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The Contact Language ~ Pidgin ~ Creole Progression

 

Three Stages to a Universal Language:

[1]  Global Vocabulary or “Global Contact Language”

[2]  International Auxiliary Language or “International Pidgin”

[3]  Very Slow and Gradual Transformation to a Single World Language or “Universal Creolisation”

Let us imagine we are in a foreign land where we do not know the language. What would be the priority - knowing a few words, or knowing the elements of the grammar?  Given such a choice we would obviously choose the words, since a theoretical knowledge of grammar without a supply of words is practically useless.

Indeed, researchers have verified that non-linguists in such a situation have tended to rely upon a few common words (a “contact language”) without attempting to organise them grammatically. It might be supposed, then, that inaugurators of  IALs (AUXLANGS) would have been motivated to formulate an internationally-acceptable core vocabulary before creating a grammar.

However, we well know that the hundreds of IALs listed on the Internet have been generally more concerned to present a comprehensive grammar than a workable vocabulary.

Why is this? At least three reasons might be suggested:

(1)  Because of the huge number of synonyms (for the same concept or object) within the world’s hundreds of languages and many thousands of dialects, the task of formulating an international core vocabulary might well be (or seem) more difficult than creating a grammar, of which there is a limited number of fundamental types.

(2)  Potential IALs have to appeal, not only to the public, but also to the originators of public policy. It follows that use of a single IAL at all international conventions, and as the second language of every schoolchild, will never be realised without official endorsement. Thus the IALs are in competition with the great national tongues such as English, and to present a less complete grammar is to risk dismissal as “Newspeak”. In other words, since vocabulary relates more to popular usage than theoretical purview by the powers that be, it tends to be left in abeyance.

(3)  A misapprehension that a global IAL is unprecedented in recorded history has led to the notion that the victory will only come from a process of trial and error. Thus there have been numerous IAL attempts, as though the author of each has been seeking the perfect combination of linguistic elements conducive to universal recognition and official approval. (Happily, none of this labour has been wasted, since the best of it will be applied in the future as the IAL develops.)

However, the IAL has indeed had successful precedents or prototypes, albeit on a localised scale. These have been the various pidgins and creoles that have arisen during past centuries. Robert Craig and I provided some background information in Chapter 12 of Lango. Since contact languages, pidgins and creoles have really been stages in the same localised IAL developments, I have lately referred to the sequence as the contact language ~ pidgin ~ creole progression (CPCP). The essentials of the CPCP might be summarised as follows:

Contact languages have arisen where typical non-linguists such as fishermen and whalers, or soldiers and civilians, from very different cultures have found it convenient to attempt to communicate verbally.

Historically, what has emerged in such circumstances has been less a complete language than a lexicon of common words, with grammar provided by sign language and the immediate context. Contact languages have usually disappeared along with the conditions that gave rise to them.

However, some contact languages have subsequently developed into pidgins, which are really international auxiliary languages (if only between two nations) with basic grammar and extra words from various sources. Even though these "surviving" contact languages might have been introduced with pidgins in mind, it still remains true that every pidgin has been preceded by a contact language.

History also teaches us that no pidgin has long remained a purely auxiliary language. Either it has died out with the commercial factors that gave rise to it, or the children of traders, seafarers etc. have unconsciously adopted the pidgin as their mother tongue - with all that means for creative development. I touched upon some further implications in Part 6 of the Introduction to my former website.

Another parallel may be found within the cognitive development of the individual, with the CPCP correlating to the cognitive stages first described by Piaget.

Correspondingly it is reasonable to conclude that an IAL should be established by beginning at the “contact language” stage with a global core vocabulary. The advent of the Internet has made this a practical possibility. The increasing number of online lexicons presage a universal online dictionary of common words with cross-translation between most languages. This would help in discovering the best provisional word for the IAL core vocabulary, and in verifying (or replacing) it through instant accessibility and popular feedback.

A daunting task indeed, but one which might easily be started on a very small scale, with only five or ten words common to all languages. Some years ago I offered a few thoughts re this subject on the LangX Vocabulary page at the above website.

Another reason for beginning with a core vocabulary is that every language has words, but grammar is highly political and ideological since it signifies the different way each culture looks at the world. This is why the grammar of the IAL could not possibly be agreed upon except by formal international treaty.

However, a core vocabulary might be established with less risk in advance of official endorsement. Even if many words were subsequently substituted for political reasons, a start would have been made, and at least some words would probably survive.

This new initiative within the World Language Process is intended to focus on the questions of an international core vocabulary, and of an initial phonology and script.

 

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