Skip to content

10. Where Pandunia words come from?


Most Pandunia words are already international – at least in some part of the world! The three key criteria for selecting words for Pandunia are:

  • Equality : Words are be borrowed equally from different regions of the world. In practice it means that Pandunia borrows words from the languages of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
  • Prevalence : Widely spread words are favored. The more people know the word the better.
  • Simplicity : Word forms with easy pronunciation are favored.

Cultures of the world

Hartmut Traunmuller divided the world into four major cultural spheres in his article A Universal Interlanguage: Some Basic Considerations. The languages within a certain cultural sphere share words (loan words and translated loan words) and cultural concepts.

  1. The Euro-American cultural sphere
    • This sphere covers all of Europe, Americas, Australia and various smaller regions.
    • Languages of the West have been influenced greatly by Greek and Latin and in modern times by French and English.
  2. The Afro-Asian (or the Islamic) cultural sphere
    • This group includes languages of areas where Islam is the main religion.
    • It spans from the Atlantic coast of Africa to the islands in the Pacific of Indonesia and the Philippines.
    • The languages of this cultural sphere are influenced by Persian and especially Arabic, which is the language of Quran, the holy book of Islam.
  3. The South Asian (or the Indian) cultural sphere
    • This sphere covers the very populous subcontinent of India, Indochina and more
    • The classical language of this group are Sanskrit, Tamil and Pāli
    • The Indian vocabulary has been spread by Hinduism and especially Buddhism in all directions in Asia and elsewhere.
  4. The East Asian (or the Chinese) cultural sphere
    • This culturel sphere grew around ancient China, the Middle Kingdom
    • All languages of East Asia are saturated by loan words from Chinese.
    • The biggest modern Chinese language, Mandarin, competes for the title of the most spoken language in the world today.

The cultural spheres are roughly outlined in the picture below.

Languages of the world and world languages

It is estimated that over 6000 different languages are spoken in the world. Some languages are spoken by many while others are spoken by only a few. Native and non-native speakers of the five most widely spoken languages together add up to more than half of the total population of the world. It is impossible to include all languages into the construction of a world language because of their great number. The number of source languages should be manageable for one person to work with.

So, which languages should be taken in?

Power Language Index (PLI) provides an answer to this question. It is a tool for comparing efficacy of languages that has been created by Ph.D. Kai L. Chan. It compares languages on how well they provide to a speaker the following five opportunities:

  1. Geography: The ability to travel
  2. Economy: The ability to participate in economic activities
  3. Communication: The ability to participate in dialogue
  4. Knowledge and media: The ability to consume knowledge and media
  5. Diplomacy: The ability to engage in international relations

Chan builds a ranking of languages based on a combination of the above-listed opportunities. This ranking is used as a reference in Pandunia.

The main source languages for Pandunia

Most Pandunia words are borrowed from 21 widely spoken languages as listed in the table below. The languages are selected so that they represent different language families, different geographical regions and different cultures.

The following table is ordered by the rank in the Power Language Index. The numbers of speakers are from the Power Language Index and the Wikipedia.

Language Native speakers Non-native speakers PLI ranking Cultural sphere Language family
English 446 million 510 million 1 Euro-American Indo-European
Mandarin Chinese 960 million 178 million 2 East Asian Sino-Tibetan
French 80 million 192 million 3 Euro-American Indo-European
Spanish 470 million 70 million 4 Euro-American Indo-European
Arabic 295 million 132 million 5 Afro-Asian Afro-Asiatic
Russian 150 million 115 million 6 Euro-American Indo-European
German 76 million 59 million 7 Euro-American Indo-European
Hindi-Urdu 442 million 214 million 8 Indian & Afro-Asian Indo-European
Japanese 125 million 1 million 9 East Asian Japonic
Portuguese 215 million 32 million 10 Euro-American Indo-European
Cantonese 80 million ½ million 11 East Asian Sino-Tibetan
Malay 77 million 204 million 14 Indian & Afro-Asian Malayo-Polynesian
Korean 80 million 1 million 16 East Asian Koreanic
Turkish 82 million 6 million 18 Afro-Asian Turkic
Persian 56 million 21 million 29 Afro-Asian Indo-European
Bengali 210 million 19 million 30 Indian & Afro-Asian Indo-European
Swahili 20 million 80 million 37 Afro-Asian Niger-Congo
Tamil 78 million 8 million 38 Indian Dravidian
Vietnamese 76 million 1 million 43 East Asian Austroasiatic
Hausa 51 million 26 million 114 Afro-Asian Afro-Asiatic
Fula 42 million 10 million 119 Afro-Asian Niger-Congo

They represent also a good mix of cultures and regions of the world. The table below shows the number of countries by continent where the 21 source languages have an official or national status.

Language America Europe Africa Asia Oceania
English 14 3 23 5 14
French 2 5 21 1
Spanish 18 1 1
Portuguese 1 1 6 1
Russian 2 3
German 6
Arabic 11 12
Swahili 5
Fula 3
Hausa 2
Turkish 1 1
Persian 3
Hindi-Urdu 2
Bengali 2
Tamil 3
Malay 4
Mandarin 3
Cantonese (1)
Japanese 1
Korean 2
Vietnamese 1

Word selection method

There are a lot of international words, because languages influence each other all the time. Some words are international in the West, some in the East, and some are even global. Pandunia attempts to use as international, intercontinental and global words as possible.

Words that are specific to a certain culture shall be adopted from languages that best represent that culture.

Words for objects of nature (for example plants and animal species) shall be adopted from a language that is spoken in the area where that object is found.

So the first question is, does the word belong to a certain region or culture?

Yes. → Select the word from languages that are important in that region or culture.
No. → Use the following word selection method.

  1. Collect translations for a given word in the 21 languages that were listed in the previous chapter by using electronic or printed or electronic dictionaries, Wiktionary, reliable machine translation, or some other tool.
  2. Identify groups of similar words.
    • Similar words can be historically related
    • or they can sound alike by coincidence.
  3. Select the most international group of similar words.
    • The more international, the better.
    • The best words are cross-cultural.
    • If there's no cross-cultural word, select the one that is known by the greatest number of 1st language speakers.
  4. Select a word form that represents the group well and also fits well into Pandunia.

Normally a word appears in at least two of the source languages. In case there isn't a common word, partially similar words can be selected. Only in the last resort a word from only one language can be accepted.

Word statistics

Figure 1. This bar chart shows how the percentage of Pandunia's base words that are similar with the source languages.

Figure 2. This pie chart shows how big influence each source language has on Pandunia.

Figure 3. This network diagram shows how much Pandunia words the source languages have in common with each other.

Figure 3 is a network diagram of the 21 source languages of Pandunia. The circles symbolize source languages. The larger the diameter, the more words Pandunia has borrowed from that language. Lines between the circles indicate how many Pandunia words the languages connected by the line have in common. The thicker the line is, the more words the connected languages have in common with each other and Pandunia.


Selecting the word for 'language'

First possible candidates are searched from widely spoken languages. The search reveals that there are several words that are international.

  • Arabic لغة /luɣa/ is also known in Swahili lugha. It is also known in Persian and Turkic languages but with the meaning "dictionary".
  • Persian زبان /zæba:n/ has spread to Urdu and Punjabi among others.
  • Latinate lingua is found in the Romance languages and it has spread to most European languages in words like linguistics and multilingual.
  • Indo-Aryan भाषा /bʱaʂa/ is used in Hindi and Bangla and it has spread to several neighbouring languages including Telugu, Thai and Indonesian.

The most prevalent of these words is /bʱaʂa/. It is recognised nearly everywhere in India, Indochina and Malay archipelago, which are some of the most densely populated areas in the world.

Language Spoken word Written word
Hindi bʱaʂa भाषा
Punjabi bʱaʃa ਭਾਸ਼ਾ
Gujarati bʱaʃa ભાષા
Marathi bʱaɕa भाषा
Bangla bʱaʃa ভাষা
Telugu baʃa భాష
Thai pʰa:sa: ภาษา
Indonesian bahasa bahasa
Javanese basa basa
Sundanese basa basa

As you can see, the same word is written and pronounced differently in different languages. This is typical of international words. They get adapted in almost every language to their own spelling system. Likewise it is necessary to adapt this word to the spelling and pronunciation rules of Pandunia. So the Pandunia word for language becomes bashe.

Western words

Typically Western words have this structure: prefix + root + suffixes. Usually the root ends in a consonant.

For example in Spanish, the root cort- (short) can be combined with affixes to produce different kinds of words.

  • Adjectives: corto (masc.), corta (fem.)
  • Noun: cortedad
  • Verb: acortar

Also English uses comparable affixes.

  • Adjectives: short, shorter, shortest
  • Nouns: shortness, shorty
  • Verb: shorten

Pandunia borrows the roots of Western words. The goal is to select a form that sounds familiar to speakers of as many languages as possible.

Pandunia word English Portuguese Spanish French German Russian
korte short curto corto court kurz korotkiy
nove new novo nuevo nouveau neu novîy
marche march marcha marcha marche Marsch marš
poste post (mail) (postal) posta poste Post počta

Sinitic words

Sinitic words are words from Middle Chinese that are used today in languages of East Asia, including Chinese languages, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. Sinitic words are single-syllable words or compounds of syllabic elements.

Middle Chinese had lexical tone. Today Chinese languages and Vietnamese have tones but they are not the same as in Middle Chinese. Japanese and Korean are not tonal languages so they have ignored the tones. Also Pandunia ignores the tones. (To ignore the tones is about the same as to ignore the stress accent or pitch accent of other source languages.)

Middle Chinese had unreleased stop consonants, which are usually written -p, -t and -k. Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean keep them mostly as they were. Mandarin has deleted them. Japanese has added a vowel to ease pronunciation. Pandunia keeps the final stops and adds a normal PoS suffix.

Pandunia root Cantonese Mandarin Japanese Korean Vietnamese
sui sui shuǐ sui se thuỷ
jung zung zhōng chū jung trung
shim sam xīn shin sim tâm
mun mun mén mon mun (môn)
duge duk doku dok đọc
chuti cœt chū shutsu chul xuất

Examples of global words

bir 'beer'

Language Spoken word Written word
German bi:ɐ Bier
English biəɹ beer
French biɛʁ bière
Italian birra birra
Turkish bira bira
Arabic bi:ra بيرَه
Amharic bira ቢራ
Rwanda bjere byere
Swahili bia bia
Hindi bijər बियर
Indonesian bir bir
Japanese bi:ru ビール
Wu bi 啤(酒)
Mandarin pʰi 啤(酒)

cha 'tea'

Language Spoken word Written word
Mandarin tʂʰa
Japanese tʃa
Korean tʃʰa
Vietnamese tʂa trà
Persian tʃay چای‎
Bangla tʃa চা
Hindi tʃay चाय
Russian tʃay чай
Turkish tʃay çay
Arabic ʃay شاي
Hausa ʃayi shayi
Fula ata:yi ataayi
Swahili tʃai chai
Portuguese ʃa chá

motor 'motor, engine'

Language Spoken word Written word
Spanish motor motor
English moʊtəɹ motor
French motœʁ moteur
Russian motor мотор
Turkish motor motor
Persian motor موتور
Arabic mutu:r موتور
Hindi motər मोटर
Japanese mo:ta: モーター
Mandarin muotuo 摩托

Examples of semiglobal words

bandera 'flag'

Language Spoken word Written word
Portuguese bɐndeiɾa bandeira
Spanish bandeɾa bandera
English bænəɹ banner
French baniɛʁ bannière
Indonesian bəndera bendera
Amharic bandera ባንዴራ
Swahili bandera bandera
Kongo bande:la bandêla

kamiza 'shirt'

Language Spoken word Written word
Italian kamitʃa camicia
Spanish kamisa camisa
Portuguese kɐmiza camisa
French ʃəmiz chemise
Arabic qami:s قميص
Amharic ʃəmiz ሸሚዝ
Urdu qami:z قمیض
Hindi qami:z क़मीज़
Indonesian kəmedʒa kemeja
Filipino kamisa kamisa

Examples of South Asian words

pal 'fruit'

Language Spoken word Written word
Hindi phal फल
Bangla phal ফল
Telugu phalamu
Tamil palam பழம்
Thai phon(la) ผน(ละ)

Examples of East Asian words

lai 'come'

Language Spoken word Written word
Mandarin lai 来 (lái)
Cantonese loi
Vietnamese la:i lại
Japanese rai

Examples of words from Arabic

dua 'prayer'

Language Spoken form Written word
Arabic duʿa: دعاء
Persian doʕa دعاء
Turkish dua dua
Kazakh duɣa дұға
Indonesian doa doa
Hausa adduʕa addu'a
Yoruba adura àdúrà

kitab 'writing'

This word means book in many languages. The original Arabic word means all kinds of writing.

Language Spoken form Written word
Arabic kita:b كتاب
Persian keta:b کتاب
Urdu kitab کتاب
Hindi kitab किताब
Indonesian kitab kitab
Turkish kitap kitap
Oromo kita:ba kitaaba
Swahili kitabu kitabu

Examples of scattered words

jen 'person, people'

The word jen is combined from several unrelated sources.

  • East Asia
    • Mandarin 人 /ʐən/ (person)
    • Wu 人 /zəŋ/ (person)
    • Japanese 人 /dʒin/ (person, in some compounds)
  • the West
    • French "gens" /ʒã/ (people)
    • Portuguese "gente" /ʒenti/ (people)
  • South Asia
    • Hindi जन /dʒan/ (person, people)
    • Bengali জন /dʒon/ (counter word for people)
    • Thai ชน /t͡ɕʰon˧/ (person, people)
    • Khmer ជន /cɔ:n/ (person, people)

kamar 'room, chamber'

  • the West
    • Italian "camera" (chamber)
    • Portuguese "câmara" (chamber)
    • Spanish "cámara" (chamber)
    • German "Kammer" (chamber)
  • South Asia
    • Hindi कमरा /kəmra:/ (room)
    • Urdu کمرا /kəmra:/ (room)
    • Malay "kamar" (room)

kata 'to cut'

  • the West
    • English "cut" /kʌt/
  • South Asia
    • Hindi काटना /katna:/
    • Bengali কাটা /kata/
  • Africa
    • Arabic قَطَعَ /qaṭa’a/
    • Swahili "-kata"
  • East Asia
    • Wu Chinese 隔 /kɐʔ/
    • Vietnamese "cắt" /kɐʔt/

amir 'order, command'

Originally an Arabic word, it has been borrowed to the West as "emir" (commander of an Islamic nation) and "admiral" (commander of the navy).

  • Africa and Asia
    • Arabic أَمْر‎ /ʾamr/
    • Persian امر‎ /amr/
    • Turkish "emir"
    • Swahili "amri"
    • Hausa "umarni"
  • the West
    • English "emir" and "admiral"
    • French "amiral" (admiral)
    • Russian "эмир" (emir)