Nobody knows what the constitution means, aka one reason for a pan-Germanic IAL

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A few weeks ago while watching the Ron Paul presidential campaign (which is still going on by the way, though focused now on changing the party towards its original roots as opposed to trying to get Ron Paul elected president, but I digress) and the importance it places on the constitution, I began to think about how many people actually know what a constitution is. The thing is, constitution comes from Latin and for me the word has pretty much meant "an old document that has something to do with history" for most of my life until I actually gave it some thought. Given that, it's certainly no big deal to be unconstitutional, since that means that you are contradicting some piece of paper; big deal. I'm sure some people paid more attention to its meaning than I did, but I suspect there are a lot of people that don't know exactly what a constitution is, and that's because it comes from Latin. Let's see what has to say about the word:

constitute Look up constitute at
1442, verb use of adjective, "made up, formed" (14c.), from L. constitutus, pp. of constituere "to fix, establish," from com- intensive prefix + statuere "to set" (see statue). Constitution "health, strength, vitality" is from 1553; the political sense evolved after 1689. Constitutional (n.), short for constitutional walk is first recorded 1829. Constituency first recorded 1831.
All right, so that's what it means. Well then, what do some other Germanic languages use instead?
Norwegian: Grunnlov
Swedish: Grundlag
Dutch: Grondwet

Hmm, those all mean 'ground law', which is a million times clearer than constitution. Actually Norwegian also uses konstitusjon, but that's besides the point, which is that many Germanic languages have words that are clearer to the average person than some of the terms English uses, now that we've stopped studying Latin and Greek. That's what happens when a language takes in a lot of loanwords and then the language that provides all the loanwords ceases to be a powerful entity anymore; you are stuck with all these words that the average person isn't able to understand anymore without the benefit of a lot of education.

So that's one of the reasons for why a Germanic IAL might be a good idea. Not only would it be a good way to unite Germanic languages to a certain extent, but since most of the world is now studying a Germanic language, perhaps it would be an easier sell to them as well. And at the same time it would be easier for people to understand who haven't had the benefits of a lot of education. Who knows. But the problem with Germanic IALs is that Germanic languages aren't as unified as Romance languages are, which was the problem with Folkspraak, that everybody had their own idea of what the language should be and it ended up split into some four or five versions (I think) and from what I can tell the project is moribund.

So what to do? This might be a good idea:

(first of all let me note that I'm not an expert on Germanic languages and always welcome corrections.)

  • First of all, take German mostly out of the equation. I love the sound of German but it's too different from other Germanic languages, and even in Germany people up north have a pronunciation closer to Dutch. Plus German was a written language for a long time, a spoken language for much less time, which makes it a bit of a forced creation. I'm not trashing German at all, just saying that it always seems to throw things off when looking for common roots. German is good though for looking at the underlying structure of words, so keep it there for that.
  • Now that German's a step back as a reference for word-formation we can look at the source languages for this IAL. First we'll take English, then Dutch and Norwegian. Note that when we have Dutch we will also be looking at Afrikaans for ideas, and at Swedish and Danish as well of course. Now we have three sources for the language.
Now we are going to give this language two primary goals:
  1. To be a common Germanic language, easy to understand at first sight and hearing for people that know a Germanic language. And:
  2. To be a language easy for the rest of the world to learn.
The second one is especially important because this is going to help us decide between certain parts of the language that otherwise would be hard to choose. Plurals, for example. Do we go with the English -s plural, the -en plural in Norwegian and Dutch and so on, or perhaps the -e plural usually used in Afrikaans? Well, guideline #2 tells us that -s probably wouldn't be a good idea because that's the hardest one to pronounce. Japanese people turn it into a 'su' or 'zu' sound, Koreans into a 'seuh', and so on. An -en is nice and easy, however. Perhaps kind into kinden (or barn into barnen?) for children, or hus into husen for houses, something like that. Guideline #2 would be very helpful in finding compromises in this way.

Okay, back to the sources for this language. Here's how it would work. First of all, when selecting vocabulary you would first reference the first three:

Dutch (+check Afrikaans)
Norwegian (+check Swedish, Danish)

Then check German as well.

Let's take a look at some words this language might have then.

Milk: nl melk, no melk. Done, we go with melk.
Mirror: nl spiegel, no speil. All right, let's check Swedish and Danish then. sw spegel, da spejl. Okay, so two of these have a g, two have a kind of i/y sound. German gives us Spiegel though, and so we'll let it be the tie-breaker and we'll go for the term more people recognize. The word will either be spigel or spegel, and spegel lets us avoid thinking about ie/ei for now, so we'll go with that.
Tree: nl boom, no tre. German gives us Baum which shares the same history as the English word beam. We'll go with tre since English and Norwegian give the two votes (even though you should be able to override this if there is a good reason), and because it's a very well-known word throughout the world compared to boom/Baum.

So that's an idea of how the language might work. The Norwegian influence would keep word order in line with English, so no relearning word order for the rest of the world (no Ich möchte kein Glas Wasser trinken type sentences), but it might use a bit less of the definite article like German and other languages do, so you'll be able to say something like ik is student for "I am a student" in this language.

So, think a language based on this type of structure would be able to avoid the problems Folkspraak had? And is anybody willing to try?


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