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.