with answers by C. George Boeree
originally written around the year 2000
Lingua Franca was a pidgin or trade language that flourished in the Mediterranean from perhaps as early as the 1300s until perhaps as late as the 1800s. It was a blend of Italian, Provençal (or Occitan, the language of southern France), and Catalan (the language of the east coast of Spain). It had hints of Spanish, Portuguese, Croatian, Greek, Turkish, and Arabic as well.
Its grammar was extremely reduced. There was no gender, no plural suffix, no person suffixes for verbs, no possessive or separate objective form for pronouns… The only grammatical suffix that survived was -to for the past tense! We can see similar grammars in modern pidgins and creoles, such as Melanesian Pidgin English and Haitian French Creole.
To learn more, go to Alan Corré’s A Glossary of Lingua Franca.
Basically, it was a matter of inspiration. I started the process of creating Lingua Franca Nova in 1965. At that time, I had no access to information about Lingua Franca other than a few lines of Molière. The original Lingua Franca was more analytic (i.e. like other creoles and pidgins, or like Chinese) than Elefen, but only slightly. It was designed for quick and easy communications among sailors and merchants, not for the broader purpose of providing an international communications tool for the twenty-first century!
Because I selected a similar set of languages, and because I was also interested in developing a simple and consistent grammar, Elefen and Lingua Franca often do overlap, especially in vocabulary. But that was not intentional.
A creole is a language that began as an effort at communication between two groups of people, and over time became a language in its own right. The study of creole languages around the world has shown that they display remarkable similarities in grammar, possibly reflecting the universals in all languages. Most words in creoles, for example, are unvarying, and the grammar tends to be indicated by simple particles and word order.
It should be understood that creole languages are not baby-talk versions of major languages. Kreyòl in Haiti, Papiamento in Aruba, or Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea are full-fledged languages, capable of expressing anything that can be expressed in French, Spanish, or English.
Elefen is based on French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Catalan. Other Romance languages were considered but omitted for various reasons, most often the limited speaking population and, in the case of Romanian, the strong influence of non-Romance neighbors. Catalan was included because of its centrality, both physically and linguistically.
I honestly did not feel they were necessary: Most of the international vocabulary of English comes from French or Latin, and the vocabulary of the Romance languages is itself derived from Latin.
Latin and Greek have, of course, supplied us with innumerable scientific words. Elefen uses the Romance derivations of Latin words, plus phonetic versions of Greek technical terms and affixes, very much the way that Italian or Spanish do.
No, in fact. I did not use any other constructed language as a guide for either the grammar or the vocabulary. To the extent that many of the other languages have a similar set of source languages and the goal of simple and regular grammar, of course there will be similarities.
But this was truly a separate undertaking – a fresh start.
Please understand that I admire all the attempts mentioned, and I hope that we someday adopt one – it almost doesn’t matter which! Of the languages mentioned, I believe mine is the strictest in regard to phonetic spelling, which I believe in very strongly. It is also far more regular than Interlingua, yet more “natural” than Esperanto. In addition, it is the only one that was specifically designed with esthetics in mind!
Ultimately, no. Someday (perhaps), children will learn the international language in grammar school alongside their own, and think nothing of its naturalness or lack thereof. But along the way, it makes a considerable difference: Many millions of adults will need and want to learn the language, and will resist what seems artificial to them. By basing Elefen on the Romance languages, I am appealing to a very large number of people who either speak those languages or are familiar with them – including most Europeans, North and South Americans, Australians, and many people in Africa and Asia.
Because by adding words and other things from many other unrelated languages, I add little to Elefen’s learnability for the people of China, etc., while reducing greatly the learnability for those familiar with the Romance languages.
I should make a little political point: It is the European Union that is most likely to seek and adopt a constructed language, and it is the European Union that has the economic and cultural power to make it attractive enough for others all over the world to learn!
To a considerable extent, yes.
But English has a couple of problems standing in its way: First, it has one of the worst spelling systems of any language using a western alphabet. Unless it were to dramatically alter its spelling system – not a likely event – it will continue to mystify those who learn it as a second language, not to mention its own native speakers!
Second, English has come to represent a specific cultural tradition. Although there are many differences among Brits, Yanks, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders, etc., they do share quite a bit of culture, including industrial society, commercialism, free-market orientation, individualism, media dominance, and unfortunate colonial histories. While not all these things are necessarily bad (and are in fact emulated), they are not appealing to everyone, especially countries who feel their cultural traditions slipping away under the bombardment of English-language movies, radio, television, music, products, and now the internet.
When looking at a set of words with a common Latin root, I usually went with a conservative version – i.e. one that retained as much of the Latin root as my phonetic principles allowed. This meant that, for example, consonants followed by -l (as retained by French and Catalan) were more likely than the various simplifications found in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Likewise, simple vowels were more likely than the various on-glides (uo-, ia-, etc.).
On the other hand, phonetics decreed that, although some initial consonant clusters were retained for international recognition value, syllables could only end in a vowel, an unvoiced fricative (-f, -s, -x), a nasal (-m, -n), or in -l or -r. This made for more final consonants and complex medial clusters than Italian permits, but fewer than French, Portuguese, or Spanish permit. While Elefen may remind most of Spanish generally, it sometimes takes on an Italian flavor by avoiding medial clusters like -ct- or -pt-, or by not permitting final -c, -p, or -t.
There is, of course, no gender in Elefen, so one issue was whether to take masculine or feminine forms of adjectives and other modifiers. In general, I have used feminine adjective forms, except where the word can end in a consonant.
A is the most central of the Elefen vowels (there being no schwa – the uh sound in so many English words), so it seemed appropriate for the unstressed endings of adjectives, as well as the definite article, etc. The final vowels of verbs were simply the most common third-person singulars of the present tense: -a, -e, or -i.
Part of the selection process was the consideration that short words are to be preferred over long ones, easy-to-pronounce words over difficult ones, internationally recognizable words over idiosyncratic ones. Avoiding homonyms was also a consideration. Upon occasion, simple esthetics made the choice between one form and another. I think of it as a minor work of art. But, unlike the Mona Lisa, it doesn’t matter if others change it or add to it to fit their needs. Consider it an ongoing creation!
Taking nouns from adjectives unchanged is common: bela “beautiful” becomes la belas “the beauties” in many languages. In English, the adjective used this way as a noun often takes the abstract sense – as in good and the Good. In Elefen, the Good would be la bonia, using the -ia that makes abstract nouns of all adjectives and nouns.
Taking nouns from verbs unchanged is also quite common: dansa “to dance” becomes la dansas “the dances”. But beyond a limited set of these examples, there are many more that involve suffixes such as -ion and -tion (and others!) in most Romance languages, as well as in English.
To keep things simple, I used the dansa formula for all nouns derived from verbs to refer to a concretized sense of the verb (a specific act, the immediate results of the act, or the process of an act). In English, this is often conveyed by using -ing (“the dancing was wonderful”). In Elefen, the corresponding suffix, -nte, is only used to make verbs into adjectives (and from there into nouns, as with bela!).
Gender bias is a real problem in this world, and I believe that avoiding gender pronouns may just help a little. This way, when one talks about what “people” do, we don’t subtly tell girls and women that “people” doesn’t include them.
The only difficulty I can foresee is when a complex situation arises and we are discussing a girl and a boy and several things besides. First, we can refer to the girl as la xica and the boy as la xico in place of using pronouns. And we can use esta “this here”,
esa “this/that”, and acel “that there” to refer to various objects – especially esa, which I retained especially to use as an alternative for “it”.
[Note: esa was dropped, but sorely missed. We later added lo as the pronoun for things.]
Admittedly, Elefen does not yet have the popularity of an Esperanto or an Interlingua, or even an Ido, a Novial, or a Glosa! But we are beginning to get some notoriety, and we have translated a few texts, such as the Hemingway story Hills like White Elephants, the Buddhist scripture the Mettā Sutta, a piece of the Gospel according to John, and a few other tidbits. We are just beginning!
[Note: Since the original writing of this page around the year 2000, Elefen has acquired many more translations and works of original literature.]
Beyond that, you’ll find no simpler entrance to the world of Latin-based languages. And beyond that, learning Elefen is fun – really! Try this short course.
When I first introduced Elefen on the internet (under the name LFN), it garnered considerable attention. Bjorn Madsen developed a Yahoo! group for it (which still exists, though it is considerably quieter now!) and many people had suggestions for improving Elefen. Because of the many suggestions, we started a second group (with the name Europijin) for those interested in continued improvements in the direction of pidgins and creoles.
Over time, Bjorn and I and others of the two groups agreed that a number of these suggestions would indeed improve Elefen, and we eventually adopted them. Here are the most notable:
Minor adjustments in the vocabulary were also made. On the other hand, our attempts at doing without a plural suffix (using the articles li and di instead) proved awkward, so the plural -s remains as the very last vestige of grammatical affixation in Elefen.
Our major accomplishment was the development of translations of the Introduction for Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Danish, and the 1700-word two-way dictionaries for each of those languages. These were ultimately combined into one nine-language dictionary. In the meantime, the reference dictionary (Elefen-English) was expanded to its present length. My thanks go to everyone involved!
The latest effort comes from Stefan Fisahn, who has developed a wiki for Elefen users to contribute translations, original writings, etc. He has also been a great help in further developing the Elefen tutorial “Presenta LFN!”. Most recently, he has developed a prototype searchable dictionary.
There is still much work to do. It would certainly be nice if we could reignite interest in actual conversation (as well as translation) in Elefen itself on the Yahoo! group. We are, of course, much fewer in numbers than Esperanto and Interlingua, but we have made an impact on the internet as the most creole-like “euro-clone” around. We look forward to doing much more!
In the last year or so, Simon Davies has created a new Elefen-to-English dictionary that is wonderful to use and lovely to look at. Simon and several other members have added hundreds of words and phrases to the dictionary, and at this point it has nearly 10,000 Elefen entries (and at least double that in terms of English words).
We have also gone on to refine the grammar of the language, not changing it at the roots, but looking at the small issues that we can repair to make Elefen more consistent, easier to use, or more logical. The only major change, after endless discussion, was to introduce car and afin for “because” and “so that”, respectively, as using per ce for these as well as for “why” was obviously confusing!
Interaction outside the dictionary has been sadly lacking, but occasional messages from old and new members keep us hopeful.
The most significant event of the last year is that we have received official recognition (and the all-important ISO-639 abbreviation – “lfn”, of course!) from SIL. [Note: Sadly, Wikipedia nevertheless turned down our application for our own version of Wikipedia, despite originally saying that the SIL acknowledgment was the only thing we needed. Afterwards, there was a rather strong effort to remove even the articles on created languages other than the most famous ones. But we persevered!]
It has been a few years since I last commented on the progress of our Elefen project. Here’s what’s new for 2013:
Simon has once again done a great job of innovation regarding the dictionary, and it is beginning to include things like definitions and translations other than English.
There are several new translations of stories (by Simon, Sunido, and Krzysztof), and a few new wiki articles. And Guido has continued adding his often amusing “thoughts for the day”. Unfortunately, there is not as much activity as there used to be.
There have been many additions to the dictionary, almost entirely of derived words, as opposed to new roots, which is, of course, a good thing. We find that we can express most things quite well with the vocabulary we have.
There have been a few relatively small changes made to the grammar:
Taking the long view, it is interesting to see how some things evolved.
Elefen has become slightly less “creole-like” over time. For example, the affixes have become far more general than originally intended. Originally, -or was for tradespeople, but now is used for almost any actor, instead of -nte; -eria has gone far beyond its original use as a place of business, such as a shop; and -ador is no longer only for tools. In reverse, the use of broadly defined prepositions has lessened. I suspect that these trends are the effect of our natural languages and, probably, the extensive use of affixes in Esperanto, which is a second language to most of our crew.
We have seen quite a few new translations at the wiki. Even more importantly, we have quite a collection of original poetry by Guido Crufio. The most exciting event of the past year was the publication of the very first book in Elefen: Simon Davies’ translation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – La aventuras de Alisia en la pais de mervelias.
I myself am taking less and less of a role in Elefen, due to problems of concentration and memory. C’est la vie. I have no real idea how to make Elefen more popular or even noticeable in the “real” world. I struggle to even keep Elefen available on Wikipedia, with repeated badgering from bureaucrats. I am hoping that someone with better “political” skills than I have will at some point come forward. We shall see.
It would seem that there are to be no further grammatical changes, changes in spelling or pronunciation, or changes in the use of affixes. Everything works very well, as well as any natural or artificial language can. We continue to add words to the dictionary, and hope to add more definitions and additional languages to it as well. There have been a few more articles and translations in the past year, but activity has slowed. I myself would like to focus mostly on the dictionary.
One bit of news is the creation of a new domain and homepage for Elefen – elefen.org. It contains a number of introductions and basic learning materials, and we shall add to it as time goes by. The old homepage is also linked to the new site. We hope the new page will attract some attention.
Finally, as the homepage name shows, we decided to use the alternative name “Elefen” for the language. Many followers found “Lingua Franca Nova” cumbersome, and “LFN” boring. So, “Elefen” was born, and if it reminds you of elephants (a majestic and intelligent beast) or of something out of The Lord of the Rings, so much the better!
The language is still alive! We have continued to add words to the dictionary, and have defined all the roots and many other words. And now the dictionary has images! It’s very beautiful!
With a great deal of hesitation, I have agreed with the majority of Elefen speakers who take part in our discussions: We now have a collection of possessive determiners that differ from the corresponding personal pronouns:
These let us avoid a few small problems that have irritated us for many years. Many thanks to all who helped me in this decision!
Some further important updates:
The Elefen Wikipedia was finally approved in late 2017 after a year of incubation, and went live in 2018. Many thanks to Vicente Costalago for his efforts in championing this cause!
In 2017, Simon Davies spent much of his free time preparing the Elefen dictionary for publication in book form, by Evertype in 2018. The result, Disionario de Lingua Franca Nova: Elefen-Engles, Engles-Elefen, can be purchased from Amazon in the US and the UK.
The Elefen wiki moved from its previous Wikia/Fandom hosting to a new home on the Elefen server in 2019.