Tuesday November 21, 2006

A New International Language!

Those of you interested in language standardization and auxiliary languages should head over to this post on Eigodaigaku.  In it, the author makes and defends his proposal for an international language: Japanese.

No, seriously.

My favorite part is where he argues that (a) Japanese and Chinese share the same script, so (b) Japanese should be easy to learn for Chinese people, who make up a quarter of the world's population.  (a) is only sort of true, and (b) ignores the fact that Japanese and Chinese aren't genetically related languages.  And doesn't the fact that a quarter of the world's people speak Chinese seem like a stronger argument for Chinese as the international language?

Well, no, I take it back—my favorite part is when he says that Japanese will be readily accepted because it doesn't have connections with wealth and colonialism.  Yes, seriously.  I'm sure the Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Koreans, among others, will be comforted to hear that.

Did I mention the part where Japanese doesn't have labial or fricative consonants?  (Fun fact: Japanese has a bilabial fricative consonant.)  Or the part where Japanese is good because it has a large Chinese loan vocabulary, but English bad because it's a bastard mixture of European languages?  Or the part where there will soon be more speakers of Spanish than English in the US?  Because those parts are awesome.

The comments are awesome, too.  If you were thinking of heading over there and suggesting that Esperanto or Klingon would make a better international language, I'm afraid you've been beaten to the punch.

Here's my proposal for an international language: don't have one.  Allow people to speak whatever language they want in order to communicate, and don't let it bother you when people take you up on it.  (This might be crazy talk.)

Disclaimer: I speak Japanese (poorly), and I like Japanese people and Japanese culture.

[hat tip: digg]

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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Comments

Oh. my. god. I think that's about all there is to say.

Posted by: Russell at Nov 22, 2006 12:05:12 AM

I think the best part about the post is how earnest the writer is, both in the post itself and in the comment thread. I mean, you expect this from proselytizers of Esperanto, but Japanese? Not so much. For that matter, I'm a bit surprised that nobody suggested LISP; we all know it's the universal language.

Oh, and "Not to be rude or anything: But you are an idiot sir!" has a charm all its own.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at Nov 22, 2006 9:53:11 AM

"If you were thinking of heading over there and suggesting that Esperanto or Klingon would make a better international language, I'm afraid you've been beaten to the punch."

Why not esperanto? It was designed to be an International Language.

Posted by: Ulo at Nov 22, 2006 11:38:11 AM

Well, since there seems little support for my suggestion of LISP, perhaps Inuktitut? Just consider how many time zones it's spoken in -- and there are all those words for snow.

8-)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at Nov 22, 2006 2:00:53 PM

Tangentially related:

http://fakeenglish.blogspot.com

Faked languages I've prepared in the hope of getting some Fake English in response. I thought you may be interested.

Posted by: Charles at Nov 23, 2006 6:14:27 PM

LISP will only be accepted as an international language when they come up with an easy way to pronounce brackets.

Posted by: Neil at Nov 24, 2006 6:33:58 AM

Esperanto was designed to be an international language by someone who didn't put much thought into the design. It's just another Indo-European language, when you get down it, isn't it? For one thing, it's hard to pronounce for lots of people (all those consonant clusters).

Posted by: The Ridger at Nov 24, 2006 7:26:36 AM

Herr Ridger hits the nail on the head. Esperanto is an Indo-European language—so if Japanese is goofy, and Esperanto is Indo-European, then it's obvious that for true neutrality we need to elevate a language isolate to international status. I nominate Basque. Genealogically, it favors nobody but those craggy euskaldunak—and just as Japanese is a wealth of loan words, there are at least a *couple* romance loans in Basque; I mean, everyone will know how to say 'telephone', right off the start. If we're going to force everyone to learn someone else's language, we should at least force *everyone* to learn, dig? In any event, we'll slow down the carnage of international relations by a good ten years while everyone learns how to express themselves on the most basic level.

Gizona polita da. Gizon polita da. Non dago garagardoa.

Posted by: Z. D. Smith at Nov 24, 2006 8:49:21 AM

An Esperantist friend of mine says that his Asian friends like Esperanto because its grammar is closer to that of many Asian languages than European ones, even though the vocabulary borrows a lot from various European languages.

Posted by: Jane Shevtsov at Nov 24, 2006 10:15:11 AM

"Here's my proposal for an international language: don't have one."

Or just learn English like the rest of us. And yes, being a native speaker of German I'm allowed to suggest such an outrageous thing. Having a lingua franca is invaluable for business, academics, etc and for numerous historical (and perhaps very, very few linguistic) reasons that happens to be English in many parts of the world right now.

I have nothing but respect for Basque, but I'm lazy and thus prefer my languages free of excessive cases, grammatical gender and other redundant special effects.

Posted by: Cornelius Puschmann at Nov 27, 2006 12:45:25 AM

I have nothing but respect for Basque, but I'm lazy and thus prefer my languages free of excessive cases, grammatical gender and other redundant special effects.

Funny, that's exactly how I feel about about German. :)

Posted by: The Tensor at Nov 27, 2006 3:16:53 AM

How about a nice pidgin? I figure we mix Chinese, English, Spanish, and Japanese.

"Your order?"

"Dos cervesas"

"Hai"

"Shi shen"


What could be more simple?

Posted by: Craig Ewert at Nov 27, 2006 4:41:23 PM

Finnish! I vote for Finnish!

Posted by: Prentiss Riddle at Nov 27, 2006 8:36:39 PM

Hilarious!

I have one quibble, though. The assertion that "a quarter of the world's people speak Chinese" is a good example of why people, linguists especially, should lay off referring to "Chinese" as a language. Despite China's occasional claims to the contrary, not everyone in China speaks Mandarin -- not by a long shot. Given the present populations of the world and of China, I'd put the figure of Mandarin speakers at about 13 percent of the world's population -- about half of the rough figure you gave. Of course, 13 percent of the world's population is still a helluva lot more people than speak Japanese.

Posted by: Mark S. at Dec 11, 2006 11:23:36 PM

Dear Tensor

Alas someone bought my domain before I could renew it and turned it into a link farm for TOEIC and baby names. This means that that the address of the article to which you so kindly refer is now
http://nihonbunka.com/eigodaigaku/en/
I would be very grateful if you would be so kind as to update your links so that the new owner of my domain does not profit :-) Please would you be so kind as to do that for me?

In answer to your comments. "A quarter of the world's population speaks Chinese" complete hogwash. Perhaps I should have said "An enourmous people use Kanji, and from what I hear, those people find it easy to learn Japanese." I know that in many respects Japanese and Chinese are not "genetically related" except in so far as Japanese uses Kanji and, according to Chinese persons that I have spoken to, from various parts of China, this makes Japanese a pretty easy langage for them to learn.

The fact that Chinese Kanji are used by an enourmnous number of people is of course a reason for Chinese being an international language. Fair enough. It is also a reason why another kanji using language (such as Japanese) would be a good international language.


"it doesn't have connections with wealth and colonialism." I think that Japanese has connections with wealth and that is one of the reasons why I suggest it would be a good international language. I also think that Japanese has connections with colonialism, as does every language spoken by members of G8 - the wealthy countries. However, the history of violence of Japan, the attrocities committed by Japanese speakers, pale into insignificance when compared to those committed by anglophones, although, such is the colonial power of anglophones that people are inclined to forget this.

Tim
Timothy Takemoto

Posted by: Timothy Takemoto at Mar 23, 2007 5:21:53 PM

I've updated the links.

You write:

In answer to your comments. "A quarter of the world's population speaks Chinese" complete hogwash.

I'm not sure what you mean here. Is it hogwash that a quarter of the world's population speaks (one of the several languages we inaccurately lump together as) Chinese? As I recall, I was quoting that statistic from your post. I see that it now reads "one in five of the world's population", which is probably a better estimate. Did I quote it wrong, or did you edit it?

I know that in many respects Japanese and Chinese are not "genetically related" except in so far as Japanese uses Kanji and, according to Chinese persons that I have spoken to, from various parts of China, this makes Japanese a pretty easy langage for them to learn.

There's no need for scare quotes. Japanese and Chinese aren't genetically related in the sense that they have no known common ancestor while, for example, French and Italian (or English and Sanskrit) do. I think we need to distinguish learning written Japanese from learning spoken Japanese. A former Japanese conversation partner of mine mentioned taking a Chinese literature class where they learned some rules for different word order and grammatical morphemes and then read the Chinese text without knowing how to pronounce it. In the same way, I'm sure someone who's literate in Chinese has a bit of a leg up on learning to read Japanese, though the grammatical endings in hiragana would be a complete mystery to them, but that doesn't help with the wago vocabulary or the spoken language.

However, the history of violence of Japan, the attrocities committed by Japanese speakers, pale into insignificance when compared to those committed by anglophones, although, such is the colonial power of anglophones that people are inclined to forget this.
"Pale into insignificance?" I'll leave that up to the victims to decide. Somehow, I suspect that the Chinese, for example, might not consider 20-35 million dead between 1937 and 1945 "insignificant".

Posted by: The Tensor at Mar 28, 2007 1:25:22 AM

> Is it hogwash that a quarter of the world's population speaks (one of the several languages we inaccurately lump together as) Chinese?

Yes. You quoted me correctly, but I was wrong. It is only about 20% not 25%

I hope I also changed "speak," to "use".

The point is that Kanji users, such as the Chinese, who make up about 20% of the worlds population (though I am not sure of the literacy rate) find it easy to learn Japanese, so I am told.

The quotes were not meant to be in any way scary.

> I think we need to distinguish learning written Japanese from learning spoken Japanese.

Okay. Chinese Kanji users find it very easy to learn written Japanese, and pretty easy to learn spoken Japanese.

Please ask some Chinese people who have attempted to learn Japanese if they found it difficult or not. They tell me it is pretty easy. I am not sure if my sample size is large enough, but I thought it was common knowledge. They all said the same thing. I am not sure how much "a bit of a leg up is," but...we need something more empiricle eh? I know a lot of Chinese in Japan and all of them have said that learning Japanese is pretty easy. That is my empiricism.

The hiragana endings in Japanese are very regular.

I find that Japanese do *not* find it easy to learn Chinese, because Chinese is very difficult to pronounce. I know a Chinese language teacher here in Japan who says that he rarely gets beyong the pronounciation issue.

> "Pale into insignificance?" I'll leave that up to the victims to decide.

I would say "fair enough" with regard to leaving it to the victims, but my ancestors had a tendency to almost wipe their victims from the face of the earth. There are still plenty of Koreans, including some victims, left to decide and complain. Wherefore the voice of Anglophone enemies? "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee" was written by caucasian Anglophone.

> Somehow, I suspect that the Chinese, for example, might not consider 20-35 million dead between 1937 and 1945 "insignificant".

I think that what the Japanese did in China was disgusting.

I said, "when compared to those committed by anglophones..."

I think you will agree that the Chinese have suffered the most deaths, at the hands of the Japanese. All the same, some estimate that aproximately 100 million died as a result of the enforced opium importation into China for about 100 years primarily by the British, and that not to mention those that died in the wars we faught to keep them purchasing it, or as a result of the reparations that forced the Chinese to start growing their own.

The Chinese were just one of the peoples that Anglophones treated as disposable for a very long period of time.

That should be past tense of course? Anglophones are repentant? I was hardly taught anything about the horrendous scale of tragedy of British importation of Opium into China at my British school.

c.f.
http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CHING/OPIUM.HTM
http://www.drugtext.org/library/books/McCoy/book/70.htm
The following article seemsanti-semitic (anglophones like to blame others) but still informative.
http://www.useless-knowledge.com/1234/jan/article129.html

For some reason I don't seem to get emails when a response is posted so I may miss them.

Thank you again for updating the links.

Tim

Posted by: Timothy Takemoto at Apr 6, 2007 5:13:08 AM

Well, I guess there's a point to what you say Tim, e.g. about consequences of Opium importation (or wars). The Chinese were not as close to the Europeans' hearts when they were colonized by them as they suddenly get when it comes to point out Japanese atrocities. (BTW someone also said quite fittingly that for a lot of the German left, the Polish are mainly lovable as Nazi victims - if it wasn't for that, they'd hate them e.g. for their relative conservativeness.)

Additionally, being realistic, it always makes a difference who *wins*, e.g. World Wars. As they say, "nothing is as erotic as success" - the winner is forgiven much more than the loser, and also history books (or textbooks) are "written" by the winners.

Nevertheless I feel you missed an important point of critique of The Tensor's: If the victims of Japanese aggression feel that Japanese would not be a good choice for a Lingua Franca, then it is not (for them). And if, for these reasons, others feel similar, it is not anymore at all. It's not a question of if the Chinese's or whose ever "verdict" is reasonable or too unforgiving or whatever; if they feel that or that way about it, then that's enough. And realistically (okay, let's do a survey about it for the sake of empiry... ;), as pointed out correctly, "Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Koreans, among others" are not likely to feel well about Japanese as their, or the world's, new common language.

Also, even if you pronounce your own being horrified by the deeds of Japanese (mostly Japanese armed forces, to be fair), the repentance you demand from "the anglophones" is exactly what the Chinese ... etc. feel is missing among the Japanese as a rule. I know because of talking to Asian friends but also from articles on the Internet.

A last word: This isn't meant to insult but just to provide you with something I feel you could earn from thinking about. On the other hand, some(!) caucasians would also benefit from broading their respective German, Brit or WASP horizons as to encompass some of the stuff you mentioned.

Cheers... Jörg :ö)

Posted by: Edwing at Jun 4, 2007 3:21:46 PM