INTERNET SOCIAL NETWORKS AND CO-EVOLUTION OF A GLOBALLY SHARED LANGUAGE

INTERNET SOCIAL NETWORKS AND CO-EVOLUTION  OF A GLOBALLY SHARED LANGUAGE

ABSTRACT

This paper outlines the prospects for the co-evolution of a Globally Shared Language (GSL). It

presents the new phrase GSL in the context of the well-known phrase International Auxiliary

Language (IAL). The paper emphasizes that GSL co-evolution is unrelated to constructed IAL

proposals such as Esperanto. A key concept in the paper is that information and

communication technologies (ICT) now make possible, for the first time in human history, a

linguistic process that formerly was virtually impossible. It discusses the roles of the One

Laptop Per child Program (OLPC), Basic English (BE), World Englishes (WE), language

preservation and multilingualism. Finally, the paper suggests that the GSL concept can

restructure existing academic frameworks regarding language education.

INTRODUCTION

In the decades since Marshall McLuhan popularized

the concept of ‘the global village’ (1964), new

technologies have steadily expanded and reinforced

communicative links between the world’s peoples.

Despite these advances, no globally shared language

permits universal communication on equal terms.

Recently, however, remarkable reductions in

computing costs and rapid technological convergence

have fostered powerful new online social networks,

including virtual reality locales. Such networks make

the co-evolution of a globally shared language (GSL)

a compelling concept for the 21st century.

GSL co-evolution significantly updates and refines

the International Auxiliary Language (IAL) concept

(Wikipedia, 2009). GSL refers to a co-evolving

language constructed of and from existing natural

scaffolding languages, and used on equal terms by all

the peoples of the world. Everyone helps to co-evolve

the GSL, learning it alongside native languages and

regional auxiliary languages. In contrast to

constructed IALs such as Esperanto, well known but

peripheral to modern linguistics, GSL co-evolution is

an unexplored and potentially seminal idea.

Co-evolution refers to a cooperative and

collaborative process that ideally includes all of the

nearly 7,000 documented world tongues. GSL co-

evolution consciously embraces multilingualism and

language preservation (Britten, 2009). Linguists and

educators are well placed to facilitate GSL co-

evolution.

A simple visualization suggests the process: one

can imagine the co-evolving GSL as a translucent,

hemispheric dome above a circular plane containing

all world languages. These languages are the

scaffolding from which the dome expands and

evolves. The well-known and expanding role of

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), and the large

population of World Englishes users, makes

Englishes the most plausible central scaffolding

component and nexus for linguistic mixing.

Other dominant regional linguae francae are

primary scaffolding components surrounding the

Englishes. By no means, however, does this visual

metaphor imply a permanent dominance for any of

the major languages. The GSL matrix, containing and

including all languages, synergistically becomes far

more than the sum of its parts, encouraging linguistic

adaptation and innovation.

Toward the periphery of the dome are a myriad of

minority and endangered languages. Marginalized,

mutually incomprehensible, and threatened by

expanding major tongues, the peripheral languages

nevertheless contribute to the GSL once speakers are

connected by any mutually acceptable lingua franca.

In many instances this might be Basic English (BE) or

one of its variants.

Proposed nearly 80 years ago by linguist Charles

Kay Ogden (Ogden, 1930), BE is alive and well.

(Basic English Institute, 2009). A recent variation on

Ogden’s work, Basic Global English (BGE), might

serve as alternative scaffolding (Basic Global English,

2009). Another English-based contender is  the much-

publicized Globish (Globish, 2009). Linguists can help

to initiate GSL co-evolution by choosing and using

one of the BE contenders.

To appreciate the BE role, one can imagine narrow

BE scaffolding components that span the GSL dome,

passing through the center. Speakers of !Kung in

Africa, for example, might communicate via the

Internet with speakers of Moklen in Thailand, initially

in BE (and perhaps higher registers of English),

gradually including words from their native languages

and regional linguae francae. Low-cost hardware and

software and expanding online social networks make

such communication increasingly plausible. BE can

thus empower minority languages and facilitate GSL

co-evolution, which would otherwise scarcely be

imaginable.

Application of new pedagogical tools and

techniques to accelerate BE education, a

longstanding goal of the World Language Process,

(WLP, 2009) makes GSL co-evolution even more

feasible. This is particularly so if the One Laptop Per

Child Program (OLPC, 2009) is used to help teach

BE, to preserve marginal languages, and to connect

speakers of diverse marginalized languages via built-

in ‘meshware’ (Britten, 2009). Speakers of various

minority languages may thus begin to co-evolve many

new varieties of World Englishes (WE), which in turn

can gradually mix and merge with other World

Englishes, and with other world languages.

The well-established field of WE (IAWE, 2009)

provides many examples of English/native language

interplay. Viewed from the GSL perspective, World

Englishes can be seen as important components of

GSL scaffolding. World Englishes speakers, some of

whom routinely engage in remarkably fluid code-

switching, are superbly positioned to contribute to the

GSL and would likely be among the most influential

early architects.

Although GSL co-evolution will be a chaotic,

bottom-up process, top-down participation —  by

educators, language policy-makers, politicians, and

computer hardware and software experts — can

facilitate, moderate, and perhaps accelerate the

process (Britten, 2005). Linguists and educators,

collaborating with ongoing projects such as OLPC,

will make invaluable contributions to GSL co-

evolution. Persons involved with global efforts to

document and protect minority languages will be

important contributors, as will speakers of

endangered languages seeking to include some

essential parts of themselves in the co-evolving GSL

dome.

A spirit of exploration and playfulness will infuse

the co-evolution process. Some rebelliousness might

help, too: teenagers’ tendency to use language in new

ways use will make them important contributors to

GSL co-evolution. Children also will have a major

influence on GSL co-evolution (Britten, 2007). Poets,

novelists, musicians, moviemakers and others will

also make contributions.

The concept of GSL co-evolution can restructure

existing academic and social frameworks of language

education and policy, particularly in regard to English

language education. Whether one considers English

expansion negatively — as a vehicle of socio-linguistic

hegemony — or positively — as a beneficial force for

international exchange and cooperation — the notion

of English as a GSL scaffolding component changes

the discussion. English, rather than being an end,

becomes a means to an endless process of unifying

evolution. The GSL educational process will thus be

conceptually different from any ordinary language

education, and especially from the process of

mastering any language as a dominant lingua franca.

GSL co-evolution can lead to a fantastically rich

global tongue, with fascinating grammatical, lexical,

orthographic, and syntactical features.

Educators and language policy-makers can

facilitate GSL co-evolution now, especially by

involving children, whose role in linguistic change is

protean (Lightfoot, 2006). If encouraged by teachers,

and by interaction with other youngsters worldwide,

children will make enduring and fascinating

contributions. Interaction will include face-to face

communication, Internet social network exchanges,

and eventually virtual interaction in venues such as

Second Life. Elements of natural play and directed,

game-like educational activities will further facilitate

GSL co-evolution.

Specialists in elementary education worldwide can

play a crucial role in catalyzing GSL co-evolution

simply by introducing the concept of GSL co-evolution

to children, in their native languages. Encouraging

children to become part of a GSL co-evolution will be

a powerful impetus to that process, accelerating and

facilitating the co-evolution, however chaotic and

erratic it may be, of a Globally Shared Language.

REFERENCES

Basic English Institute (n.d.). Retrieved March 31,

2009, from http://www.basic-english.org/

Britten, J. (2005). A  new tool for the World Language

Process: Accelerated co-evolution of a Universal

Auxiliary Language via corpus linguistic analysis of

world Englishes. Bulletin of Nakamura Gakuen 

University and Nakamura Gakuen Junior College,  

37(1), 29-45.

Britten, J. (2007). How new languages emerge:

Implications for the world language process.

Bulletin of Nakamura Gakuen University and 

Nakamura Gakuen Junior College, 39(1),

109-114.

Britten, J. (2009). The international auxiliary language

and multilingualism: Symbiosis and synergy.

Bulletin of Nakamura Gakuen University and 

Nakamura Gakuen Junior College, 41(1),

121-129.

IAWE International Association of World Englishes

(n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2009 from http://

http://www.iaweworks.org/

International Auxiliary Language (n.d.). Retrieved April

14, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

International_auxiliary_language

Joachim Grzega’s Basic Global English (BGE) (n.d.).

Retrieved March 31, from http://

basicglobalenglish.com

Globish, the dialect of the third millennium (n.d.).

Retrieved March 29, 2009 from http://

http://www.globish.com/

Lightfoot, D. (2006). How new languages emerge.

New York: Cambridge University Press.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media. New

York:  McGraw Hill.

Ogden, C. (1930). Basic English: A general 

introduction with rules and grammar. London:

Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) (n.d.). Retrieved March

31, 2009 from http://www.laptop.org/en

World Language Process (n.d). Retrieved April 14

2009 from http://www.worldlanguageprocess.com

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