El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

Artificial Languages: Is There An Ideal Balance?

with 10 comments

An Ideal International Language?

There are several elements that would likely be required for any artificial language to be accepted into official status as an international language. There are also several reasons why it would be difficult. The following arguments both for and against the concept are drawn from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language by David Crystal (I’ve got an old copy I found at a used book store, it is really an amazing resource on world languages in general and on the Queen’s English in particular. I recommend it to anyone.)https://i2.wp.com/www.fromoldbooks.org/Dalziel-RecordOfWork/pages/000-front-cover-good-words-1872-title-page/000-front-cover-good-words-1872-title-page-q75-333x500.jpg

Generally, an ideal artificial language (AL) would be:

Easy to learn The grammar should be regular and simple; the meanings of words and compound words must be based on well-defined principles; the spelling should be phonetic; and there should be no difficult sounds.

Able to be translated Translations into and out of other natural languages would be made easier by the use of universal features of languages and root words that have a history of international use. There would need to be a flexible structure that allows for the expression of idiom from each speakers own language.

Wide-ranging in function Besides the ordinary daily uses of language in speech and writing, the AL would need to work for specialized language uses in: technology, business, politics, religion, medicine and more. And it would need to be used in international media from satellite transmissions to video games.

Standardized Ideally, there should be no regional variations or dialects. The idea is maintain control over intelligibility in the long-term. Some sort of governing group would decide on any changes.

Neutral It must be balanced both in terms of linguistic sources and geo-political baggage, making it more acceptable to all countries.

Rational and Logical I know that sounds like something Mr. Spock might say, but some supporters of AL feel, for example, that world-wide acceptance of a common language would be an important step toward a unity of mankind and world peace. Many also feel that the improved clarity of an AL would more logically link words and ideas, a language that would encourage people to think more philosophically about the nature of reality.

While the world-wide acceptance of an AL would seem to be a positive step. Critics point to a variety of social, political and linguistic problems. Some are discussed below:

Motivation The problem is getting people to learn a new language when no one else knows it either. Zamenhof, aka. Doktoro Esperanto, attempted to address the problem by asking people to sign a form included in his book. They were asked to “…promise to learn the international language proposed by Dr. Esperanto, if it appears that 10 million people have publicly given the same promise”. He was going to publish a book with all of their names and addresses, so that part hasn’t really worked out….

National Identity Many linguistic differences can be explained by the use of language to represent national, regional or social identities. Nationalism may magnify the perceived importance of those linguistic differences. By design, ALs do not allow for these differences.

Linguistic bias In the venacular, developing a simple and common language is “easier said, than done”. The majority of ALs are based on western Indo-European languages in terms of vocabulary, grammar, syntax and alphabet. Some are criticized for relying too heavily on a Latin model, or Germanic or elements of the Slavic languages. Obviously this could present a problem for speakers of Asian, or Arabic languages. A reminder is given “to not underestimate the diversity of the world’s languages”.

Semantic differences Differences in meaning can exist between languages. Often words cannot be translated to mean exactly the same thing.  So it means that even if speakers translate their native language into an AL, they still may not understand each other any better.

Antagonism Groups that promote universal language tend to be very focused, well, let’s face it: They are often considered kooks, or worse. ‘Esperanto, in particular, has been frequently persecuted–notably in Germany and the former Soviet Union in the 1930s, when the organization was suppressed and many of its members arrested or shot.’ It was often characterized as the “language of spies”.

Okay, now for the interesting part, examples of English translated into five different ALs. These examples again come from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.

First, the English version.  “For, of the things that mankind possesses in common, nothing is so truly universal and international as science.”

Esperanto “Char el la komunaj posedajhoj de la homaro, neniu estas tiel vere ghenerala kaj internacia kiel la scienco.”

Ido “Nam del kozi, quin la homaro posedas komune, nula es tam vere universala ed internaciona kam la cienco.”

Novial “Den ek li coses kel li homaro posese comunim, nuli is tam verim general e international kam li scientie.”

Occidental “Nam de omni comun possedages del homanite niun is tam vermen general e international quam scientie.”

Latino Sine Flexione “Nam, de commune possessiones de genere humano, nihil es tam generale et internationale quam scientia.”

Wow, I can see some patterns there, but I think it is hard to say from a sample this size. This next part is in an AL called Interlingua, believe me it has no connection wih the well-known but little respected franchise patito school of English of the same name (Want to know how bad this place is? Please take a look at the post the ‘Top-Ten Signs of a Patito’. At least four of the signs come directly from this ‘school’).

This sample is larger but seems much easier to understand.

And a test in Interlingua Try translating this, the answer is below.

“Tote le membros del communicate de linguas occidental son in un certe senso dialectos individual que devia plus o minus de un patrono commun. De iste facto son derivite tote le principos methodic supportante le compilation del Dictionario Interlingua–Anglese. Le termine interlingua es solomente un synonymo plus technic de lingua de patrono. Illo representa un lingua que es international proque su elementos existe de facto o potentialmente in un gruppo de linguas national”.

In English “All of the members of the western community of languages are in a sense individual dialects which deviate more or less from a common pattern. From this fact are derived all the working principles underlyng the compliation of the Interlingua–English Dictionary. The term interlingua is merely a more technical synonym of pattern language. It stands for a language that is international because its elements exist actually or potentially in a group of national languages”.

If I were to be asked, I would say that the last example, Interlingua, would seem to support the idea of a blending of English and Spanish (and Portuguese) that could be used effectively to communicate across the whole of the western-hemisphere in a common language.  Not exactly the “unity of mankind and world peace” often promoted by the supporters of ALs, but I guess we have to start somewhere.


Written by El Fomentador

August 18, 2008 at 7:41 am

10 Responses

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  1. I think you’re doing a disservice to Esperanto. The text you gave should read:

    “Ĉar el la komunaj posedaĵoj de la homaro, neniu estas tiel vere ĝenerala kaj internacia kiel la scienco.”

    For some reason you don’t include the accented letters, which are freely available – on Microsoft Word, for example.

    Importantly, Esperanto meets the criterion “Wide-ranging in function”. I’ve just come back from an international holiday week in Plouezec (Pluezek) in Brittany, France, where 150 people from eight nations (including Poland, Russia, Germany, China …) sang, played and talked together freely in Esperanto. We discussed Georgia, political and current affairs, and went on excursions with Esperanto-speaking guides.

    I would like to make the case for even wider use of Esperanto, both for its own merits and for its poterntial as an introduction to the study of other languages. Take a look at http://www.esperanto.net

    Bill Chapman

    August 27, 2008 at 9:59 am

  2. To BC: I can assure you I meant no disrespect to Esperanto. But I did fail to indicate in the post that the text I have uses the letter ‘h’ to represent the accents in Esperanto. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear, and I admit I don’t know how widely-accepted a spelling convention that is in Esperanto. As I’ve said before, I like the ideas of Esperanto. More power to a unity of mankind! Thanks.

    El Fomentador

    September 2, 2008 at 5:39 am

  3. I learned Esperanto before I learned Interlingua, and I like it quite a lot. I especially like the way any of its elements can be glued together to form new words that are often both elegant and eloquent.

    But because I studied all the source languages of Interlingua before I studied Interlingua itself, I found it exceptionally fascinating. It is a useful bridge to all of its source languages, and parallel texts in Interlingua and its source languages make both Interlingua and its source languages quite a bit easier to learn.

    I invite you to use the resources of my wordpress blog “Interlingua in interlingua” to find this out for yourselves. You can find more bi- and trilingual texts in Interlingua and English or Interlingua, a Romance language, and English at “Janua linguarum” (Latin for “Gateway to Languages) at groups.yahoo.com/group/janua_linguarum.

    hkyson > Harleigh Kyson Jr.


    December 10, 2008 at 8:17 am

    • To hkyson: I like that too. It is possible to see the influences of all the source languages when reading text in interlingua. And as I study Spanish and work with people learning English I see opportunities to blend elements of the languages together. Of course it is happening now as people blend together and have a real need to communicate.

      Thanks very much for your comments and the invitation to your site. I recommend people check it out. Interlingua (again, not the patito, the language) seems to fit the bill as a common language for the western hemisphere. And as a bonus, large parts of Europe and even parts of the Mediterranean!
      As I have said before I have respect for Esperanto, both the language and its creator. The issue for a truly world-wide language remains somehow incorporating speakers of the Eastern languages, (after-all they constitute the majority of the world’s population and growing everyday).
      But absolutely, interlingua could be a good solution for an old English major like myself struggling con mi espanol. (As well as the students and teachers I see struggling with English.
      Thanks again.

      El Fomentador

      December 11, 2008 at 6:39 am

      • Many of my posts in “Interlingua multilingue” have versions in both Spanish and Portuguese.

        Harleigh Kyson Jr.


        June 14, 2009 at 1:18 pm

  4. If we talk about Neutrality then
    I think nothing is more neutral or more fair than Ardano language. What do you think ?


    December 26, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    • To Humanity. Thanks for the tip. I find it very interesting. As I was reading a few samples I could see influences of the different languages. I think they are right to say that a new language learner may be more enthusiastic if there are words from their own language included–kind of like “free” words. The somewhat similar idea has worked for me in studying Spanish because of the many cognates between English and Spanish. (I admit it , sometimes I take an English word, change the accent and add an ending, it’s called “guessing” but if it works, well, it works.) Using the example of India, although there are many dialects throughout the country, cognates between the dialects would give learners in the world’s most populous region a more fair chance at adapting to an international language. I don’t know how to say “Bravo” in Ardano, but maybe, given the Italian influence cited, that might be a good “guess”. Muchas gracias, mi amigo.

      El Fomentador

      January 6, 2009 at 7:52 am

  5. Me place multissimo que iste gruppo ha essite organisate. Io ha organisate un blog, “Interlingua multilingue” pro usar interlingua como un ponte pro inseniar su linguas fonte (le anglese, le francese, le italiano, le espaniol/portugese, considerate como un sol lingua, e le latino). In iste momento, io ha montate circa 530 articulos a iste sito.

    “Interlingua multilingue” presenta articulos in interlingua e al minus un de su linguas fonte. Usque nunc io ha montate circa 530 articulos a iste sito.

    “Interlingua multilingue” appare in duo sitos. Un es http://interlinguamultilingue.blogspot.com e le altere es http://hkyson.wordpress.com.

    “Interlingua multilingue” es dedicate al proposito que un excellente maniera de apprender un nove lingua es comparar textos bilingue in le lingua que vos apprende e un altere lingua que vos jam cognosce.

    Si vos es un partisano de altere linguas planificate, vos es benvenite a copiar le articulos de “Interlingua multilingue” e traducer o adaptar los pro vostre proprie uso. Isto poterea esser un maniera excellente pro rapidemente preparar nove textos pro studio in vostre lingua planificate preferite, sia un conlang existente, sia un nove conlang que vos inventa.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.


    May 9, 2009 at 12:07 pm

  6. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


    September 10, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    • Hello Sandra, Thanks for the encouraging words. I needed them today! Artificial language people are, to say the least, adamant about their favorites. I think a world-wide common language is a good idea, too. But in a practical sense, well, I don’t know…you’d think it would have happened by now.

      I wrote the language posts to try to get off of the somewhat negative sounding complaints about education in Mexico. It helped a little. (Insert emoticon here!)

      Now I am working on a post about the problems of corruption in the textbook publishing industry here–really the problem is with foreign publishers pushing poorly conceived and wildly over-priced textbooks through bribery and payoffs for teachers and administrators in both public and private schools. Once again the students, their families and honest teachers get forgotten in the mix. Arrrgh! Frankly, at times, I think it is driving me nutz.

      Maybe I should try writing poetry–you know something about butterflies and puffy white clouds…nah, I’ve determined my role in life is that of a dissenter. Maybe I need a tattoo that says “Born to be Bad.”

      Anyway, thanks again and take good care. El Fomentador

      El Fomentador

      September 11, 2009 at 6:32 pm

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