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The Key to a Universal Language

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Dr. John Lihani, in his office

The search for a universal language has a long history. In a book published in 1661, George Dalgarno adopted the idea of John Wilkins of basing a language scheme based on a classification of simple notions.

Fast forward to 2015, and the eminent professor Dr. John Lihani, formerly at the University of Kentucky. He believes he has the key to a universal language, and it is quite surprising.

“I was always interested in languages as a child,” he told me in an interview in Pasadena, California. “I kept studying so I understand 20 languages now. I can make myself understood in six languages and I use the others for research and I can read them with the help of a dictionary.”

Lihani said his inspiration came from Visiting Distinguished Professor Mario A. Pei (1901-1978), at the University of Pittsburgh (1963-64), from Columbia University. "He was a Renaissance man: he authored something like 30 books. Two that I have consulted frequently are: The World's Chief Languages, 1946, and beautifully written, The Story of Language, 1949. Of course, I have consulted scores of books for my article, Searching for Universal Speech, including David Crystal's magnificent, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 1987.


“When Pei was the visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh I attended several of his classes. The thing that influenced me more than anything in this vein (of going towards helping humanity understand itself better) was that he had supported Esperanto. After the Second World War he changed his mind. Esperanto and other artificial languages could not make itin fact they were more difficult than natural languages.”

Lihani said the change of heart by Peiz was to “apply the grammar rules of Esperanto to the most popular language we have in the worldEnglish. That stayed with me, latent, until I retired, then I knew what I wanted to do. “

His study of many years shows that “English is already the easiest language in the world. People who have learned English have modified it so much throughout the centuries that it is the easiest language. If you learn Esperanto or some other artificial language (over 200 of them) you have hardly anyone to speak to!” Yes, the surprise is English has been the answer all along. It is a ready-made universal language.

With Lihani’s language program, a person who knows little or no English can learn it in half the time it takes with traditional methods.

Lihani’s research has a direct relevance to southern Florida because one of the books he has written is Transitional English for Speakers of Spanish. Educational leaders in Florida need to seriously look into this project. Contact Dr. Lihani at this email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Global English Research Project has a website under construction:


Photo of Dr. Lihani by C. Cunningham


For those who want more details, here is the Introduction for his book on Chinese:



We have a daringly new, extremely effective and efficient, simplified English methodology, called “Transitional English,” TE, for short. “Transitional English” is that phase of English which lies between no knowledge of the language, and knowledge of its standard form. TE is meant to be accessible freely on the Internet for the average world citizen, who wishes to learn easily to communicate with anyone else who speaks English.

Fifteen percent of the world’s population already can communicate in English as its first, or second language. An additional six percent of the world’s people, who speak and read Spanish, have free access to simplified TE through the courtesy of the University of Kentucky at the following website: /

An additional fifteen percent of the Earth’s citizens will be able to benefit by this new website which is being created by an experienced webmaster, Adrian Cook, who has graciously undertaken to establish a site by which speakers of Chinese can also freely and easily learn to communicate in “Transitional English,” with the rest of the Planet’s English speakers.

The copyright for the “Transitional English for Speakers of Chinese,” is held by its translator, Yongnian “Dean” Gu, former Dean of the Department of Foreign Languages at Anhui Normal University in Wuhu, China. After the current site is established, thirty-six percent of the world’s peoples will have free access to TE as a global lingua franca. All of this is due to the generous nature of volunteer workers whose goal is to improve understanding among the world’s humanity with a deep respect for its diversity.

The next step to building linguistic bridges, which would expand the understanding and well-being of nearly eighty-eight percent of the world’s humans, will involve the translation of TE into the following languages: Arabic, Bahasa-Indonesia, Bengali, Farsi, French, German, Hindustani, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

We gratefully still depend upon qualified volunteer translators who will retain the copyrights to their works. It is our hope that eventually the remaining languages of the 93 represented by members of the General Assembly of the United Nations will also be prepared in translation along the successful format established by Dean Gu in his “Transitional English for Speakers of Chinese.”

Repeated exams of adult English, Level One classes, have established that those who study with simplified “Transitional English” texts, designed in their native language, acquire nearly twice as much of the English language, than do those who study with Standard English grammar-based texts, during the same intervals of time.

Global intercultural and interpersonal communication is of utmost importance for many reasons, one is to help save humanity from the deadly consequences of further global warming, by switching from fossil fuels (coal, and petroleum), to renewable energy (sun and wind power). Our heartfelt thanks go to Jericho Road Pasadena, and its Director, Melanie Goodyear, for having connected us with our indispensable volunteer webmaster, Adrian Cook. – John Lihani, Ph.D., Director, Transitional English and Global Dialects; email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Between the two World Wars , two British scholars, C.K. Oden and I.A. Richards, discovered simplified English vocabulary and called it Basic English. This Basic English vocabulary had a profound effect on the teaching of English and of the Foreign Languages after World War II. Many foreign language texts presented their version of the Basic vocabulary appropriate for their languages’ beginning classes.

There were expectations that the simplified English vocabulary would lead to the adoption of Basic English as a universal form of global speech communication for the human race. Linguists, like the distinguished Mario Pei of Columbia University along with Joshua Fishman and Charles Ferguson, both of Stanford University, along with Braj Kachru of the University of Illinois, all called for someone to simplify English and establish therefrom a methodology of English pedagogy that would be attractive not only for the elite elements of the Earth’s inhabitants, but also acceptable to the average masses of the world, many of whom were already bilingual with their neighboring local peoples’ languages. There was hope that simplified vocabulary would lead to the acceptance of a global second language.

But Basic English lacked grammar, and over time as hope for a universal language faded, individual tribal desires surged to the fore, while global misunderstandings and national fervor became more and more evident, geolinguists grew more insistent in expressing desire to see a simplified English presented to the world’s public for better interpersonal and intercultural understanding. The focus would be on the average individual dweller of this planet, rather than the academically inclined college educated elite persons.

Repeated classroom tests and exams of the drastically simplified Transitional English classes revealed that adult students tended to learn nearly twice as much English as did their counterparts who studied with Standard English grammar based texts. Clearly, the simplification methodology should be expanded, not only to the average adult, but also to the teenager, and to elementary school children who can pick it up rather quickly.

The Theory of Language Simplification further holds, that once a student can communicate with sufficient vocabulary, then the Standard English grammar is also learned much more quickly than heretofore was possible, and in just a matter of a few years, rather than of decades, all of humanity will be able to communicate with Transitional English for better and easier global understanding. And it’s all free.

Currently English is available freely on the Internet for speakers of Spanish, and as these lines are being read it is also now accessible on the Internet freely for Speakers of Chinese. This amounts to 21% of the world’s population having access to easily learned English, and when it is added to the 15% of the world’s population which already speaks English we have a total of 36% of the world’s population capable of communication in English.

With just 16 more translations of the simplified TE text 52% of the world’s population will be added to the above percentage, and there will be a total of 88% of the world’s population capable of quickly and freely carrying on a friendly Basic English conversation throughout the globe thanks to Transitional English. All this thanks to the addition of generous expertise from the likes of Dean Yongnian Gu, translator, and webmaster, Adrian Cook, who have collaborated with TE author, John Lihani for the text of TE for Speakers of Chinese.

We are grateful for these fantastic unpaid volunteers who make all of this possible. The 16 languages we alluded to above include: Arabic, Bahasa-Indonesia, Bengali, Farsi, French, German, Hindustani, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese. Naturally, all translators own the copyrights to their works. In addition to these new works, there are 75 more languages represented in the General Assembly of the United Nations, where a total of 93 different languages are represented.

The 75 additional translations for the remainder of the languages in the United Nations General Assembly, for a total of 98% of the world’s population, leaves a large number of people whose first language lies within the 6909 minus the 93, or 6,816 languages spoken by a mere, but significant 2% of the world’s population, amounting to 146 million speakers, many of whom, perhaps most of whom, are already bilingual in one or in several of the 93 more dominant languages referred to above. In this group of 6816 languages, several have as many as a million speakers, but on the average, most of them are spoken by groups averaging around 20 to 30 thousand speakers. In the USA there are some 700 different American Indian languages, and hundreds more are found in Canada and Mexico. South America contains perhaps over a thousand indigenous languages, the same can be said about Africa, Australia, and many parts of Asia, and Oceania. Even Europe has several languages struggling for survival.

Some linguistic scholars have dedicated themselves to the study, and documentation of the less spoken languages which, on the estimated average, are dying out at the rate of 40 per year, as young people tend to shift from the smaller native tongues to the more ubiquitous, prevalent, and more powerful languages. As the number of human beings has multiplied, so languages have unified and at the same time separated humanity. This dichotomy of language-purpose, of simultaneous cohesion and division of people has progressed from the family and tribal stages, to those of city states, then unifying into nations, at times to continents, and ultimately to global units, followed by universal ones, which now lie before humanity.

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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