Constructed International Auxiliary Languages

In my last post I wrote about lingua francas, languages used to facilitate communication between groups that speak different languages. An interesting development to this end is the rise of constructed languages that are expressly created (as opposed to natural languages that are born “naturally”) to bridge communication gaps.

Examples of these languages include the auxiliary languages Interlingua and the better-known Esperanto. Both languages are highly regular and lack the complex gender, case, and verbal inflection systems that can stymie language learners. Interlingua and Esperanto are based heavily on Latin languages and Greek and are thus relatively easy for speakers of most western European languages to learn. The goal is to improve understanding and potentially foster peace through the use of a neutral second language (not designed to replace anyone’s first language) without political bias. Interestingly, the very Indo-European basis for Interlingua and Esperanto has been criticized for being a bias in itself, as it makes both languages very Euro-centric in structure and in psychology, which may put non-western speakers at a disadvantage. Even more interestingly, a number of these critics have seemingly adopted English, both a European language and a language with national and political connotations, as an international second language.

While a number of attempts at constructed languages have been made since ancient times, the first in modern times to gain any international attention was Volap√ľk in the late 19th century, quickly eclipsed by Esperanto, with Interlingua being created in the mid-20th century. Esperanto, which was promoted rather widely, was hindered by the outbreak of two world wars, as well as the increasing use of English, already spoken as a first language by a large segment of the industrialized world’s population, in the role Esperanto was designed to fill. Although not as successful as it had been hoped, there are still perhaps one million Esperantists around the globe, including between 200 and 2000 children of enthusiastic Esperantists who have been taught Esperanto as a native language.

In addition to serving as linguistic bridges, constructed languages may assist in the second-language learning process in general. A number of studies and projects, including Springboard2languages in the UK, have suggested that children who learn Esperanto as their first “second language” find it easier to learn natural second languages later on. Esperanto is thought to be particularly suitable as a “taste of a foreign language” due to its regularity and logical “building-block” approach to creating words through roots and affixes, so the acquisition of Esperanto seems to require less time and difficulty.

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


jbus said...

Esperanto is a joke as a universal language. Two-thirds of the people in the world can't make the sounds.

Any solution must be expressed in numbers since they are the only universal writing system.

The numbers can represent syllables, so 999 words, a usable vocabulary, can be made with three-syllable words.

Terry said...

That's an intriguing idea, although there are different ways of writing numbers in different parts of the world. Also, if the numbers are to represent syllables, what phonemes should we use for the syllables, since, as you've stated, sounds (even in as straightforward an artificial language as Esperanto) are not universal?