James Hewitt wrote:

>Q: If you were an Alien, visiting our planet for the first time, and
>only had the facility to learn one language, which would you choose?
>top 5 languages being English, Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, French... You'd
>pick English for sure, if you wanted the greatest possible chance of
>being able to communicate at least rudimentarily with ANY human being

Actually the top five languages in number of first and second language
speakers are Mandarin (not just Chinese; there are ten or so Chinese
langauges), English, Hindi-Urdu, Spanish, and Russian.  The rest of the
top twelve if I remember correctly are Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese,
German, French, Japanese, and Malay-Indonesian.

The problem with English, as internationally useful as it is, is that
not everybody speaks it.  It's also not the number one language in the
world; Mandarin is (and all Chinese languages put together total well
over a billion speakers).  But the top six languages put together cover
quite a lot of the world.  I think one could get by most anywhere with
those six.

> China has 1 billion people, India has the largest population of any
>country, and it's growing at a PHENOMENAL rate, Latin America doesn't
>look like slowing its birth-rate any time soon and (well, let's forget
>about French - I figure it's got about 20-30 years in the top 5).
>English has no single country figure to match this, but that's just the
>point. No SINGLE country, but still in the top 5. And make no mistake,
>English is still on the rise, along with the Western Commercialism
>spreads it. I know what your point was - that the growth of the Spaish
>speaking population will propel it forward. But, as much as we may all
>hate to admit it, those with the money speak whatever language they
>to, and everyone follows...

China is still number one population wise (something like 1.3 billion)
but India, which has a much higher growth rate, is not far behind at 900
million.  I also expect there to be more Spanish speakers than English
speakers next century because of the growth of Latin America (and
Western Europe/North America can't keep up its growth forever).  French
has already been on the decline, especially as a colonial language in
Africa; it's being replaced by Swahili and other languages.  I don't
know when it fell out of the top five, but the way it looks, it may fall
out of the top twenty before long.

>The vocab of I-a is based on Romance languages. Good for the EU, not so
>good for everyone else. Look at that list of top five languages again -
>English, Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, French. The biggest growth of native
>population is in Hindi, and English is almost certainly the mostly
>widely known and used second-language globally (although I have no
>figures to back this up). Perhaps romance languages should not be as
>heavily represented in IALs as they are. Like I said, good for the EU,
>but without significant differentiation, even speakers of Romance
>tongues will not be willing to make any extra effort to understand I-a,
>which would mean that communicating through interpreters is safer.
>Outside the EU, a heavily Romance-based vocab is not too much use (for
>South America, why not just learn Spanish or Portuguese?)

I'm pretty new to IAL's, so next year I'm going to study a little
Interlingua (IALA version) and compare it to Esperanto and Ido to see
how they compare.  (I hate New Year's resolutions.)

It's really hard to implement an IAL based on languages from different
families (even just using the Big Six you end up with three families:
Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Afro-Asiatic).  European-oriented
languages have the added help of traditional cultural unity among the
Europeans.  Everybody uses a lot of Greek and Latin words, you have
numerous cognates across the board in I-E languages, and even non-I-E
languages like Basque, Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Turkish, or
Georgian have done a good bit of borrowing from I-E languages.

I am working on a Big Six-based global IAL myself...

>>But learning I-a has a lot of other benefits as well...

For the serious IAL-er, learning everything, even Volapuk, which is
definitely a dinosaur, is useful.  (Not that I'm endorsing using

>P.S : Does it seem that the number of people who speak English as a
>second-language is underestimated when determining the top 5 languages.
>And one other thing, what is this mysterious language called 'Chinese'
>- surely they mean Mandarin, which has a very large second-language
>community in China (enforced through government education as the
>official language), but not such a large Primary speaker community.

It may be, but I dont' know.  I don't know a billion people around the
world personally.  And usually when someone says Chinese it means
Mandarin, but it could mean Cantonese or Taiwanese or something else.
The Chinese government I don't doubt promotes Putonghua with a bit of
force to promote national solidarity.

Ben Nu Anyo!  Happy New Year!