English

The international language

 

 

International Languages.

 

In modern times protagonists of the idea of a neutral auxiliary language have come to rely less and less on arbitrary devices. They have been restricting their endeavors more and more consciously to the arrangement and processing of words and rules of grammar which they have culled from existing natural languages. These words and rules — so the argument seems to run — need not be introduced from scratch; they are and have been in practical use. No one can doubt their qualifications to serve efficiently and well.

This trend no doubt has played into the hands of those who advocate the adoption of one of the major existing languages as the most promising choice for a universal auxiliary language. To a certain extent their proposals might seem to agree with the lessons of the history of interlinguistics and auxiliary languages in general. However, that history tells us also that no national language has ever been used for auxiliary purposes unless its native speakers had established themselves as a people in a position of political or cultural hegemony. A national language used as a secondary world language implies on the part of its speakers a claim to universal superiority, and no people is in a position to make such a claim and force all parties concerned to agree.

Secondary or auxiliary languages are a very old and very common phenomenon. Late Greek served as one. As such it was particularly important since the New Testament was written and propagated in it. The case of medieval Latin is very similar and so, albeit in different fields and on different levels, are the examples of contemporary Pidgin English, of Swahili or Kiswahili in East Africa, of Hindustani, Mandarin Chinese, and of literally dozens of other so-called lingua francas. None of these, however, was a man-made auxiliary language, and no man-made auxiliary language has ever equaled the least of them in practical everyday importance.

Extranational languages have never attained their range as the result of man's desire to understand his neighbors across the border and to avoid or overcome friction, war, and hatred, which are often regarded as unavoidable results of our numerous language borders. Actually languages of more than nationally restricted use have always been established in their role as secondary or auxiliary languages in foreign parts by potent needs either of a purely utilitarian or of a generally cultural kind.

In one way or another these languages were connected or actually identified with an "expansive movement" which promoted them as in turn they served and promoted it.

Medieval Latin, to mention but one example, owed its wide range to the missionary "dynamism" of the Church, while the Church, in turn, could not have accomplished its task without the universality of its language.

These data may justify the generalization that no secondary auxiliary language of major or minor scope has ever been accepted and used if in back of it there was not a specific force which promoted it because it needed it as a practical tool.

Applied to the problem of a modern auxiliary world language, this means that either the modern world can claim to have initiated an expansive movement of the kind alluded to in which case the modern world must already have a language of its own that cannot and need not be superseded by a product of man's making — or there is no such movement — in which case all our efforts to establish a universal auxiliary language are a clear waste of time and energy because none can exist.

The first of these alternatives is right. The modern world is pervaded in all its parts and phases by a powerful influence which has reduced the vastness of the globe to a matter of hours and has diffused things and ideas and problems to every corner of every continent. If one simple label is wanted to designate the force responsible for all the good and all the evil that distinguishes our contemporary world from that of centuries past, we may call it the power of science and technology. But if we go on to ask, has not this world-wide sweep of science and technology carried with it to all corners of the world a language of its own, somewhat in the manner of the medieval Church of Rome which took its Latin language with it wherever it brought its expansive influence to bear, the answer is a peculiarly hesitant one. Yes, in a way there is such a language. We often speak of the language of science and technology. But if this is to lead to the conclusion that that language should then be regarded as the one and only possible auxiliary world language of modern times, we suddenly realize that the language of science and technology is no language in the full sense of the word but at best a vast body of international terms and phrases which appear in our various languages under a corresponding number of slightly varying forms.

Unfortunately we must not analyze further the fascinating suggestion that it is perhaps quite natural that science and technology should be incapable of going beyond the world-wide diffusion of a vast number of specifically technical terms and of evolving from them a full-fledged language, because this inability may very well be correlated with the fact that the world of science and technology is one of discrete ideas which do not fall into a complete and coherent pattern, or in other words, that the "language" of science and technology is not really a language because the thought of science and technology is not really a philosophy.

In interlinguistic terms all this means that even though the "language" of science and technology is not a full-fledged language, even though it can supply us only with a vast number of words and phrases of international validity in various peculiarly national but easily recognizable forms, it does represent a nucleus of a complete language. It does represent fragments of the only international language we have. And the task of the practical interlinguist turns out to be the selection and arrangement of international words and subsequently their expansion into a fully developed language - a language, of course, which, though it may have its base and its raison d'être in the vast domain of technological data, will draw on and cover the arts and all other human endeavors down to the most humble concerns of our daily lives.

 

 

 

International words

 

For practical reasons the sphere in which "international words" are to be collected must be restricted, but the purpose of getting together the most generally international vocabulary possible can best be served if the restricted sphere fulfills two requirements: first, it must be a powerful center of radiation of international words, one that has contributed largely to the stock of international words throughout the rest of the world; secondly, it must have a high degree of receptivity with regard to the material radiating from other languages.

As for the second of these requirements, English represents a well-nigh ideal fulfillment of it. Hardly another language can compete with English in its "receptive power." Indeed, a list of words of wide international range outside the orbit of English would include few important groups with the possible exception of a fairly substantial vocabulary "radiated" from the Islamic world to Spain, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia but not to the English-speaking world.

The first requirement, concerned with the power of radiation of international words, is a more complex matter. There is no one language that stands as far above all others in regard to the bulk of its contributions to the international vocabulary as does English in regard to its ability to assimilate foreign words.

The most important group of international words is doubtless the body of technical terms in science and technology. In the large majority of cases the international technical

terminology is built up of Latin and Greek or Greco-Latin elements. It is not on the whole the contribution of any one language, not even of Greek and Latin taken together, for it includes a considerable number of terms which, though consisting of classical elements, were completely unknown to the native speakers of both the classical languages. Socrates spoke Greek all through his life but he never used the telephone and did not know that the word for it comes from his mother tongue.

Words of this type may be grouped under the head of their common origin in a kind of theoretical Neo-Latin which is not spoken anywhere but appears unfolded in the several contemporary Romance languages. Taken as a group and viewed as joint executors of the Latin heritage and hence as representing most fully the Neo-Latin source of most of the international technical vocabulary, the Romance languages are the most potent center of radiation of international words.

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