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International auxiliary language

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An international auxiliary language (sometimes abbreviated as IAL or auxlang) or interlanguage is a language meant for communication between people from different nations who do not share a common native language. An auxiliary language is primarily a second language.

Languages of dominant societies over the centuries have served as auxiliary languages, sometimes approaching the international level. French and English have been used as such in recent times in many parts of the world. However, as these languages are associated with the very dominance - cultural, political, and economic - that made them popular, they are often met with strong resistance as well. For this reason, many have turned to the idea of promoting an artificial or constructed language as a possible solution.

The term "auxiliary" implies that it is intended to be an additional language for the people of the world, rather than to replace their native languages. Often, the phrase is used to refer to planned or constructed languages proposed specifically to ease worldwide international communication, such as Esperanto, Ido, and Interlingua. However, it can also refer to the concept of such a language being determined by international consensus, including even a standardized natural language (e.g., International English), and has also been connected to the project of constructing a universal language. Some auxiliary language aficionados call these languages auxlangs.

History of auxiliary language

The history of auxiliary language is controversial. Louis Couturat et al. exemplified the controversy in the Preface to their book on International Language and Science:

The question of a so-called world-language, or better expressed, an international auxiliary language, was during the now past Volapük period, and is still in the present Esperanto movement, so much in the hands of Utopians, fanatics and enthusiasts, that it is difficult to form an unbiased opinion concerning it, although a good idea lies at its basis. (1910, p. v).

For Couturat et al, both Volapukists and Esperantists confounded the linguistic aspect of the question with many side issues, and for this reason discussions about the international auxiliary language has appeared unpractical. However as Pfaundler wrote in the same publication, the language was intimately connected to science, and not simply linguistics:

All who are occupied with the reading or writing of scientific literature have assuredly very often felt the want of a common scientific language, and regretted the great loss of time and trouble caused by the multiplicity of languages employed in scientific literature.

The history of the most notable constructed auxiliary languages can be summarized in table form:

Language name ISO Year of first
Creator Comments
Solresol   1827 François Sudre The famous "musical language"
Communicationssprache   1839 Joseph Schipfer Based on French vocabulary
Universalglot   1868 Jean Pirro Arguably the first fully developed IAL
Volapük vo, vol 1879–1880 Johann Martin Schleyer First to acquire a sizable international speaker community
Alayun   1884 Dr Leonis Skye Designed to be completely different from other languages with a structure similar to English.
Esperanto eo, epo 1887 L. L. Zamenhof By far the most popular constructed language.
Spokil   1887 or 1890 Adolph Nicolas An a priori language by a former VolapГјk advocate
Mundolinco   1888 J. Braakman The first esperantido
Idiom Neutral   1902 Waldemar Rosenberger A naturalistic IAL by a former advocate of VolapГјk
Latino sine Flexione   1903 Giuseppe Peano "Latin without inflections," it replaced Idiom Neutral in 1908
Ido io, ido 1907 Delegation for the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language The most successful offspring of Esperanto
Adjuvilo   1908 Claudius Colas An esperantido created to cause dissent among Idoists
Occidental (aka Interlingue) ie, ile 1922 Edgar de Wahl A sophisticated naturalistic IAL
Novial nov 1928 Otto Jespersen Another sophisticated naturalistic IAL
Sona   1935 Kenneth Searight Best known attempt at an unbiased vocabulary
Esperanto II   1937 RenГ© de Saussure Last of the esperantidos
Mondial   1940s Helge Heimer A naturalistic European language
Glosa igs 1943 Lancelot Hogben, et al. Originally called Interglossa, Glosa has a strong Greco-Latin vocabulary
Interlingua ia, ina 1951 International Auxiliary Language Association A large project to discover common European vocabulary
Frater   1957 Pham Xuan Thai Innovative blend of Greco-Latin roots and non-western grammar
Kotava avk 1978 Staren Fetcey A sophisticated a priori IAL
Lingua Franca Nova lfn 1998 C. George Boeree et al. A Romance vocabulary with a creole-like grammar


The following classification of auxiliary languages was developed by Pierre Janton in 1993:

  • A priori languages are characterized by largely artificial morphemes (not borrowed from natural languages), schematic derivation, simple phonology, grammar and morphology. A priori languages are sometimes called philosophical languages, referring to their basis in philosophical ideas about thought and language. These include some of the earliest efforts at auxiliary language in the 17th century. A modern example of a fully developed a priori language is Kotava. Two more specific subcategories:
  • A posteriori languages are based on existing natural languages. Nearly all the auxiliary languages with fluent speakers are in this category. Most of the a posteriori auxiliary languages borrow their vocabulary primarily or solely from European languages, and base their grammar more or less on European models. (Aficionados sometimes refer to these European-based languages as "euroclones", although this term has negative connotations and is not used in the academic literature.) Interlingua was drawn originally from the International Scientific Vocabulary, in turn based primarily on Greek and Latin roots. Glosa did likewise, with a stronger dependence of Greek roots. Although a posteriori languages have been based on most of the families of European languages, the most successful of these (notably Esperanto and Interlingua) have been based largely on Romance and/or Latin elements.
    • Schematic (or "mixed") languages have some a priori qualities. Some have ethnic morphemes in distorted form (e.g., VolapГјk) or both artificial and natural morphemes (e.g., Perio). Partly schematic languages have partly schematic and partly naturalistic derivation (e.g. Esperanto and Ido). Natural morphemes of languages in this group are seldom or never distorted, but compound and derived words are generally not recognizable at sight by people familiar with the source languages.
    • Naturalistic languages resemble existing natural languages. For example, Occidental, Interlingua, and Lingua Franca Nova were developed so that not only the root words but their compounds and derivations will often be recognizable immediately by large numbers of people. Some naturalistic languages do have a limited number of artificial morphemes or invented grammatical devices (e.g. Novial).
    • Simplified natural languages reduce the full extent of vocabulary and partially regularize the grammar of a natural language (e.g. Basic English and Special English).

Methods of propagation

As has been pointed out, the issue of an international language is not so much which, but how. Several approaches exist toward the eventual full expansion and consolidation of an international auxiliary language.

  1. Laissez-faire. This approach is taken in the belief that one language will eventually and inevitably "win out" as a world auxiliary language (e.g., International English) without any need for specific action.
  2. Institutional sponsorship and grass-roots promotion of language programs. This approach has taken various forms, depending on the language and language type, ranging from government promotion of a particular language to one-on-one encouragement to learn the language to instructional or marketing programs.
  3. National legislation. This approach seeks to have individual countries (or even localities) progressively endorse a given language as an official language (or to promote the concept of international legislation).
  4. International legislation. This approach involves promotion of the future holding of a binding international convention (perhaps to be under the auspices of such international organizations as the United Nations or Inter-Parliamentary Union) to formally agree upon an official international auxiliary language which would then be taught in all schools around the world, beginning at the primary level. This approach seeks to put international opinion and law behind the language and thus to expand or consolidate it as a full official world language. This approach could either give more credibility to a natural language already serving this purpose to a certain degree (e.g., if English were chosen) or to give a greatly enhanced chance for a constructed language to take root. For constructed languages particularly, this approach has been seen by various individuals in the IAL movement as holding the most promise of ensuring that promotion of studies in the language would not be met with skepticism at its practicality by its would-be learners.

Pictorial language

There have been a number of proposals for using pictures, ideograms, diagrams, and other pictorial representations for international communications. Examples range from the original Characteristica Universalis proposed by the philosopher Leibniz, to suggestions for the adoption of Chinese writing, to recent inventions such as Blissymbol.

Within the scientific community, there is already considerable agreement in the form of the schematics used to represent electronic circuits, chemical symbols, mathematical symbols,and the Energy Systems Language of systems ecology. We can also see the international efforts at regularizing symbols used to regulate traffic, to indicate resources for tourists, and in maps. Some symbols have become nearly universal through their consistent use in computers and on the internet.

Sign language

An international auxiliary sign language has been developed by deaf people who meet regularly at international forums such as sporting events or in political organisations. Previously referred to as Gestuno but now more commonly known simply as 'international sign', the language has continued to develop since the first signs were standardised in 1973, and it is now in widespread use. International sign is distinct in many ways from spoken IALs; many signs are iconic and signers tend to insert these signs into the grammar of their own sign language, with an emphasis on visually intuitive gestures and mime. A simple sign language called Plains Indian Sign Language was used by indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Gestuno is not to be confused with the separate and unrelated sign language Signuno, which is essentially a Signed Exact Esperanto. Signuno is not in any significant use, and is based on the Esperanto community rather than based on the international Deaf community.


There has been considerable criticism of international auxiliary languages, both in terms of individual proposals and in more general terms.

Although referred to as International languages, most of these languages are constructed on the basis of Western European languages. The response to this criticism has been that doing otherwise in no way makes the language easier for anyone, while drawing away from the sources of much international vocabulary, technical and popular.

Information from Wikipedia is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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