LangX - Overview, Summary & FAQ
Historically there have been two fundamental types of common language: the ONELANG - or comprehensive national language - and the AUXLANG - or new constructed language.....
So - "The Horns of a Dilemma" - will a ONELANG or an AUXLANG become the world's common tongue?
LangX is an AUXLANG project, though with both a preamble and an aftermath, since it conforms to the historically-successful pattern for restricted or less-than-global AUXLANGS here termed the Contact Language ~ Pidgin ~ Creole Progression. Thus LangX aspires to be a new constructed language, formulated scientifically, and according to historical precedent.
But did pidgins really begin with words, or even further back? Pedagogical evidence indeed suggests that speech sounds / script might be the best place to start, with a wordlist or global core vocabulary formulated on that basis.
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 languages 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 the 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.
This provisional LangX timescale denotes a series of steps towards a single universal language via an IAL over a long period of time.
As can be seen, the graduated program is mnemonic: Lang25 = 20 (consonants) + 05 (vowels) = 2005 AD etc.. One consonant and three vowels are added for each subsequent phase, with the year of official introduction corresponding to the total.
The table itself gives no more than a very partial outline of LangX, with no mention of grammar or extra speech elements.Given that the scheme is illustrative rather than prophetic (though who knows?), I suggest the following timetable:
2005 According to the study of childhood language acquisition and the CPCP precedent, LangX should begin its Lang25 phase as a pattern of speech sounds leading on to a "contact language". Lang25 specifies an initial restriction of 20 consonants - the 20 commonest consonants in 317 languages, each from a distinct language family, as identified by UPSID - and 5 vowels - as used by Spanish, Japanese etc. (only relatively obscure languages use fewer). As one might expect, the 20 UPSID consonants closely match those first uttered by children worldwide.
2008 Appointment of the International Language Commission. The ILC takes over the wordlist, hitherto developed by volunteers, and invites consultation towards the process of transmuting it into an international core vocabulary. The ILC also starts work on a very simple and straightforward initial grammar formulated according to scientific procedures.
2011 The ILC publishes the first official international core vocabulary, with online translation to and from most languages. It also publishes a prototype initial grammar for consultative purposes.
2015 The ILC publishes the first official grammar. LangX now enters into the "international pidgin" phase. The grammar is then fixed for a generation, 31 years say, until 2046 when modifications, if any, might be effected. It is essential to note that, at this time, LangX would still be in its "international pidgin" phase. Only a negligible minority will be using it as a mother tongue. Thus, any grammatical changes should not come from experience of LangX itself, but only from continuing scientific analysis of the most efficient constructions among existing languages.
The demands of linguistic unity would also mean that no official publication or platform should use a word or a grammatical construction beyond the confines of Lang25 until 2108 (there are plenty of other, more complex, languages that could be used meanwhile). This rule should be rigorously enforced, with appropriate sanctions, otherwise the global unity and integrity of LangX would be imperiled.
Lang25 would be the Official UAL until 2108, but that wouldn't mean that the process should stop there: behind the scenes the cumulative stages of LangX should be provisionally and unofficially developed, and used as much as possible - though only rolled out in stages (Lang29, Lang33 etc.) with the imprimatur Official UAL according to the ILC's perception that a state of relative perfection had been reached, commensurate with the adjudged level of general linguistic development in every country.
The united progression of a universal language must keep pace with "the masses" - otherwise there is always the possibility of a vertical hierarchy of class languages just as invidious as the current horizontal jigsaw of national languages.
2077 would be the final correction according to "external" scientific criteria alone. The following 31 years, in anticipation of the the publication of Lang29 in 2108, should see LangX begin to separate into two strata. In all official and general circumstances, everyone should continue to use Lang25, and nothing but Lang25, but privately those with an interest in the subject should consider and experiment with the provisional drafts of Lang29, and stages beyond, disseminated by the ILC for consultative purposes.
And, with a significant minority finally beginning to take up Lang25 as their mother tongue, LangX should - according to the CPCP precedent - begin the extended process of changing from a pure pidgin, or wholly auxiliary language, into a single universal language of unimaginable range and complexity. So from this point the ILC, while still giving most of its attention to developments in existing languages, and within scientific linguistics, pedagogy, psychology, media studies etc., should begin to take the private neologism and grammatical creativity of mother tongue LangX speakers into account. The incremental drafts of Lang29 should start to incorporate this trend.
2108 The International Language Commission publishes Lang29 - with an expanded phonology and vocabulary, and a slightly more complex and economical grammar (purely for illustrative purposes, I formerly posted some suggestions towards Lang29 grammar). As Lang29 saw the first signs of the "creolisation" of LangX, the role of the ILC should begin to be less prescriptive and more descriptive, with an increasing task to maintain the unity of the cumulative revisions of LangX and prevent any split into dialects.
The succeeding stages, from Lang33 to Lang53 and beyond, would proceed under the same rubric, with more emphasis being placed on intuitive development, and less upon the precedent of existing languages, as LangX itself gradually metamorphosed into the world's own mother tongue. As for internal adjustments within each 103 year phase, I can only suggest - for the sake of argument - that the pattern of Lang25 be repeated, with an initial revision 10 years after publication, and further potential adjustments every 31 years until the succeeding phase.
Briefly, the LangX project aims to gradually synthesise - over a period of more than seven centuries - the excellence of both the IALs and existing tongues into an evolving universal language.
Frequently Asked Questions
1: If LangX begins as Lang25 with a restricted and limited phonology, vocabulary and grammar, won't the result be a primitive and rudimentary language that few people will want to use?
The theory behind LangX is that the base level at any one time will be the official IAL, capable of being used and understood in any country, but that the progressively more differentiated and complex levels should by all means be used privately - on the understanding that all such attempts are unofficial, experimental, and very possibly subject to drastic modification at a later date. Thus Lang25 would be fixed, during the initial time period, with the six levels up to and including Lang53 progressively fluid as they were "beta tested" - with a particular focus on the next level Lang29.
In this way an online dictionary might contain the core Lang25 vocabulary, but also six additional levels of vocabulary corresponding to Lang29 etc., of increasing provisionality. The different levels of words might be juxtaposed in the same dictionary, but colour-coded or otherwise differentiated. Similarly, cross-translation to as many languages a possible should focus on the base level (Lang25). Apart from the theoretical reasons already referred to there is also the practical consideration that a new script would probably be adopted in due course. Levels of grammar, of increasing provisionality, might be published in the same way.
As in childhood linguistic development, and the related establishment of pidgins (the CPCP), one might expect the greatest initial use of the IAL to be for relatively mundane purposes - for which no more than an elementary language would be required. But in any case the proposed restriction should prevent the IAL separating into a vertical hierarchy of class languages just as invidious to global communication as the current horizontal pattern of national languages.
2: Assuming a globally representative congress or committee could agree on an IAL, wouldn't it be an unwieldy compromise? Wouldn't a functionable language require the coherent vision that only an inspired individual could provide?
No single person can possibly know enough to construct the IAL. The history of the movement has demonstrated this, though Schleyer, Zamenhof and others deserve every plaudit for their valiant attempts. Informal collaborations have fared no better: they have always split on controversial issues.
A congress or committee solves these problems by vesting authority in its unanimous or majority opinion. Of course there is a danger in this too, so a properly constituted arrangement is necessary - one which incorporates systematic consultation with all interested parties into the decision-making process. There is no reason, in fact, why the official committee and their consultees should not collaborate for the benefit all concerned.
3: Wouldn't each member of the international committee seek only that the IAL conformed as far as possible to their own language, in whose favour they were likely to be prejudiced, albeit unconsciously?
The common language question has returned to the fore as rising international tensions have raised the tempo and importance of communications. The deepening global recession has also served to move the IAL question up the political agenda. In the context of straitened economic circumstances the increasing cost of translation (and mistranslation) in the world's expanding unions of nation states has come into focus, as has the cost of foreign language teaching in state education systems. International agencies are becoming ever more receptive to the idea that an IAL would begin to eliminate these costs. At some stage in the not-so-distant future an international committee is likely to be appointed and told to get on with it - and its members may have no choice but to give at least as much weight to facility of global communication as to sectional familiarity, i.e. "user-friendliness" for various peoples .
The advance of scientific linguistics is another factor that will help to moderate political interests. A great deal of high-quality research now exists concerning subjects which might be expected to inform and influence the course of IAL discussion and decision-making: comparative grammar and phonology, childhood speech and literacy acquisition etc..
4: How could the international committee create a language which is also evolving "naturally" in the body of users at the same time?
It would be necessary to balance these potentially opposing tendencies. The committee (council, commission etc.) should be neither too active or prescriptive nor too passive or descriptive. The former might cause it to attempt to guide the language too rapidly, or in a direction the body of users were not prepared to take; the latter would allow for irregularity, such as had been sanctioned by mass usage. Harmonising these centralising and decentralising forces might not be easy, but a properly constituted committee, engaged in a continuous process of consultation with all interested parties, and taking a strictly (though not exclusively) scientific approach to all linguistic questions, should allow both centre and periphery to evolve together.
5: Isn't English already the international auxiliary language for all practical purposes?
Not really, though some of its proponents in the media might convey that impression. English does have semi-official status in a few specialised fields, including air and maritime telecommunications, but even there its use is far from universal. Having said that, it's undoubtedly true that English is the leading auxiliary language in the world today, and will continue as such for a long time to come - whatever is decided concerning the IAL. As for English itself being officially selected, we think it most unlikely - for historical political reasons, and because of an irregular spelling system which has proved highly resistant to reform.
Moreover, as has often been pointed out, the pre-eminence of the English language relates more to the current status of English-speaking civilisation than to its inherent qualities. If the dominance of the English-speaking countries - which has arguably lasted from 1815 to the present - were to be superseded, the English language might consequently be expected to go the way of Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic and French. The demise of the British Empire, the relative economic decline of America, the reversion of several ex-colonies to native languages, the establishment of rival languages in former English-speaking heartlands, and the continued political and cultural opposition to the English language from various quarters in several countries - all these are indications that the dethronement of English might already be proceeding.
The following statements are pertinent in this regard, though over a decade old:
......."In 1989 a study conducted in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain concluded: "The real correct understanding of English in all the countries studied is notably inferior to the most pessimistic existing evaluations and our own guesstimates" Van de Sandt, Report in "Initiative Media News Bulletin" (London: Lintas Worldwide, January 1989)
.......In 1990 Sir (now Lord) Randolph Quirk, Professor of English at University College in London, put it thus: "Despite the persistent and glib assumptions in Britain and America, we are witnessing a significant relative decline (perhaps even an absolute decline) in the currency of English worldwide. This may come as a surprise to those who think of English as the medium of high-tech skills, international conferences, and professional journals: here indeed continued growth is doubtless the order of the day. But these are relatively slim and specialized lines of communication."
.......In 1991 Richard Bailey, Professor of English Language and Literature at the the University of Michigan and Associate Editor of the "Oxford Companion to the English Language" was even more specific: "The proportion of the world's population who regularly use English is 15% - and falling".
6: Esperanto is a perfectly adequate IAL which only needs support. Esperanto's official adoption and consequent implementation through educational systems worldwide would be hastened if sites such as this promoted it.
We believe that the international congress or committee which chooses or forms the IAL will in effect be revising Esperanto. The love and effort put into Esperanto will be realised in the coming IAL, which will be constructed very much upon its basis and inspired by its continuing influence. However, Esperanto as presently constituted looks most unlikely to gain the popular support necessary to become de facto IAL, or even to be officially appointed for the role. The absence of a thorough reform to make Esperanto more globally acceptable must be partly responsible: for instance, Esperanto's grammar is especially difficult for various peoples. There are a number of criticisms of Esperanto on the Internet; this one is probably the most comprehensive.
7: "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet!" Kipling's sentiment remains as true today: cultures are essentially self-contained and will remain so; no more than the most basic IAL will ever be required.
There are two schools of thought here. On the one hand, there are 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. These 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. In other words, the international agencies deal in mundanities, whereas the more spiritual side of life - whether found through historic religions, secular philosophies, national treasuries of literature etc. - is not "global" or "international" in any real sense, since it is always linked to a particular culture or tradition.
On the other hand are those who discount the possibility of self-sufficient or autonomous entities communicating indefinitely on a second-hand basis, believing that all languages will eventually merge into a single language by way of an official IAL, and claiming that this process is merely a conscious continuation of what is already occurring. Decades or centuries after the official IAL inauguration, everyone might still learn at least two languages at school, but they would expect the IAL to develop relative to the mother tongues.
They would point to the precedent of pidgins and creoles, inasmuch as pidgins were IALs on a smaller scale, formulated for essentially the same reason - the pertinent fact about pidgins being their tendency to become creolised: a process shown to derive from children learning and using the pidgin as a mother tongue. Thus, although pidgins were originally employed as purely auxiliary trading languages - second languages that nobody used as a mother tongue - children of certain traders, seafarers etc. evidently learned the pidgins as mother tongues, and elaborated them with borrowed or intuitive grammatical constructions and new words from various sources - exactly as tends to happen with mother tongues or primary languages in their developmental phase.
Correspondingly, since the IAL will begin its life essentially as a global pidgin, there is every chance that it will be elaborated by future generations in a similar way and for the same reasons. The modern world contains an ever-increasing number of itinerant key workers and administrative personnel employed by transnational corporations and international agencies. Such people will find the IAL particularly useful, whether or not they possess other second languages such as English, and consequently the children of some of them are likely to pick up the IAL as a mother tongue. The intuitive elaboration of the IAL might then be expected to follow, in concert with more formal and conscious innovative attempts by authors, advertisers, film-makers etc. who might well wish to write in the IAL directly in order to access the global market, the whole being co-ordinated and kept within acceptable bounds by the IAL committee.
Assuming this process of development came to pass, the relationship between the IAL and every national tongue would be comparable to that which formerly existed between the minority ethnic tongues and the great national languages which entirely surrounded them. Thus, even as islands of minority ethnic tongues have been surrounded by a sea of English, every language would eventually find itself within the matrix of the IAL. And correspondingly, even as English formerly diluted and absorbed minority ethnic tongues in its midst, English would itself be absorbed, along with all other languages, into one universal tongue of enormous capacity and subtlety.
The history of the dogged survival of certain minority ethnic tongues clearly shows that such a process would never be achieved by force, rather would it happen for cultural and economic reasons. Thus, if speakers and writers were to deliberately use the international auxiliary language to reach the widest possible audience or readership, and listeners were to learn it - and tune into it - to keep up with the latest news and newest thought from anywhere in the world, there is little doubt that this common language would develop its own character as a truly global tongue, even as primary creative impetus went into it. If this did indeed happen - whether through neologism, transliteration, or other aspects of linguistic development - the national languages of the world could be expected to successively abandon their separate identities, over a period of centuries, in order to become part of it: in the same way that some minority ethnic tongues have hitherto become submerged in national languages.
Thus there is no reason to suppose that an international auxiliary consciously developed for creative usage would not gradually obtain the linguistic and euphonic capacity to incorporate all useful features, whether structural or decorative, from both "national" and constructed languages. Indeed, it might well display these assets more precisely and harmoniously than their own more or less irregular grammars, partial phonologies and ramshackle orthographies. In such a scenario the mother-tongues would continue to be preserved in written and recorded form, but ultimately for sentimental value rather than linguistic information.
8: Shouldn't the international committee choose an entirely neutral language, equally easy or difficult for all nationalities?
An entirely neutral language would be very difficult if not impossible to realise in practice. For instance, unless the script were bi-directional, or vertical perhaps, it would favour either the left-to-right majority or the right-to-left minority. Similarly, there would have to be a choice between logographic and alphabetic script - the former benefiting East Asian countries such as China and Japan, and the latter the rest of the world. Much the same might be said about phonology and grammar. Moreover, even if a "horizontal" neutrality were achievable between the very diverse languages and scripts of the world, there might still be the problem of finding a "vertical" neutrality, or median position, between linguists and non-linguists. Briefly, there is no advantage in reinventing the wheel, so far as the IAL is concerned. Even a brand new solution of apparently impeccable political correctness would inevitably contain hidden inequities - quite apart from its difficulty for everyone due to unfamiliarity. An equally fair, but much more practical and realistic system would borrow linguistic features from as wide a variety of languages as possible, perhaps to some extent on a population pro rata basis. There would then be a certain amount of give and take. For instance, those who had to master a quite alien script for the IAL might see a relatively large proportion of their grammar and/or vocabulary incorporated into it, and so on.
9: Would it be possible to guess what kind of IAL the international committee might select?
They might well operate within certain established norms endorsed by many IALers, as by others with an interest in the subject. These include:
(a) alphabetic script - logographic scripts take many times longer to learn
(b) orthographic script - one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds with no duplicated or silent letters
(c) regular grammar, with the simplest possible rules, and no exceptions
(d) no linguistic genders
(e) an international vocabulary - with the eventual goal of words from as many languages as possible
(f) no synonyms - only one word or name for each thing
10: Does the World Language Process have any additional preferences?
Only one at this early stage: an IAL Hierarchy - which from the practical viewpoint is the gradual introduction of a single IAL in stages. An IAL Hierarchy addresses the problem of universal acceptability. A median IAL, pitched somewhere between the usages of the various national languages, and between linguists and non-linguists, might purport to do this but actually discriminates against those at the extremities. Although suiting those towards the middle, it might well be regarded with suspicion as too easy by one part of the population, and with trepidation as too difficult by another part.
Orwell's "Newspeak", probably based on his perception of Esperanto and Basic English, is an old chestnut that might be brought out by way of illustration. Orwell's inference that an imposed IAL might be used to limit the thought and expression of speakers of more complex languages evidently struck a chord with his readers - unless it is purely coincidental, and related only to the ascendancy of the English language, that both Esperanto and Basic English have declined so much since his book was published.
On the other hand, a median IAL such as Esperanto is beyond the capacity of many non-linguists, particularly those whose own languages have a very different or more restricted grammatical structure or sound system. Certainly, speakers of creoles and some Asian tongues have found Esperanto very difficult. Many English speakers have also found Esperanto challenging, since it uses grammatical constructions that English manages without, apart from vestigially.
The two alternatives to a median IAL have, of course, been an advanced IAL and a basic IAL: Schleyer's "Volapuk" and Hogben's "Interglossa" (forerunner to "Glosa") are respective examples. However, for the reasons mentioned, neither of these IALs would now be acceptable. The inadequacies of Volapuk became evident when people tried to use it in everyday conversation; it obviously lacked a basic version. Conversely Interglossa, with its three tenses and absence of inflections, was in many ways an ideal IAL - though its lack of expandability was a fatal drawback. No current IAL is expandable or contractable: that is the problem with all of them.
Any language taught to children begins with "infant-speak". Those transmitting the language to the very young instinctively employ the simplest grammar, the easiest speech sounds and the shortest words, often internally repetitive. However, the "infant-speak" is really the same language as that used by adults, as are the other gradations and variations.
The essential problem with IALs at the present time is that none of them have a "infant-speak" version and an advanced version and all the versions in between. For practical reasons, it's necessary to start with an "infant-speak" as the official IAL, whilst the other IALs in the hierarchy are developed in the background. At the requisite time, when all (or nearly all) peoples have attained the next level as a result of cultural and linguistic development, the second IAL on the hierarchy (which many if not most people in the world would already be using unofficially) would be designated as the official IAL, and so on. Thus the IAL hierarchy is really a single IAL, introduced in stages.
The table above, reproduced for illustrative rather than prophetic purposes, shows the kind of scheme the World Language Process has in mind. For mnemonic purposes, the number of consonants and vowels accords with the year of introduction. Thus Lang25, with 25 phonemes in its sound system - 20 consonants and 05 vowels - would be introduced in the year 2005 AD.
Lang25 would have an alphabetic script (possibly English-type, without diacritics), a very basic grammar (possibly Chinese-type, word-order based, wholly analytic), and the core vocabulary without consonant clusters etc. would be limited to the twenty most universal consonants identified by the UPSID survey and the five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) which most languages employ, and to which Spanish, Japanese and other tongues are restricted.
Perhaps this year 2005, at least, will be prophetic since the beginning of the construction of the World Language Process Universal Language Institute at Horning's Mills, Ontario, Canada is still on schedule.