Chapter Eight: Constructed and Organic Languages

Although the constructed languages, and Esperanto in particular, have been spoken by idealistic internationalists from all over the world, nothing like a genuine, organic, linguistically-developing speech community has yet emerged within the constructed language movement - in spite of every advantage from a regularised orthography and grammar. An explanation was offered by Edward Sapir in 1933: "Any consciously constructed international language has to deal with the great difficulty of not being felt to represent a distinct people or culture. Hence the learning of it is of very little symbolic significance for the average person, who remains blind to the fact that such a language, easy and regular as it inevitably must be, would solve many of his educational and practical difficulties at a single blow. The future alone will tell whether the logical advantages and theoretical necessity of an international language can overcome the largely symbolic opposition which it has to meet. In any event it is at least conceivable that one of the great languages of modern times, such as English, or Spanish, or Russian, may in due course find itself in the position of the de facto international language without any conscious effort having been made to put it there." 

Sapir's prediction has come to pass for the very reason he gave. All languages, whether constructed or organic, rise and fall according to the popularity of the culture they represent. For instance, when Sapir mentioned Russian as a possible international language it was associated not only with a huge transnational state, but also with a successful political system with ambitions to take over the world.

After the Second World War Soviet influence spread even further, but the realities of communism were reaching a climacteric, and in the 1980s the whole system collapsed. All of a sudden Russian ceased to be the common language of the Soviet Union and its satellites. To some extent English entered the resultant auxiliary language vacuum; but across Central Asia Turkish and other languages reasserted themselves; in Europe, Hungarian and various Slavic tongues re-emerged to reclaim their areas of influence; and in the West of the former U.S.S.R. Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian were re-established.

Now that Russia has lost its former superpower status, certain notorious linguistic difficulties in the Russian language, such as the numerous irregular verbs, are no longer overlooked for political and economic reasons, but correspondingly are open to further reform. It may happen that revision of a second or auxiliary language is only considered when the dominance of the associated culture begins to falter. For example, part of the resistance to the orthographic reform of English has been a complacent assumption within the English-speaking world that the language will triumph anyway due to the innate excellence, or even superiority, of the associated pattern of civilisation enjoyed by the English-speaking peoples.

Anyway it looks most unlikely, at this juncture in world history, that an international language will prevail through the extension of national sovereignty across the planet. However enlightened certain empires of the past, or even imperialist powers of the 19th Century, might have been; the unfettered state - whether communist, racist, nationalist or nominally theocratic - evidently turned malignant during the 20th Century, causing so much grief that nations have been effectively forced into confederation for the sake of collective security. Regional economic communities and various political associations under the aegis of the U.N., though not yet formalised on a global scale, have already begun to impede or frustrate the languages through which these national or otherwise partial aspirations or ambitions are inherently expressed. For example, the European Union has rejected English as its official working language; legitimate orthographic reasons are given, but additional factors such as that the political capitals of the E.U. - Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg - are predominately Francophone, should not be considered irrelevant.

Briefly, a world order may have already arrived in which no language will be accepted for international auxiliary purposes simply because its associated nation, class or ideology happens to be more powerful or influential than others at the time. Moreover, the same scrutiny must be given to the constructed languages, which are not without political or ideological baggage - even if it is wholly unconscious and inherent. But nevertheless, in the more equitable cultural and linguistic ethos which is fast approaching, the valuable work put into the constructed languages promises to be realised, not least in view of certain practical considerations; one being that, although the great multinational tongues - with millions of native speakers - have revised their spelling, none have approached anywhere near the standard of orthographic regularity set by Esperanto and the constructed languages. Orthographic consistency is also of increasing importance due to the rapidly expanding role of I.T. machinery including voice-recognition software.

However, for equally pragmatic reasons the logistics of the situation will continue to favour a language which has developed organically in preference to an artificial language, even one which is much better from a theoretical linguistic standpoint. The former will have hundreds of millions of speakers and millions of teachers; but the latter, perhaps Esperanto or a similar language, will have, at the most, millions or hundreds of thousands of speakers and thousands of teachers. It is obvious which language would be simpler to graft on to the world for mass usage - even in a substantially revised form.

It follows that the optimum language which might now be prepared, in anticipation of the future formation of the international language committee, would probably be an organic tongue combined with the ideal qualities of the constructed languages. All the indications are that language is gradually moving in this direction anyway: for instance, the major organic tongues are being greatly influenced by universalism and regularity, those signal features of the constructed languages. One facet of this universalism is that vocabularies are converging: many modern expressions including personal, place and brand names, scientific and religious terms and "buzz-words", are the same or similar in different tongues. An international language is thus forming obliquely through global neologism.

The regularising and print-saving tendency associated with the constructed languages also seems to be occurring spontaneously, particularly in commercial areas of English-speaking culture which the sharp eye of the literary-educational vulture has disdained to regard, e.g. spellings such as "Kall-Kwik, Def Leppard, Sun-Lite, Lo Kost, All-Nite, U Haul, Spud U Like, Toys R Us" - and the abbreviated headlines characteristic of tabloid newspapers. Moreover, as we show in the next chapter, infants naturally use rational forms until they are "corrected". We also investigate why older students, increasingly living in the aural world of the electronic media, have more difficulty than ever with an irregular orthography which requires the constant impression of the written word. Can orthography resist the trend towards global standardisation which has informed more and more aspects of life, including the electronic media themselves?

All organic languages, having developed in a more or less haphazard manner, contain shibboleths and irregularities despite the operation of this tendency towards rationalisation. The constructed languages on the other hand, while limited by the size and somewhat artificial nature of their speech communities, have been able to keep sight of the fact that language and script should be rational phenomena. The international committee which forms the revised language will be well aware of this dual imperative for it to be theoretically consistent while being accepted, nay welcomed, by the wider speech-community.

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