Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Folkspraak and Interlingua

Quadratmeter BabelFrom this forum's inception, language policy has commanded a significant portion of Jurisdynamics' attention. I recently devoted a brief essay (First Person Plural) to this subject. As craft workers within the linguistic arts, lawyers are at once consumers and makers of language policy.

For months I have been planning to post an item on international auxiliary languages. This summer I was privileged to be among the first guests of John Lopatka and Marie Reilly at their new home near Penn State University's Dickinson School of Law. John and Marie's very talented son, Teddy, was toying with a linguistic invention of his own devising, a manageable blend of French and Spanish vocabulary. Teddy's sister, Claire, joined in the fun. Professional linguists play the same game -- for keeps. For over half a century, linguists have been working on an international auxiliary language based on the Romance languages. The result is Interlingua. Though Esperanto and Slovio have their charms and their adherents, Interlingua may be the most erudite and aesthetically pleasing constructed language.

Noam ChomskyI cannot resist this technical aside. Though French, a Romance language, is more closely related to Italian and Spanish than it is to English, French aligns with English and against Italian and Spanish with respect to the null subject parameter. To wit: Verrà Gianni and Verrà are grammatically coherent sentences in Italian, whereas no sober speaker of French would ever utter *Arrivera Jean or *Arrivera. The null subject parameter became one of the foundations of Noam Chomsky's pathbreaking Lectures on Government and Binding (1981). Mark Baker, The Atoms of Language (2001) covers the next two decades of advances in linguistic knowledge. Few lines of inquiry into the nature of human thought, as observed in real-life settings, are as fascinating and as powerfully predictive as this quest to explain how a very small and commensurate number of parameters can generate the full range of syntactic differences among languages.

All this is to say that Teddy Lopatka reminds me of my own intellectual development. Having encountered two variants of American English between the ages of six and twelve (Black English Vernacular -- I will kick your rear end if you call BEV by a name that rhymes with "sonics" -- and a nonblack version of Southern American English), I recognized that Zipf's law considerably simplified the task of acquiring new vocabulary. (I counted words in school assignments and organized them in declining order of frequency.) I can only imagine the powers of linguistic pattern recognition at the disposal of all-time Jurisdynamic Idol Rasmus Rask. If only I hadn't gone to law school, a professional mistake I place on par with Billy Beane's ill-considered decision to sign with the Mets, I might have spent my life pursuing the intellectual Holy Grail whose contours are best known from the work of geniuses such as Noam Chomsky and Mark Baker. Then again, the defining trait of legal academia is that nothing constrains a law professor with tenure from pursuing any intellectual interest, no matter how tangentially germane or even utterly unrelated to law or the real work of lawyers, and repackaging a dilettante's pursuit as interdisciplinary legal scholarship.

TerraVery well, then. Whither international auxiliary languages? Sympathetic as I am in spirit to efforts such as the Auxlingua Project, I believe that wisdom favors a more realistic view. With extremely rare exceptions (most notably the resurrection of Hebrew as the living language of the State of Israel), top-down efforts to regulate language choice will fail. Market forces drive the rise, fall, and (alas) extinction of natural langauges.

As I said, all this had fallen victim to the exigencies of a semester devoted to teaching, scholarship, blogging, and job-hunting (not necessarily in that order). And then I ran across Folkspraak. With various degrees of emphasis, the many projects within the large umbrella of Folkspraak try to unite living Germanic languages -- from the big four of English, High German, Dutch, and Swedish/Norwegian/Danish to the grab bag of smaller Germanic languages such as Low German, Afrikaans, Yiddish, Frisian, Icelandic, and Nynorsk -- under a single common auxiliary language.

Folkspraak and Interlingua are elegant, even beautiful efforts to synthesize languages that educated speakers of their source languages can recognize on sight. In the larger realm of language policy, they are to Encyclopædia Britannica as natural languages, pidgins, and creoles are to Wikipedia. Folkspraak and Interlingua are the products of dedicated, erudite professionals. Simplified international English and Tok Pisin, by contrast, emerge and evolve with no official guidance. In matters of language, they enjoy an advantage that Folkspraak and Interlingua, in all probability, will never have. English is spoken by real people. It is passed on to children, who in turn will reinvent the language at the margins.

Folkspraak and Interlingua,
English and Tok Pisin


Ons Fader in Himel,
lat din Nam aren helig,
Lat din Rikdom kommen.
lat din Wil aren doede,
aup de Erd als in de Himel.
Giv os dis Dag ons daglik Brod,
Ond forgiv os ons Skuldens,
als vi forgiv dem die skuld gegen os.
Ond test os nit,
men spar os from Uvel.

Nostre Patre, qui es in le celos,
que tu nomine sia sanctificate;
que tu regno veni;
que tu voluntate sia facite
super le terra como etiam in le celo.
Da nos hodie nostre pan quotidian,
e pardona a nos nostre debitas
como nos pardona a nostre debitores,
e non duce nos in tentation,
sed libera nos del mal.

Our father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on Earth as in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Tok Pisin

Papa bilong mipela
Yu stap long heven.
Nem bilong yu i mas i stap holi.
Kingdom bilong yu i mas i kam.
Strongim mipela long bihainim laik bilong yu long graun,
olsem ol i bihainim long heven.
Givim mipela kaikai inap long tude.
Pogivim rong bilong mipela,
olsem mipela i pogivim ol arapela i mekim rong long mipela.
Sambai long mipela long taim bilong traim.
Na rausim olgeta samting nogut long mipela.
Kingdom na strong na glori, em i bilong yu tasol oltaim oltaim.


Anonymous Teddy said...

Thanks for including me in your blog. I guess it was taking Latin and saying English words with a Spanish accent that got me started. Its a lot of fun. Well, thanks for the citation. I've got to go Google myself now.

12/13/2006 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend and I, each having taken several years of German in either high school or college (though nowhere near any real-world level of competence), have now evolved our own version in order to evade work email filters.

Dubbed "Schweindeutsch" (hint, hint), it's an elegant blend of English, German, Polish (my native tongue) and occasionally Yiddish, structure, vocabulary and scatology, which has evolved to the point that new words and phrases are easily comprehensible to one another.

"Hast du ein scheiss genommen heute, pedal ?" (trans: "Have you taken a sh** today, (male homosexual) ?"

"Geh now !" (trans: genau; "surely"; can also be used to indicate "get out of here")

Watch out, Mandarin !

12/14/2006 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats on your dean appointment. Sorry to see you go - your statutory interp class has probably been the most useful class I've taken yet (I'll decide after the final!).


12/14/2006 4:09 PM  
Blogger Bryce said...

This is a very interesting blog, I am excited to read more.

Did you know Interlingua has a Wikibrowser? Check it out here:

Interlingua wiki browser

10/14/2008 6:39 PM  

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