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Artificially Re-Created English as international lingua franca
Thread poster: Thomas Johansson

Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 21:55
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Feb 14, 2009

An idea just came to the top of my head today. It is sort of fun to play with, so I wanted to discuss it here.

English is often proposed as an international lingua franca. The problem with English is that it is comparatively (or very) difficult to learn. This means that it takes people a lot of time to learn, it costs society resources, and many people lose motivation due to the difficulties.

I think the difficulties involved in English are at least of two main kinds:
(i) orthographical: no or little correspondence between the written form and pronunciation of a word
(ii) morphological: irregularities in morphology, due to all sorts of exceptions (walk and walked, but sing and sang)

This led me to think: What if there existed an EASIER VERSION of English available for people to learn?

Let's call it EVE (Easy Version of English).

EVE would be an artificially created version based on modern English (Traditional English below). It would be taught to people who want to learn "English". It would of course not be "correct English", but it would be comprehensible to native speakers of Traditional English (possibly with some slight initial effort), while much easier for non-native speakers to learn than Traditional English is. It would facilitate learning "English" in a comprehensible form (thereby providing a stepping-stone for those who later would like to learn Traditional English).


EVE would differ from Traditional English in a few principal ways:


(1) EVE would be written in a perfectly phonemic way: words would be written the way they are pronounced, with one character (or character combination) per sound.

There are of course many ways in which such a phonemic orthography could be designed.
I would propose at least two basic principles:

(a) Each character would have a phonetic value which it already often or usually has in Traditional English.

(b) Simple vowel sounds would be represented with a single vowel character, while diphthongs would be represented with combinations of two (or more) vowel characters.
Example:
"to cough": to kuf


(2) EVE would be based on a streamlined morphology, where irregularities found in Traditional English would be replaced with regular forms.

Example:
NOT: run, ran, run BUT: run, runned, runned


(3) Possibly, EVE might also divert syntactically from Traditionalese.

Example:
INSTEAD OF: "Did you like the movie?" PERHAPS: "You liked the movie?"


Personally, I am seeing all this mainly as a playful linguistic exercise. I don't see much point (except perhaps for the economic and political establishment) in having an international lingua franca in the world, and I would really not like to see English in that role either, rather than, say, Swahili or Nahuatl. And I also believe that this idea of English as an international language is just a passing historical phenomenon. (In some 50 years or so a lot of people will perhaps be talking of Chinese or Spanish as lingua francas instead.)
In any event, the idea is sort of fun to play with, and I would like to see what other people have to say about it.

[Edited at 2009-02-14 00:37 GMT]


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Faruk Atabeyli  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 05:55
Member (2009)
English to Turkish
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More toys Feb 14, 2009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pidgin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-based_creole_languages
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Creole

then as it gets more serious

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-creole_speech_continuum

and much more


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chica nueva
Local time: 15:55
Chinese to English
Simplified language: learners' 'interlanguages'; language preservation Feb 14, 2009

Interesting topic, Thomas.

1 Learning English:

1 Orthography: Some English second-language learners go through a phase of having their own orthography/spellings, which are phonetic. I was fascinated when I first came across it. They grow out of it as they come to conform with the norm. The mainland Chinese of course have gone through that process of simplifying their characters.

2 'Empty' words, inflections: It's quite possible to drop out articles, and not inflect a lot of words. Since Chinese is an uninflected language and is SVO like English, IMO many Chinese second-language learners do in fact do this when they speak English, mimicing/mirroring the speech patterns of Chinese into English.

3 Communication/Self-expression: In my view what people do naturally can be quite productive and efficient for communication, and refinements can come later according to the student's need and motivation. People shouldn't be looked down on for their 'interlanguage'.

4 Bilingualism/Sociolinguistic aspects: On the other hand, there are advantages to committing oneself to be bilingual, rather than grafting the language on, so to speak.

And in societies where the mainstream is English-speaking, students coming from homes where a limited form of English is spoken, as in many Pacific Island homes in NZ, often need extra English at school to be able to compete in an English language society (the real world). Think India also. I'm just guessing, possibly the best public service positions go to those who are best at English.

5. Sentence grammar: I've noticed in writing, that student's work seems to lie on a gradient between being strong structurally (grammar) or in content (vocabulary/lexis) depending on the individual studen. Linking, and handling complex sentences, comes later.

Language Preservation etc.

6 Lingua franca of the future: will be Chinese or Spanish? That's a provocative idea.

7 Heritage: But, English (and any language ) is so rich culturally I'd hate it to lose its colour and threads. We still need to be able to understand and write the literature.

8 Vocabulary types: Vocabulary can be classified into different groups.
Many professional and technical fields need a precise language (which in English tends to be latinate compounds), rather than the vernacular (which tends to be Anglosaxon etc). Then there are 'classical' expressions, and idioms - these tend to come as a fixed-unit word grouping.

9 Language preservation and development of minority and small languages: I guess you need a critical mass of speakers, immersion schools, language-specific media and linguists and lexicographers to keep the language developing. NZ Maori woudl be a case in point, as would Welsh.

Lesley

my 2c, nothing novel here.


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:55
German to English
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Yet another one ???? Feb 14, 2009

There are already many varieties of "English for non-natives". Some have a long tradition, e.g. various forms of pidgin English, various forms of Commonwealth English, e.g. in Asian and African countries, many of which are initially difficult for native English speakers to understand.

Then there are the various forms of semi-English spoken by people who are well educated in other respects and think that their English is a badge of honour - the sort of "high pidgin" English that is spoken widely among managers and engineers. For example there is a German variety of half-learned English which I (as a native English speaker) sometimes find difficult to understand. I am sure you know of other brands spoken by native speakers of other languages.

To say nothing of the many, many geographical and sociological brands of English among nominal native speakers (e.g. Derbyshire factory workers, New York gangs, Cockney rhyming slang etc.)

So I am surprised to read your idea of a "World English variant 329.a.19" to add to the variety.

I would propose a general "inverse diversification principle".

In other words: the diversification of English becomes greater in proportion to the number of efforts to create a unified world language.

But then, you only claim that it is "fun to play with", so perhaps your idea is just a hoax (6 and a half weeks early)


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:55
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Ogden's Basic English Feb 14, 2009

I think you are re-inventing the wheel here. One of the best-known existing versions is Ogden's Basic English, invented nearly 80 years ago! See references.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_English

http://ogden.basic-english.org/


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 04:55
English to Hungarian
+ ...
esperanto Feb 14, 2009

Jack Doughty wrote:

I think you are re-inventing the wheel here. One of the best-known existing versions is Ogden's Basic English, invented nearly 80 years ago! See references.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_English

http://ogden.basic-english.org/


The history of these languages, including Esperanto, should tell you something: this is a pointless exercise. Artificial languages don't survive because without a population of native speakers, there is no real attachment or motivation.
Esperanto is an interesting idea, but it is the miserable failure it inevitabley had to become. It was sentenced to death before it was ever born. Any dumbed down English would fare a lot worse, unless human society and psychology were to change radically before it is introduced.

If an artificial language managed to reach a critical mass of speakers it would keep on growing and become the universal lingua franca, and given the interconnectedness of people all over the world, I think it would not fall apart into hundreds of dialects and then languages: the dialects would probably remain mutually intelligible for many many generations. But that is a pipe dream.

BTW If you see no point in having an international lingua franca, look harder. The benefits would be immense for business, mutual understanding of cultures etc., especially if the language we're talking about were to become the mother tongue of more or less everyone involved. Again, not gonna happen.


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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:55
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Book you might like Feb 14, 2009

You might find this book interesting; it's about making your writing more accessible to readers with English as a second or third language. It's not perfect, but, among other things, helped me understand why meetings are often "chart read-alongs" and why that is not as inefficient as it appears.

The Elements of International English Style: A Guide to Writing Correspondence, Reports, Technical Documents, and Internet Pages for a Global Audience, by Edmond H. Weiss

http://www.amazon.com/Elements-International-English-Style-Correspondence/dp/076561572X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1234625665&sr=1-1

ISBN-10: 076561572X
ISBN-13: 978-0765615725

I believe it was recommended by someone here in the forums. Many thanks belatedly!

Terry


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:55
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
International English is arriving - slowly Feb 14, 2009

It seems to me that the language is evolving to help second-language students, but evolution is a slow process.

Vocabulary:-
We already see "family name" on many forms. "Surname" is what I'm used to, but my French students don't like it (particularly as the French word "surnom" means nickname).

For me, the plural of person (with exceptions) is people. I sometimes feel as though I'm in a minority of one, though, with everyone around me using "persons".

Adjectives:-
It seems to me that comparative adjectives are changing, too. Non-native speakers don't like adding "-er" to the adjective - they prefer to add the word "more", resulting in "more quiet", "more busy" etc. I correct my students when they say "more cold", but I wonder how long it will be before I see a grammar book with this as an acceptable alternative form.

Verbs:-
As far as irregular verbs are concerned, I don't think I'll ever be able to switch to "runned", but I have it on the authority of a language expert that all new verbs will be regular. So, learners may have to learn "put, put, put", but it's "input, inputted, inputted".

Question forms:-
To quote the example given by the topic starter, "You liked the movie?" may well become accepted, IMO. Certainly, questions using the verb "to have" are a real mess. I have course books that present the correct forms as "Do you have a pen?" or "Have you got a pen?", then they print a listening script where the speaker says "Have you a pen?". Where does that leave the poor teacher?


I'm on the whole happy to see these changes arriving, although it makes life difficult for a teacher. The only thing I don't look forward to is having my students berate me for using incorrect, outdated English.


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Ioanna Orfanoudaki  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 04:55
Member (2007)
French to Greek
+ ...
... And Noah Webster before them... Feb 14, 2009

on the simplification of spelling...
http://edweb.sdsu.edu/people/DKitchen/new_655/webster_language.htm

Referring to Sheila's message, the abuse of language is unfortunately very (too) common: "if I would know", "I'm liking it", "this is the easier solution", etc. are still considered as mistakes, as far as I know; yet phrases such as "I'm liking it" are becoming more and more common, whether they're used in big fast food chain campaigns or on BBC programmes. How can you explain this to someone who's just read the grammar chapter on present continuous and reads the box saying "verbs such as like, hate, etc do not take -ing"... ?


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Heike Behl, Ph.D.  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:55
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
More than spelling and morphology Feb 14, 2009

One of the main reasons for English being a difficult language to learn that is usually given is the high amount of idiomatic expressions. Another common source for mistakes is the use of correct prepositions.

There are lots of English native speakers with an appalling orthography that also use ungrammatical forms and sentence structures - and yet they can make themselves understood. It's the correct use of idioms and prepositions that is the hardest to learn for non-native speakers since they tend to be very different from language to language. No matter whether it's a "simplified" version of English or an artificial language or any other language, these differences between languages will remain and cause problems for non-native speakers, and these are also the elements that most clearly identify non-native speakers/writers as such.

If the main problems in producing and processing a foreign language were orthography and grammar, machine translation would be much more successful than it is at the moment!


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:55
French to English
+ ...
Devil in the detail Feb 14, 2009

Sheila Wilson wrote:
It seems to me that comparative adjectives are changing, too. Non-native speakers don't like adding "-er" to the adjective - they prefer to add the word "more", resulting in "more quiet", "more busy" etc. I correct my students when they say "more cold", but I wonder how long it will be before I see a grammar book with this as an acceptable alternative form.


The distribution of the synthetic comparatives ("colder", "busier", "commoner" etc) vs analytic ones ("more cold", "more busy", "more common" etc) and the conditions that make one form either possible or more likely than the other are quite complex. For example, in this sentence I think native speaker usage would pretty much rule out "more cold":

(a) This beer is warm. Bring me a colder one!

whereas in this sentence, either seems possible:

(b) The weather was even colder/more cold than I expected.

Possibly a change that we'll see initially is more contexts of type (b) that accept either alternative, but the way the comparative changes will surely be as complex as the situation at the moment.


As far as irregular verbs are concerned, I don't think I'll ever be able to switch to "runned", but I have it on the authority of a language expert that all new verbs will be regular. So, learners may have to learn "put, put, put", but it's "input, inputted, inputted".


As a generality, all newly coined verbs are regular, but with the complication of analogy in a few verbs such as "input"/"output", "broadcast"/"podcast" etc. When such analogy exists in English, usage can vary (many computer programmers would say "We input the data" and others "We inputted the data").

Existing verbs won't necessarily regularise immediately, but rather there could be simplification in one of the forms. Some people already say "It hasn't ran" instead of "It hasn't run".


To quote the example given by the topic starter, "You liked the movie?" may well become accepted, IMO.


I think this is a fairly normal question form in English if you imagine adding a "null tag" to the end of the sentence (so the meaning is similar to "You liked the movie, then?"). As a simple yes-no question, I'm less certain that it's part of native speaker usage.


Certainly, questions using the verb "to have" are a real mess. I have course books that present the correct forms as "Do you have a pen?" or "Have you got a pen?", then they print a listening script where the speaker says "Have you a pen?". Where does that leave the poor teacher?


I think "Have you a pen?" is more common in UK English than US English, though I think it's a bit more common when the complement is a longer phrase (so e.g. "Have you a pen I could borrow?" sounds a bit more natural than "Have you a pen?").


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 21:55
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
true, but this is different Feb 14, 2009

Victor Dewsbery wrote:

There are already many varieties of "English for non-natives".


True, there are many versions. However, these have developed historically and socially and have not been created based on a a systematic attempt to produce (i) an _easy-learned_ version that is (2) mutually comprehensible with current, mainstream English.


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 21:55
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
different from Ogden's proposal Feb 14, 2009

Jack Doughty wrote:

I think you are re-inventing the wheel here. One of the best-known existing versions is Ogden's Basic English, invented nearly 80 years ago! See references.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_English

http://ogden.basic-english.org/



Thanks, I know about Ogden's proposal. I suspect EVE suggests a new approach. Did Ogden propose phonemically based rewriting of words and streamlining of morphology/syntax?


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 21:55
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
not "dumbed down", just easier to learn Feb 14, 2009

FarkasAndras wrote:

Any dumbed down English would fare a lot worse...



The suggestion is not to make it "dumbed down" but to simplify the effort it takes to learn it by "streamlining" it in different ways, e.g.:

(1) Phonemic principle of writing
(2) Systematic exceptionless morphology
(3) Systematic exceptionless syntax

And perhaps streamlining also can be done at various other levels, such as e.g. developing semantically clearer alternatives to idioms and semantically streamlining the use of prepositions (to mention two problem areas indicated by another poster here).

For all I know, the result may perhaps even be a "smart-up" version...

[Edited at 2009-02-14 23:35 GMT]


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 21:55
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Different conditions for EVE and Esperanto Feb 14, 2009

FarkasAndras wrote:

The history of these languages, including Esperanto, should tell you something: this is a pointless exercise. Artificial languages don't survive because without a population of native speakers, there is no real attachment or motivation.
Esperanto is an interesting idea, but it is the miserable failure it inevitabley had to become.


There is a fundamental difference between EVE and esperanto.

Esperanto is a purely artificial language (although ultimately based on roots from various Indo-European languages, etc. etc.).

EVE would just be a version of English: as such it implicitly already has a very large user community and implicitly also has a very large pool of people who might want to learn it. While learning EVE, a person would have a billion or so English speakers out in the world with whom he would be able to practice and communicate.

I can already see how just presenting a phonemically rewritten version of English could be a hit among starting learners. (Many people who learn English are not much interested in the writing anyway; they just want to be able to speak it, so to them a phonemically rewritten version would be a great help. Of course, this is not true for all, but for many it is.)


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