The ’Why’s of an International Auxiliary Language (IAL part 1)


  • This whole thing can be seen as either a post or a question asking for fellow forum members’ opinions. I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time, but I was not sure of my ability to properly do it. Thankfully, some new posts on LW gave me the needed encouragement.

  • That said, I don’t frequent LW enough, so my knowledge base and vocabulary regarding rationality is limited. Despite that, I’ve never doubted myself as a rational person.

  • I have this dream of co-creating a great IAL and helping to spread it to every corner of the world. However, I’m not exactly in a decent position to realize the dream, and I’m planning to change that. This change will be quite drastic and require me to take a lot of risks; therefore I want to make a final check with people on LW to ensure whether my big aspiration is really worthwhile to pursue (and sacrifice many things for).

The IAL scenario

Suppose that tomorrow, every single person on Earth wakes up and somehow knows at least 2 languages: a mother tongue and a particular “Z”—an IAL. Z can be any existing or imaginary language. How different is that future world, compared to what we had yesterday?

My imagination

  • Being able to communicate with everyone means we can travel and study and work anywhere.

  • It also means it’s easier relocate to the place of our heart’s desire. This level of social mobility is especially helpful to people with severe disadvantages in our “previous” world; for example, an Afghan woman could find a job in Brazil to support her three children, as she flees from the Taliban regime.

  • One of the aspects of the world that the IAL will radically change the most is education. One can go to their dream school(s) to study. In case people can’t travel, they can still learn online, now that the best courses are all available in a language they can understand. And even if some unfortunate souls in very underdeveloped countries don’t have access to neither the internet nor books, volunteers from the first world will face no linguistic problems in their noble work of teaching them and pulling them out from such dark, hopeless holes. Since education is the key for getting out of the malicious poverty cycle, this will bring fundamental change to a major portion of the world’s population.

  • Higher quality of life will inevitably lead to lower birth rate, so the IAL will help with the overpopulating problem, too. Which leads to:

  • Less people – but all are well educated – will treat the environment more gently. Thus the IAL will play a significant role in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change, maybe even reversing the process of global warming.
    (The IAL can save many trees in another interesting way IMO. There are at least 407 tongues spoken by one million or more people. A simple calculation reveals that we’ll need 165.242 different direct cross-language dictionaries between each pair of them. If we take into account other, not-as-popular-but-still-are-spoken-by-many-people tongues, the number explodes into an astronomical value. All of those dictionaries consume an enormous amount of trees, definitely more than the number that the search engine Ecosia planted. Meanwhile, consider the case when IAL is around. We only need 814 types of dictionaries to cover everything)

  • In the same manner, the IAL will revolutionize the way the entertainment industry operates. Media creators will no longer have to deal with the headache of subbing their works in hundreds of languages. Just prepare one subtitle and we’re ready to reach an audience of eight billion. That will herald an era of truly global arts, when indie artists have the chance of being viewed and heard and watched by people from all corners of the world. Besides, a common tongue subtitle will help us shave significant time that can be used to create even more quality works.

  • Cultural exchanges will flow along with the arts. Mutual understanding between people of different origins, ages, wealth, sexual orientations and genders will be encouraged. I predict that interracial marriages will spike up. That in turn may help with ethnic clashes, since until now people still mostly live and marry within their ‘tribe’.

  • Speaking of tribes, the work of documenting endangered tongues will be significantly accelerated now that there exists a general archival language. A French linguist who wants to study an endangered tongue in the jungle of India will be able to tap into his Indian colleague’s work without having to learn Hindi. The IAL will actually help preserve minor tongues!

  • When there’s a language that everyone is proficient in, contracts will be much clearer, resulting in more trust in oversea partners and confidence in foreign trading. Commerce will bloom at an unprecedented level, leading to a jump in global economic activities, production, services, and therefore, GDP.

  • But the world’s economy will actually benefit the most from the leaps-and-bounds advances in science and technology. The IAL fosters much better collaboration between scientists from different nations, now that they can understand their colleagues’ research published in a foreign magazine.

  • I played Civilization IV – a very good game by the way – and I know the utmost importance of getting ahead, even just a bit, in any field, especially technology. With the advent of IAL, everything will be greatly accelerated. And the snowball effect of that many things coming together is rather hard to comprehend.

  • The most pressing challenges of our current time, such as nuclear security, climate change, catastrophic events, social inequality, AI threat, biological risks and pandemics, etc. call for collaborations on a scale never seen before in human history. I believe that the advent of an IAL will make such cooperation possible, thus it will help solve all of the most important issues nowadays.
    Related case in point: LW is all-English. That, of course, doesn’t mean non-English speakers are all irrational. Now, there are roughly 1 billion people on Earth who speak English, which leaves 6.8 billion others. Just think of a world where LW has 7 times more brain power, and about 4 times more resources! What will we able to achieve with such potential?

My attempt of assessment

  • Of course, everyone is biased. In my case, maybe I didn’t give enough thoughts to the cons of IAL? Or maybe some of the proposed pros are a bit far-fetched? Or the cost of spreading it to everyone will prove prohibitive? You’ll be in a much better vantage point to help me out.

  • I do not have a reliable method to quantify these benefits, i.e. put them into dollars. Aside from the ginormous scale involved, assigning an economic value to ‘lives saved’ and ‘souls healed’ has never been an easy task. For similar reasons, calculating the costs is also difficult.

What I’m looking for

The whole rationale for me to pursue this dream is based on the notion that it’s worth the effort. It can be somewhat described by the ‘formula’:

Gain = (Benefits − Costs) ∗ Probability

I reason with myself that, since the Benefits to the world are almost uncountable while the Costs are finite, even if the Probability of success is small, the Gain for humanity is significant. Something along this line: (9e15 − 7e13) * 1% = 89.3e12 ($)

Of course, all of these figures are a totally arbitrary guess with no base at all. To improve my accuracy, I ask all of you guys to give your own numbers, so that I can recalculate. But aside from that, you can help me in many more ways, such as:

  • Guide me to a better formula or a different model.

  • Comment on the benefits, point out where my prediction is wrong, and add other facets that I overlooked.

  • Write about the cons and costs, fields that are wanting.

  • How about giving me advice on how to write this and future posts better? Really, there’s no limit to your type of feedback!

What’s next

I do have a plan for how to achieve this dream. However, depending on the updated assessment after this post, the IAL may or may not prove worthy. If it’s the first case, I’ll write more about the failure of Esperanto and how I think we can do better.

And hey, a big thank you for reading, especially if you decide to chime in! I have a small request: since my native tongue is not English, when you comment, please write one level down.