Introduction to the Wordlists

The previous chapter recommended an initial "Western" phonology - but which one? Well, English is far and away the leading international language at the present time, so the decision seems to have been largely made for us already; and since there is a general consensus that the "Roman" alphabet should be used - at least until a new script might be implemented - it likewise follows that some preference should be given to the "English" phonemic representations that are best known internationally.

For instance, the "English" [j] = /dzh/ [dʒ] is more widespread than the "French" [j] = /zh/ [ʒ], so that is the one that is used here. As for the other letters, they might as well similarly take their "English" representations, such as are shared by a large number of languages using the "Roman" or "Latin" alphabet, but in the case of LangX with a single phonemic value for the sake of simplicity and regularity - so [g] should always be plosive ("hard" as in "go, get"), [h] sounded rather than silent and [w] and [y] restricted to consonants, i.e. used at the beginning of words or syllables, or as the second letter, following a consonant, but not as vowels (e.g. "hwan" but not "haw"). That still leaves three letters which are duplicated or more or less redundant in English: [c], [q] and [x]. These are rendered as follows: [c] = /tsh/ [tʃ] as in internationally-known Italian words such as "ciao, cello", [q] = /q/ - Arabic "qaf", as universally used in Arabic transliteration, and [x] = /sh/ [ʃ] as in Portuguese, Basque, Maltese and Catalan. The glottal stop [ʔ], another common international consonant, might as well continue to be represented by the apostrophe ['], as in current English.

Some of these sounds: the vowels: [a e i o u]; the voiceless stops: [k t]; the nasals: [m n]; the fricative: [s]; and the approximants: [l y w] are so universal that they might be used anywhere in the initial core vocabulary. A second group is on the outside of this core because each constituent sound is missing from a handful of languages. The most frequent everyday words might therefore exclude: voiceless stop: [p] (missing from Afro-Asian languages, e.g. Arabic; voiced stops: [b d g] (missing from Mandarin, Tamil, etc.); glottal stop: [ʔ] [']; fricatives: [x] = /sh/ [ʃ](missing from Spanish), [h] (missing from French, Portuguese, Italian, etc.); rhotic [r]: (missing from Japanese, some Chinese dialects and some African Bantu languages), nasal: [ng] [ŋ]. Finally an outer circle might consist of sounds used less, or rarely: nasal: [ny][ɲ]; voiceless uvular stop /q/ or velar fricative /x/ (here represented by the digraph [kh]) etc.; other fricatives: [f, v, z], [zh] [ʒ] = "French j" ; affricates: [c] = /tsh/ [tʃ] "Italian [c]", [j] = /dzh/ [dʒ] "English j". Some sounds in the outermost circle might not feature in the initial core vocabulary, but should find a place further up the hierarchy.

At this initial stage in the evolution of an IAL many people of certain nationalities will have difficulties with particular speech sounds, especially those in the outer circles as described. However, for the purpose of international communication it should not matter if /l/ is pronounced as /ɹ/ or vice-versa, or /v/ as /w/ or any other variation, so long as one is understood. For the same reason the five vowels are not exactly defined, except that they are pronounced separately, as in Spanish (e.g. "Port Said", "patio").

As for our provisional international core vocabulary featured in the next several pages, a lexical reference equally satisfactory to all peoples and cultures would be very difficult to formulate, quite apart from the question of acceptable pronunciation. So as a first step we are opting for a variation on Ogden's 850-word Basic English, pending the possible discovery or creation of a better template later. From an idealistic point of view the use of an English list as reference standard might be deprecated but the pre-eminence of English as de facto IAL should not be ignored if there is to be relative familiarity and continuity within the IAL movement.

A list created several decades ago inevitably contains anachronisms but our main problem with Basic English is that Ogden seems to have omitted many common words so as to find room for scientific, commercial, political or otherwise fairly complex abstract words in the interest of formulating a fairly comprehensive Initial Teaching Medium: such "advanced" words being unsuitable for an initial core vocabulary on the JPVP model; indeed, both the JPVP and child language development precedents would prescribe a start with simple uninflected words with a mass linguistic constituency - and what better than a universal lexicon related to tourism and travel? Thus our first special list contains words related to travel, tourist accommodation, shopping, sight-seeing etc..

It may be noticed that the great majority of words in this special list are nouns, but this also conforms precisely with the precedent. For instance, the early words of an infant are likely to be nouns, and for no reason except that context tends to make verbs unnecessary: "there is", "want" etc. being understood. Similarly, a concern of tourists and other travellers is largely to locate static objects described by nouns, or perhaps to report their absence. Once these objects of desire can be named in a comprehensible language a few extra words or short phrases such as the numbers and "excuse me", "where is?", "please", "thank you", "yes", "no", "how much?", "right", "left", "straight on" might take one a very long way, with an ability to understand signs, notices and timetables being a bonus.

To show how a provisional international core vocabulary might be set out, Risto Kupsala provided the following sampler. Hopefully the following pages will continue to progress towards such a layout, but for the time being should be regarded as "under construction" with respect to both the number and variety of alternative words for each object or concept and their manner of presentation.