LINGUIST List 5.14

Mon 03 Jan 1994

Disc: Internet Lingua Franca

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  1. Martin Haspelmath, Internet lingua franca

Message 1: Internet lingua franca

Date: Sun, 2 Jan 94 16:07:41 MSTInternet lingua franca
From: Martin Haspelmath <>
Subject: Internet lingua franca

Re Raben's query and the Quarterman quote:

 --English was no less driven by "brute force" than Latin (and,
incidentally, Arabic). Hadn't English speakers been so successful
militarily over several centuries, then we wouldn't use English today.
It's sad, but let's admit that it's true.

 --Of course the Internet is making English even more widespread, although
at present only a minute percentage of the world's population has access
to the Internet. But any world-wide means of communication can only
enhance the role of English.

 --It seems ridiculous to me to assume that "the only really widespread
character codeset, ASCII" has been one of the main reasons for the use of
English internationally. Any language can be written intelligibly with the
impoverished ASCII code, and in most situations transliterating must be
easier than switching to another language. The connection is the reverse:
ASCII has become so widespread because you don't need a more sophisticated
system for the orthographically impoverished English, which was extremely
widespread long before the Internet.

 --Only the French will try to use their national language in international
communication. Most others are wise enough to see that the battle has
already been lost. But the French have a point: It's simply not fair that
a national language simultaneously becomes the world's language.

 --So here's my proposal: English is officially declared the world's
language by the United Nations, but its name is simultaneously changed to
"Globalese" (or similar). International communication then uses Globalese,
while countries like New Zealand or the UK can still continue to use
English. (This would also make it possible to get rid of some of the
horrible spellings, by a UN-resolution. English-speaking countries may
want to preserve their quaint 16th-century spelling, but Globalese
spelling should be made more normal.)
This would resemble the Philippine solution, where the country's main
ethnic language Tagalog has been renamed to Pilipino ("Philippinese"). Of
course, it would be even better if the lingua franca were not someone's
native language, but that is not realistic, as the ultimate failure of the
remarkable Esperanto movement has shown. So renaming seems to be the best
solution, certainly better than pretending that there are several equal
national languages, teaching English literature in English classes (rather
than world literature in Globalese classes), and thereby further
propagating the culture of English-speaking countries and eclipsing other

Martin Haspelmath
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