Thursday, December 30, 2010


To continue my thoughts on a Novial-derived IAL... well, I have a couple of ideas. One idea is to create a North American IAL based on English, Spanish and French. This would be an excellent language for unifying the Americas. But how to market it, I am not sure. Another idea is to emphasize English in the language, using other languages only when the English way of saying something is ambiguous (e.g. "hard", "like", "just"), cumbersome due to its length ("understand", "approximately", "mutually exclusive"), or problematic because of its vowels.

Novial has only 5 vowels, while English has 9 or 10 "basic" vowels plus several diphthongs. Now, when we "compress" an English word down to 5 vowels, problems often appear. Either we can import the English spelling, e.g. "meat" pronounced "MEE-at" or "MEE-aht", or we can use the English pronunciation, e.g. "mit" (MEET) for "meat". If we use the spelling, at least two problems appear:
  • What do we do with double vowels? I don't think we can ask people to pronounce "meet", "see", "book", and "foot" with two separate vowels, and if we say that the vowel is extra-long, people will disagree about how long is long enough. If we change "ee" to "i" and "oo" to "u", conflicts or false friends will appear: consider "boot" vs. "but", "beet" vs. "bit", etc. Likewise if we simply remove the duplicate vowel, "lok" could mean "look" or "lock", "bet" could mean "beet" or "bet", etc.
  • Some spellings will sound like a different English word: "but" sounds like "boot", "sit" sounds like "seat", and "pan" may sound like "pawn" depending on how you say it ("aw" in "pawn", pronounced the same as "a" in "father", is an acceptable way to pronounce the Novial vowel "a"; it can also be pronounced like the Spanish vowel "a" which is slightly different).
If we use the pronunciation instead, there are even more problems:
  • Homonyms. English has many words that are spelled differently but sound the same: would/wood, meat/meet, so/sew, two/to/too. One cannot tell these words apart if we only use their pronunciation.
  • Many unrelated English words would map to the same word in the 5-vowel system. For example, "bit" could be "beet" or "bit", "mit" could be "meet" or "mit", "pan" could be "pan" or "pawn", "nuk" could be "nuke" or "nook", etc.
  • Some words would look like other English words when spelled phonetically. For example, rid=read, bot=boat.
Clearly, it will be necessary to take words from other languages when these conflicts arise. I consider some of the conflicts minor because one of the words involved in the conflict is minor; for example, the English word "meet" is much more common than "mit", so if we respell "meet" as "mit" then it's not difficult to teach learners that it means "meet", because hopefully they will not naturally confuse it with the uncommon word "mit". "mit" would also sound like "meat", but if we normally choose spellings based on English spellings (instead of the pronunciation), then students will develop an intuition that "meat" should be spelled "meat", not "mit". This, I hope, will reduce the amount of confusion.

In any case, we would mix Novial with English (instead of just using Novial unchanged) purely for the sake of marketing, in accordance with my principles of IAL design. Novial is a very nice language, but it has not succeeded on its own. It needs a hook: something to make people want to learn it. By infusing it with English, it could be marketed at English beginners worldwide.

In my next post I think I will sketch out some ideas for what this mixed language would look like.


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