Why I now support Idiom Neutral as the world's second language

Monday, May 10, 2010

Warning: chaotic post!

A bit over a year ago I wrote a post here on why Occidental is now my IAL of choice, and since then it has more or less remained the same but other IALs I like (Ido and Lingua Franca Nova in particular) also have some aspects to them that are superior to Occidental, which caused me to tentatively conclude that perhaps it wouldn't be possible to put all my effort into supporting just one IAL, which is slightly unfortunate as I actually do prefer being able to support just one in practice (writing content and promoting it to others) while still giving moral support to others ("I hope you guys succeed too!").

First I'll give a quick rundown of the positives and negatives with these three languages that have caused me to prefer one over another from time to time (usually depending on my mood).

Occidental: Definitely the easiest to read at first sight, capable of disguising itself as a natural language. Derivation is excellent, grammar is quite easy and only has one irregular verb (to be). Looks a lot like Interlingua at first glance but is much terser, more well thought out, and easier to pronounce.

Negatives: One negative - pronunciation is still a bit tough to explain and can be a bit awkward even compared to some natural languages like Spanish or Italian. Science for example is scientie, which is pronounced as stsientsie, a bit of a mouthful. Nothing in Occidental is a real deal-breaker, but explaining how to pronounce it to non-Europeans is not the most enjoyable task. Article usage I'll go over below.

Ido: Ido actually resembles Korean, Japanese and Turkish in a lot of ways, as you can see in a post here. Ido is by far the best language to use when you want to be precise, as its rigid derivational system lets you be specific in ways that most natural languages don't allow. The difference between danso and dansado for example (one is just a dance, the other is dancing in general), or aqua, aquala and aquoza (the first is made of water, the second is pertaining to water in general, the third means something with a lot of water) gives writers of original literature an immensely powerful tool that most other IALs don't offer.

Negatives: This systematic derivation means that new words have to fit into the system in one way or another, either by using an existing word and then putting suffixes on the end, or by approving a new radical. The jury is still out for example on what word to use for computer - is it a komputoro (a new word), or is it an ordinatro (another new word), or a komputilo or kalkulilo or something else? It can take a long time for a new Ido word to be approved. In addition to this, many find the obligatory -o ending on nouns to be artificial. It's not (Lithuanian does the same thing), but first impressions count.

Lingua Franca Nova: Extremely easy, has a creole-like charm, great community.

Negatives: Some get turned off by the seeming lack of precision. Take a look at the me vole es forte page on the wiki for an example of how LFN's simplicity often results in a need to rearrange or rethink the way one intends to say something.

These are all some pretty minor negatives, to be sure. They are only negatives in the sense that they caused me to fluctuate between one or another language depending on my mood, not in the sense that they do anything to undermine the legitimacy of these languages. In other words, only negatives in the sense that one may use Windows sometimes for some projects due to Ubuntu's "negatives", and Apples sometimes due to Ubuntu's "negatives" even if you don't feel particularly negative towards either one.

So, Idiom Neutral. I had heard the name before but information online was scarce, just that it was a project from the very early 20th century and stretching back as far as the late 19th. The current Wikipedia page on the language has barely any information at all. A few weeks back though I stumbled upon this blog post, which lead to a link here on Archive.org where a scan of the Idiom Neutral grammar and dictionary from 1903 can be downloaded. You can download it hier auf deutsch as well.

So, what makes Idiom Neutral so impressive? First, here's what the language looks like:

Kuande mi adyunktav ili a otr artikli in Vok Neutral, diurnal integr grandeskav usk 8 pagini, kekos gaudi mi multe.
Meaning "when I added them to other articles in Vok Neutral, the entire journal grew to 8 pages, which pleased me a lot."

The first impression it gives is that it looks a bit like Ido or Novial, but squished a bit. Here's what makes it different though.

Articles: Idiom Neutral uses no articles whatsoever - diurnal integr here means "the entire journal" in English but there is no la or le or li before it. In the IAL sphere Latino sine Flexione is one of the only other languages that doesn't use them. Not having articles isn't a deal-breaker for me, but I do prefer a language without them. The reason is simple: I've been involved in translating and proofreading here in Asia for about a decade now, and time and again articles always trip people up. I will often come across documents written in more or less perfect English to proofread, but even then there are always problems with article usage. And even English isn't entirely consistent here. Take this passage for example:

Objective: Create entirely new educational system

That looks like a newspaper headline so no articles are needed. Write it this way, however:

The objective is to create an entirely new educational system

and now we need some articles. But what about when the tone of the sentence is unknown? A proofreader will often come across something like this.

Objective: creating entirely new educational system, using the existing data

Should we add an an in between creating and entirely, or perhaps remove the the in between using and existing?

Then of course there are examples like this:

The lion is the king of the jungle.

Not "lions are kings of the jungles" or "lions are jungle kings".

Also, article usage varies between languages "ich bin Student" and "le Canada est...".

It's true that the extra simplicity in an IAL gives students extra time to get used to the idea of using articles, but if possible I prefer one without them at all, and Idiom Neutral doesn't use them.

Appearance: Idiom Neutral doesn't have any obligatory endings for nouns. As mentioned above, having obligatory endings for nouns isn't strictly unnatural, but makes a language seem a tad more acceptable and makes importing new words that much easier. Sushi simply becomes sushi, instead of sushio or maybe even susho.

Derivation: Idists will find a lot of similarity to Ido here, with suffixes like -eskar and -ifikar. Idiom Neutral isn't so worried about creating new radicals though, as when one is creating a new word and no existing list of words or suffixes work to do the task, you just add the new word as a new radical and leave it alone. It kind of resembles Turkish to me in that respect in how it uses foreign words and then tacks endings on to them, but doesn't necessarily have to fit everything in in exactly the same way.

Pronunciation: Pronounced exactly as written, stress is always regular, so just as good as Ido and Lingua Franca Nova in this respect and superior to Occidental. Some may find the final -r to be a turnoff (numr for number) but I don't agree - if that's a problem then having z in other languages should be a problem as well (Koreans can't pronounce z very well) while Idiom Neutral changes z to to the easier s. -tion words become -sion (nasion), etc. Being able to explain pronunciation in just a minute or two is extremely important, especially here in Asia.

Adjectives: Adjectives come after the noun they modify, the end. Awesome.

Verbs: Most similar to Ido in how it tacks on endings to specify the tense and aspect of verbs, which is superior to LFN and Occidental. An -a on the end makes it imperative (esa = be!) and -ate is plural imperative (esate = be! for more than one), -ero is future (mi esero = I will be), and so on. Latino sine Flexione is an example of a language that otherwise is quite good but can get annoying when translating content, as the grammar is so minimal and one is often encouraged to avoid tenses altogether.

Name and atmosphere: The name is reasonably good, certainly more explanatory than Ido, shorter than LFN and less (possibly) politically charged than Occidental. It's not the best name ever chosen for a language (Pandunia might be the best I've seen), but you can't go wrong with a name like Idiom Neutral. I also like the age of the language, as Idiom Neutral is technically a reform of Volapük, and Esperantists have always seemed to have a fondness for Volapük, it shares a history with the earliest IALs, etc.

Distance from natural languages: Interlingua shows us that a good distance from natural languages is important, as too much naturalism can lead Romance speakers for example to conclude that their L1 habits should be present in the IAL as well, often making Interlingua irregular and a bit chaotic. Occidental is just far enough away from Romance languages to avoid this Romance drift, as is LFN. Ido and Esperanto though are very much in their own untouchable realm, and Idiom Neutral shares this aspect.

Other: Idiom Neutral has some other interesting aspects that make it kind of fun. The -u ending for example - in plas de can be written instead as plasu (in place of). Also, in Matr de ist sinior, kela veniav a mi (The mother of this gentleman, who came to me) the -a after the usual kel shows that we're talking about the mother (-a = female, -o = male).

So in short, Idiom Neutral just doesn't have any negatives. It doesn't use articles, pronunciation is easy (better than Occidental/Interlingua), forming new words is easy (better than Ido), it's precise (better than LFN), has no machinability problems (better than Esperanto). So I look forward to learning the language to fluency and promoting it. Luckily I'm not the only one - it was actually news about this journal called Vok Neutral that got me to take a look at the language for the first time.

I've actually been looking at the language for about two weeks now, and have typed up the grammar section of the textbook available online (I'll put that in a different post and predate it by an hour or two to have this one appear on top today), and am now working on the dictionary as having a .txt file to quickly search through is a strict necessity for an IAL. The scan of the English version is actually pretty crappy overall, with some missing pages and a lot of pages cut off at both the left and right margins (and even one page with a person's hand clearly visible), but luckily the German version has no errors and I can use it to supplement the missing parts in the English one. I'll type up the German one in full as well after finishing the English version, so German users will have a textbook and dictionary that can easily be searched through and copied and pasted (and automatically translated) as well. Once I have the Neutral - English part of the dictionary done I should be able to start writing a lot of content in the language, including an article for the next edition of Vok Neutral.

The dictionary actually has one area that I would consider a flaw, though a minor one. Some derived words are put together with a more "international" one that is also allowed to be used, such as egualifikar (equalize, from equal + -ifikar) with egualisar as another approved way to write it, or maledikasion (malediction) with malediksion as another way to write it. I won't be including the alternate, "international" forms in the dictionary as they don't appear to have any practical use, and those who want a naturalistic language have other options now anyway. This is interesting from the point of view of the history of the language, as it started out as Volapük, was reformed over and over again, and reached a point that I would consider to be near perfection around when this grammar was published. After that it was reformed again, and became more of an etymological and naturalistic language, an inferior product in my opinion, and these alternate forms in the dictionary seem to be the first appearances of this tendency. The Esperanto Wikipedia shows what happened after a few more years of these changes, changing this:

Nostr patr kel es in sieli. Ke votr nom es sanctifiked, ke votr regnia veni, ke votr volu es fasied, kuale in siel, tale et su ter. Dona sidiurne a noi nostr pan omnidiurnik, e pardona (a) noi nostr debti, kuale et noi pardon a nostr debtatori, e no induka noi in tentasion, ma librifika noi da it mal.

to this:

Nostr Patr, qui es in cieli. Que votr nom es sanctificat, que votr regnia veni, que votr voluntat es facit quale in ciel tale anque su terr. Dona nos hodie nostr pan quotidian, e pardona nos nostr debti, quale anque noi pardona nostr debenti, e non induca nos in tentasion, ma librifica nos da it mal.

Doubled consonants, c often in place of k, yuck. The original version is better.

So expect a lot more posts on and in Idiom Neutral from now on. Personally I'm very glad to have found a language that I can support 100%, as I'm an IAL user and not an IAL creator (the idea of creating a language sounds about as appealing to me as writing up a 50-page TOS), and thus I'm only interested in languages created by others, and am not a fan of constant tinkering. One good reform under a different name, sure, but not endless tinkering.

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