will choose the IAL promoted by the best-funded lobby group. This won't necessarily be the best choice.

A scientific approach is necessary. I hope LANG53 will be judged by that criterion and that at least some of it will pass muster. Certainly not all of it: creating an IAL is far too big an enterprise for one person. Moreover, it's high time to face reality, so far as the IAL issue is concerned. Lest a version of Newspeak be foisted upon us we should be looking at existing IAL attempts with a view to synthesis. Why don't we start with Alan Giles' GILO at - a very well laid out site and an exemplary grammar, don't we agree?

[6]  2/2/01 Ernobe

It may seem that creating an IAL is too big an enterprise for one person, but the only reason for this is that none of the existing languages have found it that easy to become accepted and actually learned for the sake of international cooperation and understanding. In fact, the whole concept of an IAL is so new to history that it is diametrically the opposite of what politicians would want to use it for (their own concerns). Concerning this I've said elsewhere:

Historically there has not been so far a widespread Christian government of the world, even though some may refer to the Catholic theocracy of earlier times as an example of it. The truth is that not ever within Islam, where it is known that major aspects of public life like the judicial system and education are controlled by the religious authorities, has the true religious character of humanity received an adequate representation. Since the ineptitude of communication of peoples' true thoughts and intentions always favors those in power, and these have so far refused to really take religion seriously, therefore the long outdated and already useless concepts and irregularities of ancient languages are perpetuated, leaving most of us unable to improve our communication skills, which would increase our awareness of realities, and enable us to meditate profoundly on the significance of God's Word.

It is one of our misfortunes that language in general, and "modern" ones in particular, prove to be such a poor medium for the expression of human thought. For this reason, I've begun a project to spread a little known but highly effective IAL, Dutton Speedwords. Download a free glossary at

[7]  6/2/01 Antony Alexander

Dutton Speedwords an IAL? I thought it was a shorthand system. Since I included a small part of Dutton's system in the Orthography section of LANG53 some months ago, shorthand text messaging on mobile phones seems to have become the latest thing. "WAN2TLK - ltle bk of txt msgs" is a best-seller (in the UK, anyway). Could be that shorthand is here to stay. Comments, please, about my suggestion for combining a Dutton-type system with a consonantal script analogous to that in the Semitic languages (further details at

[8]  6/2/01  Ernobe

I'd like to comment on some of the sections of your website:

"The significant proportion of speakers who habitually employ a relatively extensive phonology and grammar will ultimately reject an IAL which lacks the potential capacity to incorporate the mother-tongues (LANGO Chapter Six)."

This would be true if everyone spoke each other's language and had some particular reason or need for favoring their own phonology and grammar. But since these don't even have any semantic value of themselves, the language that quite self-evidently has the simplest phonology and grammar will be the easiest for any person to incorporate, regardless of his own previous language.

"The need to reduce homography in its consonantal script is one reason why LANG53's vocabulary should be incorporated from the entire range of the world's languages. Even then, many potential consonant sequences would probably remain unused - simply because they do not occur in the vocabulary of any existing language. Moreover, artificial neologisms containing unprecedented sequences might prove unpopular. A shorthand convention might circumvent this difficulty by employing "spare" consonant sequences. Shorthand systems using English letters are not unknown. For instance, PitmanScript has: "of ~ v, to ~ t, be ~ b, you ~ u, not ~ n, we ~ w, me ~ m, do ~ d"."

Again, if everybody spoke everybody else's language, the inclusion of the precise words of each language might be an issue that demands solution, but the truth is that even if this were the case, we would realize that each of the languages does not have some particular contribution to make to the IAL, but that each of them has their own way of saying the same things. A shorthand is useful not only for economy's sake, it allows a more precise systematic arrangement of the words (morphemes) for a more comprehensive understanding of the languages' expressive potential, which provides for a more intelligent and effective use of it. Such is the case with Dutton Speedwords. I have yet to read the section of your site on the grammar, but it may be useful to point out that Speedwords utilizes letters to signify semantic qualities of words that make up their definition, so that the grammar (the construction of the actual sentences) will be determined by self-evident considerations which follow from the meaning of the words. Rather than having grammatical features as an aid to understanding, Speedwords relies on the effectiveness of its word formation, that guarantees a one meaning per word system which covers all words without any synonyms and even provides words to substitute a word whose meaning is ambiguous. The grammar is thus the simplest that can be imagined, even simpler than English.

[9]  11/2/01 Antony Alexander

>I'd like to comment on some of the sections of your website:

>"The significant proportion of speakers who habitually employ a relatively extensive phonology and >grammar will ultimately reject an IAL which lacks the potential capacity to incorporate the mother->tongues (LANGO Chapter Six)."

Unless a hacker has got to the online edition you are looking at, you won't find this sentence in LANGO Chapter Six. However it does look familiar, as though I did actually write it, so I'll assume you found it elsewhere in my site.

In that case, the context from which you excised it would have emphasised that by "ultimately" I meant a time in the distant future - as in the following passage at the end of the "Minimal Grammar" section of "LANG53 Grammar":

".....LANG53 will be an auxiliary language for a very long time, i.e. generations or centuries. There will be no need, in the forseeable future, for it to combine with the advanced grammar of certain mother-tongues. Analytic grammar will be quite sufficient."

>This would be true if everybody spoke each others language

Whether through my fault or not, you don't seem to have fully understood the fundamental thesis of LANGO and LANG53.

For argument's sake, let's divide all IALers into two camps. On the one hand, those who believe that, after the IAL is officially instituted, everyone will always and for all time speak at least two languages - the various mother-tongues for domestic consumption and the IAL for international communication. On the other hand, there are those who agree with the underlying theme of LANGO and LANG53: that all languages will eventually merge into a single language, by way of an official IAL, and that this process is merely a conscious continuation of what is already occurring.

It seems to me that the first of these two groups believes neither in the feasibility of a single universal language and associated voluntary global culture of free peoples, nor in the other extreme, where culture is exclusively defined as national or ethnic. In this latter restricted sense, each culture is perceived as a unique combination of historical, national, racial, political and religious elements, to which only one particular language can do justice. Supporters of this position don't like the concept of an official IAL, and some would go further by denouncing internationalism itself for mixing together what should be kept separate, and for introducing national and racial conflict into the world.

Hence the "two languages forever" brigade disbelieve in the possibility of a single universal language and culture (of free peoples), and yet endorse the idea of an IAL. They hold that the primary focus of culture is national or ethnic, but that international agencies are necessary in order to support the requisite level of material civilisation, through trade, tourism, transport, communications, science, peace-keeping and the like.

Thus the international agencies deal in mundanities, whereas the more spiritual side of life - found through historic denominations, modern sects and media, secular philosophies, national treasuries of literature, and all the arts to which language is peripheral rather than central - is not "global" or "international" in any real sense, since it is always linked to a particular culture or tradition.

The fact that international agencies restrict their sphere of operation to material necessities allows for a rudimentary IAL employed solely as an auxiliary or second language. The use of a pidgin between trading nations is a microcosmic analogy. A true (uncreolised) pidgin does not develop its own internal structure, and cannot survive independently, precisely because nobody is using it as a primary language or mother-tongue.

I think Glosa is one of the best IALs of this type. It has no inflections and only four tenses (in fact three would be enough, as the original author pointed out). Words can be used interchangeably as noun, adjective and verb, and twenty auxiliaries constitute the grammar around the SVO syntax (incl. SVO subordinate clauses).

Notice, however, that the fewness of moods and tenses limits Glosa's ability to discuss moral questions and report events from different perspectives, that the inability to distinguish parts of speech except in context invites confusion at second-hand, that the paucity of phonemes restricts vocal expression, that the Greek / Latin basis of the vocabulary hardly favours international acceptability, and so on.

>and had some particular reason or need for favoring their own phonology and grammar. But since >these don't even have any semantic value of themselves,

Everyone has "some particular reason or need for favoring their own phonology and grammar", which is that they see it as superior to others. It might have no semantic value internationally, in some cases, but it certainly does for that people. Wouldn't you value English if the New World Order suddenly announced that all languages were henceforth forbidden except for "Newspeak"?

>the language that quite self-evidently has the simplest phonology and grammar will be the easiest >for any person to incorporate, regardless of his own previous language.

Essentially, I believe that "unofficial creolisation" will take place whilst "the official IAL", whether it is called LANG53 or anything else, remains at a very simple and basic level until all the people of the world (some of whom have an even simpler and more basic language) have caught up with it. Later on - in the distant future - the "unofficial IAL" will become the de facto language of the world, since the best qualities of all languages will be expressed within it.

I don't personally believe that an official IAL could long survive without this process happening. Everywhere two languages are constantly and habitually used there is transfer of vocabulary and import of grammatical structure: vide "Spanglish" in the USA and "mix" in Singapore. An official IAL artificially constrained from all fundamental development would simply be rejected after a while. Look what's happening to Esperanto.

The secret of success, so I believe, is to incorporate scope for expandability and expansibility into the orthography and grammar of the very basic "official IAL". For instance, the alphabet might have the capacity to represent 53 phonemes without the use of digraphs, even though the initial core vocabulary would employ no more than about 30 phonemes. The essential point is that the "official" and "advanced unofficial" versions of the IAL, and all stages in between, should always be exactly the same language: thus the "official" IAL should result from an "advanced unofficial" version of the IAL being used in a simple way.

What you write about Dutton Speedwords seems valid enough. I can only repeat that the best parts of all languages, "national" or "constructed" (the difference is only one of degree), will eventually be found in the single global tongue.

(From 12/2/01 Newsgroups were operated by, under a different format.)

[10]  15/2/01 Ernobe

You seem to believe that the formation of the IAL will come about as the beginnings of language itself in human evolution. In other words, everybody is just learning language skills and prone to form creolizations, or mixes of idioms, as if we were still in the age in which, thru lack of contact between peoples, they were still forming their languages as significant aspects of their cultural identity. But even though recent examples of creolization exist, these are evidently dying out, or at best examples of where the civilising process that distinguishes our age has gone amuck. They occur in those areas where we are learning how not to civilize peoples.

On the other hand, you would not be involved in the IAL movement if you hadn't realized the drawbacks of language as we now use it to further human progress. These are subtle drawbacks, because with the spread of science and education, the immense separation that keeps peoples apart from the simple fact of not understanding each others speech is hidden by the no less dramatic changes that everyone has experienced because of the advances of science. Everybody seems too busy to simply look over their shoulder, so to say, and behold the vast vistas that could unfold for their future progress if only they could reach out to their fellows, who are day to day coming ever closer to them by means of the marvellous advances in communication and scientific and cultural exchanges.

Besides these observations, your logic is flawed in that if the international agencies are and will continue to affect mainly our material development, as opposed to the spiritual side, an official IAL would by that token alone be impeded from realizing the internal developments you forsee. Whenever an official IAL has been linked with "official government business" that pretty much spelled its doom as far as any development is concerned (Latin). If, as you say creolizations naturally devolve into unified languages, why are there dead languages? Under these circumstaces, can anyone claim to have the proper standard for creating the IAL? Since international endeavours are still in their infancy, what can be said that defines international acceptability? I think that the misunderstandings of the moral significance of language and communication has taught us the hard way, by trial and error, that an effort is required this time to get our moral priorities in order and invest the time and effort necessary to learn the language that can demonstrate that it has been specifically designed for this purpose. The present and future errors in the political arena will make people fed up with the vagaries of rhetoric, and unwilling to accept anything but that which will most effeciently communicate their hopes and aspirations.

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