Chapter Seven: The International Language Committee

If language were a purely objective phenomenon, it would be judged according to strictly dispassionate criteria, and endorsement by social groups would be irrelevant. But language is partly subjective and a matter of opinion: it is notable for not always behaving according to the latest scientific hypothesis. It is qualitative as much as quantitative: the fact that the majority of languages, or most speakers, use a certain construction is no guarantee that linguistic development is moving in that direction. It is an art as much as a science: which is why a democratic mandate would never be enough in itself, and why it would be ultimately futile to proceed with a scheme, however popular, however apparently coherent and complete, which did not accord with the fundamental views and meet with the basic approval of society as a whole.

This is why the final choice of international auxiliary language is much too important a subject to be determined except through the widest possible consultation. In practice this means that all interested parties must have the chance to be represented or involved, and that any exclusively private or public enterprise, no matter how popular, far-reaching or well-funded, would ultimately fail to thrive without universal endorsement and confirmation. For the international auxiliary language will have to satisfy a variety of political imperatives, financial targets, cultural requirements and philosophical and religious ends.

However, all these interests will need to find a common active focus, lest they be dissipated, and the best instrument would appear to be an international language committee with close links to government, to the scientific realm, and to all parts of society. But by the same token, it would be the common responsibility to ensure that this committee were not co-opted by any national or ideological group, who might wish to swing the development of the international auxiliary language in its direction.

Although the responsible international committee would be eminently qualified, the inherently subjective aspect of language would always introduce an element of fallibility into its decision-making. It would therefore be wise to consult widely with concerned groups and knowledgeable individuals, lest expensive mistakes be made. Conferences are proliferating between a growing number of language groups - as in the European Union - so exorbitant commercial translation costs, currently estimated at a minimum of 25p (38¢) per word, will eventually force the adoption of a common language. A hasty or putative choice, driven by political expediency, would inevitably do more harm than good: merely inflaming those national, racial or religious suspicions that act as figleaves to sectional interests.

The responsible international committee convened to form the language would no doubt be aware of these dangers. No longer might an autodidact, or body of linguists, pluck a language out of the air, or develop one from scratch, when so much has happened already to indicate the limitations of the theoretical approach. So many prescribed rule systems and defined lexicons have failed already that the committee would be flying in the face of all experience were they to create yet another artificial vocabulary and grammar.

Esperanto itself has served to demonstrate that even an excellent linguistic phenomenon is not necessarily a fully viable language. Zamenhof apparently failed to recognise that a language also springs from the people using it. New linguistic modes are constantly coming into being, but in a very disparate fashion, due to the enormous diversity of national and regional speech communities worldwide. This produces the never-ending state of flux which distinguishes a living language from a constructed language, the rules and character of which are fixed.

In any case, there is now such a vast process of interactive research that it would be hard for the said committee to impose a language without due consultation - through which means alone the considerable fund of linguistic knowledge accumulated over the centuries in every culture would become available, to guide and inform their deliberations, and ensure that the chosen tongue be as free as possible from cultural bias - whether in script, vocabulary, grammar, or phonology. The same criterion of practical experience also demands that the selected precursor to the international auxiliary language be already spoken by a large community: in order to prove that all its various aspects work in everyday speech.

Thus the international committee is most likely to form a new language out of an existing language which already possess the necessary attributes of speech-community, cultural neutrality, rationalised orthography or transformability to a requisite degree. From these various diverse premises proceeds the logic of a language proposal that would meet the eventual arbiters of the international auxiliary language halfway - or even three quarters or nine tenths of the way. Zamenhof had much the same in mind when he made the revision of Esperanto's "Fundamento" conditional upon official endorsement, although he went only a quarter or a third of the distance before putting a freeze on further development. Had Zamenhof known about 20th Century linguistic insights like Zipf's Law he might have hesitated to take this decision, but he was primarily concerned about preserving the unity of the Esperanto movement, in view of the parlous situation prevailing at the time. Nowadays the better understanding of consultation and the democratic process will make it possible for the heirs of Zamenhof's valued linguistic endeavours to unitedly take the difficult and potentially divisive decisions involved in language formation - towards a successful and unified conclusion.

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