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Free culture and the International Scientific Vocabulary

Type: Workshop
Presenter: Martijn Dekker <martijn@inlv.org>
Language: English (and, if allowed, Interlingua)
Special requirements: Beamer for presentation slides

Long description

While the dominance of English in international communication is far beyond dispute, there is not so much awareness of the reality of the International Scientific Vocabulary (ISV), a language-neutral lexical body in which human languages from all over the world participate.[1] The free culture movement's particularly multilingual nature makes awareness of this common ground between languages especially relevant and beneficial.

This workshop will show that knowledge of which words have international currency and which do not, and of the forms they may take in various languages, enhances the ability of cross-linguistic communication both for speakers of English and those of other languages. To quote a classic example of how an English speaker might progressively "internationalize" his English, each time making it easier to understand to speakers of languages such as French or Spanish:

  • "Our guests started coming in right after we got back from town."
  • "Our visitors began to arrive right after we returned from town."
  • "Our visitors commenced to arrive immediately after we returned from the city."[2]

The words of the ISV lack a canonical form, because they belong equally to many languages.[3] But the ISV has been consolidated into a concrete language by philologists working for the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA) between 1927 and 1951.[4] This language, called Interlingua, started to live and is since being gradually developed further by its community of speakers, using IALA's methodology.[5][6]

  • "Nostre visitatores comenciava a arrivar immediatemente post que nos retornava ex le citate."

Interlingua gives ISV words a canonical form using a specific and verifiable method of prototyping.[4] Another such procedure determines what words are eligible to enter into Interlingua's vocabulary,[7] and so Interlingua “automatically” evolves as international words are added and replaced in the ISV, even as its speakers remain free to choose from and freely build on the lexical material thus provided.[8]

ISV words, even as they originate from modern languages, are primarily composed of classical Greek and Latin lexical material,[3] making Interlingua an international modern and simplified Latin that is understandable without prior study to hundreds of millions of speakers of Romance languages as well as educated speakers of other languages who are familiar with the forms of ISV words in their own language. It is therefore an instantly usable means of international communication. Even in this English-dominated world, it makes for a surprisingly effective complement.

A brief overview is given of the history and current developments of Interlingua as an international auxiliary language. Interlingua's first major practical application was its use as a second reference language for conference proceedings and abstracts of papers for prominent scientific organizations.[5][9] Interlingua has also been used in high schools in Sweden between 1967 and 1993,[5] teaching it as a concrete language to facilitate comprehension of the ISV as incorporated in Swedish.[10] At the University of Granada, Spain, Interlingua is taught as part of a course in interlinguistics that saw its eighth annual edition in 2008.[11] There is an active community of speakers that organizes conferences and publishes literature and radio emissions in Interlingua,[12] and there is even an edition of Wikipedia in Interlingua.[13]

On the one hand, English represents the classical top-down approach to international communication, virtually imposing one language, and the culture that goes with it, upon the rest of the world.[14] On the other hand, the International Scientific Vocabulary, culturally more neutral,[3] with its concretely usable form in Interlingua, represents by nature the kind of bottom-up, collaborative approach that is fundamental to the free culture movement. It is therefore suggested that the free culture movement ought to be an especially fertile ground for further development of ISV-based international communication, whether through using Interlingua directly or by giving preference to ISV words while using national languages such as English or Spanish. Concrete ideas in that direction are proposed for consideration and further discussion.

This workshop basically caters to two categories of people: moderates and radicals. (Being a radical moderate, that suits me fine.) At minimum, attendees will come away with an increased awareness of how their own native language, whichever one it may be, participates in the common superstrate of the International Scientific Vocabulary, enhancing their ability to communicate with speakers of other languages for the benefit of the free culture movement. Those more radically inclined will additionally have made their first baby steps towards cross-pollinating their linguistic skillset with active and advantageous use of Interlingua, le incarnation del vocabulario scientific international, preste pro optimisar le interaction translingual in le communitate de cultura libere.

Summario in interlingua

Le Vocabulario Scientific International (VSI), le corpore lexical neutral de scientia e technologia, es commun a linguas human in tote le mundo. Familiaritate con le VSI es instrumental in communication inter parlatores de differente linguas, e benefic pro le diffusion del cultura libere ultra le mundo anglophone. Le presente seminario elabora iste concepto per le introduction de un lingua international concrete, vive, parlate e scribite: Interlingua, que es directemente basate super le VSI, es comprensibile a prime vista a centos de milliones. Es discutite ideas e applicationes practic pro le uso concrete del VSI in general e de Interlingua in particular intra le movimento pro cultura libere.


  1. "International Scientific Vocabulary." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Apr 2009, 14:28 UTC.
  2. §134 in Gode, Alexander; Hugh E. Blair (1955) [1951]. Interlingua; a grammar of the international language (second edition). New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing. ISBN 0-8044-0186-1.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 McArthur, Tom, "Asian Lexicography: Past, Present, and Prospective", Lexicography in Asia (Introduction). Password Publishers Limited, 1998. Accessed April 14, 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gode, Alexander, Interlingua: A Dictionary of the International Language. 2nd edition. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1971. ISBN 0-8044-0188-8.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Stenström, Ingvar, Interlingua e su promotion durante 50 annos. Varberg, Sweden: Societate Svedese pro Interlingua, 2008. ISBN 978-91-971940-5-1. [1]
  6. Cleij, Piet, Lista supplementari de vocabulos international non incorporate in le I.E.D.. 3rd edition. Servicio de Libros UMI, 2000.
  7. "Interlingua and eligibility of international words." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Feb 2008, 03:52 UTC.
  8. "Free word-building in Interlingua." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 3 Mar 2009, 21:59 UTC.
  9. Google Scholar search for "summario in interlingua". [2]
  10. Stenström, Ingvar, "Experientias del inseniamento del vocabulario international in le nove gymnasio svedese", Interlinguistica e Interlingua: Discursos public per Ingvar Stenström e Leland B. Yeager, Beekbergen, Netherlands: Servicio de Libros UMI, 1991. ISBN 9071196178.
  11. The course "Introducción a la Interlingüística. Interlingua hablado y escrito". Universidad de Granada. Accessed April 14, 2009.
  12. Union Mundial pro Interlingua. Accessed April 14, 2009.
  13. Wikipedia in Interlingua. Accessed April 14, 2009.
  14. "Linguistic imperialism." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Apr 2009, 23:50 UTC.