How to Promote an IAL

Existing "national" tongues have proved their worth through long usage, but unfamiliarity and irregularity have always been difficult for foreigners. Moreover, as English speakers have discovered, international linguistic currency awards a significant political and economic premium to native speakers. Such facts are now well known, so the choice of an existing "national" language as IAL might seem unlikely.

The alternative is of course a new constructed language endorsed and promoted by global authorities - so one might well wonder why a century of effort has failed to produce one. Could it be that the IAL movement set off on the wrong foot by imitating existing languages, rather than by investigating how successful IALs have originated in the past, and then attempting to follow their example?

At any rate, learners and "enabling authorities" have been presented with an "obvious" choice between an existing "national" tongue and a new constructed IAL of comparable complexity, though much simpler to learn. At first glance the choice might indeed seem obvious - one would go for the equivalent but easier to learn constructed language. However, there are at least two drawbacks:

Firstly, it is the very irregularity of certain existing "national" languages that has allowed them to be used in an extended range - from extreme simplicity to complexity - without breaking any rules. This is the informal hierarchy between *simple and complex* speech ("basilect and acrolect") in major tongues that LangX attempts to recapture and formalise. For example, Esperanto cannot really be used as a very simple pidgin-like language, since a higher order of grammar is already bound into its words by reason of their division into classes (nouns -o, adjectives -a, adverbs -e etc.). On the other hand, a major language such as English can be used in various pidginised or "baby-talk" ways without breaking any rules.

Secondly, language does not exist independently, but is rather the vocal or written expression of a unified body of meaning, otherwise known as culture. The absence of a particularly vivid international culture within the new constructed IAL movement to date has actually constituted a vacuum, which sure enough has been largely filled by propagandists for the status quo, especially following Orwell's "Newspeak". Zamenhof anticipated this cultural void and attempted to fill it in various ways, including with "Homaranismo" - a type of humanism which, however worthy in itself, is more an absence of prejudice than a positive culture. But homaranismo has certainly had an effect, as has the international fellow-feeling of Esperantists, and their spirit in the face of oppression, although public opinion as a whole has hardly been influenced.

Set against this rather weak cultural mandate for a new constructed language, the English language has continued to score well, and for various reasons associated with the generally high regard in which the British Empire and then the United States have been held - and not excluding their relative prosperity, given that international language penetration has always followed the money. Thus the continuation of US commercial success even after British decline helped to ensure that English enjoyed the balance of acceptance as de facto international language at least until the last decades of the 20th Century.

But the English-speaking nations now find themselves at the lower end of the league table of indebtedness, and the conversely phenomenal economic rise of China might lead us by the same reckoning to expect that Chinese (Putonghua) should replace English as de facto IAL. However, Chinese hardly seems suited for this role at the present time: the writing system, tones, phonology etc. being all quite alien to most of the world's population - and the Chinese themselves would probably object to their language being mangled by those unable to speak it properly.

Secondly, the political settlement of the future is likely to be based on the stalemate or "mutually assured destruction" of the recent past, rather than the defeat of one of the major players. More than that, an increasing number now seek a new internationalist culture above and beyond mere legal agreements, not to mention military victory. The inexorable rise of multinational corporations and international agencies over the past century has only confirmed this trend.

Thirdly, similar conditions to those which saw the establishment of the original pidgins are now being revisited, except that entrepreneurial activity is more globalised and organised. Huge amounts of capital wait on the sidelines, looking for where it can obtain the best return, subject to all the laws - government taxes, labour rights, environmental protections etc. - that exist everywhere today. Managers, key workers and essential raw material supplies are all of world-wide origin, and there is a great need of a simple language for basic mundane communication. The stage is therefore finally being set for global authorities to make a consensual decision re the international language issue.

To a great extent their decision might be anticipated, since it must also closely reflect the emerging zeitgeist in various ways, as regards the rights of the poor, of minorities, of women, and so on - though not via a religious mandate at this time, for obvious reasons. So, upon what basis might an "international auxiliary language commission" (IALC) be enabled to formulate a united program? The answer, in a word, is "science": the objective approach which makes no recommendation except on the basis of verifiable evidence. The scientific method also requires a "working hypothesis": at present (and assuming that the repeated failure of, and lack of support for, the priori / oligosynthetic approach has already removed this option from the reckoning) the choice essentially boils down to the posteriori alternatives of a "ready-made" IAL, such as Esperanto, and a new language formed from the best available material.

The first of these alternatives still appears to enjoy majority support among auxlangers, although it is actually the less likely prospect, since the cultural conditions of the past are not those of today. For instance, most existing IALs have a distinctly European bias, even though the political landscape has radically altered over the past century. Gender mores are now such that words deriving the female from the male, as in Esperanto, would no longer be generally acceptable. Likewise, the economic structure of society has changed out of all recognition: in most countries a leisured middle class with the time and motivation to learn a "developed" IAL hardly exists any more. At any rate, and in spite of decades of intense effort, users of these languages remain modest in number - with patchy geographical distribution and marginal social penetration. Such facts matter, since responsible international agencies are hardly likely to officially endorse a putative existing IAL lacking significant cross-cultural and pan-societal acceptance. The educated middle class tend to be internationalists and natural linguists anyway - which is of course why they have tended to learn English and the other major languages rather than new constructed IALs which might come to nothing.

A variant on the second alternative - a new hierarchic language formed from proven linguistic elements and initially aimed at the mass-market - has never yet been tried on a global scale. LangX is offered as a model approach towards this end. Like the pidgins of yore, its "global pidgin" initial phase might be largely founded upon the English/Romance word roots and speech sounds that have formed the mundane and commercial soundscape of recent centuries. Equally, its simple analytic word order based grammar might follow the pidgins in reflecting the typical usage of China and the East. And as the language developed beyond a core vocabulary its scientific words might tend to come from Greek and Latin, its philosophical from Indian languages, its metaphysical from Arabic and Persian, its political from Russian and French and so on - each language contributing according to its strengths.

The great benefit of this approach is that the IAL should nowhere seem alien. A start from a basic universally-comprehensible list of words, many of which might begin to appear within signs and notices in international travel hubs and tourist areas worldwide, should bestow a sense of universal ownership. And since by the JPVP precedent the language should start as words and nothing else, more or less anyone might successfully speak it and truthfully claim to do so, in contrast to other new constructed IALs in which a certain level of competence is required. Moreover, a language without grammar to begin with, and subsequently only of the most rudimentary "pidgin-type" variety, suited only to simple mundane transactions and directions, is scarcely going to be regarded as a subversive influence by responsible authorities.