Creating an inclusive auxlang

Raye Chell Mahela

Read in EnglishLegu Esperante

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 first language. An auxiliary language is primarily a second language.

from Wikipedia

Not all conlangs are meant to be auxlangs, but some are – like Ido and Esperanto. However, can a language invented by one man or one small committee be inclusive?

Becca’s post, “How universal can a language be?“, mentions a few things:

For queer people, learning any language can be a very invalidating experience.

[…]

Learning a constructed language can be even more invalidating. Constructed languages have been made with a particular goal in mind, and queer people soon discover that this goal did not involve them.

[…]

When thinking about the possibility of a queer language, it is hard to imagine constructing such a thing without invalidating someone. Any constructed language is very likely to push, consciously or unconsciously, the particular biases of the author.

Which got me thinking about how could we achieve a language that includes as many people as possible. What are some of the challenges that would arise?

1. Be created by many

A single person cannot reasonably create a language that includes everybody and excludes no one. Again, from Becca’s article:

For example, if a transmedicalist were to construct a language designed to be inclusive to trans people, the author would probably make sex equivalent to gender, erase the concept of being cis or trans altogether and strictly assert the gender binary. A person who does not believe in gender, on the other hand, may choose to erase any concept of gender from their language altogether. Yet to many trans people, either of these would be less inclusive and less validating than a Romance language

I think that the only way to reasonably come to rules for the language that most people can agree to, and most people can feel represented by, is to have a group of people create the language. Not just Europeans, not just straight people, not just one gender or another. As many people as possible need to be able to give their input – whether or not they are linguists.

2. Be fluid

With certain conlangs, such as Esperanto, the community in general is very resistant to change, thinking that it might end up killing the language and defeat Esperanto’s goal of being spread to everybody as a second language.

But, in order for a language to be inclusive, it has to be open to changing – after all, even with a committee of people from various backgrounds working on a language together, somebody is bound to be left out. Therefore, the language would need to be open to change when people voice their concerns.

3. Be versioned

Of course conlangs go through various drafts, but I think that it is important to not just stop at v1.0. Each version needs to have people using it and refining it, with new features added for new versions.

That might sound like programming language development – even ol’ C++ has major differences between version 1998 and version 2011. 1998 is a solid language, and many people still use 1998 exclusively, but 2011 adds a lot of modern features that people have come to expect from modern languages.

Perhaps spoken languages should be similar.

If you look at Ithkuil, it is versioned as well — each “version” is marked by a year: 2004, 2007, 2011. I have not learned it myself, but if anyone out there has input on how the Ithkuil community deals with this, please let me know! :)

4. Be modular and extendible

It might seem daunting to build such a fluid language! What if some people want aspects of Láadan’s evidence markers, but want Ido’s reversibility when it comes to word building? You have to choose one focus!

No you don’t! Why not include everything?

The language shouldn’t be written into a corner so that it has to follow one paradigm, but should be built in such a way that it can be expanded upon with minimal pain for the core language itself.

Again, if you’re a programmer, think of libraries of code. Libraries for C++ are built with C++’s rules, but extend the functionality of the language – so, for example, your programs don’t have to just be console-based, white text on a black screen. (Though it’d be interesting to have namespaces in branches of the language, hmm…)


So how do we achieve this?

How could we possibly collaborate on an auxlang, bringing in many voices and allowing for evolution over time? How could we allow people to work on off-shoots of the language, and once refined, asked to be made part of the core language? How do we keep track of all of the changes made to the language over time?

Revision Control.

Ho, ve. That’s a little programmery, isn’t it? But a lot of conlangers I know are programmers.  That isn’t to say that the language should be built by a diverse group of programmers (everyone knows the field of CS has its diversity problems…), but revision control can be a really great tool for this sort of project, and non-programmers can learn to use it, too.

I would love to see a conlang develop on GitHub, or Bitbucket, or Sourceforge, or on its own server with its own website, and see tools develop to aid in teaching and using that language. It would take a lot of effort and a lot of time, but perhaps it’s an experiment that should happen at some point.

But Rachel, how do we get people to learn such an auxlang?

Honestly, if you want people to learn a language, there has to be stuff to do in that language. This can be chatting with others, but there is more to that. Perhaps if we are able to create films and animations and video games and news websites and everything else in such a language, we build value for the language.

It’s hard to learn a language specifically on ideals, and it’s very hard to learn a language that has virtually no resources out there but a few language lessons.

But creating content is something that is required for the language itself to grow and evolve. We would need to use it for our entertainment or daily lives, find out what is lacking, and build onto it.

I do not think that having an evolving language would hinder this too much. There is still entertainment from older versions of English that get adapted and are still shared today, and with revision control history (and, hopefully, branches for each new ‘version’), all of the historical data would be there to enable somebody to adapt their work to newer versions, or other works from older versions.

What do you think?

  • Do you know any conlangs built by a group, with the intent of being inclusive?
  • Do you know any conlangs that are being built on GitHub or with other open source methodologies?
  • Would you be interested in taking part in such a project, either by building out the core, testing the language by using it, or creating resources otherwise?
  • What downfalls do you foresee?

(One problem I foresee is that I’m writing this in English, and to get people from around the world contributing, we’d need resources in each language – at least to learn the core language, then communicate with that for language building.) :)