Toward a Critique of Artificial World Languages - Jan Baudouin de Courtenay

Toward a Critique of Artificial World Languages

Jan Baudouin de Courtenay

...Brugmann is mistaken when he mantains that “French, like every living language, has a homeland.”1

A collective “language” does not have a “homeland” in the sense that Brugmann has in mind. Individual language may indeed have a “homeland” in the mind of its bearer, that is, the speaker of the language. And if several languages coexist in the same minf, then they have a common “homeland,” without persecuting and dislodgind each other. At that, it is not at all necessary that a given language belong to the so-called living ones. Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, etc. have a homeland insofar as they exist as differente languages in the minds of individuals.

In the same sense there is a “homeland” for the “artificial world language which has no firm base, but is only a bold independent undertaking of certain individuals” (p. 25).

Any “language” can be learned by a normal human being. Individual languages are by no means something innate. Only the most general preconditions of language are transmitted through heredity; while among specific ethnic characteristics only minimal differences, only minute distinctive tendencies are inherited. A child born as a Chinese or Hottentot can easily become a German in the linguistic sense if it is from the beginning raised in a German milieu, and vice versa. Linguistic ancestors are thus something entirely different from biological ones. The identification of origin with linguistic affiliation, or even with the pressure of a linguistic system, rests on a lamentable confusion of concepts which is illogical, as well as unjust (unmoralisch)...

...13. Does man exist for language or language for man? Language is neither a self-contained organism nor an untouchable fetish; it is a tool and an activity. Man not only has the right, but also the social duty to improve his tools in accordance with their purpose, and even to replace the existing tools with better ones.

Since language is inseparable from man and constantly accompanies him, man must master it more completely and subject it to greater conscious control than other areas of his psychological activity.

Even the most ardent opponents of artificial languages will admit that even if we disregard the case of artificial world languages we still do restrict and, with premeditation, change the “natural course” of language through “artificial” and conscious interference. Thus, any instruction in a language, whether this language be “native” or “foreign,” is an offense against the “natural development of language.” When we correct “mistakes” and “slips of the pen,” we sin against the principle of naturalness. All linguistic purism, all persecution of linguistic “aliens,” as well as all kinds of orthographic reform, are artificial devices restricting the natural course of things. Many new expressions and scientific and technical terms (termini technici) arise only “artificially,” thanks to conscious interference.

14. “Well, all right,” it will be argued, “let us grant that in all such cases there is artificial encroachment upon the natural course of language, but all this is quite different from inventing a special language for, after all, a language cannot be invented.”

This seemingly sound objection is, unfortunately, refuted by the way some languages are actually invented. Such inventions are made either “unconsciously” (or we should say semiconsciously) as a result of “spontaneous tendencies,” or they are made consciously, intentionally, “artificially.” The first category includes “artificial” border languages (“mixed” languages), which make possible communication between speakers of different languages (for example, between Russians and Chinese, between Englishmen and Chinese), as well as secret languages and the argots of students, street urchins, tramps, etc., which are found in various countries and at various times. The second category includes the more or less “scientifically” constructed, “artificial” languages which are designed to function as auxiliary world languages. What is realized only partially and without planning in the languages of the first category is carried out on a significantly broader scale and with utmost consistency in the languages of the second category.

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