Category Archives: Language

Language

A long time ago we discussed why space settlement should choose an artificial language as their official language. In short our arguments are as follows.

First the population of space settlements are most likely to be multi-ethnic, and choosing a natural language as the official language will give an unjustifiable advantage to the native speakers of that language. Hence every ethnic group will propose their own language as the official one. Consequently ethnic diversity will lead to ethnic rivalry, which will ultimately undermine social unity in such Space Settlement.

Multilingualism will not solve this problem, since those groups whose language is not recognized will feel alienated and they will start a campaign to have their language recognized. But the more language are given the status of official language, the more the purpose of an official language, enabling mutual communication among citizens, is undermined.

By opting for a single artificial language, which is not associated with any particular ethnic group, as the official language, all this problems are solved.

Secondly there is the issue of cultural identity. Since the purpose of space colonization is the establishment of a new society with desired social reforms. By its choice for an artificial language, a Space Settlement puts emphasis on its independence from other nations and cultures.

If a Space Settlement would opt for an existing natural language, outsiders might associate that Settlement and its policies with a certain culture. A choice for English as official language, would suggest that this Space Settlement is somehow associated with British or American imperialism or its commitment to casino capitalism. For the international reputation of a Space Settlement it is best to avoid any of such associations.

Somewhat ironically this also means that the most known artificial language, Esperanto, is probably a bad choice. The Esperanto-community has developed over the course of more than a century a reasonably large community. Generally Esperantists are highly idealistic and very committed to the language, but the Esperanto community has also developed a certain culture which is treated with a certain disdain by non-Esperantists. Further the emphasis on Esperanto as an international language, is quite at odds with choosing it as a national language for a Space Settlement.

For this reason it’s likely that Space Settlements with different ideologies, will also choose different languages in order to stress their independence from each other.

Though most people will probably agree with these reason, many will remain skeptical whether it the introduction of an artificial language will be successful. The first objection might be that it would require people to learn a new language, but this will also be true in case of a choice for a natural language, at least for those immigrants who aren’t yet affluent in the chosen language.

Further the artificial language could be constructed in such way, that’s it easy to be learned by as much as possible people. Besides learning the official language of a Space Settlement will also serve as a test for the willingness of immigrants to assimilate in this new societies.

One of the more interesting methods to learn a new language is the direct method, which unlike traditional methods does not require any knowledge of the language of the student. This method is suitable for both children and adults, and it allows schools to teach in the official language even if the children have no prior understanding of this language. However, in order to ensure that all children have a sufficient comprehension of the national language at a young age, we suggest to make kindergarten compulsory.

On the language of a space colony

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on June 13, 2012

In this post I will discuss the very important question of which language a space colony should have? I will argue that a constructed language would be our best choice, but I will first explain why this question is as important as I claim. Sequentially I will sketch the problems of selecting a natural language for a space colony and finally I will explain how these problems are solved by selecting a constructed language.

The first point we have to consider is  why we should agree on a common language. There are a lot of countries which do well without an official language, for instance the USA and the Netherlands. But these countries have de facto a national language, in a traditional homogeneous society newcomers have to learn that society’s language in order to be fully functional. So countries with a historical common language don’t need to formalize this.

A common language in a society, which is widely understood by its members, enables useful communication within it, think for example about the law. People has to be able to know the law and as matter of fact, the law has to be written in some language. It’s true that some multilingual countries write their laws in multiple languages, but most of these countries are bilingual, so the costs of translating laws and other official documents are quite modest. If the number of recognized languages increases, then also the associated costs will increase. The most clear example of this is the European Union, which has no less than 23 official working languages and as a result a large part of the budget of the EU goes up to translating (for instance the instant interpreting in the European Parliament).

It’s clear that Space colonists would want to avoid this absurdity, we have better use for our money (lower taxes would be for example a nice idea for attracting new immigrants), so they should rationally choose for one single language (important to note is that this will not mean that other languages are not allowed). So the next question is which language to pick?

For the sake of the argument I will assume that the official language of a single Space colony will be decided by democratic procedures, like a referendum (a practical consequence of this will be, of course, that several colonies will each pick another language). It would be a nice exercise to see whether this could lead to a situation in which a Space colony should decide to become deliberately a multilingual society and if so under what circumstance, and therefore contradicting my “theorem of unilingualism“. My hunch will be that it depends on the specific decision procedure, but I don’t think it will be appropriate to discuss this question here, so for those who are interested I will place this discussion in a comment of this post.

This will bring me to my main argument. At this moment, there some 7000 natural languages in the world, most of them are rather small. Although mandarin Chinese has more speakers, English is more widely spread (this is the main reason why this entire blog is in English) and has also more non-native speakers. This combined with the fact that a large part of the Space advocacy movement is located in the English-speaking world, has led by some to assume that English would therefore the logical choice for Space colonies.

Well, I have to disagree. English, like all other natural languages, is associated with a specific culture, in this case the Anglo-Saxon culture of Britain, North America and Oceania. So by choosing for English as official language, a Space colony is willingly choosing for the Anglo-Saxon culture, at least in the eyes of outsiders. It is my personal conviction that Space colonies should develop their very own cultures, which are clear distinct from any terrestrial “culture”. And the most important tool to realize this is by selecting a language which is not related to any other culture. As a corollary of this, I also believe that different Space communities will distinguish of each other by choosing different languages.

An other problem of choosing English, the same applies for every other natural language, is that it will discriminate against non-native speakers. Those who are native speakers are in an advantageous position in comparison of those who are not. Since I believe that Space colonies will not be established by cultural homogeneous groups, I consider this as unnecessarily unfair. In order to avoid the creation of unjust advantages for native speakers, we should choose for an artificial or constructed language. Since no colonist will be a native speaker of this language, all colonist will be equal in this respect.

Over the course of history, there have been many proposals for so-called auxiliary languages, with Esperanto as its most famous example. Because of its popularity, I will strongly advice against the selection of Esperanto as an official language of a Space colony, since in the last 120 years the Esperanto culture has developed its own distinct culture. I believe that the association of the Space colonization movement with the Esperanto movement, will be bad for both movements. But nevertheless those who are in charge of designing languages for Space colonies, can learn much from Esperanto and related projects like Ido or Interlingua.

Although it is not the purpose of this essay to provide guidelines for creating a language,  it would advisable that Spacer languages should be based on the principles of international auxiliary languages. This because the type of constructed languages is aimed at easiness to learn, and since the population of (early) Space colonies is likely to be multicultural.

Note

As I have promised, I will discuss here the question of multilingual Space colonies. First I have to note, that since most early space colonies will be multicultural, their citizens will speak many different languages in private relations, that is not where I am talking about, instead I will concentrate only on official languages.

Although it would be the rational choice to select one and only one official language, I believe there will be Space colonies which will be multilingual. Mostly as part of a comprise between different groups. Suppose that the citizens of the colony Bernal Alpha have to vote on an official language and have three choices: Esperanto, Interlingua and Novial. Let the result of this vote be as follows: 45% for Esperanto, 45% for Interlingua and 10% for Novial. Then there are two possible solutions: 1. a second vote between Esperanto and Interlingua, or 2. making both Esperanto and Interlingua official languages.

It will depend on the specific circumstances whether which option will be selected. How strongly are the voters “attached” to “their own” language?