Occidental

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The International Auxiliary Language

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What is Occidental?

The best way to think of Occidental is as a tidied-up common Western European. It's the French or the Spanish you wish you had learned in school, because it keeps the common vocabulary but removes the parts that make them difficult. For example, to form the simple past tense you change the r in the verb to a t. And to form the simple future tense, you put a va in front of it.

Yes, you just finished learning the simple past and future tenses. Try doing that in two sentences with a natural language.

But because it's a tidied-up common Western European, it also looks like it. English liberty and French liberté is libertá, English moon and Spanish luna is lune (think lunar), English sit and Italian sedere is seder (think sedentary).

It was created in 1922 in Tallinn, Estonia, reached its height in Europe just before World War II, went into decline and nearly died in the 1980s after which it came back to life.

See Wikipedia for more.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What about Interlingua, Esperanto, Lingwa de Planeta, and other Auxlangs? What sets Occidental apart from the rest?

All auxlangs are made with the best of intentions and deserve respect. Out of the hundreds and even thousands of proposed projects, the ones mentioned above are some of the very few that have ever managed to achieve an active user base, and that makes them unique.

Having said that, what makes Occidental unique is the following:

  • It looks like a natural language. Most people conclude it must be a dialect similar to Catalan or Occitan, spoken in the area between Spain and France. And that means that:
  • It's remarkably easy to read. About one or two billion people can work their way through an Occidental text without ever having seen one before.
  • However, it's still a language created to be as easy as possible. It's a language that you can learn in a few weeks and come out knowing how to read a lot of related languages like Italian and French without having studied them before. And as the next question shows, you’ll come out knowing a lot more about English too.

Some of the auxlangs above have an appearance as natural as Occidental, and others have a grammar as (and even a little bit more) regular. But no language has managed to blend a natural look and regular grammar as well as Occidental has. That's why it took its creator 30 years to put it together.


Why should I spend time learning Occidental instead of a natural language?

Occidental can be thought of as the simplified and tidied up quintessence of the Western European languages, or rather Europe’s Greco-Roman heritage. The common vocabulary is connected but hidden, and Occidental makes it visible. Take the word father for example. Why is it patre and not some other word? It’s because it serves the key role in words related to it that we all know.

patre
(patr·e) father
patria
(patr·ia) homeland (fatherland)
expatriate
(ex·patr·ia·t·e) expatriate (ex means out, from, or out from)
patriarch
(patr·i·arch) patriarch
patriot
(patr·i·ot) patriot
patriotisme
(patr·i·ot·isme) patriotism
repatriation
(re·patr·i·a·t·ion) repatriation

Now in other languages this is hidden: patre is père in French (the t is gone), padre in Spanish. But when we get to the derived terms, we see the t come back. This is the ingrained common root that Occidental uses.

Occidental French Spanish
patre père padre
expatriate expatrié/é expatriado/a
patriarch patriarche patriarca
patriot patriote patriota
patriotisme patriotisme patriotismo
repatriation rapatriement repatriación

When you know Occidental, the common roots simply become visible in a way excelled by maybe only Latin. Have a look over the following list and see just how clear the vocabulary becomes when expressed in Occidental.

Intervalle
(interval), formed from inter (between) and valle (mound, bulwark). Literal meaning: a "between-walls”.
Ínevitabil
(inevitable), formed from ín (reverses the meaning), evitar (to evade) → evit·abil. Literal meaning: “un-evade-able”.
burgeonant
(burgeoning): a burgeon is a bud in Occidental. Then verbalized as burgeonar → burgeona·nt
vernal
(vernal): Think of the vernal equinox, the day in March when day and night are of equal length and spring officially begins. In Occidental verne means spring
radicalisme
(radicalism): the word radica means root. A radical is someone “rooted” in an ideology.
seculari
(secular): a secul is a century in Occidental. -ari turns it into an adjective meaning something of this era (something that is a product of its time).
nomination
(nomination): a nómine is a name. This one is easy: a nomination is literally a “naming”.

What about the uncanny valley?

It is a valid concern that Occidental is in the uncanny valley for Romance language speakers in particular. However, see this quote below:

The "Uncanny Valley" is much the same as what I've called the "Rube Effect": a feature of a system that makes me feel illiterate for using it. [...] My point was that if there is a slight resemblance between the new system and ones already known, you can accept it as coincidence and use it as a mnemonic, but if the resemblance is great, then any deviation will be perceived as an error.

Thus the "Romance" aspect of Esperanto is fairly low, so it doesn't bother me when it does something non-Romance. But when Interlingua does something non-Romance, such as not having multiple negation (which Occidental does allow), it not only seems wrong, but almost deceptive: I feel set up, taken in by its Romance appearance. Because Occidental doesn't look entirely Romance (the pronoun "it," past tense in -t, "lass," "mey," etc.) I may find it annoying, perhaps, but I don't feel deceived.

I once wrote that when you visit Interlingua, it answers the door in a Romance mask, ushers you inside, exchanges pleasantries, and goes to get you some tea. Then it pours the tea on your head and reverts to the mask. "Is something wrong?"

When you visit Occidental, it resembles some Romance languages you've known, but it looks more like a creole of Romance and English. It almost immediately slaps you in the face, says, "I'm not Romance," and then invites you in and is a gracious host. In other words, it establishes independence early on, and you either accept it or leave. Interlingua maintains a Romance guise most of the time, only to do something really alien when you aren't expecting it.

This is why I kept seeing native speakers of Romance languages trying to fix Interlingua: when you try something that seems odd, even though the grammar may specifically permit it, you're wrong. You cannot really say "Ille vide me," even though it's technically allowed (it is completely acceptable as "Il vide me" in Occidental).

Steve Rice in Auxlang Listserv

Esperanto and other auxlangs only use a few suffixes to form words while Occidental has quite a few. Why not use fewer?

The suffixes in Occidental are in fact already present in Esperanto and similar languages (substanco, direktoro, sentimento, spekulativa, etc.). The difference is that in Occidental these are regularly formed using its own internal rules (sub + star + -ntie = substantie, directer + -or = director, sentir + -ment = sentiment, specular + de Wahl's rule + iv = speculativ, etc.) and do not need to be imported as foreign loanwords. [More details]


What if we need to create new words today?

Occidental was created to follow a natural evolution similar to the natural languages, where usage or lack of it decides the fate of a word. And Occidental's large body of literature and wealth of suffixes taken from the natural languages makes the creation of new words easy.

Here for example is an article published in 1948 on atomic theory in Occidental when the field was completely new, showing how easily it dealt with the new nomenclature with words such as atomic (atom·ic), ionisation (ion·isar -> ion·isa·t·ion), resonantie (re·son·ar -> re·sona·nt·ie), and so on.

Because of this, the best way to create new words is to simply learn the language well.

On top of this, Occidental does not require any specific endings for words so international words can generally be imported without change.


Occidental looks very Romance. Does a word in Occidental have to match a Romance word to be correct?

Not at all. Occidental tends to form words that either match an existing international word, are very close to one, or one that other languages could have created themselves but simply have not.

We do not hesitate to form words like “ludette, plorada, substantival, pruntation, credaci, perdibil, leonello, musicastro, plumallia, tassade, sucrage, glotton, stridore, hesitatori, successosi, flexura” etc. etc. without asking ourselves whether these words are international or not...They always represent forms that living languages would have been able to produce using their own means.


How can I get involved with the Occidental language and contribute?

The fun thing about Occidental as a newly-revived language is that you can start to contribute to it and give it new life pretty quickly after getting the basics down. On top of that, because it is also an auxlang with a long history, it has a lot of existing content and established infrastructure that new languages are still working on.

That means it has:

  • A Wikipedia that you can contribute to.
  • It has its own Wiktionary, but you can also add the Occidental equivalents to words on Wiktionaries in other languages as well. See the translations in airport, for example.
  • In Glosbe you can add words and translation memories. Translation memories are very important as they show how a word works in practice. Here is one example. To add translation memories you can go through the back issues of Cosmoglotta here and look for sentences to translate into English or your own language.
  • You can add sentences to Tatoeba as well. As of August 2019, Occidental (Interlingue) has over 6000 phrases and is in 50th place.
  • You can translate some of the content from the English Wikipedia page on Interlingue into your own language. This page was recently added to and has become 5 times larger and more detailed than it was a year ago, so there is a lot of new information to translate into other languages.

And of course, just by learning the language and interacting with the community, you are contributing!