Omniglot: Phonetical Commonality

Imagine for a moment an universal translator that actually worked. I know Google has Google Translate but it is still machine language that may or may not translate grammar correctly. Or we could forget about translation and attempt to create an universal language such as Esperanto.

UNBABEL

It seems amazing that there hasn't been a larger push for an international language. Such an accomplishment might go a long way in diffusing confusion. However, as with the history of Esperanto; which was the express attempt at an international language we see the resistance to the concept.

If the world spoke a single language, then information could be more quickly distributed. It would be easier to organize and more difficult to spin accounts. This would not be good for governments that rely on keeping its populace uninformed. Even in the United States, there are politicians that rely on class division; be it race or financial standing; however a language barrier even within a singular language is often utilized to manipulate people. Catch phrases are often repeated until the low information or uninformed voter begins to believe propaganda.

But if a singular language, where no slang or accent barrier existed became dominant, it would be more difficult to manipulate people or control the message.

Again, Esperanto attempted this but its reception and use was tainted both by its predominant use by "Leftists" and its mainly Slavic influences. Esperanto has never been classified as the first or secondary language of any nation and as of 2013 was estimated to be spoken only by about 100,000 to 2 million people. Even at the high estimate, this makes Esperanto completely ineffective as an international language.

LINGUA FRANCA

While a specifically fabricated or made-up international language such as a Esperanto has not had a wide use, does not mean there has never been a singular language used by much of the world. Greek and Latin were perhaps some of the first shared or so-called "third-tongue" languages to be used by non-native speakers to communicate more internationally. Today, English is perhaps the "lingua franca" of the world. But this happens more out of influence than purpose. When the Greeks then Romans had conquered and then dominated most of the world; Greek and Latin were the languages a person would learn if they wanted to be effective as an administrator, a scholar or in commerce. This seems to be the same situation with English, even though it is less about England or the United States conquering other peoples and more about simple dominance in the world.

But English is often difficult to learn because its construction is so foreign to many societies’s grammatical structure (typology) of subject-object-verb (SOV). In English, the grammatical order is subject, verb, and then object (SVO). The "SVO" structure is used by approximately 42% of the world languages whereas "SOV" is used by approximately 45%. For example:

Word
order
English
equivalent
Proportion
of languages
Example
languages
SOV "She him loves." 45% 45
 
Japanese, Latin, Tamil
SVO "She loves him." 42% 42
 
English, Mandarin, Russian
VSO "Loves she him." 9% 9
 
Hebrew, Irish, Zapotec
VOS "Loves him she." 3% 3
 
Malagasy, Baure
OVS "Him loves she." 1% 1
 
Apalaí?, Hixkaryana?
OSV "Him she loves." 0% Warao

PHONETIC COMMONALITY

What if instead of attempting to construct an international auxiliary language, we found words in as many languages as possible that sounded the same and had the same meaning, even if not the most often used word to express that meaning.
An example of this would be the word “sun”. See the following table how sun is presently translated into various major languages.

SPANISH RUSSIAN CHINESE FILOPINO HINDI
sol solntse Taiyang araw Suraja

I’ve purposely demonstrated languages with very different bases so as to show the challenges of finding a common word. Here we see that “sol” might be a good starting point for our new word for sun. It easily enough sounds like the Spanish (and French and Italian), and the Russian word for sun. Keep in mind; we are simply trying to find a phonetic commonality. This new international language will first be a spoken language, much like natural human languages themselves developed.
We could do a combination of “sol” and araw and Suraja. Perhaps something like “solrawja” but in this we do not capture the Chinese. We could simply make the new word even longer such as “solrawjatyang” but this could become unwieldy. There are some words that may have no obvious phonetic commonality and thus the native speaker will simply have to learn these various odd words. I suspect various languages will take turns being the odd man out in this case.
I wouldn’t expect this work of finding phonetic commonalities to be done by hand but rather in this computer age, we should be able to develop a computer program that can sift through all the synonyms within the various target languages and construct a new word that phonetically contains an element of all.

AVOIDING THE PAST

A major challenge with this international language would be to avoid the mistakes of the past. The language would need to be non-political and not based on or sound like any one language base. The computer concept should help here.
As for the challenge of penetrating paranoid governments, I hope that since the new spoken language will sound so much like the various native languages, it will not be immediately suspect. I hope that to many people hearing the new spoken language, it will simply sound like the speaker has a very strange accent yet still speaking a language recognizable to the hearers.

Another thing to avoid mistakes of the past would be to not hold conferences promoting the language. Governments always get nervous when groups of people get together and speak in secret, or what would seem like secrecy since only a relative few people understood Esperanto. However, perhaps the conferences in this new language won’t be so suspect since it is the intent that even the governments could understand what was being said.
Lastly, it should not be a goal to replace any existing languages or to push for nationalization of this new language. Any time there is talk of supplanting the old with something new, people become nervous.

This new language should integrate as seamlessly into the current languages as if it were simply a weird accent in each of the native languages. There should be no lofty and ideologically charged goals of “bringing the world together” or pushing “peace” (one man’s “peace” is another man’s subjection). The goal is to simply better understand one another, even if it is to understand that we don’t really like the next guy very much; but now maybe we’ll be able to better communicate why.

CONCLUSION

These are just ideas. Ideas sometimes take flight and sometimes never leave the nest. I understand this. I would however like to see people much smarter than I take a look at this idea. I’d like to see linguists and machine language experts see if there is anything to this idea. As I demonstrated with the word “sun”, it is possible to construct a phonetically common word. If you have any interest in helping develop this idea, let me know. Thanks.

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