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Abstract

THE LIFE of a language involves relationships between linguistic elements and extra-linguistic contexts. The linguistic elements are varied and multiple, involving both written and spoken symbols and grammars, while the extra-linguistic contexts are the innumerable societies, cultures, and sub-cultures of humankind, including its worlds of reality, imagination, and ideology. This article discusses invented languages, partly in order to explore the motivations and schemes of their inventors and partly to compare languages created for international use (often called international auxiliary languages or IALs) with English, which itself functions as an IAL but is very much an uninvented language.
DOI: 10.1017/S0266078404002032
8English Today 78, Vol. 20, No. 2 (April 2004). Printed in the United Kingdom © 2004 Cambridge University Press
[A mildly adapted version of an article of the
same name which first appeared in the journal
Australian Language Matters, March 2002]
THE LIFE of a language involves relationships
between linguistic elements and extra-linguis-
tic contexts. The linguistic elements are varied
and multiple, involving both written and spo-
ken symbols and grammars, while the extra-
linguistic contexts are the innumerable soci-
eties, cultures, and sub-cultures of humankind,
including its worlds of reality, imagination,
and ideology. This article discusses invented
languages, partly in order to explore the moti-
vations and schemes of their inventors and
partly to compare languages created for inter-
national use (often called international auxil-
iary languages or IALs) with English, which
itself functions as an IAL but is very much an
uninvented language.
Linguistic elements and extra-
linguistic contexts
Thousands of artificial languages have been
created (cf. Baussani 1974, Large 1987, Schu-
bert 1989) and the serious schemes that have
produced more or less complete languages
number many hundreds. There are three broad
ways to classify invented, constructed or artifi-
cial languages: a priori languages; a posteriori
languages and adapted or modified natural
languages.
A priori languages start from scratch with new
symbols, signs or other elements devised to
represent essential concepts. The new sym-
bols and signs of the language, whether writ-
ten or spoken, are then classified according
to principles of some kind, usually a design
logic the inventor considers critical to the
communication problem he or she is trying to
redress. Many of these schemes are sketchy
and can’t actually be called languages as such,
often just remaining on the drawing board as
Invented languages and
new worlds
JOSEPH LO BIANCO
A discussion of the nature and significance of artificial
languages
JOSEPH LO BIANCO holds the Chair of Language
and Literacy Education at the University of
Melbourne, is Adjunct Professor at the School of
Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the
University of Queensland, and was Founder and
Chief Executive of Language Australia: The
National Languages and Literacy Institute of
Australia (which publishes the journal ‘Australian
Language Matters’). He has been a consultant on
language policy and literacy planning in Alberta
(Canada), Fiji, Hawaii (USA), Italy, Northern
Ireland and Scotland (UK), South Africa, Sri
Lanka, Tonga, and Western Samoa. He was for ten
years a member of the Australian National
Commission for UNESCO, and set up the
Melanesian Literacy Project as part of the
International Literacy Year in 1990. He led a team
that wrote and implemented, in China and India,
the ‘Manual for Functional Literacy for Indigenous
Peoples’ (UNESCO 1991), worked with teachers in
Sri Lanka on multiculturalism and peace studies
(1999–2000), and contributed to policy
development for the European Year of Languages
(2001). Recent publications include, with
Language Australia Publications, Melbourne:
‘Australian Policy Activism in Language and
Literacy’ (2001), ‘Voices from Phnom Penh:
Development and Language’ (editor, 2002), and
‘Teaching Invisible Culture: Classroom Practice and
Theory’ (2003). He holds the Order of Australia
(AM) ‘for service to the development of language
policy and planning in Australia and overseas’
(1999).
language projects. However, a perhaps sur-
prising number of a priori languages go
beyond the private dreams of their often bril-
liant inventors and result in elaborate
schemes combining thousands of elements of
meaning into complex classification systems.
Many are based on claims that the elements
are universally understandable across human
cultures, or that they are easily learned and
globally valid. Typically a priori languages do
not permit exceptions to their rules of use or
grammar. Many a priori language projects pay
little regard to the relevant extra-linguistic
contexts and, inevitably (no matter how
brilliantly conceived they are), they fail as
IALs or in whatever other social, political or
intellectual ambition inspired their original
creation.
A posteriori languages draw their building
blocks from existing languages. Mostly these
are natural languages but many a posteriori
language projects use already existing but
originally constructed languages as raw
material for their linguistic elements. Sev-
eral invented languages have been subjected
to reform movements just like natural lan-
guages. The design principle behind a poste-
riori projects is a more pragmatic acceptance
that a constructed language should not
expect all present language users to aban-
don their existing speech or writing prac-
tices and adopt totally new ones in the pur-
suit of an ideal espoused by the language
inventor. A posteriori projects therefore tend
to take more seriously the extra-linguistic
context but this does not necessarily guaran-
tee success either.
Modifications and adaptations are often
made to existing natural languages
(whether tiny and endangered or large and
dominant). These projects are even more
pragmatic about extra-linguistic context,
and usually aim to help an existing speech
community adapt to altered and more chal-
lenging social environments. Partial modifi-
cation includes efforts to revive dead or
dying natural languages by devising new
words, expressions, writing systems or other
innovations so that they may take on new
life in new domains, but even modifications
to large and prominent international lan-
guages fit under this category, such as the
various spelling reforms for English or spe-
cific-purpose codes such as Basic English
and SeaSpeak. However, language reform
movements of this kind are not much more
successful than a priori and a posteriori
invented languages.
A priori invented languages
One early effort at language construction was
made in 1647 by Francis Lodwick in England.
Calling his proposal A Common Writing, Lod-
wick imagined that by choosing ‘radical’ words
and attaching what he considered commonly
perceivable signs to such words, their meaning
would become clear to readers who did not
speak the original language of the word. Lod-
wick imagined that by adding such special
signs to selected English words they would be
rendered understandable to people who didn’t
speak any English, so that, say, non-English-
speaking Russians or Greeks could somehow
read English by virtue of an intuitive squiggle.
Lodwick’s scheme exemplifies an important
aspect of many invented-language projects: the
search for a system of universal signs that
would mark ideas common to all people in all
cultures.
This idealism pervades many invented-lan-
guage projects, such as one in 1668 by another
Englishman, Bishop John Wilkins, who
thought that 40 basic categories encompass all
human ideas and all existing entities. In both
the spoken and written forms of Wilkins’
scheme, each of the 40 core ideas was to be
marked by a vowel, consonant or diacritic. Peo-
ple everywhere would do the same, and the
collective effect (known as Real Character)
would be a universal kind of writing. Through
repetition and intuitive principles, we would
learn the system, and on encountering a new
language would instantly identify the core
meanings through the standard markers. The
central logic of the system would ensure that
communication across language and cultural
differences would be enhanced – even across
languages that we do not speak.
Much more elaborately worked out is Ro, an
extensive, logical and well-ordered language
created in the United States by an Ohio Rev-
erend, Edward Foster (1853–1937). Foster’s
life obsession produced a language in which,
like Wilkins’ approach, word categories are evi-
dent from letter selections, so that bofoc means
red, bofod means orange and bofof means yel-
low. This sequence encapsulates Foster’s desire
to have written or printed words ‘teach the
learner’ by having spelling hint at meanings.
INVENTED LANGUAGES AND NEW WORLDS 9
Essentially Foster was seeking to devise alpha-
betic pictograms, a little like Chinese charac-
ters, with the letters of the Roman alphabet
that English uses, so that a picture or image, or
other semantic quality, was suggested in addi-
tion to the letter’s existing correspondence
with a sound. He described this process as ‘self-
interpreting’. Foster’s main aim was not peace
or universal communication, but to produce an
inherently logical new language system; he
was more focused on linguistic elements than
extra-linguistic contexts. The increased logic in
the language system would in turn enhance
learning, improve acquisition, and stimulate
better retention of ideas; but only indirectly
would it also contribute to ‘enlightenment and
human progress’.
The first Ro publication emerged in 1906
and with energetic research and creativity
16,000 Ro/English words were devised. Devot-
ing much of his life to the project, Foster added
a veritable scaffold of consistency and logic to
alphabetic writing by classifying every word he
invented under letter categories according to
rules that suggested that word’s semantic prop-
erties. For example, words beginning with B
are for substances, initial D words suggest
place, G suggests quality, and J relationships.
Vowel-initial words were for grammar, so that
A words denote pronouns, E would denote
verb inflections such as tense and mood, I and
O prepositions opposite to each other in mean-
ing, while U would be for conjunctions. The
system is more complicated as it expands from
two to three and multi-syllabic words. Two-
part syllables connect a meaningful first conso-
nant with significant vowels. By adding further
semantically connected consonants, Ro pro-
duces three-part syllables and multiplies the
logic by some order of magnitude.
Ro works its alphabetic wonders at the ends
of words as well as their beginnings. Nouns,
verbs, adjectives and adverbs are indicated by
variations to final vowels of words. Via this
rule, the last vowel A indicates concrete nouns,
E indicates a verb, I an adverb, O an adjective
and U an abstract noun. Foster suggested that
Ro was as logical as a street map, though I
guess he meant for those places where street
names and house numbers follow a regular
order and pattern, where nobody has knocked
over the street sign, and an overgrown crab-
apple doesn’t hide the house number. These
comments are not frivolous. In their seeming
randomness and apparent disorder of varia-
tion, natural languages carry a great deal of
cultural meaning for their users. Language
variation is often for reasons that have little to
do with the mere absence of systems of formal
logic.
Although Foster was acknowledged in the
US Congress, in libraries and among philan-
thropists, probably only a handful of people
ever actually communicated in Ro (cf. Harri-
son, R., <www.langmaker.com/outpost/
ro.htm>), whereas virtually everyone in the
world uses illogical, random, incomplete and
non-intuitive languages every day.
A more recent committee-created logic lan-
guage that is also very impressive is Lojban
(‘logical language’). Lojban is intended to be
spoken as well as written. Its express aims
include removing ‘a large portion of the ambi-
guity from human communication’. Work on
Lojban has proceeded for some 50 years from
its beginnings under Dr James Cooke Brown in
1955 (when it was known as Loglan) and has
since involved hundreds of contributors.
Lojban supporters call it unique in that it aims
to be used among people and, eventually,
between people and computers. In other
respects it shares the aims of many invented-
language projects that connect innovations in
linguistic elements with extra-linguistic social
claims, as for example logic and rigor with cul-
tural neutrality, phonetic spelling, and build-
ing millions of words from a fixed number of
root words (1,300), alongside claims to
‘remove restrictions on creative and clear
thought and communication’.
Since 1987, Lojban has been supported by
the Logical Language Group, or la lojbangirz
(pronounced ‘lah-lozh-BAHN-geerz’), a not-
for-profit company which maintains the official
repository of its materials (cf. <http://www.
lojban.org>). La lojbangirz has a journal, a
newsletter and an annual LogFest to celebrate
progress and developments. The Lojban project
aims to work with Esperanto (see below)
rather than against it, to advance the cause of
international auxiliary languages. La lojbangirz
also has purely scientific goals. It aims to teach
Lojban, which it describes as ‘culture-indepen-
dent’, to groups of people so that scientific test-
ing of the intellectual effects of language sepa-
rated from cultural effects can proceed. In this
way, influential theories in linguistics (such as
the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativ-
ity, the claim that different languages influence
thought differently) can be empirically tested.
10 ENGLISH TODAY 78 April 2004
INVENTED LANGUAGES AND NEW WORLDS 11
The projects of Lodwick and Wilkins, and of
Ro, Lojban, and many other systems have sought
perfection, either by constructing languages
from scratch, or by modifying deficiencies in
existing languages. As Eco (1997) has shown,
there has been a 2,000-year search for various
kinds of linguistic perfection. Some projects have
aimed to overcome limits in expressive power
and produce languages perfect for artistic imag-
ination, others to produce languages without
ambiguity (perfect for science and philosophy),
others to produce languages neutral of ideology,
interests, culture and nationality, and hence
vehicles perfect for world citizenship, while
some have aimed to produce languages so per-
fect that they overcome all limits of under-
standing and express transcendentalism, con-
nection with God, communication with
otherness, and spiritual perfection.
Such constructed languages are meant to be
used by humans in giving life to new worlds of
ideas, interests, art, politics and ideology, par-
ticular civilisations, gender, particular
lifestyles, and the imagination. Some examples
of new systems for ideal or imaginary worlds
are described below.
Láadan and Klingon
Láadan attempts to reflect women’s expressive
uniqueness, finding this a deficiency in existing
natural languages, and presumably in other
invented languages. Created by Suzette Haden
Elgin in the early 1980s in the United States,
Láadan has a radical pronoun system and orig-
inal ways of working such as morphemes based
on speech acts and ‘evidence acts’.
Unlike English, sentences in Láadan place
the verb first, then the subject and object. A
speech-act morpheme is placed at the begin-
ning of sentences and an evidence-act mor-
pheme at the end, the former indicating what
kind of sentence follows (e.g., interrogative or
imperative) while the latter shows whether the
information in the sentence derives from per-
sonal experience, a trusted source, or a hypo-
thetical source. These morphemes provide
grammatical information that in English
speech or writing we have to seek elsewhere.
Although not obligatory for all sentences, evi-
dence-act morphemes frame chunks of speech
or writing and supply to participants in a con-
versation information about the authority basis
of certain expressions. Other features are more
conventionally feminist, as with gender in
nouns. Gender is not normally marked but
when it is marked the male category is speci-
fied by adding the suffix -id. For example, the
word for parent is thul but with the addition of
-id it becomes thulid (‘male parent’).
Like many contemporary invented-language
projects, Láadan is premised on linguistic rela-
tivity, meaning that languages are not neutral
vehicles for the transmission of ‘out there’
objective facts, but that subjectivity varies, not
just across individuals, but predictably across
groups, and that languages code, reflect, and
are intimately bound up with this variation.
Different perceptions of reality are coded and
expressed in languages and in turn help con-
struct interpretations of experience. In keeping
with this ideology, Elgin’s project speculates
about what impact a language that expresses
fundamentally different notions rooted in
female experience and perception would have
(or have had) on American culture. Unlike
Lojban, which imagines it is possible to have
language without culture or ideology, Láadan
accepts that these go together and seeks to rep-
resent a neglected perspective. It exists in a lit-
erary space of its own, in the 1984 science fic-
tion novel Native Tongue and its sequels, which
have explored new worlds appropriate to a
Láadan-influenced reality. Because of Elgin’s
formal linguistic training, Láadan is also found
in scholarly writing. See <http://www.inter-
log.com/~kms/Laadan/learning.html>.
Many invented languages exist in imaginary
space. Unlike those that attempt to impact on
the here-and-now, a growing number of created
languages exists for other-worldly reasons.
Klingon makes big claims for itself, described on
the Klingon Language Institute’s website as the
‘galaxy’s fastest growing language’. Originating
in the Star Trek TV series and movies (where
other languages, such as Tamarian and Bajoran,
are spoken), Klingon is perhaps the preferred
language of space enthusiasts and those moti-
vated towards alien communication. Like its
better-known counterpart, the Académie
française, the Klingon Language Institute
(founded in 1992) tries to protect the purity of
the language and develop its expressive range.
The bumpy-headed aliens of Star Trek are
not, in fact, the main users of Klingon but pos-
sibly thousands of otherwise normal earthlings
who probably weren’t interested in school
French or Japanese but find Klingon the foreign
language par excellence. With its own orthogra-
phy (a script called pIqaD) and a remarkable
12 ENGLISH TODAY 78 April 2004
range of paraphernalia to support its develop-
ment, Klingon provides an array of identity
markers for users and learners. The ‘Warrior’s
Tongue’ is saturated with a distinctive culture,
commercial merchandise, projects and activi-
ties, and supports scholarship through a journal
HoLQeD, as well as dictionaries and pocket
guides, conversation books and audio cassettes.
See <http://www.kli.org/>.
Tolkien and Rowling
Just as sci-fi imagination has its communica-
tion systems so too does the mythic past. The
inhabitants of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth
glory in a rich communicative repertoire.
Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, an
accomplished student of Latin and Greek, and
studied and spoke several other languages. In
devising communication systems and histories
for hobbits, orcs, elves and dwarves, he gave
full rein to his many linguistic accomplish-
ments, but reversed real-life experience in
which language function usually precedes lan-
guage form. Tolkien first created languages
then invented worlds, discourses and roles so
that his creations could run free. His work pro-
vides history, both fragmentary and complete,
and a ‘present’ full of diverse names and nam-
ing practices. His language world is rich in
diglossia, language ecology (shift, mainte-
nance, and death), stable and ruptured bilin-
gualism, culture and language connections and
other features of linguistic variation and soci-
ety/language correlations.
First the Elves divided into two main groups,
the West Elves (the Eldar) and the East Elves.
Among the Eldar, three tribes sailed from Bele-
riand to Valar and evolved a language called
Quenya (also High Elven, High Elvish) which
some commentators have called Elvish Latin.
Quenya’s distinctive writing system, Tengwar,
has its own history of origination, modification
and reform, each phase stimulated by the
emergence of new communicative demands. A
rival writing form, Certar, gives rise to
digraphia in elvish writing. Certar (also called
Cirth) is found mostly in the scratchings and
inscriptions of Sindar Elves in Beleriand and is
therefore archaic. Low Elven was called Sin-
darin or Gray-elven, and was originally the lan-
guage of those who did not sail from Beleriand.
Over time, Sindarin separated from Quenya, so
that communication between West and East
Elves became difficult. Some elves were
expelled from their new lands and returned to
Beleriand where they had to re-learn Sindarin,
though they retained Quenya for ceremonial
purposes and high occasions, reversing the
High/Low split between the two languages.
As far as ‘Men’ were concerned Tolkien had
another elaborate pattern. Most Men speak
Westron. Some of the human tribes, whose
ancestral language was Adunaic, had helped
the Elves during the wars and turmoil in the
times that precede the focus of most of
Tolkien’s books: times of legend, memory, and
myth; tumultuous times when they fought The
Dark Lord. They were rewarded with learning,
long life and a new place to settle. In this new
place, the human tribes learned Sindarin from
the local Elves, though some spoke Quenya. As
the humans mixed with other creatures so too
did Adunaic mingle with other languages,
eventually becoming the Common Speech,
later called Westron, spoken in much of Middle
Earth.
In the Lord of the Rings, language changes
from archaic to more modern forms reflecting
Tolkien’s keen sense of the evolution of speech
over time. The Hobbits did not have a distinc-
tive language of their own, but used the lan-
guage of Men. Hobbits underwent a major lan-
guage shift, from Rohiric (which was used in
their ancestral lands of Anduin and Mirkwood,
from where they fled tumultuous events) to
Westron, which they learned when they
arrived in Eriador, their place of refuge.
There are other languages in the Lord of the
Rings: the hard-to-learn language of the
ancient tree-like Ents, described as repetitive
and poor sounding; the slow-changing lan-
guage of the Dwarves, with its secret discourses
and private speech; and the Black Speech of
the Orcs, cobbled together from other lan-
guages as if to reflect their lack of virtue. In
Tolkien’s world, having an original speech and
being separated from it suggests tragedy; while
undergoing language shift implies pragma-
tism; having an original speech and retaining it
connotes virtue, but ‘cobbling together’ sug-
gests shiftiness. The Orcs pervert other tongues
to their foul ends, with the detestable Sauron
involved in inventing their language. Tolkien
makes Orc-talk highly dialectal and primitive,
precluding effective and elaborated communi-
cation, associating evil-doing with limited
expressive range. Over time, however, the Orcs
move to speaking a basic kind of Westron, and
the evil Sauron’s fall leads to the abandonment
INVENTED LANGUAGES AND NEW WORLDS 13
of Black Speech, but on his return it is revived
as the language of his court, and is the lan-
guage of the inscription on the Ring (cf. Noel
1980).
Far less elaborate than Tolkien’s world of
languages is J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts School,
where Harry Potter and his friends learn wiz-
ardry, though here too there are critical social
ideas implied in the uses of bilingualism and
functional speech forms. For example, some
Hogwarts students are parselmouths (speakers
of parseltongue) and can communicate with
snakes, which is essential for entering the
Chamber of Secrets, guarded as it is by ser-
pents. Rowling’s deployment of language as an
access code expresses the intercultural claims
for languages common in books of the imagi-
nation, where closed-off spaces and places are
revealed only to the communicatively initiated.
Modifications to natural languages
There are literally thousands of well-developed
schemes to modify natural languages, and per-
haps the greatest number are for modifying
and reintroducing Latin. Some aim to undo the
historical shifts from Latin to vernacular, oth-
ers aim to send Latin back to the monastic
scriptoria, while still others aim to make the
most of the internationalisation of Latin words
in many languages worldwide and in this way
enhance international comprehension. Indeed,
some seek no less than the restoration of Latin,
and run radio and television programs with
strong followings.
Perhaps the most famous of the Latin revival-
ists is Interlingua, invented in the early part of
the 20th century by the Italian mathematician
Giuseppe Peano, and also known as Latino sine
Flexione (LsF) and Europeano. LsF is a success-
ful invented language, partly because it is not
completely an invention, and partly because it
has stimulated dozens of schemes to simplify
Latin. In effect, these schemes are modifica-
tions to a natural language, even though the
natural language concerned is pretty dead. LsF
is in effect Latin stripped of its case and verb
inflections.
There is a modest and a more ambitious ver-
sion of LsF. The modest version is Interlin-
gua/Latino sine Flexione, which was not so
much a revival of spoken Latin as a proposed
written lingua franca for international scien-
tific communication, in which Latin, shorn of
its complex declensions and conjugations, was
to be used for the preparation of technical
papers in fields with extensive Latin-derived
terminology. Several ambitious versions of LsF
are based on the claim that, since educated
people across the world already share a large
stock of vocabulary items (at least in basal
form) from Latin and Greek, they can be
expected to make educated guesses about the
meanings of other Latin- and Greek-derived
words. By removing its complex inflections and
changing its syntactic rules, Latin could be
made more like such an ‘analytic’ language as
English (that is, a language that does not heav-
ily inflect its verbs and nouns), and could
therefore unite people across the globe who
cannot easily communicate at present.
Romanova is another interesting instance of
Latin revivalism that reflects part of Peano’s
modest idea. It is a neo-Latin system aimed
only at speakers of the main Romance lan-
guages (Spanish, French, Italian and Por-
tuguese) and at achieving what its activists say
is the realistic goal of enhancing the mutual
intelligibility of these languages by stressing
their common Latin connections. Similarly,
supporters of Paris-based VoxLatina stress the
active promotion of the Romance languages,
and especially French, in a Europe that, they
argue, is more wedded to English every year.
Many IAL schemes stress non-European lan-
guages and small-against-large languages,
examples of which are Tokana and Unish.
Tokana takes its lexical and grammatical influ-
ences mainly from numerically small languages
(such as Basque, Choctaw, Cree, Finnish, Greek,
Hebrew, Hungarian, Irish, Kwakiutl, Lakota,
Lamagasy, Quechua, Tagalog, and Warlpiri) and
Welsh, though it borrows from large ones as well
(French, German, Hindi and Spanish). Tokana
is intended for the ‘amusement and edification’
of its inventor, who in this way explores his ‘aes-
thetic impulses and theoretical ideas’
<http://mpearson.narod.ru/tok.1.html>. It is
a classic a posteriori language in that it tries to
look and feel like a natural language by being
based on natural languages. Since natural lan-
guages are always borrowing from and lending
to each other, Tokana’s borrowing and lending
of words is like inventing natural processes. Its
grammar is however constructed ‘from the
ground up’ and is a good example of a fully
hybrid project.
Also not dominated by European languages is
Unish, the outcome of a major university effort.
It has extensive Chinese, Japanese and Korean
14 ENGLISH TODAY 78 April 2004
input but draws on a total of 16 languages: Ara-
bic, Chinese, English, Esperanto, French, Ger-
man, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean,
Latin, Malay, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
Unish is a serious exercise in linguistic engi-
neering complemented by a rich array of schol-
arly papers. Its rationale is a classic of the genre:
‘As globalization continues apace, the demand
for an international medium of communica-
tion has today become even more crucial.’ As
noted below, a productive time for invented
languages was the dawn of the 20th century,
when a global world was starting to seem pos-
sible. Today, however, we don’t just imagine
globalisation but live with it, and in the present-
day reality of globalisation English has come to
assume many of the functions of an IAL.
The devisers of Unish observe: ‘Not a few prob-
lems arise when one particular language like
English is adopted as a universal language since
the people in English-speaking countries would
be automatically vaulted into a privileged posi-
tion. Additionally, English is difficult to learn due
to its irregularity of grammar and pronunciation’
<http://www.unish.org>. This is the classic
discourse of the IAL movement, that: speakers
of any one natural language gain unfair advan-
tage if that language is used for international
communication; natural languages are in any
case difficult to learn for speakers of languages
from different language families; natural lan-
guages are full of irregularities and inconsisten-
cies; and they are not neutral.
Esperanto as the classic IAL
The decades before and immediately after the
end of the 19th century were a productive time
for IALs. The imperial powers of Europe con-
trolled much of the globe, maps were increas-
ingly accurate and technological advances
rapid. Travel and travel writing were produc-
ing a ‘planetary consciousness’ among Euro-
peans (Pratt 1992) and it was becoming feasi-
ble that some kind of inteconnected world
system would emerge. Those who saw a global
age coming tried to prepare for it in various
ways, though for the most part they made only
modest personal arrangements. Some, how-
ever, devised remarkable and ambitious
schemes for all of humanity, working to estab-
lish world government, based on universal
principles such as cultural equality, national
sovereignty, personal emancipation and reli-
gious freedom. Others thought that technology
would decide the world role of nations and
tried to help their country’s chances by invent-
ing. Some invented languages.
Most famous among these inventors was a
Polish oculist, Ludwig Zamenhof, who turned
the focus of his daily attention from individual
eyesight to social vision. In 1879, a German
priest, Johan Martin Schleyer, had made public
his world language project Volapük (a name
meaning ‘world language’ in Volapük). Based
largely on German and English, Volapük had
an impact on other language projects of the
time and especially on the most successful and
best known of all, Zamenhof’s, whose work on
Esperanto started, it seems, when he was 15,
growing up in multilingual but bitterly divided
Bialystock. In later life he even devised a ‘neu-
tral’ religion for the world, Homaranismo
(Esperanto for ‘member of the human race’).
In 1887, his Universal Auxiliary Language
for the global age was released. Zamenhof
released it under the name ‘Dr Esperanto’, and
perhaps because it did represent a kind of hope
the name stuck. Unlike the names of most nat-
ural languages (that call to mind a nation, a
people, or a territory), Esperanto names the
dream of a world united by politically neutral
speech, a communication system that would
not favour any nation, people or ideology.
The century into which these ideals were
launched however was not a period receptive to
politically neutral and socially inclusive ideals,
but a time of extreme and exclusive ideologies.
Both Nazis and Soviets, suspicious of the con-
gresses held to promulgate Zamenhof’s dream,
suppressed Esperanto (and Homaranismo) and
persecuted its speakers. Many Esperantists
were opposed to Homaranismo, pragmatically
sensing that this made them look like a cult, an
impression which placed further obstacles in
the way of the language being accepted.
People often say that Esperanto has failed, and
that its failure shows that artificial languages
lack such cultural feaures as history, values, and
literature, all of which are needed for the sur-
vival and prospering of a language. However, the
report card some 115 years after its release is not
so negative. Today perhaps several million peo-
ple speak and study Esperanto, and from its
home in Rotterdam the World Union of Esper-
antists maintains a network of more than 2,000
representatives in over 90 countries, publishes
a lively literature, runs regular conferences and
workshops, and encourages world organisations
such as the UN and the EU to recognise it as the
INVENTED LANGUAGES AND NEW WORLDS 15
International Auxiliary Language. Esperanto
motivates a lively discourse community in all
parts of the world, is older than many languages
that we happily describe as ‘natural’ today, even
though they were the result of deliberate lan-
guage planning in the post-colonial period of the
1950s and 1960s. It has also grown naturally so
as to display all the qualities of a natural lan-
guage, including its own kinds of accent and
dialectal variation.
In October 1966, the Union of Esperanto Asso-
ciations handed the Secretary General of the
United Nations a proposal signed by more than
a million people, and 3,843 organisations, claim-
ing to represent 71 million people from all parts
of the world, calling on the UN to ‘solve the world
language problem’ by supporting the Interna-
tional Language. Thirty years later, in 1996, it
issued the Prague Manifesto, in which the claims,
ideas and thinking of what is now called the
Movement for the International Language
Esperanto shows that it has lost little of its fer-
vour and idealism about the potential contribu-
tion of the language to the world, but now uses
a vocabulary perfectly in tune with contempo-
rary language-rights movements that seek to
defend small and threatened languages. The
Prague Manifesto bases its advocacy for the
wider use of Esperanto on the following claims:
Democracy
Using existing languages of power is ‘funda-
mentally antidemocratic’
Global education
Unlike ‘ethnic’ languages (such as English),
Esperanto is not ‘bound’ to certain cultures and
nations, being a ‘language without borders’
Effective education
Many more learners can reach fluency in
Esperanto than in traditional foreign languages
Multilingualism
Esperanto is additional to existing languages,
rather than replacing existing languages
Language rights
Esperanto does not exacerbate the ‘unequal
distribution of power’ between languages, but
supports equal language rights
Language diversity
Esperanto sustains world language ecology
rather than the present rapid extinction of lan-
guages
Human emancipation
Esperanto is described as ‘one of the great func-
tional projects for the emancipation of
humankind’ by allowing universal participa-
tion ‘in the human community’, so that while
people remain ‘securely rooted’ in their local
cultural and language identity they are not lim-
ited to it
Esperanto’s accompaniments, rivals
and counterparts
Apart from the persecution of the movement,
Esperanto was also faced with language chal-
lenges when it became the object of active and
controversial reform efforts. Some reformers
sought to bring about minor simplifications
(believing it to be obscure and clumsy in parts),
while others wanted more radical change.
The greatest impact came from Ido. In its
early congresses, Esperantists rejected sug-
gested improvements to the language made by
a group of people who came to be called the
Idists. A full breakaway movement resulted, in
which the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen and
the French mathematician and philosopher
Louis Couturat were prominent. The Jespersen
and Couturat reform proposals drew on another
contemporary invented language, Idiom Neu-
tral, or Ido, along with their own suggestions for
change. Ido enthusiasts claim that Zamenhof
himself had actually proposed or supported
some of the changes being put forward. The fail-
ure of these proposals led to the development of
Ido as a proposed IAL, which shares many fea-
tures with Esperanto, but has adopted a gender-
neutral personal pronoun and discards the
Esperanto requirement that adjectives agree in
number and case with nouns they qualify. In
addition, Ido has unvarying adjectives.
Idists, although today they are few, saw
themselves carrying on from where Zamenhof
had left off, though, like Esperanto itself, this is
only true at the formal level of language
design, since in terms of common usage fewer
people have heard of Ido than of Esperanto.
Nevertheless Idists have an international
organisation, issue publications, and convene
gatherings of different kinds, and continue to
press their language. According to their web-
site, Idists remain supportive of IALs in general
and of Esperanto, but advance the particular
cause of Ido.
In the early days of inventing IALs, a techni-
cal association was created at a global level to
adjudicate the claims of various candidates
for world language. Novial, which was also
16 ENGLISH TODAY 78 April 2004
created by Otto Jespersen, was offered as a
candidate for International Auxiliary Language
in 1928, attracting considerable interest. Jes-
persen’s long involvement in the International
Auxiliary Languages movement, his active role
in advocating Esperanto reform through Ido,
his invention of Novial, and his formal linguis-
tics training make him one of the major figures
in the history of artificial languages (as well a
major grammatical commentator on English).
Novial (meaning new IAL: cf. Latin novus ‘new’)
draws its vocabulary largely from the Romance
and Germanic languages and much of its gram-
mar from English. After Jespersen’s death in
1943 little organisational structure remained,
as a result of which Novial has largely disap-
peared. However, a small Internet-facilitated
group of enthusiasts keeps working on, and
with, Jespersen’s special creation.
Nations, languages, and ideals
Volapük, Novial, Esperanto, Ido, Interlingua,
Lojban, Unish, Idiom Neutral…. When we see
these languages listed it brings home a point
we are otherwise not used to noticing. Most
languages carry the name of a nation, while
artificial languages mostly carry the name of an
ideal. The nation-naming of languages has its
own complex history. Irish language activists
call the language whose fortunes they advance
Irish, those who oppose them or are not
attuned to the debate, call it Gaelic. In Australia
some call English, Australian English. I have
heard people say that migrants should speak
Australian, and, despite their usually ven-
omous intention, from one kind of sociolinguis-
tics, and from the theorisation of linguistics put
forward by LePage and Tabouret-Keller
(1985), who see language as ‘acts of identity’,
there certainly is Australian, or are many Aus-
tralians, spoken among Australians.
Scots, not Scottish English, is an independent
language of Britain, largely without the huge
French and Latin influence of the Norman con-
quest that changed English in England from
1066 onward. A constant struggle for Scots-lan-
guage advocates is for Scots to be recognised as
a language. Yet, in fact, Scots has many forms,
just as there are several kinds of Scottish English
with which it merges, but Scots is nonetheless a
language of both antiquity and elaboration, in
literature and in speech.
The very names of many languages are also
claims – about peoplehood and about distinc-
tiveness. The political history of language nam-
ing has a strong connection with the politics of
state-making. What linguists might technically
define as a ‘dialect continuum’, such as Hindi-
Urdu, are in extra-linguistic terms entities with
dramatically important social, political, histor-
ical and religious reasons for being distinct lan-
guages. Like all languages, Hindi and Urdu are
often continuous – and very large – ‘acts of
identity’. Despite being very similar to Hindi,
Urdu is written in the Perso-Arabic script, while
Hindi is written in Devanagari (Sanskrit char-
acters). Urdu borrows from Arabic and Persian,
while Hindi makes an effort to preserve words
of older Indian origin. Urdu is Pakistan’s co-
official language, Hindi is India’s. Then add
Panjabi, whose scripts and vocabulary are dif-
ferentiated by religion, so that Hindus and
Sikhs write Panjabi using Gurmukhi, while
some Hindus write it in Devanagari. Muslims
on the other hand write Panjabi using Perso-
Arabic script.
It is evident from this brief description of a
complex reality that linguistic elements take on
differentiated meanings in extra-linguistic con-
texts. Script alone in this case invokes national
allegiances, religious affiliations and different
histories. Such extra-linguistic contexts power-
fully differentiate the combinations of linguis-
tic elements used, even in what linguists might
describe as similar or identical languages.
Comparably, in the former Yugoslavia, rival
language-planning projects are making Bosn-
ian, Croatian and Serbian diverge further from
one another, invoking such matters as nation,
creed, territory and contested history.
Times of major political change usually bring
forth language-reform movements, and so the
war of independence in America was a time rich
with new language schemes. Immediately after
independence in 1776, many tried to mark the
United States as different from monarchical
Britain, some calling for a uniquely American
language that would make use of the large Ger-
man and Dutch presence. Modifying existing
natural languages to produce a ‘politically cor-
rect’ Germanic English, an espoused national
hybrid, inventors set to work writing grammars,
readers and vocabulary lists that biased English
towards its German origins. Although they
failed, in the twentieth century, specifically in
1923 and 1968, in both Congress and the llli-
nois State House attempts were made to
declare ‘American’ (not ‘English’) the official
language – in the latter case successfully.
INVENTED LANGUAGES AND NEW WORLDS 17
Value-free values
Two main criteria, technical and normative,
motivate IAL projects. The technical criteria
involve manipulating linguistic elements to
produce regular and logical patterns, in which
meanings are more or less ‘self-evident’, result-
ing in languages that are ‘easy to learn’.
The normative criteria refer mainly to ‘neu-
trality’. Neutrality is usually of two kinds: polit-
ical neutrality (understood as not favouring the
interests of particular countries) and kinds of
ideological neutrality (concerning issues such
as gender-framed worldviews, religious orien-
tations, and comparable values and perspec-
tives). The technical criteria have proved more
or less achievable. A large number of logical,
patterned, regular and intuitive languages
have been invented – and more will be. The
fact that there have been many solutions to the
technical challenge, and that many of these are
both elegant and efficient, suggests that even
technical criteria are based on values and that
these values are multiple and varied. It seems
that multiple, legitimate and stable differences
of perspective exist, even about matters of
technique.
However, the normative criteria have proved
far more problematic. During the heyday of the
IALs (the end of the 19th and early 20th cen-
turies in Europe), an Association of Scientific
Academies was founded to adjudicate on com-
peting claims for an IAL, and to determine, sci-
entifically, ‘the best one’. This modernist cul-
tural confidence in techniques to solve
substantive problems among competing inter-
ests, much criticised by post-modern scepti-
cism, imagines that it is linguistic and not
extra-linguistic factors that determine the for-
tunes of an invented language being accepted
and used as an auxiliary language.
But the international domination of English
cannot be explained by any recourse to techni-
cal linguistic criteria. It is extra-linguistic con-
texts, and not any ease of learning or inherent
rationality, that explains why it is instrumen-
tally useful to know English in Tashkent, Oslo,
Nairobi or Nagoya. English predominates
because of a ‘historical contingency arising
from the mercantile and colonial expansion of
the British Empire which was followed by
American economic and technological hege-
mony’ (Eco 1997:331). Never before has polit-
ical globalisation been followed by economic
globalisation in which the dominant force of
both, though in each case a different polity,
spoke the same language.
English, values and a globalising
world
Despite both the predictions and hopes of lan-
guage inventors, the language that today most
resembles an IAL is not an artificial language,
but a natural one, and not a language neutral
of culture, ethnicity, nationalism and world-
view, but one that is saturated with all of these.
The actual IAL is not at all a simple, rational,
regular, easy-to-learn, phonetic language
whose verbs and nouns follow unvarying rules.
Perhaps there is a fundamental problem with
the notion of neutrality. Perhaps even lan-
guages like Lojban, despite impressive efforts to
be ‘culturally neutral’, can only minimise some
kinds of cultural patterning. Perhaps neutrality
itself is a value. Perhaps formal order, unvary-
ing regularity, intuitive character, and many of
the other ideals that language inventors have
espoused are also values and sustain their own
ideology – that of rationality, formal order, sim-
plicity, regularity and intuitive character.
English is almost none of the things the ideal-
ists imagined a world language would have to
be, and a global world is very few of the things
that they thought were inevitable. The global
age isn’t a world of nations alone, but a world of
multiculturalism, economic globalisation and
declining sovereignty in which many contradic-
tory patterns co-occur (Giddens 1999) and in
which new kinds of cultural identity emerge
and disappear regularly. Even our views of cul-
ture have been radically challenged by the expe-
rience of post-modernity so that we cannot seri-
ously defend notions of culture as fixed,
unvarying, permanent and essential to identity,
but we must concede that culture is an ensem-
ble of practices that are variable and multiple.
Perhaps all languages, artificial and natural
alike, are cultural once they come to be used by
humans. Rather than aspire to rationality in lan-
guages perhaps it makes more sense to aim for
multiplicity of perspectives. No language, not
English nor Esperanto, in and of itself, certainly
not structurally and probably in no other way,
precludes its deployment for purposes different
from any biases it may have organically located
within its structure. This understanding does
not mean that languages are not biased, or
rather, that they are not culturally grounded,
reflecting particular histories. Nor does this
18 ENGLISH TODAY 78 April 2004
deny that languages can constrain and channel
thought by pre-disposing speakers to some, and
not other, meanings and interpretations. Rather
it accepts that the users of a language are not
necessarily consumed or exhausted by, or lim-
ited to, its biases and patterns.
This in turn does not mean that we should
not be alert to the biases, the cultural predispo-
sitions and patterns that languages have and
that they make available to their users. But lan-
guages are neither prison houses of the mind,
nor are they transparent tools without inter-
ests, histories and tendencies. After all, the crit-
ical feature of language is not ultimately its
structure but its use, that is, the practices that
societies make available for language such as
conversation, argument, debate, and discus-
sion, tirades, ranting, lecturing, hectoring, per-
suasion and so on. These practices are often
dialogical and iterative and make available
possibilities and meanings well beyond any
structural merits, or limits, in a language.
A large number of artificial language projects
espouse ideological neutrality so as not to
favour the interests, meanings, worldview, or
experiences of dominant groups. However,
what the language inventors produced were
not languages lacking ideology, but languages
saturated with contesting ideologies. The artifi-
cial-languages movement is testament to the
power of idealism combined with a pragmatic,
even fanatical, interest in grammar and lexi-
con. It has produced an immense gain in con-
sciousness about language and thought, and
reminds us that some groups benefit when
their language is favoured. There is no end of
concrete evidence of this. Some of the invented
languages have become natural languages,
part of the human linguistic repertoire, from
which we can learn many lessons. One of these,
as the on-going debates about the politics of
English in the world remind us, is that there are
both inequality and advantage in the world’s
present language arrangements.
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Bausani, A. 1974. Le lingue inventate, Linguaggi
artificiali, linguaggi segreti, linguaggi universali.
Rome: Ubaldini.
Eco, U. 1997. The search for the perfect language.
London: Fontana.
Giddens, A. 1999. Runaway world. London: Profile.
Large, A. 1987. The artificial language movement.
Oxford & New York: Blackwell.
LePage, R.B., & A. Tabouret-Keller. 1985. Acts of
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Ethnicity. Cambridge: University Press.
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Drawing on a postmodern critical inquiry, this chapter attempts to relate aspects of English language education to broader sociopolitical issues in Saudi Arabia. It examines the global spread of English and its role in shaping English language education policy and practice in public education and reports on findings obtained from a group of Saudi English language teaching (ELT) teachers and students. A qualitative approach has been adopted, in which two methods of data collection are used: documentary analysis and semistructured interviews.The study carries a moral and ethical dimension as it aims to empower the participants, both students and teachers, and to open up the practice of English language education to new possibilities. Through problematizing practices, the study seeks to prompt participants to rethink basic notions about the phenomenon of global English by “estranging” the familiar. The study is best seen as part of the current debate over the hegemony of global English vis-à-vis postcolonial relationships and domination. It should be noted here that the intention in carrying out the present research was not to undermine the role that English language can play in furthering the potential of Saudi students to effectively contribute to the social growth of their nation. Rather, the aim was to initiate a debate about issues that have been taken for granted by calling into question any attempt to establish the dominance of English over Arabic, and consequently, contributing to the marginalization of the latter.
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