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AUXLANG  May 2000, Week 1

AUXLANG May 2000, Week 1

Subject:

IAL History

From:

"Bob LeChevalier (lojbab)" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

International Auxiliary Languages <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 7 May 2000 04:54:24 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (201 lines)

>From:    Roy McCoy <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject: IAL Workshop
>
>At 03:36 +0100 00/05/06, Charles George Haberl wrote:
> > I'd very much like your help on a small matter.  Would anyone be
> > willing to summarize the recent history of the IAL movement, in a
> > nutshell?  I certainly wouldn't mind if you should choose to focus
> > on your particular IAL or the tradition to which it belongs; in fact,
> > I would even enjoy seeing this short blurb in the language you promote.
> >      Please send your short summary to the list.  I will print the
> > responses out and submit them at our forthcoming workshop (yes, it
> > is actually going to happen, on Wednesday in fact).

Roy's answer to you might not be all that bad, except for some excess of
editorializing, at summarizing the status of the top few contenders among
conIALs.  Most of what is history in his comments could be said in half as
many words.  A weakness in your question is that you do not define
"recent".  If you mean since 1950, then Roy's answer covers most
things.  But if your focus is on the last 2-3 years, then events that may
turn out to be noise over a 50 year span, like Petry's Occidental revival,
deserve to be mentioned.

>Don Harlow and other Esperantists will certainly disagree with me,
>but my own impression of... well, before starting to dump on Esperanto
>let me dump on the IAL movement generally, if an IAL movement may even
>be said to exist. Recent history - what history? Interlingua, which I
>suppose may be considered the least unsuccessful of the naturalistic
>IALs, was published fifty years ago, used for a while in extremely few
>and limited contexts, and then petered out to the handful of individual
>supporters it currently possesses.

The above is okay, drop the following remainder of the paragraph, which is
not history.

>  I attended their international meeting
>in Holland a couple of years ago, so I have some personal experience of
>these people and their language and philosophy. Interlingua makes very
>little sense to me, since if one is going to imitate natural languages,
>retaining irregular spellings in order to be faithful to them etc.,
>then I don't see why one shouldn't simply stick with natural languages
>altogether.

>Similarly, I suppose Ido is the least unsuccessful of the schematic rivals
>to Esperanto. Some time ago I read the complete series of its main journal,
>"Progreso", which steadily shrunk in size and frequency of appearance
>until reaching its current point. Speaking for myself as an Esperantist,
>I was offended, when I recently had another look at Ido, by what impressed
>me as an excessive number of gratuitous changes that had been made in its
>revision of Esperanto, many, perhaps even most of which seemed dubious
>and occasionally even silly. Other Esperantists may not have been won
>over to Ido owing to other reasons, but in any event it remains a fact
>that Ido failed in its bid to take over from Esperanto and succeed where
>it had failed. Its situation is essentially the same as Interlingua's:
>a scattered handful of supporters.

More or less OK, but the sentence "speaking as an Esperantist ..." does not
belong in a history.

>Esperanto, on the other hand, has a somewhat significantly larger
>scattered handful of supporters. There is more than one reason for
>its relative success (in surviving in a more or less visible way, I
>mean to say - not in really achieving any of its traditional goals),
>but in part because you asked for a short summary I won't go into my
>perception of these reasons. However appropriate fundamental Esperanto
>may or may not be as an IAL candidate, and however correctly its movement
>may or may not have acted, it remains a fact that the main Esperanto
>organization had approximately 8000 individual members in 1913 and has
>approximately 7000 individual members today. I believe this provides a
>telling index of the history of the Esperanto movement, which - if one
>may judge by such a statistic, and I believe one may - shows a proportional
>dwindling of numbers in contrast to the drastic population increase of the
>past century.

In short, Esperanto has survived better than its competition but appears to
be no larger than it was before WWI (and smaller in terms of percentage of
the world population).  There are plenty of historical reasons for there to
have been no change in numbers, WWI and WWII being the most
significant.  To compare the two figures without referring to the interim
ups and downs is to mislead.

An omitted significant development is that Esperanto has gained ground in
the non-Indo-European countries (China being of greatest note) while losing
ground to English in the European countries.

A significant philosophical development that explains some of the events
that cause Roy to be so negative, is that the intellectual world has
largely soured on the ideal from early in this called "One-Worldism".  The
failure of the League of Nations, the weakness and disunity of the United
Nations, the slowness of a United States of Europe arising, increased
nationalism of small ethnic groups, and the isolationism of the US all have
militated against believing the ideal to be practical, and in some cases
against it being seen as "good".  The result is that IALs have to sell
themselves as supporting practical communication WITHOUT being seen as
overly idealistic, which turns off some of the intelligentsia that would
formerly have been supportive in a different philosophical climate.

A third development is the rise of linguistics as an analytical rather than
a descriptive science.  Whereas noted linguists were often supportive of
IALs up to around the time of Pei, Chomskyism and other movements have cast
a negative on even the possibility of a conIAL being a valid or viable
language.

Another omitted significant development is that indeed English is catching
on as an IAL, aided by its prestige economic and cultural status, and US
dominance on the Internet.  That it is also a national language offends
many idealists of the IAL world, but the fact that it is not an ideal
selection does not remove the fact that it is for the nonce at least
serving as an IAL rather more successfully than any artificial creation
has, and indeed probably more successfully than Latin in its heyday.  In
other words an IAL need not be a conIAL.

But will English continue this momentum, or is it just an artifact of the
current world economic and Internet situation that will be undone within a
generation when we all start speaking Mandarin?

The other significant development is that the Internet has managed to
establish links between formerly isolated individuals and small groups of
conIAL supporters of both Esperanto and the dying/dead IALs, breathing new
life into all of them.  It is far too soon to tell the long term effects of
this on the IAL movement and any conIAL's chance for success against a
natlang of economic power.

Finally, and briefly, there are the niche conIALs like
Loglan/Lojban.  These languages are being developed initially for a limited
purpose, a niche environment, and hence are not aiming at competition with
most other conIALs.  But having a small application for which they are
extremely well suited enables these languages to grow in sophistication
much more quickly than the general conIALs.  If their niche happens to be
one that acquires international scientific or economic significance, or if
some property of the language becomes politically or intellectually
desirable, these languages have a chance to take off rapidly (much as the
Internet has taken off).  I happen to think that Lojban is the best-off in
this category - it has applications in machine translation and AI knowledge
bases that are often mapped in predicate grammar like structures like
Lojban; it has an unambiguous syntax that appeals intellectually to those
who want accuracy in translation, and it has a complex and productive
emotional indicator system that negates the prejudice that a logical
language is inhuman or unexpressive of the full range of human linguistic
experience (my inappropriate editiorial: I think that this feature of
Lojban is its 'secret weapon' that actually makes it superior even to
natlangs for IAL purposes, because it is MORE expressive than natlangs *in
a clear way* of things people want to express which are prone to being lost
or misunderstood in international and intercultural situations)

>  I feel it indicates that something is very obviously wrong,
>given what seems to me to be the almost self-evident excellence of the IAL
>ideal, the popularity of which was demonstrated in several Gallup polls
>cited by Mario Pei.

Those polls were 50 years ago.  One-worldism is dead, and the US is more
isolationist after Vietnam than it had been since it abandoned the League
of Nations.  Meanwhile, the prejudice against learning ANY foreign language
has grown in the US as English's dominance of the economic world has grown.

>Esperantists generally do not agree with me, however
>(at least they won't admit to it in public), insisting that everything
>is more or less hunky-dory and that not only is no change called for,
>but any discussion of essential change must remain strictly prohibited
>in Esperanto publications.

Sounds like Petry - a conspiracy of silence and stifling of dissent.

I wonder whether those who may disagree with what Roy calls the status quo
have TRIED to submit articles to these publications and had them
"prohibited", or is it just that those who write happen to be predominantly
of the status quo school.

>I find this to be an extremely dubious and even self-defeating attitude
>on the part of the Esperanto fundamentalists. I can understand their
>paranoia to a certain extent, since they can see no good coming out of
>a free discussion, but rather only chaos and a possible weakening of
>their position. But they still have to do something to place their
>fundamentalism on a more rational basis than the quasi-religious one
>on which it currently rests - at least if they seriously want to make
>any measurable progress in relation to the external world. But they're
>more concerned with tooting the same old horn than with actually going
>anywhere. Two things that have helped with this over the last years have
>been the new philosophy of "Raumism", according to which the traditional
>IAL goals are naive and the true Esperantic values relate to a self-elected
>diasporic elite, and various varieties of a peculiar mysticism by which,
>all appearances to the contrary, Esperanto's time is nonetheless coming
>and you'll see, one of these days...

A less editorialized summary of Raumism would be useful for a recent-IAL
history.  But I don't know the straight story enough to write it.

>I'm afraid I don't have a particularly sunny perspective to offer in
>regard to all this, since among other things I can imagine that one
>might have an indubitably more appropriate language than Esperanto
>and nonetheless attain only a limited degree of increased success.

A key point.  The nitty gritty of language design is not important relative
to social, political, and economic factors in achieving any IAL goals.

lojbab
----
lojbab                                             [log in to unmask]
Bob LeChevalier, President, The Logical Language Group, Inc.
2904 Beau Lane, Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA                    703-385-0273
Artificial language Loglan/Lojban:  http://www.lojban.org (newly updated!)

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