LangX - 2005 Summary

On 9 July 2005 I gave a talk about LangX at the Language and Global Communication Conference, Cardiff University, UK. In the accompanying handout I included the following summary. This remains fairly current: the only salient changes being the use of "jargon" and "vernacular" instead of "contact language" and "creole" respectively.

"An international language problem has existed since the Tower of Babel, but has accelerated in the modern age as political and economic union has been driven by the requirements of collective security, and of a technological civilisation dependent upon global labour and resources.

Historically, three kinds of solution have been offered - the first being an existing language which has transcended the people among whom it originated, and become the common tongue of an empire, commonwealth, or metanational theocracy. Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic, French and English have exemplified this type of language.

The other two types of international auxiliary language ("IAL") have both been artificial or constructed: the first of which - now a historic phenomenon - I have referred to as the "Contact Language ~ Pidgin ~ Creole Progression" ("CPCP"). These IALs have often been no more than a contact language, or collection of words, shared by two peoples forced into proximity by circumstance.

Where contact has been more systematic and long-term, as for trading purposes, the contact language has really been the inaugural stage of a pidgin - a more sophisticated but still wholly auxiliary language. Typically a pidgin has been formed from the structure and vocabulary of a "base language" such as Portuguese or English, with the addition of familiar local words. Some pidgins have then gained sufficient popular currency to be "creolised" into mother tongues by the rising generation. A number of major tongues are adjudged to have arisen in this way.

The other type of constructed language is epitomised by Esperanto and its successors. Whereas the pidgins were promoted through economic necessity, and adjusted to the capacity of workaday non-linguists, these voluntaristic languages have tended to attract a self-selecting category of internationally-minded linguists.

The signal result, despite the best of intentions, has been languages developed for linguists by linguists. Certain "superfluities and irrational elements" characteristic of existing languages may have been largely eliminated, but the need for a simple pidgin-type language that might be learned by the masses in every culture, whilst containing the potential for development into a suitably rich and complex language in the future, has not yet been addressed.

This, after all, is the universal pattern of childhood language acquisition, the end result of which is normally just such a language. However, the beginning is very different of course. The infant starts by "babbling" - a process by which speech sounds heard in surrounding conversation are gradually mastered. Next come the first words - sounds with intentional meaning - followed in turn by the rudiments of grammar, as applied to an expanded vocabulary, and then - sooner or later - the ability to use language creatively. It can readily be seen how this pattern conforms to the CPCP, which is the aggregate of individual linguistic development writ large.

As previously stated, the CPCP is now a historic phenomenon. It did not take long for local elites in far-flung parts of the world to become conversant in one of the great imperialist languages.

However, there is no reason why this serially-successful model should not be introduced once again, though on a global rather than local or regional stage - and reinforced by the proven utility of both existing and new constructed languages as IALs. An optimal solution might therefore draw strength from these three approaches, whilst integrating them into a coherent whole, thereby imitating the organic process of language development within both individuals and societies. The LangX Hierarchy is offered as an illustrative template towards this end.


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