Pandunia - a global contact language


This article describes why and how Pandunia was created to be an equally global auxiliary language.

The big picture

Many people are used to seeing this kind of world map. It is the famous Mercator projection map. Unfortunately it distorts the land area terribly.

Why is that? The world is a 3-dimensional globe and drawing it into a flat, 2-dimensional map is not easy. Equal-area projections, such as the Equal Earth projection below, show land areas correctly. Compare the sizes of Greenland and Africa in these two maps. In the Mercator projection Greenland appears bigger, but the Equal Earth projection shows correctly that in reality Africa is 14 times bigger than Greenland.

That is the natural world. We live also in a human world, which comprises of nations that are divided by borders. In a normal map of countries of the world, sizes of the countries are defined by their geographic area.

However the map projection below is based on the population of countries, not on their geographic area.

In our opinion the world language should represent the human world. Every part of the world, every culture, should be treated fairly and democratically. The grammar should be easy for all. Areal linguistic characteristics, such as Standard Average European, are not suitable guidelines for the world language. Instead, the grammar should be built from things that are universally known and/or universally considered easy.

Languages of the world and world languages

The fifteen most widely spoken languages in the world are listed in the table below. The table is ordered by the number of native speakers. The numbers are educated estimates based on data in Ethnologue and Wikipedia.

Ranking Language Native speakers Non-native speakers
1 Mandarin Chinese 899 million 178 million
2 English 500 million 510 million
3 Spanish 500 million 70 million
4 Hindi-Urdu 438 million 214 million
5 Arabic 290 million 132 million
6 Portuguese 230 million 32 million
7 Bengali 226 million 19 million
8 Russian 160 million 115 million
9 Punjabi 146 million 1 million
10 Japanese 130 million 1 million
11 German 95 million 15 million
12 Hausa 85 million 65 million
13 French 80 million 192 million
14 Telugu 80 million 12 million
15 Malay-Indonesian 77 million 204 million

The numbers make it clear that Mandarin Chinese is by far the largest language by number of native speakers, while English is the language with the greatest number of second language speakers. Both of them are spoken by over one billion speakers in total. However they are followed by languages, whose speakers are also counted in hundreds of millions.

It is estimated that over 6000 different languages are spoken in the world. However, 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.

Spelling and pronunciation

The most widely used alphabet

There are many writing systems in the world today but only a handful of them are international. The most popular writing systems are the Roman alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet, the Arabic script and the Chinese pictographic symbols.

Only the Roman alphabet has become truly global. Most languages of Europe, the Americas and Africa are written in the Roman alphabet. Also several notable languages in Asia, including Turkish, Malay and Vietnamese, are written in the Roman alphabet.

Therefore the Roman alphabet is the obvious choice for the international language.

Only five vowels

Pandunia has few vowels compared to both English and Chinese. There are 14-20 vowels in English (the exact number depends on the dialect) and 9 vowels in Standard Chinese.

Pandunia has only five pure vowels: a, e, i, o, u. The number is approximately the same as the global average, which is 5-6 vowels In this respect, Pandunia is close to languages like Spanish (5 vowels), Swahili (5 vowels), Japanese (5 vowels) and Indonesian (6 vowels).

Common consonants

Pandunia has also less consonants than English and Mandarin. Most consonant letters are pronounced in the same way in all three languages. The table below shows what consonant sounds correspond to each other in Pandunia, English and Mandarin. Sounds that are present in English or Mandarin but not in Pandunia are enclosed in parenthesis.

Pandunia English Mandarin Pinyin
Nasals m n ng m n ng m n ng
Stops p b t d k g p b t d k g p b t d k g
Liquids l r y v l r y w l r y w (yü)
Sibilants s z sh s z sh (zh) s z* sh (x)
Fricatives f h f h (v th th) f h
Affricates ch j ch j ch zh (q j c)

Easy to pronounce

A syllable consists of one core vowel and possible consonants. In some languages syllables are simpler than in others. For example in Japanese the heaviest syllables consist of an initial consonant, a vowel and a final nasal consonant. This is why Japanese sounds light and vocalic. In English, on the other hand, it is possible to cram many consonants in one syllable, as in "strict sprints".

Pandunia is somewhere in the middle. Most syllables are simple a-consonant-and-a-vowel pairs but also more complex syllables are allowed, especially in internationally known technical terms. For example kristal (crystal) is a complex word by Pandunia standards.

There are two ways to simplify words that are too complex for the international language:

  1. Select a simpler variant of the same word from another language. For example, the English word project ends in two consonants but the same word in Portuguese is projeto.
  2. Break the consonant clusters by adding vowels. For example, the English word sport is too complex but the same word in Portuguese is esporte, which breaks the difficult consonant clusters in the beginning and end by additional vowels.

Regular spelling

English spelling is notoriously irregular. Pīnyīn was created more recently, in the 1950s, but unfortunately it also has some irregularities, simply because there are more sounds in spoken Chinese than there are letters in the Roman alphabet. Still, in comparison to English, Pinyin is very regular. For example the English rhymes my, sigh, lie, and rye would be written in Pīnyīn mai, sai, lai, rai. It is as simple as that!

Pandunia can be spelled regularly because it has fewer speech sounds (24) than there are letters in the basic Roman alphabet (26). The alphabet of Pandunia is:
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p r s t u v x y z

Pandunia has almost perfect letter-to-sound correspondence. One letter stands for one sound only. One sound is represented by exactly one letter. Every word is pronounced as it is written.

Easy accent

Texts in Pīnyīn are loaded with accent marks, as in "Wǒmen yě huì shuō zhōngguòhuá." They mark tones. In Standard Chinese, each syllable is pronounced in one of the four tones or in the unmarked neutral tone.

English doesn't have word tones but it has word stress. Word stress is variable in English, so the position of stress is unpredictable. In a written expression like "totally fantastic personnel", nothing shows that each word has the stress on a different syllable. If the stress was marked on the vowels, it might look something like this: "tótally fantástic personnél".

Tones are hard to learn for people who are not used to them. Variable stress is hard to learn for people who are used to fixed stress. Neither word tone nor variable word stress are necessary in the world language.

Pandunia doesn't have lexical tone, and it has fixed stress. The stress falls on the syllable before the last consonant. Like this: hálo! mí vól lóga a bón dúnia básha. (Hello! I want to speak the good world language.)

The simplest structure

Languages can be categorized by two parameters:

  • Is a single word made of few or many parts?
  • Are those parts easy to separate or fused together?

The widely spoken languages can be categorized into four types according to these parameters.

  1. Analytic languages – Words are made of few, distinct parts.
    • Mandarin Chinese
  2. Analytic fusional languages – Words are made of few, fused parts.
    • English
  3. Agglutinative languages – Words are made of many, distinct parts.
    • Japanese, Malay-Indonesian, Telugu
  4. Synthetic fusional languages – Words are made of many, fused parts.
    • Spanish, Portuguese, French
    • German, Russian
    • Hindi-Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi
    • Arabic, Hausa

Usually languages are a mixture of different types. For example, in English the plural can be formed in several different ways. Many a cat is an analytic phrase that consists of three separate words. Cats is an agglutinative word that consists of two distincts parts, cat and -s. Leaves is a fused word that consists of two parts, leaf and -s.

Pandunia is an analytic language. Its words consist of few parts and they are clearly separable. This is a good thing because it makes the language easy to learn and use in comparison to languages where words are longer or fused of many parts.

Parts of word

The word is made of a root and optional affixes, which are attached to the root word. Prefixing languages put affixes before the root and suffixing languages put affixes after the root. Some languages put affixes on both sides or even inside the root. Usually languages use several different ways. For example English uses both prefixes (ex. un-kind) and suffixes (ex. kind-ly).

Suffixing languages are the most common type. Indo-European languages, Telugu, Chinese and Japanese are mostly suffixing.

Chinese has no inflection. Words are only combined into larger words. Some words have a special meaning when they appear as a part of a larger word. These so called bound morphemes are much like suffixes.

English, Spanish and Hindi-Urdu use mainly root and affix system. The meaning is changed by adding dependent parts before and after the root. For example "booklets" consists of root book and affixes -let (which adds meaning of smallness) and -s (which adds plural meaning). Most affixes can't stand alone, they always need to be fixed to a root.

Arabic uses transfixes. The root consists of (usually three) consonants and it is changed by inserting a pattern of vowels between them. Arabic also has many prefixes and suffixes for creating additional words.

Pandunia uses the simplest system. The words can consist of many parts, all of which can also stand alone as independent words. New words can be created easily.

Word orders

Different word orders are used in the languages of the world. Some of the most important areas of word order are:

  • Sentence structure. Order of subject (S), verb (V) and object (O) in a transitive clause. The most common sentence structures are subject–verb–object (SVO) and subject–object–verb (SOV).
  • Order of numeral and noun. Cardinal numeral can be either before (NumN) or after (NNum) the noun.
  • Order of adjective and noun. There are two possible orders
    1. Adjective is before the noun (AdjN)
    2. Adjective is after the noun (NAdj)
  • Order of adposition and noun.
    1. Prepositions are before the noun.
    2. Postpositions are after the noun.
  • Order of relative clause and noun. The relative clause can be either before (RelN) or after (NRel) the noun.

The table below shows what are the typical, unmarked word orders in important world languages.

Language Sentence Numeral Adjective Relative Adposition
English SVO NumN AdjN NRel pre
Chinese SVO NumN AdjN RelN post
Spanish SVO NumN NAdj NRel pre
Hindi-Urdu SOV NumN AdjN RelN post
Arabic VSO both NAdj NRel pre
Russian SVO NumN AdjN NRel pre
French SVO NumN NAdj NRel pre
Indonesian SVO NumN NAdj NRel pre
Japanese SOV NumN AdjN RelN post
Swahili SVO NNum NAdj NRel pre

Also other word orders are possible. For example in English, which normally uses the SVO order in declarative sentences, the object can be fronted in interrogative and relative clauses, as in "What did you say?"

The previous table shows that the major languages don't agree about word orders. Pandunia uses the most common word orders: subject–verb–object (SVO), numeral before the noun, adjective before the noun, relative clause after the noun and prepositions.

World words

Pandunia's words are international words.

The most frequent words

The most frequent and the most basic words, like me, you, one, two, be and do, are typically the oldest words in every language. They tend to be tend to be different from language to language, unless the languages belong to the same family.

Therefore it's almost impossible to find international words, that are in common to unrelated languages in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe, for the most basic ideas. Still, we have tried.

For example, the Pandunia word for one is un. It comes directly from the Romance languages, including French un, Spanish uno, and Portuguese um, but it can be recognized also as part of the international word union, which is known in every European language.

Personal pronouns

The personal pronouns are among the most frequent words. They are very important words and so they should sound different from each other.

The first-person pronoun often begins with M even in unrelated languages, for example English me, French moi, Spanish me, Hindi main, Finnish minä, Igbo mụ, Kongo mono, Swahili mimi, and Zulu mina. In Pandunia it is mi (I, me).

The second-person pronoun tu comes from the Indo-European family of languages, including French tu, Spanish , Russian ty and Hindi . In Pandunia it is a neutral pronoun that can be used both in informal and formal situations.

The Pandunia third-person pronoun is ye. It is inspired by many languages, including Malay ia, Hindi यह (yah), Swahili yeye and Nigerian Igbo ya. It has the remarkable benefit that it can refer to both males and females as well as lifeless objects. So it covers the English third-person pronouns he, she and it, all at once.

The plural and possessive pronouns follow the super simple patterns of Standard Chinese.

Add men to form the plural:

English Pandunia Chinese
I mi
you tu
he or she ye
we mimon wǒmen
you all tumon nǐmen
they yemon tāmen

Add su to form the possessive:

English Pandunia Chinese
my mi su wǒ de
your tu su nǐ de
his/her ye su tā de
our mimon su wǒmen de
your tumon su nǐmen de
their yemon su tāmen de

The personal pronouns in Pandunia attain three important goals.

  1. The basic pronouns (mi, tu, ye) look and sound distinct.
  2. The plural and possessive pronouns are built in a systematic way. They are not only a bunch of dissimilar words.
  3. The words are international and come from different language families.

Imitative words are global

Words whose sound imitates the sound of the associated thing or action are remarkably similar from language to language. The cat says miaow, the goat says bee, and people say yum when they eat and atchoo when they sneeze everywhere in the world. The words are not always exactly the same in every language but they are close enough.

This is why Pandunia has for example these basic global words:
mau – cat
behe – goat
meme – sheep
mumu – cow
yam – to eat achi – to sneeze
ronfi – to snore

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 novıy
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 su thuỷ
jung zung zhōng chū jung trung
shim sam xīn shin shim tâm
mun mun mén mon mun (môn)
duku duk doku dog đọc
chute cœt chū shutsu chul xuất

Applying the suffixes of Pandunia to Sinitic roots may seem unusual at first, but it is nothing new – Sinitic words are already inflected in Korean!

Easy sentences

In this section we will compare the sentence structures of Pandunia with English and Chinese, the two most widely spoken languages of the world.

The normal sentence word order is subject–verb–object – just like in English and Chinese.

English:   I love you, and you love me.
Pandunia:  mi ama tu, tu ama mi.
Chinese:   Wǒ ài nǐ, nǐ ài wǒ. (我爱你,你爱我。)

The auxiliary verb be is used when the object of the action comes first in the sentence. (This is the so called passive sentence.)

English:   Apples were eaten.
Pandunia:  aple be yam.
Chinese:   Píngguǒ bèi chī le. (苹果被吃了。)

be is a loan word from Standard Chinese, but it is also close to some uses of English "to be".

English:   It can not be eaten.
Pandunia:  ye no bil be yam.
Chinese:   Tā bù néng bèi chī. (它不能被吃。)

Like Chinese, Pandunia doesn't mark verbs with a word like "to".

English:   I invite him to drink coffee.
Pandunia:  mi ching ye yam kafe.
Chinese:   Wǒ qǐng tā hē kāfēi. (我请他喝咖啡。)

In Pandunia and Chinese, nouns can be singular or plural depending on surrounding words. There's no plural ending like -s in English. Also verbs are not conjugated. One word, si, is used instead of am, is, are, was, were...

English:   It is an apple.
Pandunia:  ye si aple.
Chinese:   Tā shì píngguǒ. (他是苹果。)

English:   They are apples.
Pandunia:  yemon si aple.
Chinese:   Tāmen shì píngguǒ. (他们是苹果。)