HOME :  Mission :  History :  Chancellors :  Projects :  Essays :  Photos :  Site Directory :  Contact

Prospects for The World Language Process

Jonathan B. Britten
Nakamura University
Japan Chancellor, World Language Process

Nakamura University
5-7-1 Befu, Jonan-ku
Fukuoka, 814-0104
jbritten@cc.nakamura-u.ac.jp

(Abstract)

The World Language Process (WLP) is a potentially important “wave of the future” in language education. Becoming better known since the advent of widespread Internet access, the decades-old WLP is rooted in the much older quest for a true International Auxiliary Language (IAL). The author introduces the WLP’s essential characteristics in light of JALT members’ needs and interests. The author points out the dubious status of Global English in view of multiple World Englishes, ever-increasing billions of non-English-speakers, and widespread illiteracy in any language. The need for alternatives to English in light of these facts is then clarified. Finally, the WLP’s innovative ACCESS method of teaching the ANJeL Tun (Angel Tongue) pidgin is introduced.

Prospects for The World Language Process

Social conflicts resulting from linguistic diversity almost certainly precede recorded history. Concerns about linguistic unity and diversity are present in the great world myths, the best known being the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel: "And the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." (Genesis 11, italics added.)

Humans are evidently not satisfied with linguistic confusion, and necessary efforts to ameliorate mutual incomprehension must likewise precede written records. Since at least the seventeenth century, there have been more than 200 attempts to construct some sort of shared world language: "The movement reached its zenith before the First World War, but has since declined due to certain inherent limitations. Nevertheless, it has greatly advanced the cause by empirically demonstrating the theoretical possibility of consistent grammar, regular orthography and cultural neutrality within a single language - though the combination has not yet been fully realised in practice." (Craig and Alexander, 1996.) Currently, the World Language Process (WLP) seeks to overcome the limitations of these earlier efforts, in part by promoting a global, co-evolutionary process of reaching the goal.

The apparent failure of even Esperanto (perhaps the best known of the constructed languages) to achieve global acceptance is instructive. The conscious decision to maintain a fixed, closed, systematic linguistic program may have prevented greater acceptance; Esperanto's insistence on a rigid program prevented the process of natural change associated with living languages. In this regard, it is noteworthy that WLP volunteers have recently renamed their organization -- formerly the World Language Program -- precisely in order to indicate a flexible, co-evolutionary approach toward building an IAL. The key word now is "Process."

The WLP recognizes its debts to previous efforts and programs: "There is no doubt that the best features of Esperanto, including the concepts of cultural neutrality, rationalised orthography, regularised grammar and global organisation, will live on - though not necessarily under that banner." (Craig and Alexander, 1996) Building on these strengths, the World Language Process may eventually provide a means for realizing the dream of a true world language, studied by persons in every country as the accepted standard of international communication.

Old Goals; New Technologies, Media, and Methods

The World Language Process (WLP) provides an international network of volunteers devoted to co-evolving an IAL. Powerful new technologies - the Internet and the Worldwide Web - have made the work of WLP volunteers much easier, and this fact alone provides new reason to hope for greater success than previous efforts. Likewise, new media may help to spread a new IAL rapidly. Consider that DVDs for many major movies commonly feature subtitles for many major languages all on the same disc, a feature unimaginable not long ago. If the WLP's evolving IAL is eventually included along with other major languages, a powerful study tool would be easily accessible to persons having access to DVDs.

Of course, it would be difficult to overstate the many difficulties and barriers faced by the WLP. Indeed, some linguists, such as one leading thinker in the "World Englishes" (WE) movement, argue, "all such attempts are now considered linguistic esoterica, mere symbols of the desire for universalist thinkers for a code of communication that would cut across cultures." (Kachru, 1992, p.2) WLP volunteers of course disagree with this summary, and expect it to be disproved in time, even though they may well study World Englishes in search of markers on the road toward an IAL. Contributions of scholars from WE and other fields, combined in an evolutionary, organic, constructive process -- rather than a completed "program" - may make the goal of a true IAL realizable.

New technologies and media may make this process faster than anyone imagines. Indeed, the WLP has become much better known since the advent of the Internet's World Wide Web, a powerful multi-media communication tool that may greatly expedite the realization of an IAL. (Not coincidentally, the author of this essay, a relative newcomer to the WLP, discovered the organization on the Internet while researching the history of constructed languages.)

The Dubious Role of "Global English"

Before outlining the WLP, it is helpful first to consider the status of what we might call "Global English" - that is, a "standard" English spoken worldwide -- so that readers may better appreciate arguments for the utility and merit of the WLP. Although English is sometimes spoken of as the world language, or as the global lingua franca, the present and future role of English remains both ambiguous and controversial. Not only must we consider the existence of various "World Englishes,"1 we must also weigh other factors working against "Global English": more than four billion persons worldwide who do not speak English at all, (WLP web site) and the harsh reality of widespread illiteracy in any language (Wallraff, 2000). Moreover, the population of poor and poorly educated persons in non-English-speaking countries is rising more rapidly than that of affluent, educated groups, thus disproportionately increasing the number of non-English-speakers. For these and other reasons, it seems likely that "Global English" will be restricted to a minority of well-educated persons who travel or communicate around the globe in relatively high-level professions.

Readers interested in English's prospects will appreciate Barbara Wallraff's excellent essay, "What Global Language?" The author's essential point is this: "English isn't managing to sweep all else before it--and if it ever does become the universal language, many of those who speak it won't understand each other . . . we monolingual English-speakers may never be able to communicate fluently with everyone, everywhere. If we want to exchange anything beyond rudimentary messages with many of our future fellow English-speakers, we may well need help from something other than English." (Wallraff, 2000, pp. 52-54.)

If Wallraff's view is correct, and I think it is, the WLP may offer precisely the "something else" lying outside the scope of her essay. The WLP may provide an International Auxiliary Language (IAL) for global mutual intelligibility not only among elites, but also among the general populace. To achieve this goal, of course, the WLP would need to be acceptable, and widely accepted, as a second/auxiliary language by native speakers of English. One view is that such acceptance is particularly plausible because of the essentially English foundation of initial WLP efforts. The point here is that a transition from English to an English-based IAL, as under the current plan of the WLP, would be relatively easy, more so than, say, the transition from English to Esperanto. Whether or not all this comes to pass depends on acceptance, in the global intellectual marketplace, of current WLP efforts, and, of course, the future role of standard English.

Widespread Problems of Basic Literacy in Any Language

Walraff explores many impediments to the spread of English in her fascinating article. Other compelling evidence comes from the United Nations, which shows that most educational funding goes to affluent groups, with poorer persons receiving inferior schooling or none at all (UN Population Fund. 2002). This bodes poorly for English as an IAL. Worse, in many countries, a dismaying large number of men and women are entirely illiterate in any language (Walraff, 2000, UN Population Fund 2002). Such persons are highly unlikely to receive English language education, and it is among such persons that the most rapid population increases are occurring. This makes Global English seem quite unlikely, particularly in view of the intricacies, irregularities, idioms, and irrationalities of, say, standard American English: the concomitant expense of long-term schooling needed to produce competency, let alone fluency, is very high. (In this regard, it is worth noting that WLP education program developers claim that the WLP method provides an innovative, low-cost, and rapid teaching methodology. Basic competency - that is, the ability to communicate certain essential pieces of information and to ask necessary questions, particularly in a work-related context -- reportedly comes with only 30 days of study, with as a cost of about US $20.00 per learner. The data is based on actual costs of producing currently available WLP materials, such as books and videotapes, and experimental efforts undertaken to date.)

JALT, English, and the WLP

Given the currently central role of English in JALT conferences and publications, uncertainties about the future of Global English are highly relevant, particularly given that the Association increasingly represents teachers of various languages other than English and Japanese. Certainly, JALT members need to know that, as Wallraff points out, even basic facts about the present role of English are hard to ascertain. For example, estimates of the number of speakers of English as a Second Language (ESL) are remarkably imprecise, dependent on varying definitions of a speaker as well as other ambiguous variables. Citing scholars including David Graddol and David Crystal, Wallraff shows estimates of ESL speakers stretching from 98 million to 518 million, and estimates of speakers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) ranging from 100 million to 1,000 million. In Wallraff's summation: "No one is arguing that English is not widely spoken and taught. But the vast numbers that are often repeated - a billion English-speakers, a billion and half - have only tenuous grounding in reality" (Wallraff 2000, p. 56). The key point here is that WLP volunteers share the conviction of Wallraff and many others linguists that English is not only NOT a global language, there are excellent reasons for believing that it will not "naturally" become the world's IAL.

Again apropos JALT, the observations above are quite relevant to various Japan-centric concerns -- the ever-controversial role of English in Japanese education, notorious and persistently low scores in communicative tests of Japanese learners, and various controversies over linguistic purity and heritage. (For one example, note the recent Institute for Japanese Language report condemning excessive use of loanwords by the bureaucracy. (The Daily Yomiuri, 2003) The main point here is that changes leading toward an IAL may have many unpredictable implications and ramifications for members of JALT. Some members may wish to keep abreast of developments in the WLP or similar organizations.

Methodology of the World Language Process

The WLP aims at reaching educationally marginalized persons through an innovative, well-developed, "each-one-teach one" volunteer methodology based on Auxiliary Closed Captioned English with Simplified Spelling (ACCESS). ACCESS is the methodology WLP volunteers use to teach ANJeL Tun (Pronounced Angel Tongue), which by a strict definition is a Pidgin based on "phonemization," " elementalization," (both terms neologisms) and "regularization." I will define these three terms below, albeit briefly. This point here is that using ACCESS to teach ANJeL Tun is reputedly inexpensive, fast, and effective. If successful, ANJeL Tun via ACCESS, or some variation on the WLP language and methodology, may provide a basis for a true world language studied by all the members of the world community. Students would include today's "native speakers" of English. I will suggest several reasons for considering this outcome credible.

The first reason is that the WLP's emphasis on English as the foundation affords powerful advantages. As Walraff makes clear, despite the dubious status of "Global English," this language is, indisputably, widely taught, and clearly has an important status in the world. A simplified, rationalized version of English -- the current core of the WLP -- exploits the indisputable strengths of English's status, while avoiding, or at least ameliorating some of the well-known weaknesses inherent to the language. For many English learners in classrooms around the world, "standard" English (i.e., American or British) may seem arbitrary, difficult, expensive, excessively idiomatic, culturally intrusive, and much too time-consuming. In contrast, the WLP may seem relatively easy, fast, and inexpensive, comparatively culturally neutral, and evidently designed with the long-term needs and benefits of worldwide users foremost in mind. If learners see the WLP in this light, it may spread steadily.

Space prohibits a detailed elucidation of the well-documented weaknesses of "standard" English orthography. The key point is that organizations supporting improvements of English spelling have existed for at least 400 years, starting with the Royal Society in the 16th Century, and has included famous writers such as Tennyson, Darwin, Shaw, and others, and has ranged "from corrections of only the most extreme inconsistencies in English orthography to radical reforms which attempt phonemically to rationalise the alphabet." (Craig and Alexander, 1996)

Quite recent evidence of the problems of English orthography comes from Ken Spencer of Hull University, who demonstrated that schoolchildren learning English as their native language have far more difficulty than their peers in non-English-speaking countries. As summarized in one review of Hull's work,

. . . "English children have more difficulty learning to read than their counterparts in other countries because English spelling is so inconsistent. . . . In a test of the 150 most commonly used words in children's writing, only the words "in" and "is" were spelt correctly by every pupil . . . The reason for the poor performance, according to Ken Spencer of Hull University's Institute for Learning, lies with the inconsistent way English is spelt. He says English pupils are at a disadvantage compared with German and Italian children whose languages are spelt more consistently. German and Italian children can look at a text and work out the words, but English-speaking children need help to "decode" it. . .

To help children, Dr Spencer has developed "Simpl Inglish", a representation based on the ideas of "pinyin" in Chinese . . Children learn to read using this Inglish, then have the standard form of the words written above or below and learn to "bridge" from one system to another. (Passmore, 2002)

Apropos the WLP, the conclusion is obvious: English orthography alone -- never mind other linguistic difficulties -- demonstrably presents relatively great difficulty even to native learners, and has done so for such a long time. We thus cannot reasonably expect the majority of non-native speakers to embrace English as an effective and accessible IAL. Whether or not the current WLP-proposed orthography and other modifications prove successful - WLP volunteers expect various evolutionary changes no matter with what basic structure one begins with - it seems obvious that an IAL, if constructed with large amounts of English, will at a minimum require an alternative orthography.

Of course, the WLP offers much more than an alternative orthography. First, again, the WLP is a flexible, co-evolutionary process, seeking to bypass the towering obstacles to artificial languages and fixed "constructed" languages such as Esperanto, and the hundreds of others. Second, being based on English, the WLP can serve as a springboard to those who may later wish to learn the demanding variety of "professional English" used for communication between international businesspersons, educators, scientists, and other professionals. This dual role of the WLP overcomes objections that it's better to study English from the beginning -- no matter how difficult, time-consuming, and costly --- than to master the essential elements of the WLP, no matter how easy, quick, and cheap. Finally, and I think crucially, because the WLP is rooted in English, native speakers and current non-native speakers of English can easily adapt to this proposed IAL, with minimal investment of time and effort. According to WLP volunteers, a native English speaker can learn the ANJeL orthography with just a few hours of memorization.

Pragmatism, Process and Progress

Advocates of the WLP are prepared to evolve from the existing ANJeL Tun model in future, a laudable posture based on a willingness to go with the flow - - a very useful metaphor when we think about the conference theme, "Waves of the Future." Certainly, we must accept that some persons object to an alleged "linguistic imperialism" inherent in the English roots of ANJeL Tun. Such sentiments may increase following worldwide opposition to recent Anglo-American actions in Iraq, insofar as English is associated with such unpopular policies. In any event, various philosophical and practical impediments to the current WLP model are certain to emerge as the Process evolves.

Nevertheless, the WLP's strong initial emphasis on English seems eminently pragmatic. Indeed, the pragmatism and flexibility of the WLP are key reasons for my own participation. In my mind, the "P" in WLP can be read as "Proposals," "Pragmatism," and "Process" -- long-term, co-evolutionary characterized by a wonderfully flexible attitude needed to help the WLP succeed. I believe that volunteers can make very important and creative contributions to the WLP. As the web site makes clear: ". . . the World Language Process is in no way 'solely committed' to the ANJeL Tun and . . . will willing, happily and cheerfully support instead any IAL that humanity may select . . . in the interim, with the ACCESS System we hope to provide economically deprived individuals in developing countries an opportunity to learn to speak English as a second language so that they may improve their economic situation." (WLP web site)

Despite several decades of steady progress and remarkable achievements -- the ACCESS system with videos and textbooks; ANJeL Tun with online WebPAl translator and tutorial; extensive dictionary projects in multiple languages; teacher training programs, and much more -- the WLP remains open to innovation, and a great deal of important work remains to be done. Indeed, the WLP may well attract many creative and active members of groups such as JALT. Moreover, the pending designation of the WLP as a United Nations NGO, if granted, may greatly enhance the prestige of the program, and make more rapid progress possible. (The WLP is already a project of a separate, independent UN NGO, the International Association of Educators for World Peace (IAEWP), and the WLP enjoys other important professional affiliations, including strong support by the admirable Project Gutenberg. (Project Gutenberg web site.) Recently, WLP volunteers began a training Process in China, an important breakthrough for the program, and perhaps an important step in the global spread of an International Auxiliary Language.

Phonemization, Elementalization, and Regularization

Following is a brief outline of some important components of the World Language Process. What follows are a slightly edited web site introduction to the ANJeL Tun (Angel Tongue) phonemic system, followed by explanations of the three characteristics mentioned above: phonemization, elementalization, and regularization. The WLP web site includes a complete online tutorial for persons wishing to learn ANJeL Tun, which English speakers can reportedly master in about two days.

The ANJeL Tun (Angel Tongue) Orthography

The Angel alphabet consists of 39 symbols, each of which represents a unique sound. Unlike the traditional English alphabet, there is no duplication whereby different letter combinations can sound alike, as for example, "threw" and "through", "bough" and "bow", "blue" and "blew", and "write" and "right." The Angel alphabet assigns a unique symbol to each unique vowel and consonant sound. The symbols used are similar to those of the traditional English alphabet . . . unlike traditional English, Angel has no "silent" letters that can change the pronunciation of other letters in the word. . . . Angel is consistent. Its purpose is to permit new English learners to "See what we Say" on captioned media, such as videotapes.

Phonemization

Phonemization (a neologism) is the Simplified Spelling portion of the ACCESS System . . . designed in part to agree with character sets encoded in new television sets . . . and which has the additional advantage of permitting materials to be developed anywhere there is type-generating equipment that uses the standard English alphabet. . . .

Elementalization

Elementary or basic ANJeL Tun uses Chomsky's concept of the distinction between 'form' and 'function' words (the latter including what some people call 'glue' words) to determine those words that should be taught and learned first. The English language has hundreds of thousands of form words which designate both concrete (words like boat, house, hammer, nail) and abstract concepts (like boating, housing, hammering, nailing and more particularly love, truth, beauty and other 'spiritual' ideas). . . . English, however, has at most only a few hundred 'function' words . . . such as (of, to, if, and, for) and include relational words such as (above, below, next, after). The function words are necessary to any form or discussion or writing that arises above pointing and naming. . . . The most Elementary or most basic level of ANJeL Tun therefore seeks to teach only the function words . . . it is then simple to teach persons the form words for, say, their employment.

Regularization

English is a language of exceptions but the ANJeL Tun reduces the language as much as possible to a logical system of rules. Some of these concepts, but not nearly so extensively, were applied by Ogden and Richards. In regards to using the ANJeL Tun as an Intermediate Teaching Method (ITM) the idea is that it is easier to first understand and learn a system of rules and then later to comprehend the exceptions. This conformity to rules is what makes the ANJeL Tun a pidgin.

The essential aspects of the WLP, then, are easy to understand. Although sensible persons avoid emphatic predictions, it seems reasonable to claim that the WLP can help advance the goal of an International Auxiliary Language, and in the interim provide a means of thinking more clearly about the roles of English and World Englishes. Given the stated pragmatism and flexibility of the WLP's goals, volunteers may be able to overcome obstacles and objections that their efforts may meet. Ongoing efforts in China may well provide some early glimpses into the future prospects of the World Language Process.

Notes

1. Space limitations regrettably prohibit even a brief discussion of World Englishes (WE), even though the topic is very pertinent to prospects for the WLP. The key issue in the relationship between English, World Englishes, and the World Language Process is that of mutual intelligibility. In one view, the WLP may provide the most-acceptable global standard for worldwide communication, particularly if varieties of English diverge greatly in the future, as some scholars anticipate. Information about WE is available from the web site of the International Association for World Englishes (IAWE) from http://www.we.pdx.edu/conf.html

Another useful starting point for students of World Englishes is: Kachru, B. B. (1986) The Alchemy of English: The Spread, Functions, and Models of Non-native Englishes. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press.

2. For a listing of more than 300 International Auxiliary Languages, see Paul Bartlett's useful web site at http://www.smart.net/~bartlett/ial.html Richard Kennaway provides another useful link to constructed and auxiliary languages at http://www.sys.uea.ac.uk/~jrk/conlang.html These are a few of many valuable sources of information; as Bartlett observes, "Since the advent of the World Wide Web, so much material has appeared on constructed and auxiliary languages that it is difficult to keep track of it all . . ."

References

Craig, R. and Alexander, A. (1996) LANGO: Language Organization : A Fully Democratic Approach Towards an International Auxiliary Language Initially Based on Reformed English. Entire online reference retrieved 5 December, 2002 from

http://www.webpal.org/webpal/a_reconstruction/language/essays/lango/langoa.htm

Kachru, B, Editor, 1992, The other tongue: English across cultures. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press.

Passmore, B, 2002, Online reference retrieved 5 May, 2003, from the Times Educational Supplement at

http://www.tes.co.uk/search/search_display.asp?id=364324

Project Gutenberg. Various online references retrieved 5 December, 2002 from
http://promo.net/pg/

The Daily Yomiuri, Time to stop borrowing loanwords (Editorial) April 29, 2003, p 8.

United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 2002: Poverty and Education, Adobe Acrobat Document retrieved December 5, 2002, from

http://www.unfpa.org/swp/swpmain.htm

Wallraff, B (2000). What global language? Don’t bet on the triumph of English. The Atlantic Monthly, November 2000, 52-66. See also the online version and discussion at
http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/11/wallraff.htm

World Language Process. Various online references retrieved 5 December, 2002 from
http://www.webpal.org/webpal/a_reconstruction/language/

HOME :  Mission :  History :  Chancellors :  Projects :  Essays :  Photos :  Site Directory :  Contact