Making The World’s Language

I want to talk a bit about making the lingua franca, the international or the bridge language of the world. I don’t want to give you a summary that you can find everywhere else, instead I want to share my idea with you. Having that in mind, you still need some context first.

The Lingua Franca

My Oxford American Dictionary gives the definition of lingua franca as:

a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.

The idea is that if you are Greek and you want to communicate with somebody from Spain, you both use some other language declared international. This way you only have to speak your native language and some other language to communicate with absolutely everybody in the world. Learning any other languages would be optional. We would save a lot on translation. We could also achieve a better level of communication between peoples because if you were to learn only one foreign language well, you could learn it up to a very high standard.

Currently such a language is English. I and a lot of other people don’t quite like that because English is difficult: it is difficult in its grammar (man and men instead of mans, think and thought instead of thinked, etc.) even if you disregard the spelling which is very irregular. Furthermore, English is not similar enough to other languages in the world (it is European) hence not really neutral and constructed in such a way that it is pretty hard to pronounce for non-natives because it has a lot of peculiar sounds which you can see if you look at its IPA sound chart. There are additional reasons.

Candidates for Lingua Franca

The thing is, economic and social factors instead of rationality usually dictate what lingua franca we have. In Europe, we had French just because the royalty spoke French and now we have English due to the prominence of the United States and it might change as China’s economy rises or some other interesting things occur.

If we, however, could actually make an informed choice (which is possible, although hard to implement), it would probably be logical to choose a constructed language instead of a natural one because:

  • we could make it have simple grammar, word construction and spelling and thus be easy to learn
  • we could make it more similar in terms of sounds and perhaps vocabulary to the languages that most people in the world speak
  • we could get rid of the ambiguities that we have in native languages which would make such a language more fit for science or legal writing

There are attempts to make such a language the most famous of which is Esperanto. I like Esperanto because of its idea and I have made even an introductory course of Esperanto but the problem is, Esperanto has flaws. For example, its grammar is flawed (especially gender issues, noun transitivity, use of the accusative case and other things) also its vocabulary and grammar are too much based on Western languages because its creator lived where Europe was in the center of things. There are other more famous constructed languages such as Interlingua (I do like it but it has no regular patterns in word construction because it gets its vocabulary from Western languages as well) and other candidates. There are other languages that have different vocabularies made by different people and so on.

However, I think these languages have the same fundamental flaw

you can’t sit down in your kitchen and make a language!

I know, in Interlingua-IALAs case, it was actually made by doing some research and surveys and even Esperanto was made in over a decade and improved gradually and so on so technically they didn’t make these languages in their kitchen… I don’t mean to offend any of these languages or their creators and I am using this *in their kitchen* only metaphorically. My point is that these languages are still arbitrary, their makers didn’t have big budgets and didn’t do real elaborate research before and while making these languages. Hence my idea.

My IDEA

My idea is about how to make a language for the world. The lingua franca.

The thing is, we need to maximize its efficiency as well as making it easy to understand and learn to the maximum number of people. We need to balance those as best we can. We need to come up with a grammar that looks both natural enough and logical enough.

I think, we should do it the best way we can… using the scientific method.

First, my idea is that we must give that a lot of money. We would need a big budget and I am not sure what that could be. I imagine, a billion, a few billions? That’s still nothing compared to what we pay for cross-language translations every year.

Now, where would the money go to? Here are a couple of my ideas:

  • hiring the most prominent linguists of the world to apply our current best working linguistic theories
    I believe there are theories that could help us. For example, the Chomskian theory of language parameter switches (i.e. head-last parameters being on leading to preposition-first parameters being off and so on) seems promising and it could help us construct our language. I am giving this just as an example and I am not saying that this theory is somehow necessarily true and we should dive into it (or any other theory), I am saying that we should try to use those theories that get some consensus in the scientific community and agree with empirical data and then we could try to apply them and do a lot of testing (as I’ll talk about later) to see if they really work for us;
  • exploring the current languages of the world and seeing what they have in common
    for example, I have heard that almost all languages have the vowels a, o, u if I recall correctly; now that’s something – we should explore that more; furthermore, we should see how languages change and take this into account into making this language and seeing how easy it is going to be for the languages in the world after they will have changed
  • setting up computers and doing a lot of cross-testing
    we could set up computers and have them test elements of our language, for example, words; for example, we could come up with a few words for the word father and have a lot of people from a lot of different linguistic backgrounds come and push buttons or something to find out which word the people of the world would find the most intuitive for the word father in the new language, we could do this intuition testing for grammar as well
  • simulations
    getting computers and then at later stages, people, to use the language to see how it could change to optimize its structure and vocabulary and accord it for changes
  • open forums
    making this more open-source, settings up places like forums on the internet where people could easily review the progress and suggest their own ideas and improvements for the new language

I believe there are a lot of similar things we could do if only we had some money. I imagine we would get a lot of volunteers wanting to help as well.

If only we could make a language that’s efficient for us to use, I imagine it would be relatively easier to make people use it. Of course, it would still be much work so it would be better to only go about creating this language after having gotten the approval of the biggest political players of the world and their agreement to integrate the teaching of this new language into their educational systems.

What I am saying, however, is that if we have one chance to make a language for the world, we should do it right.

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5 comments

  1. I wish you well in your linguistic endeavours. You write that “Esperanto has flaws”. Whether or not that is true, the best way forward would be to make practical use of Esperanto, which has a substantial speaker-population,then suggests improvements from within.

    I've used Esperanto for all sorts of purposes in some fifteen countries over many years. It's going to be hard to beat!

  2. Esperanto is still not used anywhere as much that it would be hard to beat in an organized well-supported attempt to adopt another language.

    You know that there have been suggested improvements from within (such as Ido) and they haven't achieved anything. Esperanto has a structure of its own and suggesting improvements would not really work because you would have to change a lot of fundamental things and also the fundamentals are very hard to change due to high resistance. That's like saying “if you wanna make a car, get a boat and make improvement from within to make it into a car” while it would make a lot more sense to simply make a car from scratch by collecting and assembling the parts.

    That given, I would still prefer Esperanto to the natural languages that are currently being used as international.

  3. man… nothing new under the sun. Cool on one hand but depressing on the other that I can never have a unique idea. Not only did I have a 90% similar idea years and years ago, but even more ironically I just happened to think about it in detail this morning — and now I happen across your blog. I wouldn't enlist too many linguists, though, given their contempt for languages. Chomsky himself knows how many languages? 1.5? Lover of languages? NO WAY. I think accomplished polyglots would be a much better choice.

  4. I understand how it might seem like a lot of scientists are snobbish academia types. I personally don't have much experience with linguists (except McWhorter whose courses I have listened and Chomsky some interviews of whom I have seen) so I could not judge objectively how fitting the majority of them would be for the task. I just kinda think that there is nobody else who really knows about how languages work and how they are interrelated in theory. Sure, polyglots know many languages but usually they just *know* them, they don't actually understand them.

    I'd be glad to have anybody who can contribute on board though, would this project ever to be done.

  5. Very well written article. I am comfortable with English as the lingua franca. It is a global language and it is spoken in almost all parts of the world. But apart from this there is also specific lingua franca languages that are specific for each countries.Thanks for sharing useful information here.

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