I am seriously thinking that if I wished to correspond with a Chinese poet, a very practical solution might be for both of us to learn Indonesian. Doing so would be far quicker than me learning Mandarin or him learning English. But would Interlingua, Afrikaans, some kind of constructed language based on simplified Estonian, or even (in a pinch) Esperanto be better? That is the question. And what about if we wished to compose poems in the language of choice such that we each could understand them without translation? I have to say, at this early stage, I'm not seeing any real evidence that Indonesian would be more difficult.
Here are some of the advantages of Indonesian:
- no definite article (no word for "the")*
- no indefinite article (no word for "a" or "an")
- almost entirely phonetic spelling (very easy indeed)
- almost no use of diacritical marks (internet and mobile-phone friendly)
- like Esperanto, uses affixes to produce a large vocabulary from few roots
- unlike Esperanto, forbids ad-hoc word creation (hence, less ambiguous)
- unlike Esperanto, has highly international stock of word roots
- vocabulary from Malay, Dutch, Portuguese, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese, English (most people will find at least some words they can recognise)
- spoken by more than 200 million people and thus already proven to be enormously successful as an auxiliary language: bear in mind that more than 700 living languages are spoken in Indonesia, a country comprising over 17,500 islands!
*The lack of articles is good as these mostly just cause confusion anyway when used internationally (their use in European languages is highly idiomatic and unpredictable and differs between European languages).
So, Interlingua has its work cut out, to prove that it is at least as easy and as effective as Indonesian, for Asian students. Can it do so? Time will tell.
Let's take a quick look at greetings, to get started.
My name is Robert.
Notice how we did not need to use the verb "to be". Pretty easy, huh?
In reality nobody would introduce themselves like this in colloquial speech. Instead they would simply say:
Literally, "I Robert". Now a little more detail:
I come from Australia.
Hmmm, easy to remember how to spell Australia in Indonesian, isn't it? Of course it is pronounced slightly differently. But Indonesian has almost entirely regular, phonetic spelling, so pronunciation is generally very easy.
In reality nobody would talk like this either, unless they were being very formal. Instead they would simply say:
I'm from Australia.
Okay, so the full expression is:
I'm Robert. I'm from Australia.
Notice how concise the Indonesian is. Notice how the grammar is simpler but the meaning is conveyed equally well. It's a lean, clean language machine.
Actually, verbs are not inflected in Indonesian for person, number, or tense! You can't get much simpler than that. Simple tenses are indicated by time adverbs or tense particles. However, it's not all plain sailing: there are some tricky verb affixes to learn and to use Indonesian seriously, for literature, one needs to study its extensive grammar and idioms. On the whole, however, the grammar seems very simple compared to the majority of natural languages.
I am fascinated by this intriguing language. It is right up there with Interlingua and Afrikaans, along with the idea of creating a simplified constructed language based on Estonian, as a potential candidate for international literary use.