THE PROGRESS OF science has put at the disposal of mankind a host of inventions which speed and facilitate communication. It is characteristic that some, like radio, spill over boundaries, while others, like aeroplanes, make frontiers seem anachronistic. The new media should therefore draw men together more closely and open the way for a greater measure of cultural interchange and co-operation than has been known hitherto. Rightly used, they would help to make knowledge freely available to all men everywhere and enable every one to contribute his own offerings to the common pool of ideas and ideals.
The time for this, however, is not yet. At the technical level there is now no obstacle to the development of a world civilization on a planetary basis, but men are still separated into groups which struggle and compete with one another or, at least, fail to co-operate fully and generously. The divisions between these groups arise from geographical and even more from historical causes. They are stabilized by differences in economic and social organization and crystallized in complexes of thought and feeling associated with religious, artistic, and moral traditions.
It would be an error to suppose that all differences between groups of human beings are harmful or that they necessarily lead to bloody conflict. Some make life richer, subtler, more diversified, and may prove a source of vital and productive tension. Yet, clearly, some barriers are merely stultifying. Chief among these are those linguistic difficulties which have cursed mankind since Babel. If strangers meet and desire to commune, then the fact that they cannot understand one another's speech is mere frustration. If an African wishes to learn medicine in order to help his fellows stricken by disease, it is harmful that he should have to spend years mastering the European language in which instruction will be given. If a Chinese wishes to learn modern science in order to contribute to the economic development of his country, it is bad that he should first have to waste time learning the - to him excessively difficult - languages in which textbooks are mostly written.
Nor is this all. Scientific research itself is beginning to suffer. Fifty years ago, a Western scholar could get along very well with English, French and German. Now, if he wishes to keep abreast in his own speciality, he does well to add to his linguistic equipment Russian and perhaps Spanish and Japanese. In another fifty years his task will become an impossible one since, presumably, he would have to be able to read not only those six languages but, in addition, Chinese, Urdu, Italian, Portuguese, and perhaps Arabic.
Clearly, even at the most practical and down-to-earth level, the universal adoption of an auxiliary language is becoming a matter of real urgency. But there is even more to the question than that. The second half of the twentieth century will be the period of the atomic engine and of the atomic bomb. For the first time in human history it will be possible to wipe out all human life, indeed all life whatever, from the planet. The nations must unite or perish and the symbol and instrument of their union must be a common language. The spreading of this common language can be accomplished only by teachers and chiefly through the new generations that pass through the schools.
The first problem to be decided is, of course, which language or what kind of language shall be adopted as the World Auxiliary. Quite possibly, it may turn out to be an ordinary national or ethnic language already spoken by millions. English is an obvious candidate - indeed, at the moment, it is being swept into a dominating position by social, economic and cultural forces of great power. It is already spoken by upwards of 200 millions and understood by many more. It is the governmental language of nearly a third of the world's population. In addition, its analytical structure, together with its simplicity and suppleness, confer upon it great advantages. But we cannot be sure that, say by the year 2000, its predominant position will not be challenged by other languages like Russian, Chinese, or Urdu.
A great obstacle to the adoption of English, or of any other ethnic language, is the great difficulty of learning it. We all know how pitifully meagre is the knowledge of, say, French, acquired by intelligent English boys or girls who study this language for four or five years. Yet French and English resemble one another quite closely - how much command of Chinese or Russian would such learners gain in the same time? Enough to employ it usefully in business or science?
Many, who are familiar with the problems presented by the teaching of foreign languages, incline to the view that, if any ethnic language is to be universally adopted as an auxiliary, it will have to be in simplified form. One particular simplified and mutilated form of English has already gained wide currency in the East - Pidgin. Though it is now a sort of lingua franca in wide regions, this dialect lacks the stability conferred by a written literature as well as the suppleness and covering power required for scientific and technical usage. It is too closely connected with its origins: primitive barter and the giving of simple commands. Furthermore, few look upon it as a pleasing language and in any case it is already so different from its parent as scarcely to deserve the name of English.
A far better proposal, of course, is Basic English, which seems to many good judges to offer the best solution possible. Relying upon is his massive and prolonged studies in logic and linguistics, and helped by and astounding mastery of words and a profound understanding of the nature and function of language, its inventor, Mr. C. K. Ogden, drew up a list of 850 English words with a body of rules of quite remarkable simplicity. For the past sixteen years he and his collaborators have found no difficulty in getting along with this exiguous equipment, and thousands of learners have mastered Basic with success in all parts of the world. Plays by G. B. Shaw, as well as technical, philosophical and scientific articles have all been put into Basic to the satisfaction of their original authors. Even the Bible has been re-translated into Basic from the originals and the new version has won loud praise from highly competent judges. No reasonable person can doubt that it would be enormously easier for any non-English-speaking person to learn to read, or even to speak, Basic than normal English. In addition, anything written or said in Basic can straight away be understood by any English-speaking person. Furthermore, the learner of Basic has the satisfaction of knowing that, in any event, he is not wasting his time since all he learns is contained in and may be considered as a first step towards the learning of normal English.
In spite of its obvious advantages, the Basic solution has not been accepted by all English-speaking persons - indeed, the strongest opposition comes from England; but in 1943 both the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the President of the United States declared themselves in favour, and in 1944 a Governmental Committee was established in England to devise plans for its further development. A few critics seem to think that even a simplified English is insufficiently neutral and that its adoption would confer undesirable advantages upon England and the U.S.A. Others might, perhaps, prefer either Latin - that auxiliary language of medieval times - or a simplified version of it like Peano's Latino sine flexione (Interlingua). For the most part, however, those who are interested in the promotion of an Auxiliary Language, but feel unable to support Basic, pin their faith to a constructed language.
The constructed languages are of two types - the artificial languages like Sona, which bear no resemblance to any ethnic ones, either in grammatical structure or in vocabulary, and those which, like Esperanto and Ido, have been synthesized from ethnic languages and whose structure has been made rational and simple.
Far the best known of the constructed languages is Esperanto. Devoted and enthusiastic men and women have done their utmost to spread it far and wide. It has been used with marked success at many international conferences and it has a large literature, both original and translated, available to students. Far more persons speak and understand it than any other constructed language - it is, indeed, the only candidate of its class with a numerically considerable body of supporters. In spite of this it is probable that, at the present rate of progress, it will be a long time, an unduly long time, before the whole world can be said to have adopted Esperanto as the World Auxiliary Language. One great handicap to its more rapid spread, as to that of any constructed language, is that there is little likelihood of any Government undertaking to propagate it. I think it only right to add that some authorities consider Esperanto to be linguistically unsatisfactory.
In his contribution to this book, Mr. Jacob describes briefly the structure of Esperanto and also examines other constructed languages of the same or similar type. It is well to realize that this is a field where strong feelings exist and where passion and anger are easily aroused - why this should be so is itself an interesting and highly significant question. It must not be expected, therefore, that anybody will feel entirely pleased or even satisfied with Mr. Jacob's exposition. He himself inclines towards Ido, but I am convinced that he has done his utmost to be impartial and to keep the discussion free from the bias of personal opinion. It is quite possible, however, that he has not done full justice to Esperanto - we must therefore refer readers who are particularly interested in that language to the literature dealing with it. Books by Esperantists are easily accessible and several are listed in the bibliography. They may be obtained from the British Esperanto Association.
In conclusion, it is worth stressing once more the importance to all teachers of the problems here discussed. In the first place, they themselves have a definite contribution to make regarding the choice of the international language. For the language adopted must be such that it can be learned by children of ordinary intelligence in the limited time available for language-study in primary and secondary schools. Teachers themselves are the best judges of the qualities and characteristics of a language which can be easily learned by children(*). In consequence, it is desirable that as many as possible should inform themselves regarding the proposed auxiliaries and it would be most helpful if these made their voices heard.
In the second place, it is increasingly recognized that it would be well in all schools to use the language lessons as a vehicle for teaching to children some important lessons in logic and clear thinking. Basic and almost any of the constructed languages are remarkably well suited to this end. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that any teacher who has once spent time studying any proposed auxiliary will find his whole approach to language teaching profoundly modified and that he will, almost certainly, adopt new ways more rewarding and stimulating to his pupils than the old. In the extracts published on pages 115 to 121, as well as in Mr. Graham Orton's contribution (pages 58 to 70) will be found suggestions dealing witht this matter.
I hope I have made clear the reasons which have led us, in the International New Education Fellowship, to concern ourselves with International Auxiliary Languages. We see a new world being born; we see numerous and difficult problems arising to which a solution could be found more easily if an auxiliary were universally adopted; we realize that here is an issue which intimately concerns all teachers. We therefore desire to promote discussions which ought to be as informed and constructive as possible. It is our hope that the present book will serve as a first introduction to this complex field and that it will help to orientate teachers regarding the pitfalls that exist. We have done our best to produce a short guide describing the situation in a manner as neutral and objective as possible. We hope that everyone will understand that neither the Fellowship nor its Executive Board is committed to the support of any one proposed solution. We are interested in the whole problem and we hope, in time, to be in a position to give clear advice - but this we cannot do until opinion among our members has crystallized. When that time will come, no one knows. One distinguished linguist recently gave it as his view that at least 500 years of study and discussion would be necessary before a really satisfactory universal auxiliary could be constructed. He added that, in consequence, he himself would devote his energy to an attempt to hasten the universal adoption of the Roman script, a reform which appeared to him better calculated to advance human welfare, at any rate in the East, than the adoption of a World Auxiliary. Another equally learned expert, present at the discussion, was more optimistic. In his view, an auxiliary language would be taught in all the schools of the world before A.D. 2000. We hope that the latter was correct and that we shall be able to express ourselves without ambiguity on the choice of a Common World Language say by 1960 or 1970!
We wish to put on record the indebtedness of the New Education Fellowship to Mr. H. Jacob for all the work he has done, and to other friends who have helped in the planning and production of this book.
J. A. LAUWERYS
Reader in Education, London University Institute of Education, and Deputy Chairman, International New Education Fellowship
* There are some schools where Esperanto has been taught for years and is still being taught.
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