Interlingua

alexander gode

Interlingua [in-ter-ling-gwuh] is a planned language using words that are found in most West-European languages. It was made by IALA – a group of people (the most known was Alexander Gode) that worked on it for more than 20 years, and they finished and published the first dictionary in 1951. Interlingua was created on the base of languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.

‘Inter’ means ‘between’ or ‘to each other’; ‘lingua’ means ‘language.’ The goal of the language was to enable people of different countries to talk to each other easily. Because Interlingua was made by people to be easy, it is easier than natural languages to learn. Many thousands of people know Interlingua, and Interlingua speakers say that millions can understand it (read texts in it and listen to someone talk in it) without having to learn it first.

The expansive movements of science, technology, trade, diplomacy, and the arts, combined with the historical dominance of the Greek and Latin languages have resulted in a large common vocabulary among European languages. With Interlingua an objective procedure is used to extract and standardize the most widespread word or words for a concept found in a set of control languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, with German and Russian as secondary references. Words from any language are eligible for inclusion, so long as their internationality is shown by their presence in these control languages. Hence, Interlingua includes such diverse word forms as Japanese ‘geisha’ and ‘samurai,’ Arabic ‘califa,’ Aboriginal ‘kanguru,’ and Finnish ‘sauna.’

Interlingua combines this pre-existing vocabulary with a minimal grammar based on the control languages. People with a good knowledge of a Romance language, or a smattering of a Romance language plus a good knowledge of the international scientific vocabulary can frequently understand it immediately on reading or hearing it. Educated speakers of English also enjoy this easy comprehension. The immediate comprehension of Interlingua, in turn, makes it unusually easy to learn. Speakers of other languages can also learn to speak and write Interlingua in a short time, thanks to its simple grammar and regular word formation using a small number of roots and affixes.

Once learned, Interlingua can be used to learn other related languages quickly and easily, and in some studies, even to understand them immediately. Research with Swedish students has shown that, after learning Interlingua, they can translate elementary texts from Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. In one 1974 study, an Interlingua class translated a Spanish text that students who had taken 150 hours of Spanish found too difficult to understand. Gopsill has suggested that Interlingua’s freedom from irregularities allowed the students to grasp the mechanisms of language quickly.

Words in Interlingua retain their original form from the source language; they are altered as little as possible to fit Interlingua’s phonotactics. Each word retains its original spelling, pronunciation, and meanings. For this reason, Interlingua is frequently termed a naturalistic IAL.

In its early years, IALA concerned itself with three tasks: finding other organizations around the world with similar goals; building a library of books about languages and interlinguistics; and comparing extant IALs, including Esperanto, Esperanto II, Ido, Latino Sine Flexione, Novial, and Occidental. In pursuit of the last goal, it conducted parallel studies of these languages, with comparative studies of national languages, under the direction of scholars at American and European universities. It also arranged conferences with proponents of these IALs, who debated features and goals of their respective languages. With a ‘concession rule’ that required participants to make a certain number of concessions, early debates at IALA sometimes grew from heated to explosive.

To that point, much of the debate had been equivocal on the decision to use naturalistic (e.g., Novial and Occidental) or systematic (e.g., Esperanto and Ido) words. During WWII, proponents of a naturalistic interlanguage won out. The first support was Dr. Edward Thorndike’s a interlinguistic expert; the second was a concession by proponents of the systematic languages that thousands of words were already present in many – or even a majority – of the European languages. Their argument was that systematic derivation of words was a Procrustian bed (arbitrary standard), forcing the learner to unlearn and re-memorize a new derivation scheme when a usable vocabulary was already available. This finally convinced supporters of the systematic languages, and IALA from that point assumed the position that a naturalistic language would be best.

In the post war years, Interlingua was spoken and promoted in the Socialist countries, despite attempts to suppress the language. In East Germany, government officials confiscated the letters and magazines sent to the Interlingua representative there. In Czechoslovakia, Július Tomin received threatening letters after his first article on Interlingua was published. Despite continuing persecution, he went on to become the Czech Interlingua representative, teach Interlingua in the school system, and publish a series of articles and books.

Unassimilated foreign loanwords, or borrowed words, are pronounced and spelled as in their language of origin. Their spelling may contain diacritics, or accent marks. If the diacritics do not affect pronunciation, they are removed. Interlingua has no explicitly defined phonotactics (the set of allowed arrangements or sequences of speech sounds in a given language. A word beginning with the consonant cluster ‘zv,’ for example, violates the phonotactics of English, but not of Russian).

However, the prototyping procedure for determining Interlingua words, which strives for internationality, should in general lead naturally to words that are easy for most learners to pronounce. In the process of forming new words, an ending cannot always be added without a modification of some kind in between. A good example is the plural -s, which is always preceded by a vowel to prevent the occurrence of a hard-to-pronounce consonant cluster at the end. If the singular does not end in a vowel, the final -s becomes -es.

Words in Interlingua may be taken from any language, as long as their internationality is verified by their presence in seven control languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, and English, with German and Russian acting as secondary controls. These are the most widely spoken Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages, respectively. Because of their close relationship, Spanish and Portuguese are treated as one unit. The largest number of Interlingua words are of Latin origin, with the Greek and Germanic languages providing the second and third largest number.

The remainder of the vocabulary originates in Slavic and non-Western languages. A word, that is a form with meaning, is eligible for the Interlingua vocabulary if it is verified by at least three of the four primary control languages. Either secondary control language can substitute for a primary language. Any word of Indo-European origin found in a control language can contribute to the eligibility of an international word. In some cases, the archaic or potential presence of a word can contribute to its eligibility.

A word can be potentially present in a language when a derivative is present, but the word itself is not. English ‘proximity,’ for example, gives support to Interlingua ‘proxime,’ meaning ‘near,’ ‘close.’ This counts as long as one or more control languages actually have this basic root word, which the Romance languages all do. Potentiality also occurs when a concept is represented as a compound or derivative in a control language, the morphemes that make it up are themselves international, and the combination adequately conveys the meaning of the larger word. An example is Italian ‘fiammifero’ (lit. ‘flamebearer’), meaning ‘match,’ ‘lucifer,’ which leads to Interlingua ‘flammifero,’ or ‘match.’ This word is thus said to be potentially present in the other languages although they may represent the meaning with a single morpheme.

Words do not enter the Interlingua vocabulary solely because cognates exist in a sufficient number of languages. If their meanings have become different over time, they are considered different words for the purpose of Interlingua eligibility. If they still have one or more meanings in common, however, the word can enter Interlingua with this smaller set of meanings. If this procedure did not produce an international word, the word for a concept was originally taken from Latin. This only occurred with a few grammatical particles.

The form of an Interlingua word is considered an international prototype with respect to the other words. On the one hand, it should be neutral, free from characteristics peculiar to one language. On the other hand, it should maximally capture the characteristics common to all contributing languages. As a result, it can be transformed into any of the contributing variants using only these language-specific characteristics. If the word has any derivatives that occur in the source languages with appropriate parallel meanings, then their morphological connection must remain intact; for example, the Interlingua word for ‘time’ is spelled ‘tempore’ and not ‘tempu’s or ‘tempo’ in order to match it with its derived adjectives, such as ‘temporal.’

The language-specific characteristics are closely related to the sound laws of the individual languages; the resulting words are often close or even identical to the most recent form common to the contributing words. This sometimes corresponds with that of Vulgar [common] Latin. At other times, it is much more recent or even contemporary. It is never older than the classical period.

The French ‘œil,’ Italian ‘occhio,’ Spanish ‘ojo,’ and Portuguese ‘olho’ appear quite different, but they descend from a historical form ‘oculus.’ German ‘auge,’ Dutch ‘oog,’ and English ‘eye’ (cf. Czech and Polish ‘oko,’ Russian poetic form ‘око’ are related to this form in that all three descend from Proto-Indo-European *okʷ. In addition, international derivatives like ‘ocular’ and ‘oculista’ occur in all of Interlingua’s control languages. Each of these forms contributes to the eligibility of the Interlingua word. The German and English base words do not influence the form of the Interlingua word, because their Indo-European connection is considered too remote. Instead, the remaining base words and especially the derivatives determine the form ‘oculo’ found in Interlingua.

Interlingua has been developed to omit any grammatical feature that is absent from even one control language. Thus, Interlingua has no noun-adjective agreement by gender, case, or number (cf. Spanish and Portuguese ‘gatas negras’ or Italian ‘gatte nere,’ ‘black female cats’), since this is absent from English, and it has no progressive verb tenses (English ‘I am reading’), since they are absent from French.

Conversely, Interlingua distinguishes singular nouns from plural nouns since all the control languages do. There are four simple tenses (present, past, future, and conditional), three compound tenses (past, future, and conditional), and the passive voice. The compound structures employ an auxiliary plus the infinitive or the past participle (e.g., ‘Ille ha arrivate,’ ‘He has arrived’). Simple and compound tenses can be combined in various ways to express more complex tenses (e.g., ‘Nos haberea morite,’ ‘We would have died’). Word order is subject–verb–object, except that a direct object pronoun or reflexive pronoun comes before the verb (‘Io les vide,’ ‘I see them’).

Adjectives may precede or follow the nouns they modify, but they most often follow it. The position of adverbs is flexible, though constrained by common sense. The grammar of Interlingua has been described as similar to that of the Romance languages, but greatly simplified, primarily under the influence of English. More recently, Interlingua’s grammar has been likened to the simple grammars of Japanese and particularly Chinese.

Some opponents argue that, being European-based, Interlingua is better suited for Indo-European speakers than for the entire world. Others contend that Interlingua has spelling irregularities that, while internationally recognizable in written form, increase the time needed to fully learn the language, especially for those unfamiliar with Indo-European languages. A related point of criticism is that Interlingua’s credential as being Standard Average European is too weak outside the Romance languages. Some opponents see the Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic languages, in particular, as having little influence.

Proponents argue that Interlingua’s source languages include not only Romance languages but English, German, and Russian as well. Moreover, the source languages are widely spoken internationally, and large numbers of their words also appear in other languages – still more when derivative forms and loan translations are included. Tests had shown that if a larger number of source languages were used, the results would be about the same. So, IALA selected a much simpler extraction procedure for Interlingua with little adverse effect on its internationality.

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