Chapter Sixteen: LANGO Phonology 

A revised version of English would capitalise on both the global dominance of the left to right horizontal Roman script, and also on the present position of English as the leading international language: for whereas English has fewer speakers than Putonghua, and perhaps two or three other tongues, both its primary and secondary users are more widely distributed around the world - and with fewer political and cultural ties than other more strictly "national" tongues. Moreover, English has a relatively simple and flexible grammar, an extremely mixed vocabulary, and allows for a wide range of accent and intonation to shade meaning. It is also, of course, the leading language of commerce and diplomacy, and the lingua franca of information technology and international telecommunications.

But, in the case of the latter, we have seen how the poor orthography and extensive phonology of English can combine disadvantageously. Every nationality tends to experience difficulties with speech sounds - perhaps with consonants like /dh, th, z/, or /dzh, tsh, zh/, or /p, f/, or /r, l/, or with certain vowels, depending upon whether they occur in their own language: for instance, the Japanese substitute /r/ for /l/, whereas the Irish have ten variants of these liquids in their tongue, but struggle to pronounce the /dh, th, z/ sounds of English.

In the same way, English-speakers are likely to have difficulty with some of the sounds in Russian. And non-standard dialect speakers in Great Britain and the U.S.A. may employ only a proportion of the vowel sounds in Standard English, which itself uses just two of them - the schwa as in "the" and the short [i] as in "it" - nearly half the time but most of the others infrequently or rarely: e.g. the four vowel sounds as in "bird, care, deer, boy", added together, only about 3% of the time. Hence a reasonable objection to an international auxiliary language based on English might be that the standard phonology is dauntingly extensive.

One response might be that, since the international auxiliary language would presumably be introduced into schools around the world more or less simultaneously, it would be entirely feasible to start with an orthographically reformed English - together with its present vocabulary and phonological range, and that this approach is possible because children have a natural capacity for language learning; whereas adults generally find it very difficult if not impossible to master a new range of speech sounds.

 Moreover, it might be asserted that, since the international auxiliary would be the only language children anywhere in the world would need to learn in addition to their mother-tongue, enough time might be devoted to it to master difficulties like unfamiliar phonemes, which should not present too much of a problem if introduced to children at a young enough age. An extended range of phonemes might thus be inducted into every population by means of child education. Another argument which might well be advanced is that, if the auxiliary is to be truly international with words from different languages, there is ultimately no alternative to a comprehensive range of phonemes.

However, present social conditions would present a fatal drawback to this idea. For although most children may well develop an inherent capacity to differentiate and articulate phonemes, so that by a certain age they have the theoretical ability to speak any language with an extensive range of difficult speech sounds, the capability is gradually lost through childhood as the process of ethnic acculturation reinforces some phonemes but entirely neglects others. New speech sounds are not normally heard, i.e. distinguished from familiar phonemes, except by those who have learned to say them; but when the speech sounds corresponding to the "missing" phonemes are seldom if ever heard, the child's confidence and ability to say them tends to atrophy, as does eventually the capacity to even hear them.

This shows that using education alone to transform the phonology of a society would be as useless as similarly attempting to promote morality or religious revival. The willingness of children to learn, and to actually use, unfamiliar phonemes in everyday speech must also depend upon the confirmation of a global society that still does not exist for the great majority. It is for this reason that confident expansion of the global auxiliary language requires the reinforcement of a world civilisation: final consummation of the same process whereby an increasing majority have chosen to live and express themselves in "national" rather than "minority ethnic" cultures.

This global civilisation, prophesied by the great religions of the world and projected by communists and materialists, should not be regarded as chimerical. However it is clearly not here yet, unless in an embryonic stage, so the communal endorsement necessary for the introduction of an extended range of phonemes is still more or less absent.

Consequently an international auxiliary language based on reformed English might have to change its core vocabulary by replacing some common words, which have relatively difficult phonemes, with easier words from other languages. Many tongues have fewer phonemes than English. Spanish has only five vowels; some languages have only three (one is said to have only two). Likewise there are tongues with nine consonants or less. Some have /l, m, n, r/ and then /b, d, v, g, z/ or /p, t, f, k, s/; depending on the cultural preference for voiced or voiceless speech sounds.

Modern research in the University of California Phonological Segment Database shows that the most commonly used consonant segments are:

p      b

t      d


k      g

'    (glottal stop)









l      r



As well as having fewer consonants, many languages also use them more sparingly than English, usually one per syllable. Consonant clusters, especially those like "twelfths, strengths", are another feature of English which is not typical of other languages; though there are notable exceptions, including among minority ethnic tongues (mostly in the Caucasus), some of which have strong and complex consonant sounds with few vowels. However, on balance, a number of common and essential words in a reformed version of English for international usage, such as prepositions and conjunctions, might have to be replaced by alternative words from other languages - so as to avoid those phonemes and consonant clusters that are particularly difficult for the majority of nationalities. By making its phonology as palatable and digestible as possible for the greatest number of language groups the international auxiliary language might be enabled to get off to a flying start.

Present-day English forms would continue for those who wished to carry on using them. Moreover, as the phonological capacity of the culture associated with the international auxiliary increased, it would be possible for it to gradually "take back" from English and other mother tongues the full range of former phonemes and other desirable linguistic features.

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