The question of whether modern information technology has a positive or negative effect on global language diversity has been debated since the very beginning of the global online conversation. On the positive side, localized to fit the needs of regional communities, the Internet may allow populations a much-needed forum within which to cultivate and protect their own language. On the negative side, the Internet may simply aggravate the homogenizing effects of globalization, accelerating the spread of a handful of “lingua francas” while assimilating thousands of less well-known local languages into a giant global melting pot.
One of the very tangible manifestations of these issues of language diversity appears within the global blogosphere, where there is an incentive to adopt a foreign language (normally English) when the goal is to speak to people outside of a local context. But what if people did not have to give up their own language to communicate across language boundaries? What if there was a simpler alternative to the complex sounds, irregular grammar, and cultural baggage of “International English”, a language flexible enough to be shared by people across the world?
This is the thinking that went into the construction of Neo Patwa, a pidgin language thought up by Japan-based blogger Jens Wilkinson and featured regularly in his blog, as well as that of fellow Neo Patwa blogger Jack Parsons. I asked Jens some questions about the origin, motivation, and future of Neo Patwa.
What first got you interested in the idea of creating Neo Patwa, and how do you see it as different from other constructed languages?
Nearly all constructed languages are based on European languages to some extent. I wanted to make a language that would be truly multicultural. It seems only fair that if we are to try speaking with a common tongue, it should incorporate elements from different cultures around the world.
What is wrong with English as an international language?
It is true that English is very widely spoken. But this is unacceptable for two major reasons. One is simply that English as a language is difficult for people of many other languages. There are too many vowels, and we have horrible words like “sixths” (four consonants in a row!) Even I have a hard time pronouncing it. Also, English has lots of irregularities and idioms.
The second reason is that using English as an international language gives an unfair advantage to native speakers of the language. And even as a social phenomenon, it gives rise to the idea that one culture is superior to other cultures.
Now, can we do anything about it? I think actually that spreading a language like Neo Patwa, even on a small scale, can help create awareness of the idea that we should not let a limited group of native speakers have a hold on the language that we all use for inter-language communication.
Q: Where did you find inspiration for the grammar, vocabulary, and style of Neo Patwa?
I got a lot of inspiration from languages such as pidgins and creoles, which developed in situations where people with different mother languages were trying to communicate. After all, that is what an international language should do. For example, Swahili was developed by Arabian traders communicating with speakers of Bantu languages mainly. And Malay developed as a trading language between people speaking a variety of languages. I also tried to incorporate things from the world's largest languages, i.e. English and Mandarin. For that, Singlish was a big inspiration, because it is a language developed in a crossroad between mainly English, Chinese, and Malay languages.
How has your experience been so far blogging in Neo Patwa?
I've been blogging in Neo Patwa mostly as a way to practice the language. Though Neo Patwa is ready to use as a kind of pidgin, there are still many elements that need to be developed. I hope to develop it in cooperation with people who are speakers of a multitude of languages.
What do you see as the next step for Neo Patwa?
For the moment, I'm concentrating on finding people who are interested in experimenting with it and making suggestions on how to make it better. I really hope to get cooperation from people who speak non-European languages, to avoid a European bias where possible.