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Foreword to the Sambahsa Grammar in English

Page history last edited by Sylvain 12 years, 1 month ago


By Dave MacLeod


Sambahsa is without a doubt the most interesting auxiliary language to
have emerged over the past decade. To sum it up in a few short
sentences one would have to describe it as a type of regularized
Indo-European with borrowings from other language families, but this
alone doesn'’t quite do it justice. To explain what makes Sambahsa
unique, one needs to take a quick look at other international
auxiliary language projects that have been popular over the past
century and a bit.

Since they first became popular in the late 19th century, auxiliary
languages have placed simplicity above all else. Volapük was based on
a simple grammar, Esperanto was based on a simple regular grammar with
16 primary rules that could be learned in a short time, and just about
every project after this has been ridiculously easy to learn, at least
compared to so-called "“natural"” languages with their vast exceptions
and intricacies. Esperanto has been fairly popular but still likely
only has adherents numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and no
other can claim more than a few thousand. Auxiliary languages clearly
have not yet aroused the interest of the population as a whole.
At the same time, since the 19th century a language has gone from a
speaking population of zero to some seven million: Hebrew, once a
liturgical language, since reconstructed and modernized and now a
living language. The new state of Israel at its inception could easily
have gone with one of many international auxiliary languages and yet
went with a language that was not created to be easy, a language
appealed to people for its spirit and heritage, and not its simplicity
or international character. Along with the revival and strengthening
of such languages as Cornish, Welsh, Basque and others, and the sudden
flood of adherents to the Na'’vi language (a language without even a
published grammar and dictionary) after the release of the movie
Avatar, it would seem that people are willing to take the time to
learn a language in spite of any outward difficulty if they find
something fulfilling in it, something viscerally pleasing.
This perhaps may be what sets Sambahsa apart from other auxiliary
languages proposed over the past decades. Yes, its Indo-European
character and international vocabulary is one selling point, but what
sets it apart in particular is that it simply doesn'’t feel like a
constructed language. It is terse, it has an orthography that (while
actually perfectly regular) is quite complex, and is very precise.
Personally I have always imagined Sambahsa to be an example of a
language that could have existed somewhere around present-day Armenia,
where a kingdom using a descendant of Proto-Indo-European using it has
been influenced over the centuries by its Persian, Turkish and Arab
neighbors, as well as various countries from the east. At times it
feels a bit like Bulgarian, at other times like Persian, and sometimes
similar to German as well. What other auxiliary language would dare to
include the ablaut in its verbs? In contrast to auxiliary languages
that find similarity to living languages in vocabulary alone, the
structure itself of Sambahsa feels like a living language.
At the same time, however, Sambahsa is not all that difficult to
learn. The orthography is regular, every verb except for three are also
regular, pronouns are simple and easy to understand, grammatical cases
exist but are not haphazard as with living languages; in short, any
student now struggling to learn a language in school would simply love
to have a language as easy as Sambahsa in its place. What has made
Sambahsa so intimidating until now has simply been the documentation.
Up until about a year ago the documentation for the language was
largely in French and entirely contained on a single blog, after which
it was moved to a much more friendly wiki-type format yet still quite
chaotic in its organization, and only now is a complete grammar and
lexicon available in English for anyone to view and study from.
Will the language now succeed in acquiring adherents? We shall soon
find out. Sambahsa admittedly requires more study than the average
international auxiliary language in the beginning, yet soon smooths
itself out and becomes immensely enjoyable; other auxiliary languages
tend to be enjoyable in the beginning, but then have a tendency to
become somewhat bland, or have unpleasant surprises in store for the
As Steve Rice and Robert Winter have written on the language:
"“All languages (less frills) and especially all auxlangs are about
equal in difficulty; they just load the difficulty differently.
Sambahsa drops a piano on you when you ring the doorbell, but after
that it'’s probably a gracious host. Interlingua is more polite, but
whenever you relax, it bludgeons you from behind. Perhaps it'’s better
to get the shock over with."
"“Sambahsa pushes the envelope. Right up-front it challenges the
student and makes it clear: this is not going to be easy. I think
Sambahsa is right on the limit of the degree of difficulty that is
practical for an international auxiliary language."
One last note that sets Sambahsa apart from many other auxiliary
languages: its creator, Olivier Simon, has been a veritable translating
machine. While  documentation until now has been spotty, one cannot say
the same about examples of the language:
(explication of the vocabulary of the main texts) : http://sambahsa.pbworks.com/%22Vocabulary-keys%22-to-some-Sambahsa-texts


(main depository): http://groups.google.com/group/sambahsa-mundialect/files


(some bilingual texts): http://sambahsa.pbworks.com/exempels-tarjten-textes-fr


& : http://sambahsa.pbworks.com/tarjems-texten-ex-id-net-fr


(English primer): http://sambahsa.pbworks.com/Sambahsa-primer-in-English


(various downloadable texts on Scribd): http://www.scribd.com/search?cat=redesign&language=0&q=sambahsa



With but a single fluent user until recently, there are nevertheless
already a few hundred pages of material that can be read in the
language. A good sign, considering that the creator of the most
popular auxiliary language even today (Esperanto) spent most of his
time after creating the language translating and creating content,
while many other projects languished due to excessive tinkering and
far too little promotion and content creation. In short, now that the
grammar in English has been published Sambahsa has become that much
easier to learn, and there are already hundreds of pages of material
to read. So why not give it a try?





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