The Quest for a Neutral Online Language

The number of people making use of the Internet for e-mail or the WWW is still growing daily. Most of you reading this have probably used it in one way or another. And many of us have had occasion to communicate abroad.If so, you could hardly help noticing that discussion groups, exchanges of e-mail messages, and Web pages have a way of being in English no matter what the country. In a Special Report "The Internet: Fulfilling the Promise" in its March 1997 issue, Scientific American addresses this question in the section "Multilingualism on the Internet." This use of English is hardly surprising, since some 60 percent of the Internet's host computers are in the U.S. But even though this on-line English is so convenient for us that we hardly think about it, the nearly exclusive use of English is resented in many parts of the world, and movements for the wider -- and in some countries even exclusive -- use of other languages are increasing rapidly. What the article did not discuss is that the drift toward English as the dominant Internet language is crumbling, and that we are swiftly heading toward a new "Tower of Babel." This has led to attempts to address the problem of this growing political friction, and at the same time that of a runaway multilingualism on the Internet. The IAA (Internet Administration Authority) has decided to implement a sensible solution. Starting June 1 of this year, over the next two years English will be phased out entirely, and a language free of any political or diplomatic burden will be substituted as the only one permitted on the Internet.Following years of discrete diplomatic negotiations, it was concluded that the situation called for a minority language free of any political power base. Additional years of research selected a few languages that were felt to be politically and linguistically well suited to this vital new world-wide role.The language finally approved goes by the name Rolo-Pifla. What gave it the edge over the other choices, aside from its political neutrality, is its ideal linguistic structure. First of all, the Rolo-Pifla language has three vowels i, o and a and only the nine consonants d f g k l m p r s. Since the language has never been written before, it has no illogical spellings. We can write it phonetically in our familiar Roman alphabet. Rolo-Pifla will use a total of 12 letters, which means that the other half of the alphabet on the keyboard is now free for other uses. The Internet being an area where a great variety of feelings are expressed, these 14 letters will be used -- in any combination -- to express an endless range of feelings about the message.To illustrate this uniquely interesting fact about the language, let's take just three of a great many examples. The letter h adds the feeling of consternation, z conveys "too much of anything" and x communicates exasperation. All such letters can be doubled to indicate special emphasis, and they can be inserted anywhere in the word.How would this look in practice? In Rolo-Pifla the word domsipapmogadidiffosk means "water" (literally "has no shape you see through it you bathe cook drink"), gik is "taste / smell of roasted beans," sappokappo means "hot," and pigogg is "something that can be poked or tapped."So, looking back at the examples above, we can assemble a sentence. It is easy to see that we write domsipapmogadidiffoskgiksappokappozzpigogghhxx when we want to say "Oops, I spilled hot coffee on my keyboard, dammit!" This is what we will all be writing soon.Even this brief example shows that Rolo-Pifla has an admirably easy-to-learn grammatical structure. There are no irregular verbs because there are no verbs. The language consists entirely of nouns, which are actually mini-phrases. Words that we have to translate into English with an adjective are phrases as well. For instance, sappokappozz "too hot" literally means "an uncomfortable burning sensation drop it/spit it out." To return to the political reasons for the choice: Rolo-Pifla is spoken by approximately 150 people in the mountain highlands of New Guinea. It is an area so inaccessible that the language is very nearly unique in the world in having escaped all influence from English and its terminology. None of its speakers are computer users, and the most recent anthropological survey shows that 97.8 percent of them had never heard of a computer.A four-page pamphlet has been prepared that contains an exhaustive Rolo-Pifla grammar and its complete vocabulary. In order to guarantee that the 250,000,000 copies reach all Americans, it will be sent to everyone on the IRS mailing lists immediately after April 15. You'll agree we can hardly help rejoicing at all this. The IAA has created for us a unique opportunity to free the Internet from not only political friction but also the many spelling and grammar eccentricities of English. This will make life much simpler and more harmonious for all of us. So let's hear it for Rolo-Pifla!


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