Hand-book of Volapük/2

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INTRODUCTION[edit]

Volapük is designed to serve as a means of communication between persons whose native languages are not the same. Such a medium has long been regarded as desirable. The hope has often been expressed that one of the great national languages may, by common consent, be selected as a "universal language" ; but there is not the slightest probability that this great advantage will be voluntarily given to one nation, or that any one of the great powers can ever impose its language on others.

Volapük is one of numerous attempts at solving the problem of a common language. Without entering into a discussion of their merits, it is sufficient to say that no other attempt has ever passed beyond the experimental stage or been actually used, to any considerable extent, for the communication of thought. Volapük has now become so widely diffused that it can no longer be treated as a mere project, and some acquaintance with its history and the general principles of its construction will be desired by educated persons.

This "world-language" was invented and first published in 1879 by JOHANN MARTIN SCHLEYER, a German, and a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, who had become a very accomplished linguist. The system is entirely his production, and has not been modified in any essential point.

His aim was, first, to produce a language capable of expressing thought with the greatest clearness and accuracy ; second, to make its acquisition as easy as possible to the greatest number of human beings. He resolved to seek these ends by observing the processes of the many languages with which he was acquainted ; following them as models wherever they are clear, accurate and simple, but avoiding their faults, obscurities and difficulties.

The material and the form, or the dictionary and the grammar, call upon different mental faculties. One's stock of words is retained by exercise of the memory. Therefore the radicals or root-words were generally so chosen by him from existing languages, that the greatest number of persons might have the fewest unfamiliar words to memorize. Since English is spoken as a mother-tongue by more millions than any other language he took from it more root-words, with or without modification, than from any other, or about 40 per cent. of the whole. The selection is limited by such considerations as brevity, distinctness and ease of utterance -- difficult and unusual sounds and combinations being excluded.

Thus, in selecting a word for the idea man, the English word is found very suitable, especially as it is substantially the same in all other Teutonic tongues ; and it has been adopted, but sounded as in German. The word house, or haus, for the idea or a dwelling, is found objectionable for several reasons: the h is to be avoided because unpronounceable by some nations,</A>and the s is already appropriated for the plural termination. The Teutonic roots being barred out, recourse is had to the Latin, and dom is selected. We are also familiar with this in English, as in domestic. In hand again we have the same trouble with h and also with the two consonants coming together, the plural hands being unpronounceable by certain peoples. The Latin root man- will not help us here, because man is already appropriated. Therefore, the transposed form nam is adopted, slightly assisting the memory.

As to grammar, the first requisite is regularity, and the second is simplicity. There was before the inventor a choice between the inflectional and the analytical modes ; whether to express the relations between words by modifications in form, or by separate words as connectivs. He inclined to the former, and his language is rather inflectional than analytical. It has four cases: the nominativ, being the unmodified form, and the genitiv, dativ and accusativ, designated by vowel endings. In selecting these endings the inventor has greatly aided the memory by employing the first three vowels, a, e, i, in their regular order. In the verb, the distinctions of tense are denoted by the vowel series, a, ä, e, i, o, u, at the beginning, while the persons are distinguished by affixing the pronouns, ob, I, ol, thou, etc. A prefixed p marks the passiv voice. The remaining inflectional forms are provided for by simple and regular terminations.

For some time after the Schleyer's grammar, his adherents were few, and his project was ignored by the scientific and literary world. It spread first to Austria where it awakened considerable interest, and where the first society for its propagation was formed at Vienna in 1882. Until 1884 its adherents outside of the German-speaking countries were very few and scattered. In that year it invaded Holland and Belgium, and a great many societies sprang up in those countries. In 1885, Dr. Auguste Kerckhoffs, Professor in the School of Higher Commercial Studies, at Paris, introduced it to the French nation by several articles, lectures and treatises. This created a great sensation in France and a strong National Association "pour la propagation du Volapük" was formed, which numbers such men as Francisque Sareey, Emile Gauthier, and Dr. Allaire.

Prof. Kerckhoffs aroused enthusiasm, not only in France, but in other countries where his works were circulated. Spain was the next, followed by Italy and Portugal. During 1885 and 1886 the countries of the north -- Sweden, Denmark and Russia -- also received the new language. Thus, the extension of Volapük has been geographical, and the English-speaking peoples are the last of the great European races to be affected by it. In each country, as a rule, its popularization has immediately followed the publication of a grammar peculiarly suited to its people.

Prof. Kerckhoffs, some months ago, estimated the number of persons who have studied Volapük at 210,000. This may be somewhat too high, but the number is certainly very large. In Vienna alone, the classes during the winter of 1886-7 were attended by 2,500 students. 138 societies for its cultivation have been organized in different places.

Eleven periodicals are now published, devoted primarily to Volapük, at Constance, Breslau, Madrid, Paris, Vienna, Munich, Puerto-Rico, Stockholm Aabybro (Denmark), and Antwerp, the youngest being four months old, and the oldest, six years. Most of these contain articles in the language of the country, as well as in Volapük ; but three of them, one being a humorous paper, are exclusively in Volapük.
The bibliography of the subject (as given at length in "Le Volapük," No. 10) comprises 96 books in 13 languages. This does not include articles in periodicals, nor Schleyer's single-sheet compendiums in various languages, nor works merely announced as fortheoming.

Two General Assemblies, or Congresses, of the advocates or Volapük, have been held: the first at Friedrichshafen, in August, 1884 ; the second at Munich, in August, 1887. The third is to take place at Paris, probably in August, 1889.

The Congress of 1887 established a three-fold organization: a General Association of the supporters of Volapük (Volapükaklub Valemik); an Academy of Volapük (Kadem Volapüka) ; a Central Organ (Volapükabled Zenodik). Schleyer's own Weltspracheblatt, published at Constance, was designated as the organ, and its name has been changed accordingly. Each of these organizations has its officers, Schleyer remaining at the head of the whole movement. The Director of the Academy is Prof. Kerckhoffs; his colleagues number, at present, 17, from various nations: Germany, Austro-Hungary, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Holland, England, the United States, Russia, Syria. The Academy is expected to edit the standard dictionary and grammar, to authorise new words, to adopt any necessary changes, and to give their sanction to approved works of instruction.

The most obvious application of Volapük is for international correspondence, especially commercial correspondence, which is numerically the most important. It will require no argument to convince the business world that a common language, if easily learned, and once established, will be an immense facilitation of commerce. This modest claim is all that is necessary to put forth on behalf of Volapük at present. If firmly established for this purpose, the extension of its usefulness into the fields of science, diplomacy and literature may safely be left to the future to determine, as well as whether it will ever be used by travelers. It will, in any event, be watched with great interest, and its rise and progress will form a novel and curious chapter of history.