The Case for a Universal Common Language

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Objections to A Universal Language:

1. Other languages have uniquely interesting and useful features

This is a very good point to which my response would be quite simply "Excellent. Lets bring them on board!". Many languages do have terrific syntactical utilities that enable the expression of complex ideas in simple sentences. I will use an example from Kannada, a language that I had to dabble in quite a bit during my recent visit home to Bangalore and Mysore. A short sidebar - from a functional standpoint, Kannada is not a language that has evolved much since its origins. This is particularly reflected in the sheer paucity of modern nouns and verbs (the Rev. Ferdinand Kittel's pioneering 70000 word dictionary of 1894 notwithstanding). While the use of English to describe technical terms is perhaps understandable, the tendency amongst English-speaking Kannadigas to use English words by default, is not. It can be quite grating to hear even a native Kannada speaker pepper just about every other word in a Kannada sentence with English as in Naav walk madkond office na Five-o-clock ge reach mad-dhvi. An English speaker could perhaps hazard a shrewd guess! Astonishingly though, Kannada newsreaders manage to get by entire newscasts without using a single English word. Its almost like listening to a strange dialect! Despite the aforementioned shortcomings in its vocabulary, Kannada has a few features that are are remarkable in their own right. The Kannada word Eshtne (pronounced Esht-nay) is a good example. This phenomenally useful word is in fact an ordinal form of the interrogative pronoun "which". For example a sentence like "Ivnu nimm ehstne maga? is incapable of direct translation to English - the closest equivalent would be "in order of birth, which son (maga) of yours (nimm) is he (Ivnu)?" In Kannada, Eshtne is a convenient placeholder for "in order of X, which", where X is another placeholder for the context of the ordinality, in the case of the example above, birth. Neither English nor (unless I'm mistaken!) any of the Romance languages has such a word. For that matter, neither does Hindi, the de-facto national language of India! But as long as we are proposing a universal language, nothing prevents us from co-opting such constructs. Should English prevail, I would like to propose whichth without a hint of facetiousness! Another interesting feature of Kannada is that the objective pronoun him has what I can only describe somewhat loosely, as proximate (ivnu - this guy) and distant (avnu - that guy) forms. I would be grateful if someone could point out a formal way of describing this distinction. The pronouns her and them have similar alternate forms.


I regretfully have had to put the user comments section on hiatus until I can figure out a robust method of preventing it from getting hijacked by the sort of lowlife spammer scumbags who need to have their kneecaps crushed with a Louisville slugger. I thank you for your understanding in the meantime.

User Comments:
Posted by: Sister Karamazoff - Sat Oct 31 16:42:09 2009
Comments:   Languages refelct proximity in their pronominal systems. One such example is Japanese with its =mesioproximal pronoun (indicating proximity to the listener) =proximal pronoun (indicating proximity to the speaker) =distal pronoun (indicating distance from both speaker and listener). I believe your Kannada example belongs here. You can also find treatment in publications on sociolinguistics, such as “Pronouns, Proximity, and the Generalized Other.” I lost the full citation, but remember the journal title - Language Science and year- 1976, found in ERIC The Universal Language might sound as an attractive proposition in theory, but my Opus One in its practical application is a complete failure. See to yourselves: Remember when Paul McCartney pretended to be French and wrote /mi shell ma bel/ - spelled phonetically here to facilitate translation in Russ-Span-Eng-Germ-Fr-ish: "ěî˙ (moya) conchita is gut mere bonita." No offence if you delete this part.