KOD linguistics

Deutsche Welle published a curious story the other day about a German supermarket millionaire called Johann Vielberth who is funding a project to develop a new universal communication system called KOD. Like Zamenhof and others before him, Vielberth’s aim is to provide the world with a culturally neutral tongue to foster better – and cheaper – communication than is available through conventional means.

KOD is based on the shared elements of 15 languages spoken by 4.6 billion people: Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, Finnish, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Hungarian and Yoruba.

The cunning plan is to develop a 40K word vocabulary based on these shared elements that users can then integrate into their own natural structures. Unlike Esperanto, for example, KOD has no unique syntax, only a lexicon. The team has also developed a new script for the language to avoid err…scriptism, but will apparently allow lazy learners to use the Latin alphabet.

Umberto Eco and others have explored the genealogy of universal languages, and their perfect language ideologies. The idea that the prodigality of language is a curse to be overcome rather than the conditio sine quae non for us to experience our being in the world is a tough old bird. After all, we’ve developed skills such as translation to mediate between (rather than overcome) linguistic difference. Vielberth should have put his money into improving translation automation systems, not Deseperanto Mk II.

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Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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