Why you should keep your eye on Sambahsa

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Steve Rice on Auxlang has often written about the prejudice against IALs (International Auxiliary Languages) that many have, which is simply an intense dislike for constructed languages. Perhaps the utter simplicity turns people off, or the idea of a language without a country, or it might be the resemblance they often have to "natural" languages.

J.R.R. Tolkien also wrote before that though he enjoyed these languages he didn't believe that they could succeed simply for not having a mythology behind them, which is similar to the second point above.

One other point worth noting is that a lot of constructed IALs (besides Esperanto and Ido) often feel more or less the same, kind of like a mostly English sentence structure, simplified, and with pan-European words placed on top. This is one of the reasons why groups such as Bablo function quite well in spite of using quite a few languages at the same time.

Anyway, my point is this: I'm a firm believer that "a rising tide floats all boats" (I think that's how the saying goes) in that what auxlangs need more than anything else is to be noticed and respected by the outside populace at large, and this problem dwarfs any differences we may have over which language is better. This is why though I have certain favourites I also support almost all of them and hope for their success.

Over the past few weeks I've been taking a closer look at Olivier's Sambahsa, and have found it to be quite fascinating. While other languages are pan-European to a certain extent in vocabulary, Sambahsa is pan-(Indo-)European in sentence structure, which gives it a remarkably different feel. Though it admittedly takes longer to learn than other IALs it also viscerally comes across as a more natural language, and I wonder if it would be able to "fool" people into unconsciously accepting it as a real language where others haven't been able to.

Sambahsa is kind of hard to explain, but this might be the best way to do it: it somewhat resembles a language created by the following processes:

- The original Proto-Indo-European language remains stable instead of breaking up into other parts
- A kingdom is formed with this language as an official tongue
- The kingdom then grows and interacts with the rest of the world, and the language is simplified a great deal while still retaining its core elements, and at the same time this interaction with the rest of the world brings in loanwords from other countries from the Middle East to China and Japan.

So it's kind of like the situation with English, but minus the extra loanwords from the Norman occupation, giving it less foreign terminology per capita than in English.

As for what the language feels like: to me it feels a bit like Bulgarian and German, with hints of Persian plus a large amount of Latinate vocabulary too. But more importantly, it also feels like a more ancient language, the original Proto-Indo-European. Interesting that one of the world's newest auxlangs on the scene should feel so archaic.

Here's Sambahsa vs. Bulgarian for the verb to be.

I am - som - sum (съм)
Thou art - es - ti si
He/she/it is - est - e
We are - smos - sme
You are - ste - ste
They are - sont - sa

In Persian the he/she/it is is ast, which is ist in German, and so on. I won't get into a complete explanation of the language as you can see it here.

What Sambahsa needs now is clear: it needs a clear textbook in English and other languages (ideally the exact same text in order to be translated easily), a dictionary, and sound files. If Sambahsa had a site similar to Esperanto's lernu.net it would actually be quite easy to learn. At the moment most of the content is in French so it takes a bit of effort to find the information you need, but after spending the time to really take a good look at it it's much simpler than I expected. What will be interesting to find out later on is the educational value of the language in learning others, since Sambahsa is structurally different from the other IALs and may provide different results.

And that's why you should keep your eye on Sambahsa.


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