Monday, April 7, 2008

the UN should adopt a new world language in 2045 on its 100th anniversary


First, I shall review how the prior organisation before the UN, the League of Nations, very nearly adopted an official world language.
"The official languages of the League of Nations were French, English and Spanish (from 1920). In 1921, there was a proposal by the Under-Secretary General of the League of Nations, Dr. Nitobe Inazō, for the League to accept Esperanto as their working language. Ten delegates accepted the proposal with only one voice against, the French delegate, Gabriel Hanotaux. Hanotaux did not like how the French language was losing its position as the international language of diplomacy and saw Esperanto as a threat. Two years later the League recommended that its member states include Esperanto in their educational curricula."

D: today, Esperanto is merely a fringe oddity. Even Klingon is more popular.
Franky, I am glad Esperanto (hereafter Espo) was not adopted. The language, in its attempt to emulate aspects of natural language, has serious deficiencies. These problems are best summarized at the following website.
I half-learned it, before finding it much more complex than it needed to be.

This has not stopped many aux-langers (auxiliary human language designers) from continuing to try. The best clearinghouse online, including a link to one of mine, follows.
D: I have decoupled visemes from the math subject matter since then. I think visemes should serve as a universal deaf lip-read language. Sadly, sign language is not universal. The math content has been ported to other projects, particulary Decimese, which is in the works.

What qualities should a world language have? Most discussions by English-speakers end with a dismissive suggestion that everybody should learn English. Well English has so many irregulars and exceptions and cases of mandatory agreement, as well as multiple ways to say the same thing that it is very hard for many foreigners. A good indication of how innately hard a language is can be gained by looking at international literacy comparisons.
Finns are literate about 2 years prior to English-speakers. This despite starting written language learning years later! But why?
The key features include very regular spelling and letter names that contain the sound of the letter.
The spill-over benefits of early first-language literacy are huge. Finns also dominate in second and even third childhood languages, and in math and science literacy. These facts are not unrelated - the time not wasted on overly complex language systems can be spent on learning actual content. By coincidence, since they often learn Swedish as their second childhood language, English later on becomes easier to learn. Swedish shares many features with English.

What features make a language easy to learn? The best summary of such a language follows.

The writing system, including alphabet and spelling, count for much.

Some great attempts at a more sensible letter convention have been attempted. Perhaps my favorite is Bell's "Visible Speech", by the father of the Bell famous for telephones.
D: English spelling is a nightmare. Some argue that spelling would hide the etymology of a word. I would point out that we don't say PREE for preposition, and we drop a letter in pronunciation v.s. pronounce. Not a very reliable way to make words for clarity.
Besides, English spelling has never been standard, and suffered terribly from the Great Vowel Shift.

D: my own attempts have been modest to date. I need to refine and expand. But yes, if you have not suspected yet, I wish to discuss what features an artificial human language should contain as an auxiliary and first language.

QOTD: "A standard international language should not only be simple, regular, and logical, but also rich and creative. "
Edward Sapir

1 comment:

dino snider said...

Hmm, my first entry about Finnish has never been more topical.