What's the idea? Use the vocabulary of a natural language. That is, use the dictionary of a natural language. This means people can easily buy dictionaries. The clever part is to create a new, simplified grammar.
A good candidate vocabulary preferably should: have easy, phonetic spelling; use the Latin alphabet; use relatively few diacritical marks; have a large, modern vocabulary; have readily available multilingual dictionaries.
Recently, at the end of Stage 1 of this competition, I selected three languages to go into Stage 2: Estonian, Indonesian and Afrikaans.
Stage 1 was a quick, high-level comparison of the languages. Stage 2 is a detailed analysis of the remaining three languages.
This process has had two surprising outcomes:
(1) Two of the finalists have turned out to be so easy to learn, and already so effective as auxiliary languages in the real world, that I doubt it would be necessary to simplify or change them at all. Afrikaans and Indonesian seem to be so easy that they are probably no more difficult than Esperanto. That is, I think about three years of serious, dedicated study could allow a person to speak Afrikaans or Indonesian very well (not merely to a mediocre standard). Which is probably about the same time as is required for flawless mastery of Esperanto.
(2) Two of the finalists have turned out to be complementary to each other despite being in very different geographical regions: Afrikaans and Indonesian. Afrikaans is essentially a dialect of Dutch which contains numerous Malay words, not to mention words from many other languages, especially African ones. Indonesian is essentially a dialect of Malay which contains numerous Dutch words, not to mention words from many other languages, especially Asian ones. Afrikaans and Indonesian complement each other nicely.
One could certainly invent a good constructed language based on a blend of Indonesian and Afrikaans, possibly also influenced by English: for example my proposed Austrakaans project. And for a bit of additional flavour, one could add some Interlingua (with suitably simplified orthography) into the mix as well; this would be justified due to the great influence of the Portuguese language in both southern Africa and in Timor, not to mention French and Spanish elsewhere.
Think about it. Not only are the source languages of the lexicons of these four languages (at least in part) largely compatible, but their orthographies are quite compatible also; in writing they all look, to the uninitiated, pretty much the same, and many of the consonantal sounds are the same. Suppose you spoke no language except Persian or Chinese, and you took a quick look at a page which contained four consecutive, unrelated paragraphs: one paragraph each of Afrikaans, Indonesian, Interlingua and English. You might well not notice that they were different languages. You might think the whole page was one language. This is because they all use the Latin alphabet with very few diacritics, and random, unrelated words in all four languages appear vaguely similar in form.
Of course, if one made a constructed language from these source vocabularies, English orthography would not be used: it is too hard to spell, except where it happens to coincide with Interlingua orthography. One would probably simplify source words from English and Interlingua by writing them in the orthography used by either Indonesian or Afrikaans, or a blended orthography of the two. Indonesian and Afrikaans simplify consonantal clusters and are more phonetic.
But I digress. Back to the competition.
I am sad. I would love to study Estonian. Really, truly I would. It sounds great. It has marvellously phonetic spelling. It has a wonderful, modern, useful vocabulary. It has an unusual grammar which potentially could be usefully simplified for use an an international auxiliary language. And I have bought a textbook and accompanying audio recording which are a joy to use. I would like nothing more than to sit down and spend a few months learning it properly.
But, if I do that then I would not have the time to do the same with either Indonesian or Afrikaans, not to mention taking time from my French studies. There simply isn't the time to do everything I would like to.
At the end of the day, Estonian is for me in the same study category as Latin: languages I would absolutely love to study but not of enough practical use to justify the expenditure of time compared to other available languages. Both are highly inflected or declined languages: the form of nouns changes quite markedly depending on grammatical case. Unfortunately the changes are moderately irregular and therefore very demanding of study time.
One day I will probably study Latin. Similarly, one day I will probably study Estonian; perhaps next year, indeed. But for the current competition, to find a language whose vocabulary could be used as the basis of a constructed language, Estonian simply cannot compete with Afrikaans and Indonesian.
Here are the reasons why:
(1) Too many diacritical marks. I tried to invent a system of writing Estonian words without diacritics, without changing the pronunciation, but after further analysis I realise this is impractical. It is impractical for two reasons: (a) Estonian relies upon its vowel diacritics to bring about correct, sensible pronunciation and it is too difficult to remove them in a sensible manner; (b) students would sometimes find it difficult to look up words in the dictionary, which would defeat the whole purpose of the proposed project (to use existing dictionaries). The only practical option would be to use all the same diacritical marks (which is still worth considering but unfortunately the points below still rule-out Estonian).
(2) Too many irregular changes to the stem of words to form the different grammatical cases, and too many irregularities in the suffixes used to form the different cases. One could regularize these but this would cause three massive problems: (a) the language would immediately be rejected, by anyone who knew proper Estonian, as a pidgin-like toy language; (b) the language would perhaps often not be comprehensible to speakers of Estonian, destroying its potential value as a language facilitating tourism; (c) most importantly, existing Estonian dictionaries would probably cause a great deal of confusion to the hapless student of the constructed language (this is a consequence of how the unusual grammar of Estonian works; it is integral to the words in any dictionary).
(3) The remaining reasonable option would be to use Estonian words, probably retaining the diacritics, but to completely abandon all Estonian grammar. Estonian words are fundamentally suited to be used in the context of Estonian grammar, so this would be a rather bizarre thing to do. However, it is okay to be bizarre since in taking this option we would not be aiming for any comprehensibility to Estonians. The thing is, once we have completely abandoned any grammar even remotely resembling Estonian, there is no justification for choosing Estonian vocabulary rather than Afrikaans, Indonesian, or Interlingua vocabulary. Even ignoring the greater recognisability of the latter vocabularies, which is beside the point, Estonian words simply have too many diacritics.
And so, with no time for sentiment, we need to keep moving, moving, moving forward in order to get some sort of useful result from all this investment of study time and not just end up wasting a year with no literary outcome.
The competition is down to only 2 languages from the original 12:
Time will tell whether: one gets eliminated; both get eliminated; one gets retained and studied as a natural language; one gets retained as used as the vocabulary of a constructed language; both get retained and studied as natural languages; or both get retained and used as the vocabulary of a constructed language blended with Interlingua and English, possibly called Austrakaans and possibly used in a novel describing an alternative history of Australia (in which the Dutch settled the west coast and the English settled the east coast, and a vigorous trade occurred with Malay- and Portuguese-speakers to the north).
I'm sad to see Estonian gone but you have to admit it has all worked out rather nicely. The current languages this leaves me to study and use all fit together extremely well and offer many exciting literary opportunities: Afrikaans, Indonesian, Interlingua, French and English.
Reaching the World
Think about how nicely this has all worked out: between Afrikaans, French, Interlingua and English I can communicate with readers in most of Africa.
With Interlingua most of Europe is potentially accessible, providing Europeans are willing to do some study to learn Interlingua, which isn't too hard. Europeans who speak Germanic languages but not English could probably decipher Afrikaans reasonably easily, with a little prior study and a dictionary.
South America is completely accessible with Interlingua, almost without prior study by readers. North America is accessible by my native language, English, and by Interlingua for Spanish-speaking readers and by Interlingua or French for many Canadian readers. French of course will take me many years to learn.
Indonesian contains many Arabic words, and is simple to learn, so if I wrote in Indonesian then interested readers from the Middle East who do not speak English could conceivably learn to read Indonesian in a couple of years. (Obviously it would be ideal to write in Arabic but it is very difficult.)
And the most difficult continent to accommodate, Asia, contains at least 200 million speakers of Indonesian or Malay; those who do not speak Indonesian could probably learn it with great ease, much more easily than learning either Interlingua or English. Indonesian seems like a viable lingua franca to reach Asian readers, providing those readers are willing to put in a couple of years of study. Many people probably study Indonesian anyway, for business.
So, hypothetically speaking, if I were willing to put in about three years of study learning to write well in Indonesian and Interlingua, I could reach between 1 and 3 billion more readers (the lower figure indicates the number I could reach without requiring much study on the part of readers; the latter figure indicates the number I could reach if readers were willing to study the language in question for three years themselves). You see, I doubt many Asian readers could be bothered to learn Interlingua but I do not doubt that many would be willing to learn Indonesian (two reasons: Indonesian is a widely-spoken natural language, and Indonesian is much easier for speakers of Asian languages to learn).
One might ask, why not immediately eliminate Afrikaans since only about 20 million people speak some of that language? Answer: because it is not only about numbers. After all, Interlingua probably does not even have 1000 speakers but has very great potential. The same goes for an already-successful natural Germanic auxiliary language like Afrikaans, and anyway Afrikaans is of enormous interest to me for a potential literary project.
I really feel, intuitively, that somehow one could blend Indonesian, Afrikaans, Interlingua and English to produce a good worldlang; its lexicon would thus indirectly cover all of the official languages of the United Nations excepting Russian (the others are Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, French, English). Such a language would seem harmonious and balanced. It would be believable as a natural language which might have arisen in an alternative history.