English is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the entire world. It is used in the UN, the European Union, and is considered by some to be a global lingua franca (common language). But Chinese is also widely used, as is French, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and many other languages. Why should we use one of these languages more than another? Who determines what language international committees should use and learn?
Some countries and cultures might feel that their language is being suppressed, that they are obligated to learn and use another language in international conversations. Some feel that language is associated with dominance - and if the English language is the language used, does that mean English speaking countries are better than, more important than, have more influence than, non-English speaking countries?
Because of these concerns, a desire for an official international language arose. For years, languages have come and gone as the lingua franca between nations, but countries and diplomats continue to disagree on what existing language should become the official international language. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the idea of a constructed international auxiliary language (IAL) was proposed.
The first semi-successful of these languages was Volapük in the 1880s. Several conferences were held throughout the decade and a variety of articles and textbooks were published about the constructed language. One international conference was held, spoken only in Volapük. The language was spoken mainly in Europe, but grew to almost a million speakers.
Volapük paved the path for an IAL, but it proved difficult to learn, and disagreements about adjustments to the language led to conflict. During this time, the language Esperanto was being developed. In 1887 the language was published and started gaining speakers, some even created a culture, philosophy and spirituality. Esperanto, meaning “one who hopes” became popular mainly because it was easy to learn. With vocabulary taken from Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages, and a way to derive hundreds of words from one root word, Esperanto quickly displaced Volapük and had thousands of speakers within a few years. In 1922, Iran proposed that the language be taught in some schools. Although the proposal was failed, people continued to learn Esperanto and today it is spoken by almost 2 million people.
Although other languages, such as Ido (based on Esperanto) and Occidental were created, no language gained a significant amount of speakers until Interlingua was created in the 1950s. This language was created by a member of the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA) and was created using vocabulary easily recognizable from the Romance languages. Unfortunately, the borrowed vocabulary led to a more complex grammar construction, and was only easy to learn by Romance language and English speakers. After Interlingua was created, the desire for an international language decreased, and there have been no successful attempts since then.
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