The Languages Problem, and language map

As explained on the Relationships, Social Environment and Social Network Optimization websites, the quality of matches between people depends on the size of the pool of candidates from whom the individuals are chosen.   International borders and residence requirements limit pool size, but linguistic barriers are often more constraining.  The new technology of Recursive Exhaustion will have an effect on this problem.

The following account is not intended as a comment or criticism of any nation.

When China claimed Tibet as its territory, the Tibetan-Chinese border ceased to be a problem limiting relationships between individuals in the  two areas.  But the Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are entirely different languages from different language families.  That difference serves as an even greater barrier than the border ever did.

Bilingualism will eventually solve that problem, as more and more people in Tibet learn Mandarin.  But then the Tibetan language will be threatened, and in danger of becoming extinct.

The problems and opportunities are shown by the numbers.  Approximately 1.2 million people speak Standard Tibetan.  Over a billion people speak one or another dialect of Chinese, with over 830 million speaking Mandarin as a native tongue and over 900 million fluent in the dialect.  If all of the 1.2 million speakers of Tibetan learned Mandarin Chinese as a second language, they would join  pool of almost a billion people who could use that language in interpersonal relationships.

A very crude estimate is that 5 to 10 percent of the Asian population marries each year.  That would be perhaps 100 thousand Tibetans and 100 million Mandarin speakers.

As an even cruder estimate, a speaker of Tibetan would at most be able to choose among the best 50 thousand possible spouses.  A speaker of Mandarin Chinese would be able to choose from among 50 million possible spouses.

As a matter of choosing  the most compatible person to marry, a Tibetan who learns Mandarin Chinese increases their pool of candidates by a factor of a thousand.

But if every Tibetan of marriageable age took advantage of that increased pool size, the Tibetan language and culture would almost disappear in two generations.

This is the language problem.

Solution?  There seems to be only one, and that involves the controversial and often unpleasant approach of making something compulsory.  Most countries make some studies of the native language or languages compulsory in schools.   To solve the problem of global communication while preserving national language, it seems that education in at least two languages should be compulsory for at least a few years of childhood.  One would be the most prominent national language,  the other some agreed upon international language.

The hope of an artificial language — a constructed language — being that international language has obsessed many people for at least two centuries.  So far, no progress in this direction has been made.  Several constructed languages have been proposed or designed, and a few fully implemented.  The best known of the latter, Esperanto, has been available since 1887 and has about two million speakers today.  Nevertheless, it is extremely unlikely to be widely adopted.  Certainly not as a universal language.

It seems that the world is heading in the direction of having English as an international language.  It is, for example, the official international language of aviation.

There are many problems with having the language of one or a few nations becoming a true international language.  If one national language was to be adopted, English would not be a good choice anyway, being highly idiomatic and arbitrary, full of historical artifacts.

I strongly suggest the use of a language that is free of historical artifacts.   No natural language would qualify.   To qualify as a good international language, I believe a constructed language should be free of arbitrary choices.   Esperanto was created by choosing words arbitrarily from a variety of natural languages.   Is a constructed language without arbitrary choices even possible?  I think examples of things which are somewhat like languages but are not arbitrary are music and mathematics.

My own approach to constructing a non-arbitrary language is  to be found on my acronymic languages site.  It has something in common with both music and mathematics.

Various posts on this site discuss related subjects.  Two show the relationship between music and language.  One describes the apparently misleading term ‘vowel harmony‘.  Considering the way sound spectra show similarities between vowel classes, perhaps there is some analogy after all.  The other discusses sound spectra as a non-arbitrary orthography.  This post uses fiction from an experimental novel as a more accessible explanation.

Another post uses a fictional example to illustrate an entirely different way of creating an international language.  This is based on creating a pidgin with the aid of speakers of orthogonal language families.

Over the past few years the capabilities of machine translation software has steadily increased.   That in itself will not change society enough to prevent the disastrous consequences of the Very Large Scale Collection of Social Data with Recursive Exhaustion.  But that same algorithm could be used to bring together people with an enormous motivation to talk to one another.  Machine translation will help but the best thing for people of different cultures to do will be learn each others languages.  When this becomes evident, the language problem may begin to disappear.