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It Can be Done!


Conclusions of Mario Pei, Professor, Comparative Languages, Columbia University, in "The Story of Language" from which the following is condensed.

After spending 456 pages carefully weighing evidence for and against various languages, it will seem strange that we suddenly reverse our approach and advocate a method that smacks of procedural anarchy. Yet this is precisely the position one is forced to take when faced with the labors and bickerings of the interlinguists trying to evolve a language for international use. This attitude springs from two fundamental linguistic errors, one of which follow logically from the other.

Interlingists lose sight of the fundamental fact that every language, however intricate it may seem to those who try to learn it as adults, is simple to its own native speakers, who have learned it from childhood by natural speaking processes. As a result of this oversight, they proceed to plan not for the future generations but for the existing adult speakers who will for the most part disappear within the next fifty years. They ignore the fact that the people now alive will be completely replaced, within less than a century, by other people whose habits, linguistic and otherwise, are not yet formed because the people are not yet born, and who can be given, with proper planning, any set of linguistic or other habits that it pleases their enlightened elders to impart to them.

This simply means that there is no rhyme or reason to the controversy it makes no difference which one is selected, provided all people now living agree to use it, not primarily for themselves, but for their descendants.

The experience of bilingual countries shows us that one language can be started at birth, another at six, and both come out equally well. What is needed for the solution of the world's language problem is simply a language with, however, two qualifications: (1) the language selected must be adopted, by international agreement, in all countries at the same time side by side with the national language so that it may be learned easily, naturally, and painlessly by the oncoming generations. The written form of the language we are acquiring has a great deal to do with true "ease" and "difficulty." Consequently, (2) the language adopted for international purposes must have absolute correspondence of written symbols and spoken sounds, which means that any existing national languages, if they wish to present their candidacy must be prepared to reduce their spelling to a system of absolute phonetic correspondence, at least for international use.

Outside of this, the problem rests not with the world's linguists but with the world's governments. Do they want an international tongue for international and possibly even national use, which will permit any inhabitant of the world to move about from country to country without ever encountering a language difficulty, since all the people of all national languages for home use, the international language which he himself has learned to speak since he first began going to school? If they do, the remedy for the world's linguistic troubles lies in their own hands.

If the governments are interested, the solution is simple. A commission of international linguists can be set up for the purpose of selecting one language from the world's many natural and artificial ones to serve as an interlanguage. Which one they select is of comparatively little moment, provided they do select it. Once it is selected, it goes into all the elementary schools in the world at the same time to be imparted (not taught as a foreign language) by natural methods on an absolute parity with the national tongue. Within ten years, a new generation of interlinguists will crop up all over the world; within twenty, it will have grown to maturity; within thirty or forty, it will be ready to take its place at the helm of the world's affairs; within fifty or sixty, the person that is not equipped with the interlanguage will be as rare as the illiterate is today.

The present generation? Let is do what it wants; the world's linguistic picture will not change overnight. It will be gone within a century anyway.


Mario Pei, Professor of Comparative Languages, Columbia University, consultant to US Army, NATO, and author -- including "The Story of Language" from which the thoughts here are condensed from his mind-blowing conclusions.

If his recommendations had been initiated after the book's first publication, in 1949, with agreement reached by the time of the second printing in 1960, we would now be in the fortieth year of a common international language, the natural language of everyone in the world under age 45, and understood by the rest of us.


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Last updated on November 23, 2001
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