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on the ideal auxlang

some musings inspired by esperanto and toki pona

I don't have a great deal of interest in auxlangs, in spite of trying to learn Esperanto (see elsewhere on this site). My own view is that Esperanto has killed any attempt to create a truly successful auxlang (something which, in my opinion, Esperanto is not).

However, the example of Esperanto has set me thinking. There are a number of things wrong with Esperanto, but I think that the main problem with it is that is has tried to do two mutually contradictory things -- it has tried to be as simple as possible to learn, and it has tried to be as expressive as any natural language.

A language which is as expressive as a natural language is going to be hard to learn. Even if Esperanto is the simplest language in the world (an assertion which I suspect could be contested), it is still going to be too complicated for most non-linguists to learn, certainly to any degree of fluency.

I have long thought that an ideal auxlang would take the view that its primary purpose is to do no more than enable basic communication between people. To try to be as expressive as a natural language is self-defeating. Instead, it should be a kind of pidgin language, with grammar and volcabulary stripped to the bare minimum required for understanding, and using a phonology that has clearly differentiated phonemes so that accuracy of pronunciation is not a requirement for being understood. You'll never be able to write technical articles in it, or translate (or even compose) great poetry, but that isn't the point of an auxlang.

Think about it. If you need to communicate regularly and in depth with people who speak another language, the only sensible option is going to be to learn their language, and to learn it fluently. Any other solution is just not going to work, because it requires both sides to learn yet another language, and even if it is one as 'simple' as Esperanto this is just too much time and effort for most people.

On the other hand, if you just want to make yourself understood whilst on holiday in another country, a simple pidgin language is all you need. If you want to send an email to someone who doesn't speak your language (and you don't speak theirs), the same probably applies.

I've occasionally thought about trying to devise such a language myself, more as an interesting exercise than anything, but I've recently found that such a language already exists. It was my discovery of this language that prompted me to write this essay.

The language is called Toki Pona, and was created by Sonja Elen Kisa. There is a surprisingly active on-line community surrounding the language, and if you have an interest in conlangs, and especially if you have an interest in auxlangs, I would encourage you to take a look at it.

As it happens, I don't think that Toki Pona is the ideal auxlang -- it appears to lack some crucial concepts (how about "find"?), and is perhaps a little too minimalist. So perhaps I shall devise my own minimal conlang after all.

Toki Pona Website