Languages of dominant societies over the centuries have served as auxiliary languages, sometimes approaching the international level. French and English have been used as such in recent times in many parts of the world. However, as these languages are associated with the very dominance—cultural, political, and economic—that made them popular, they are often met with strong resistance as well. For this reason, many have turned to the idea of promoting an artificial or constructed language as a possible solution.
The term "auxiliary" implies that it is intended to be an additional language for the people of the world, rather than to replace their native languages. Often, the phrase is used to refer to planned or constructed languages proposed specifically to ease worldwide international communication, such as Esperanto, Ido, and Interlingua. However, it can also refer to the concept of such a language being determined by international consensus, including even a standardized natural language (e.g., International English), and has also been connected to the project of constructing a universal language.
Some of the philosophical languages of the 17th-18th centuries could be regarded as proto-auxlangs, as they were intended by their creators to serve as bridges among people of different languages as well as to disambiguate and clarify thought. However, most or all of these languages were, as far as we can tell from the surviving publications about them, too incomplete and unfinished to serve as auxlangs (or for any other practical purpose). The first fully-developed constructed languages we know of, as well as the first constructed languages devised primarily as auxlangs, originated in the 19th century; Solresol by François Sudre, a language based on musical notes, was the first to gain widespread attention although not, apparently, fluent speakers. Volapük, first described in an article in 1879 by Johann Martin Schleyer and in book form the following year, was the first to garner a widespread international speaker community. Three major Volapük conventions were held, in 1884, 1887, and 1889; the last of them used Volapük as its working language. André Cherpillod writes of the third Volapük convention,
However, not long after this the Volapük speaker community broke up due to various factors, including controversies between Schleyer and other prominent Volapük speakers, and the appearance of newer, easier-to-learn auxlangs, primarily Esperanto. This language was developed from about 1878-1887, and published in that year, by L. L. Zamenhof. Within a few years it had thousands of fluent speakers, primarily in eastern Europe. In 1905 its first world convention was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer. A wide variety of other auxlangs were devised and proposed in the 1880s-1900s, but none except Esperanto gathered a speaker community until Ido.
The "Délégation pour l'adoption d'une langue auxiliaire internationale" was founded in 1900 by Louis Couturat and others; it tried to get the International Association of Academies to take up the question of an international auxiliary language, study the existing ones and pick one or design a new one. However, the meta-academy declining to do so, the Delegation decided to do the job itself. Among Esperanto speakers there was a general impression that the Delegation would of course choose Esperanto, as it was the only auxlang with a sizable speaker community at the time; it was felt as a betrayal by many Esperanto speakers when in 1907 the Delegation came up with its own reformed version of Esperanto, Ido. Ido drew a significant number of speakers away from Esperanto in the short term, but in the longer term most of these either returned to Esperanto or moved on to other new auxlangs. Still, Ido remains today one of the three most widely spoken auxlangs.
Edgar von Wahl's Occidental (also called "Interlingue"; 1922) was in reaction against the perceived artificiality of some earlier auxlangs, particularly Esperanto; von Wahl created a language whose words, including compound words, would have a high degree of recognizability for those who already know a Romance language. However, this design criterion was in conflict with ease of coining new compound or derived words on the fly while speaking. Occidental gained a small speaker community in the 1920s and 1930s, and supported several publications, but had almost entirely died out by the 1980s. More recently Occidental has been revived on the Internet.
The International Auxiliary Language Association was founded in 1924 by Alice Vanderbilt Morris; like the earlier Delegation, it at first worked on studying language problems and the existing auxlangs and proposals for auxlangs, and attempted to negotiate some consensus between the supporters of various auxlangs. However, like the Delegation, it finally decided to create its own auxlang; Interlingua, published in 1951, was primarily the work of Alexander Gode, though he built on preliminary work by earlier IALA linguists including André Martinet. Interlingua, like Occidental, was designed to have words recognizable at sight by those who already know a Romance language or a language like English with much vocabulary borrowed from Romance languages; to attain this end Gode accepted a degree of grammatical and orthographic irregularity and complexity considerably greater than in Volapük, Esperanto or Ido, though still less than in most natural languages. Interlingua gained a significant speaker community, perhaps roughly the same size as that of Ido though not nearly as large as that of Esperanto.
Esperanto suffered a setback after the 1922 proposal by Iran and several other small countries in the League of Nations to have Esperanto taught in member nations' schools failed, and Esperanto speakers were subject to persecution under Hitler and Stalin's regimes, but in spite of these factors more people continued to learn Esperanto, and significant literary work (both poetry and novels) began to appear in Esperanto in the period between the World Wars. All of the auxlangs with a surviving speaker community seem to have benefited from the advent of the Internet, Esperanto more than most.
The CONLANG mailing list was founded in 1991; in its early years discussion focused on international auxiliary languages. As people interested in artistic languages and engineered languages grew to be the majority of the list members, and flame-wars between proponents of particular auxlangs irritated these members, a separate AUXLANG mailing list was created, which has been the primary venue for discussion of auxlangs since then. Besides giving the existing auxlangs with speaker communities a chance to interact rapidly online as well as slowly through postal mail or more rarely in personal meetings, the Internet has also made it easier to publicize new auxlang projects, and a handful of these have gained a small speaker community, including Kotava, Lingua Franca Nova and Toki Pona.
The history of the most notable constructed auxiliary languages can be summarized in table form:
|Language name||ISO|| Year of first |
|Solresol||1827||François Sudre||The famous "musical language"|
|Communicationssprache||1839||Joseph Schipfer||Based on French vocabulary|
|Universalglot||1868||Jean Pirro||Arguably the first fully developed IAL|
|Volapük||vo, vol||1879–1880||Johann Martin Schleyer||First to acquire a sizable international speaker community|
|Alayun||1884||Dr Leonis Skye||Designed to be completely different from other languages with a structure similar to English.|
|Esperanto||eo, epo||1887||L. L. Zamenhof||By far the most popular constructed language.|
|Spokil||1887 or 1890||Adolph Nicolas||An a priori language by a former Volapük advocate|
|Mundolinco||1888||J. Braakman||The first esperantido|
|Idiom Neutral||1902||Waldemar Rosenberger||A naturalistic IAL by a former advocate of Volapük|
|Latino sine Flexione||1903||Giuseppe Peano||"Latin without inflections," it replaced Idiom Neutral in 1908|
|Ido||io, ido||1907||Delegation for the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language||The most successful offspring of Esperanto|
|Adjuvilo||1908||Claudius Colas||An esperantido created to cause dissent among Idoists|
|Occidental (aka Interlingue)||ie, ile||1922||Edgar de Wahl||A sophisticated naturalistic IAL|
|Novial||nov||1928||Otto Jespersen||Another sophisticated naturalistic IAL|
|Sona||1935||Kenneth Searight||Best known attempt at an unbiased vocabulary|
|Esperanto II||1937||René de Saussure||Last of the classical esperantidos|
|Mondial||1940s||Helge Heimer||A naturalistic European language|
|Glosa||igs||1943||Lancelot Hogben, et al.||Originally called Interglossa, Glosa has a strong Greco-Latin vocabulary|
|Interlingua||ia, ina||1951||International Auxiliary Language Association||A large project to discover common European vocabulary|
|Frater||1957||Pham Xuan Thai||Innovative blend of Greco-Latin roots and non-western grammar|
|Kotava||avk||1978||Staren Fetcey||A sophisticated a priori IAL|
|Lingua Franca Nova||lfn||1998||C. George Boeree et al.||A Romance vocabulary with a creole-like grammar|
In the early 1900s auxlangs were already becoming a subject of academic study. Louis Couturat et al. described the controversy in the preface to their book International Language and Science:
For Couturat et al., both Volapukists and Esperantists confounded the linguistic aspect of the question with many side issues, and they considered this a main reason why discussion about the idea of an international auxiliary language has appeared unpractical. Leopold Pfaundler wrote that an IAL was needed for more effective communication among scientists:
The following classification of auxiliary languages was developed by Pierre Janton in 1993:
As has been pointed out, the issue of an international language is not so much which, but how. Several approaches exist toward the eventual full expansion and consolidation of an international auxiliary language.
There have been a number of proposals for using pictures, ideograms, diagrams, and other pictorial representations for international communications. Examples range from the original Characteristica Universalis proposed by the philosopher Leibniz, to suggestions for the adoption of Chinese writing, to recent inventions such as Blissymbol.
Within the scientific community, there is already considerable agreement in the form of the schematics used to represent electronic circuits, chemical symbols, mathematical symbols,and the Energy Systems Language of systems ecology. We can also see the international efforts at regularizing symbols used to regulate traffic, to indicate resources for tourists, and in maps. Some symbols have become nearly universal through their consistent use in computers and on the internet.
An international auxiliary sign language has been developed by deaf people who meet regularly at international forums such as sporting events or in political organisations. Previously referred to as Gestuno but now more commonly known simply as 'international sign', the language has continued to develop since the first signs were standardised in 1973, and it is now in widespread use. International sign is distinct in many ways from spoken IALs; many signs are iconic and signers tend to insert these signs into the grammar of their own sign language, with an emphasis on visually intuitive gestures and mime. A simple sign language called Plains Indian Sign Language was used by indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Gestuno is not to be confused with the separate and unrelated sign language Signuno, which is essentially a Signed Exact Esperanto. Signuno is not in any significant use, and is based on the Esperanto community rather than based on the international Deaf community.
There has been considerable criticism of international auxiliary languages, both in terms of individual proposals and in more general terms.
Criticisms directed against Esperanto and other early auxlangs in the late 19th century included the idea that different races have sufficiently different speech organs that an international language might work locally in Europe, but hardly worldwide, and the prediction that if adopted, such an auxlang would rapidly break up into local dialects. Advances in linguistics have done away with the first of these, and the limited but significant use of Esperanto, Ido and Interlingua on an international scale, without breakup into dialects, has disproven the latter. Subsequently, much criticism has been focused either on the artificiality of these auxlangs,, or on the argumentativeness of auxlang proponents and their failure to agree on one auxlang, or even on objective criteria by which to judge auxlangs. However, probably the most common criticism is that a constructed auxlang is unnecessary because natural languages such as English are already in wide use as auxlangs and work well enough for that purpose.
One criticism already prevalent in the late 19th century, and still sometimes heard today, is that an international language might hasten the extinction of minority languages. One response has been that, even if this happens, the benefits would outweigh the costs; another, that proponents of auxlangs, particularly in the Esperanto movement, are generally also proponents of measures to conserve and promote minority languages and cultures.
Although referred to as international languages, most of these languages have historically been constructed on the basis of Western European languages. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was common for Volapük and Esperanto, and to some extent Ido, to be criticized for not being Western European enough; Occidental and Interlingua were (among other things) responses to this kind of criticism. More recently all these major auxlangs have been criticized for being too European and not global enough. One response to this criticism has been that doing otherwise in no way makes the language easier for anyone, while drawing away from the sources of much international vocabulary, technical and popular. Another response, primarily from Esperanto speakers, is that the internationality of a language has more to do with the culture of its speakers than with its linguistic properties. The term "Euroclone" was coined to refer to these languages in contrast to "worldlangs" with global vocabulary sources; the term is sometimes appplied only to soi-disant "naturalistic" auxlangs such as Occidental and Interlingua, sometimes to all auxlangs with primarily European vocabulary sources, regardless of their grammar, including Esperanto and Lingua Franca Nova.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, many proposals for auxlangs based on global sources of vocabulary and grammar have been made, but most (like the majority of the European-based auxlangs of earlier decades) remain sketches too incomplete to be speakable, and of the more complete ones, few have gained any speakers. More recently there has been a trend, on the AUXLANG mailing list and on the more recently founded worldlang mailing list, to greater collaboration between various proponents of a more globally-based auxlang.
See List of constructed languages for a list of constructed international auxiliary languages.