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