Coevolution of a Globally Shared Language (GSL): Is the Process Underway?


This paper discusses the possible evidence for inchoate coevolution of a Globally Shared Language (GSL) through information and communication technologies (ICT), which arguably make possible a linguistic process that formerly was virtually impossible.  This paper discusses the possible roles of Internet social networks; virtual, augmented, and mediated reality; corpus linguistics and machine translation; creole studies; chaordic communities; and Fourth Paradigm science.   The paper introduces the term “Process” to describe both GSL coevolution and the emergent language.

Coevolution of a Globally Shared Language (GSL):  Is the Process Underway?

21st century information and communication technologies (ICT) create environments that encourage and facilitate coevolution of a globally shared language (GSL), a process formerly impossible.  (Britten, 2009).    For multilingual users of ICT, GSL coevolution may already be underway, though largely unrecognized.   This essay provides examples of communication that arguably characterizes this process.

If the GSL coevolution concept is valid, linguists exploiting “Fourth Paradigm” approaches (Hey, 2009) may have access to a virtual laboratory in which to test competing hypotheses about language learning.   A global “chaordic community” of children, women, and men could facilitate this coevolutionary process.  (Chaordic Commons 2010; Hock 2000).

In this essay, the word “Process” refers to GSL coevolution and to the emergent language.    As an example of Process, consider the communication between a young international couple:  Keiko, a Japanese college junior studying Mandarin for one semester at a Chinese university, and Pao, a young Laotian man who has been living in China for two years.  Pao studies computer science (primarily in English) and Mandarin as a foreign language.  Because he wants to work in Japan someday he is studying Japanese, too.

After Keiko returns to Japan the couple communicate several times daily by email and Skype, the latter permitting real-time face-to-face communication and simultaneous texting and Internet content sharing.   The service is free and they use it often.    Neither is completely comfortable communicating in English, but it serves as their primary lingua franca and dominant “scaffolding language” between two major regional languages and a (relatively small) national language.

Over the course of several years, the multilingual pair routinely code switch between four languages, often exploiting handheld electronic dictionaries, various Internet language-learning websites, and Google Translate.  (Both also contribute to ongoing, volunteer improvement of the corpus-based machine translation.)    Occasionally, the couple find themselves communicating in a language of their own devising, complete with idiosyncratic neologisms.  They make fun of their mixed-up creation, but sometimes feel they’re communicating in a private creole.

Their perception arguably manifests the early stages of Process.  Millions of multilingual students worldwide share similar experiences, as shown in the popular movie L’auberge Espanole (The Spanish Garden)  (IMDB 2010).  Process might be facilitated by a chaordic community of such persons, including computer hardware and software experts, educators and researchers, language policy planners, politicians and bureaucrats, writers, directors, and other creative persons, and more. Process aims to encourage and to grow from multilingualism and language preservation, so the global chaordic community could free several birds from one cage.

Multi-lingual ICT users today are arguably pioneers of Process – potentially, a fantastically rich global creole.  Indeed, the linguistic study of pidgins and creoles involves experts who could greatly contribute to Process.  The American Comparative Literature Association’s recent conference on “Creoles, Diasporas, Cosmopolitanisms,” for example, provides a fascinating overview of creole studies, highly relevant to the potential for Process. (ACLA 2010).  This description provides a conceptual framework for facilitated global creolization.

Process may proceed playfully, facilitated by games and by friendly personal exchanges, both real-world and virtual, including venues such as the Wireless Ready “Edunation Dome” and other Second Life locales.   Shops, theaters, promenades, classrooms, sports facilities and so on — all virtual — could provide opportunities for Process development, many in relatively “natural” virtual settings and situations.   These environments will, of course derive from the desires of the virtual world creators.  Process users would choose avatars and communicate entirely according to their creative wishes.  This and similarly remarkable — and previously impossible — situations can facilitate Process coevolution.   Virtual reality communities may be among the earliest manifestations of Process.

Process could include friendly competition between virtual communities, the most successful being those whose language finds favor with newcomers, an extremely complex, playful process that could provide fascinating insights to linguists with the proper tools to observes and analyze this coevolution.   Process may include creative contributions in vocabulary, grammar, syntax,  orthography, proxemics, body language, and other features of language.   Process would naturally invite such innovations, particularly among children and teenagers, poets, lyricists, writers and others creative persons.   Neologisms would abound, even as Process coevolves from a scaffolding of existing world languages.

Multilingual “sampling” — to borrow a term from the modern digital music world — could become highly sophisticated, fast, and easy, thereby enhancing Process via a scaffolding of all global languages, as well as through neologism creation and other creative contributions.   Such sampling might be facilitated through an innovative, extremely powerful “Process Corpus” incorporating all extant corpora of global languages.  This goal, though very ambitious, is far more plausible than efforts to develop a universal translation device, and might have a far greater influence on global society.

The Process corpus would include all living languages, including minority and endangered tongues such as those being documented via the WeSay program.  (WeSay 2010)    Even documented, extinct languages could be part of the corpora.   The Process Corpus would provide users with many possible alternative ways to express their thoughts and feelings for situations either familiar or foreign to the users’ native languages.

Users could share the results of their Process Corpora investigations with others in face-to-face communication and/or through Internet social networks and virtual, mediated, and augmented reality.  Such exchanges may eventually be in progress incessantly, involving millions of children, women, and men all around the world.  A GSL may emerge from such uncountable and unmoderated exchanges, situated in the zone where “chaords” – order emerging from chaos  — result.  Manifestations of such “sampling” could take place in virtual reality, everyday life, and also via mediated and augmented reality (MAR).

An interesting recent manifestation of MAR is Sekai Camera  (SekaiCamera 2010), which allows users to “tag” information about various locations and things using cell phones equipped with camera and GPS systems.   Process participants using cell phones, increasingly common worldwide, could engage in “Process naming,” playfully introducing names for things in the world.    This naming could involve words and phrases from existing languages or could involve neologisms and novel orthographies. Providing opportunities for deep creativity and enjoyment.  A standardized “Process Air Tag” could help interested children, women, and men to make and recognize Process contributions.

Another potential facilitator of Process would be a variation on the Chat Roulette site. (ChatRoulette 2010).   Adapted for Process facilitation, a similar program could connect speakers of myriad languages using a variety of filters, including user-provided information about native language, foreign, second, and lingua franca languages, language preferences, willingness to connect to speakers of particular languages, preferences to certain regional scaffolding languages, age and gender preferences, and so forth.   Some might be asked to agree, for research purposes, to audio recording and collation of text messages, or other methods of documenting their communications.   Other interactions would be entirely unmonitored.

Although ICT are absolutely essential to Process, they absolutely are not sufficient.   Process must be able to carry on in the unmediated world, not only in virtual life, not only through Internet communication and with augmented reality, and perhaps not primarily in either medium, but rather in ordinary face-to-face conversation.   No matter how powerful or ubiquitous the ICT may be, we are eventually and ultimately brought back to our ordinary human senses and our individual thoughts and voices.   For Process to fulfill its full potential, there must evolve a globally shared internal voice, initially rather limited, perhaps, but perhaps eventually stunningly sophisticated and complex and beautiful in ways we cannot begin to fathom now, just setting off from the shores of multilingualism.

The late Jim Gray of Microsoft is credited with the “Fourth Paradigm” concept.  Gray reportedly was keenly aware that the greatest challenges for science are non-technical, human problems:  psychological, emotional and social turmoil; religious conflict; conflicting values, hopes and dreams; matters of love and hate, trust and betrayal, power and powerlessness.  Recognizing this, Process requires a global community that fosters and facilitates change according to chaordic principles, and that fully acknowledges human complexity.   The Process community must seek ways in which to ensure accessibility, fairness, openness, cooperation, and creativity, while taking full advantage of the powerful ICT that are at the core of the Wireless Ready community’s interests.


ACLA (n.d.) Retrieved April 20, 2010 from

Britten, J.  (2009), Internet social networks and co-evolution of a globally shared language, Proceedings of the third annual Wireless Ready Symposium, 4-7.

Chaordic Commons (n.d.) Retrieved February 12, 2010 from

ChatRoulette  (n.d).   Retrieved April 2, 2010 from

Hey, T.  (2009) The Fourth Paradigm, San Francisco:  Microsoft Research.

Hock, D.  (2000) Birth of the Chaordic Age, San Francisco, Berrtett-Koehler Publishers.

IMDB  (n.d.) Retrieved February 11, 2010 from

SekaiCamera (n.d) Retrieved January 21, 2010 from

 WeSay (n.d) Retrieved January 11, 2010 from


4 thoughts on “Coevolution of a Globally Shared Language (GSL): Is the Process Underway?

    1. I think Esperanto is a work of genius. I’ve studied a bit and admire it. Perhaps Esperantists will contribute to CreoLearth. I hope so. I’ve liked the ones I’ve met so far.

      I don’t think Esperanto will expand much beyond its current size of (at most) a few million speakers. English has become the global lingua franca (ELF). Esperanto cannot play that role. I think we’re now at a stage when we can start talking about going beyond ELF and World Englishes and start co-evolving a beautiful global creole.

  1. We should remember that not everyone speaks English worldwide – 3.7 billion people do not. More people now speak Mandarin Chinese and Spanish!

    The biggest air crash in the World was caused by the failure of English, because of its use as the language of air traffic control!

    Another near-miss happened in JFK airport, as well.

    The decline of English is also seen on the internet. When the world wide web began, 85% was in English. That percentage has now shrunk to 35%.

    We need a practical solution and Esperanto is the only sensible long-term one available.

    1. I wish you the best of luck in promoting Esperanto. My own view is that the lingua franca role of English is almost a certainty, and that the problems you cite can be overcome by adequate training of persons who need English for their occupations. As for the increase in other languages on the Internet (a relative decline of English), I think this bodes well for Creolearth, which involves mixing and merging of all the world’s languages.

      Apropos English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) I read not long ago that 200,000,000 children in China are studying English now, about 100 times greater than the total number of Esperanto speakers. These children will be able study at universities worldwide using their hard-earned English knowledge. This is an access to education that Esperanto cannot provide.

      That said, I don’t wish to debate the potential of Esperanto — most speakers I’ve met are true believers totally dedicated to success. Moreover, no one can predict the future. In the event that Esperanto somehow takes a global lingua-franca role, the potential for Creolearth will be unchanged.

      Here’s hoping you and other Esperantists will contribute to the process.

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