A Japanese college student recently asked me to provide English onomatopoeia for sounds recorded on videos she had on her computer. There were 14 samples, with sounds such as the CLINK of a coin falling on tale, the CLICK/CLACK (or CLIP CLOP) of a person with hard-soled shoes walking across a hard floor. A few left me without any good answer, including the sound of a sheet of paper hitting the floor — a sound that may have an everyday Japanese onomatopoeic word.
A shared online effort to create globally shared onomatopoeia for many commonly experienced sounds — the CLICK of a light switch, the SNAP of fingers, the BOOM of an explosion — could be a fine starting point for a GSL Global participants could vote on various choices. These could come from existing onomatopoeia from the thousands of existing languages, or could be neologisms.
This kind of playful, ongoing project would be interesting not only from an academic/research perspective, but just plain pleasure. The first human languages may well have started from onomatopoeic utterances, such as a man or woman imitating the burble of a brook to a thirsty mate, followed by an offered drink of water. It’s interesting to imagine a GSL shaped by a similar process. Visitors to CreolEarth may have valuable ideas about how to proceed with such a process.
More to follow . . .
While studying the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), I realized that the European Union’s concept of plurilingualism is relevant to the inchoate concept of a coevolving globally shared language (GSL). The CEFR document is elegant and eloquent and I prefer to quote rather than to paraphrase. The most relevant paragraphs follow , with the most salient sections in bold italics.
- In recent years, the concept of plurilingualism has grown in importance in the Council of Europe’s approach to language learning. Plurilingualism differs from multilingualism, which is the knowledge of a number of languages, or the co-existence of different languages in a given society. Multilingualism may be attained by simply diversifying the languages on offer in a particular school or educational system, or by encouraging pupils to learn more than one foreign language, or reducing the dominant position of English in international communication. Beyond this, the plurilingual approach emphasises the fact that as an individual person’s experience of language in its cultural contexts expands, from the language of the home to that of society at large and then to the languages of other peoples (whether learnt at school or college, or by direct experience), he or she does not keep these languages and cultures in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather builds up a communicative competence to which all knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which languages interrelate and interact. In different situations, a person can call flexibly upon different parts of this competence to achieve effective communication with a particular interlocutor. For instance, partners may switch from one language or dialect to another, exploiting the ability of each to express themselves in one language and to understand the other; or a person may call upon the knowledge of a number of languages to make sense of a text, written or even spoken, in a previously ‘unknown’ language, recognising words from a common international store in a new guise. Those with some knowledge, even slight, may use it to help those with none to communicate by mediating between individuals with no common language. In the absence of a mediator, such individuals may nevertheless achieve some degree of communication by bringing the whole of their linguistic equipment into play, experimenting with alternative forms of expression in different languages or dialects, exploiting paralinguistics (mime, gesture, facial expression, etc.) and radically simplifying their use of language
- From this perspective, the aim of language education is profoundly modified. It is no longer seen as simply to achieve ‘mastery’ of one or two, or even three languages, each taken in isolation, with the ‘ideal native speaker’ as the ultimate model. Instead, the aim is to develop a linguistic repertory, in which all linguistic abilities have a place. This implies, of course, that the languages offered in educational institutions should be diversified and students given the opportunity to develop a plurilingual competence. Furthermore, once it is recognised that language learning is a lifelong task, the development of a young person’s motivation, skill and confidence in facing new language experience out of school comes to be of central importance. The responsibilities of educational authorities, qualifying examining bodies and teachers cannot simply be confined to the attainment of a given level of proficiency in a particular language at a particular moment in time, important though that undoubtedly is. The full implications of such a paradigm shift have yet to be worked out and translated into action. . . .
If we simply start with the idea that plurilingualism can lead to a GSL — in this blog called Creolearth — then the paragraphs above take on new and exciting meaning.
I have only begun to explore this notion, and hope that others interested in the CEFR may comment. I think that many aspects of the CEFR may be relevant to Creolearth if the idea of GSL coevolution appeals to people and answers a felt need. As things stand now, perhaps too many people associate any talk of a “world language” with repeated, failed efforts to construct such a language. Perhaps if they perceive GSL coevolution as a logical and deeply appealing extension of plurilingualism, the process will begin.
How rapidly might Creolearth emerge? One can only speculate. No massively global chaordic process of this kind has been attempted, so far as I know anyway. Modern technology makes possible a process that could not have occurred previously. It also enables very rapid change. How rapid? No one know.
Creolearth is a small blog with a small audience. If the concept is valuable, it will grow in time. One useful measure, made possible by WordPress tracking, is the number of hits per country. If the idea interests you, please spread the word. I’d be happy to see even one “hit” from each of the 206 sovereign states in the world. If that comes to pass, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. Until then, Creolearth happily orbits in cyberspace . . .
For many years I’ve been interested in the idea of “natural” coevolution of a globally shared language (GSL). As time goes by, I’m increasingly interested in crowdsourcing Creolearth neologisms as a way of jump-starting the process. If people contribute new words they will feel a stake in this language, and we can, all around the world, start using these original Creolearth words in our daily lives, whatever language we speak.
What kind of words could we start with? For starters, I think we need a globally-shared word to describe contempt for lies, liars, and lying. We are all bombarded with lies every day from various sources. These are often deadly lies, in service of cruelty and violence, lies that contribute to the destruction of our biosphere. Many of us know what is being done. I think we need a new word — a powerful word — to describe not only the awareness of mendacity, but our contempt for it.
Another needed word, perhaps, is a global word corresponding with hope for humanity collectively to create a better world, a hope rooted in faith in truth and transparency. Can a single word convey this, for people all around the world?
We have some vocalizations that perhaps are universal or nearly so — the groans of despair and grief, the sustained booing of contempt, the cheering roar of approval Can we go from these sounds to words that convey more? It’s an interesting question, and I hope to initiate a process to answer it.
My plan is to start a new blog called Creolearth Crowdsourcing. The blog you are reading now, Creolearth, will focus on the process. The new blog will be a place for readers to contribute. I’d welcome any thoughts or suggestions.
The Euchee people, originally from what’s now Tennessee, were forced onto reservations in Oklahoma. Today they are striving to preserve their language, which is said to be unlike any other in the world.
What aspects of Euchee language are most beautiful? Can Euuchi speakers imagine some parts of their language living on in a globally shared language? These are interesting questions, given the tremendous difficulty of keeping threatened languages from dying out. Perhaps Creolearth can contribute to the effort in a small way, if a core vocabulary includes components of many threatened languages.
Definer, a wonderfully clever iTunes app for (portable Macintosh i-products) suggests a means by which interested persons can contribute neologisms for a globally shared language (GSL)
A specialized version of the amazing Definer app could jumpstart the creation of Creolearth. A Creolearth neologism application would ideally work on any device, through ordinary World Wide Web links.
To coevolve a GSL, contributions from people all around the world are needed. We need to be open to all sounds and rhythms, and to whatever new words playful minds can create.
Consider the wonderful Xhosa wedding song, performed here by the late, great Miram Mkeba. How many people on earth would ever imagine a language with sounds like this without hearing this?
(The next version has a much clearer soundtrack, and Xhosa subtitles.)
How many wonderful sounds exist in languages few of us have ever heard? (Tuvan throat singing comes to mind .)
And a tutorial . . .
Could such exotic sounds become a part of a globally shared language? My hunch is that Creolearth will more likely include sounds and words that are easiest to speak and most pleasing to the greatest number of speakers.
That will probably leave out words like that, and all the tongue-between-teeth “th” sounds of English that cause such trouble for so many learners of that language.
The search for globally pleasing sounds and new words will be fascinating, and new words may form a significant part of a core Creolearth vocabulary.
The core concept of Creolearth is coevolution from a scaffolding of natural world languages. However, there are countless opportunities for creativity, including creation of Creolearth neologisms.
Where could new words come from? I think Ella Fitzgerald’s inspired “One Note Samba” from 1969 provides a clue, and definitely provides some great entertainment.
Fitzgerald demonstrates that “meaningless” vocalizations — scat — can reflect the emotional heart of our conversations.
Scat almost seems to convey meaning; we can imagine the conversations, can supply our own interpretations. We “know” what she’s talking about.
I wonder whether new words for a new world could come out of a similar process.