Popular Science Monthly/Volume 72/February 1908/The Problem of International Speech
|THE PROBLEM OF INTERNATIONAL SPEECH|
TO any thoughtful student of affairs, it is perfectly clear that, as the years go by, all the nations of the earth must inevitably become more and more closely linked together in all their interests. The present highly perfected modes of communication will become greatly improved and vastly extended. All the economic and material commercial, as well as all the intellectual interests of each people will become of increasing significance to every other one. National boundaries will, in the lapse of time, become of as purely formal, merely administrative importance as are our American state and county boundaries to-day. Already in The Hague tribunal we have the beginnings of an international supreme court. In time the United States of Europe is a conceivable possibility, with abolished frontiers and armies reduced to police forces. Commerce and industry are certain to end the folly and barbarism of war; since the rise to self-consciousness of the working classes (who fill the armies) will make their community of interest the world over plain to themselves, and they will see that to hire themselves out to kill one another is a crime to common humanity.
One prime obstacle to that clear and perfect understanding among human minds everywhere over the broad earth lies in their inability fully to comprehend one another's thoughts and purposes, because of the diversity of tongues. That this is a very serious obstacle to human progress and the development of the globe, becomes increasingly evident the more readily and easily possible communication by mail, telegraph and actual travel becomes. So long as the different peoples read little, wrote less, and traveled scarcely at all, the polyglot condition of the world was a matter of little interest. To-day it has risen to be a most serious hindrance and inconvenience to the steps of advancing humanity. It is true that almost all educated persons feel impelled to-day to attempt the learning of other languages than their own, if only to come in touch with the civilized world's literature, aside from the ordinary practical considerations. Sometimes this feeling petrifies into the pious attitude ironically commended by Lord Palmerston, who said that while it was not necessary that every gentleman should know Latin, he should at least have forgotten it.
It is trite and easy to say that this is a scientific age, but one must actually have worked in some field of science to realize the blundering, clumsy stupidity of the present language situation. A good half dozen languages at least, must become the working tools of him who conducts scientific research of any importance; for men all over the civilized globe are carrying on investigations in all the departments of science, and their results are being published in hundreds of scientific journals in many tongues. To be sure, reviewers having special acquaintance with the less known languages translate many of these investigations—or, at least, more or less imperfectly report their main features in the journals of science published in German, French, Italian and English, which all scientific men are supposed to read. It goes without saying, however, that hundreds of valuable papers are buried each year in the minor languages and dialects, while even in the four great European tongues much of importance is overlooked by reviewers in the others. The situation is even worse when an international congress is convened. Such meetings are being held with increasing frequency—twenty-two in Geneva, Switzerland, last summer—to consider all topics of common human interest: Medicine, prison reform, agriculture, peace, the Red Cross, sanitation, education, besides the special societies for all the great branches of science. At present it is the universal rule that at all such gatherings papers may be read and discussions conducted in any one of the four languages above mentioned. There are always some, often many, who can understand formal papers, if read very slowly, fairly well in at least two of these idioms. But to converse freely, easily and continuously with others upon all topics of common interest in another than one's own native tongue is a feat more often imagined than realized.
In view of the amazing progress we are daily achieving in all the other departments of human life, why, with respect to the one indispensable tool of language, should the human race suffer no improvement? Why not agree upon one auxiliary common language, which all people of moderate education may easily learn. Why must the Magyar or the Slav, the Chinese or the Japanese, of culture and intelligence, be barred by language from the tremendous world of thought in the intellectual life-centers of the globe? In the to-morrow that is coming, shall we exclude ourselves from Russian, Chinese or Japanese life and thought, as much as they to-day are excluded from ours, except at the expense of laborious language-learning. But consider for a moment the situation confronting, let us say, a cultivated Japanese desirous of entering European thought. First, Greek and Latin ought to be acquired, and English, French and German absolutely must be mastered, every one of them absolutely alien to his own tongue in grammar and vocabulary, and even in the very written signs themselves.
It is one thing to engage in the study of foreign languages with love in one's heart for the beauty of their literatures; it is quite another, and a different thing, to endure years of joyless toil, acquiring a smattering of many tongues in order to gain a mere technical ability to read the facts of science internationally. What wanton brain-waste is here. Scientific investigation and discovery are of no nation, of no language, but to be in possession of the knowledge of them, in the present crude stage of our social development, we must learn a half-score of the national languages in a way that is subversive to all mental discipline, to all culture. Either we are skated over the thin ice of a "conversational course," getting our vocabulary with our breath between glides, and with grammar served daintily, like Nabisco wafers at a luncheon. Or we have had, let us say, the good average representative "language course" in school and college. We have "pried over" from one language into another endless imbecile sentences, involving the fact that Marie, when she shall have had a lead pencil will have been happy; that Henry's uncle, who is about to return from Frankfurt, desires an inkstand for his little sister; or concerning the ravages committed by the red cow of the good grandmother in the green garden of the rich count. We have read a half dozen plays; have rendered slowly, dully, baldly, into "translation English," a few hundred pages, more or less, of standard prose and verse—and we have "had" French, we have "had" German. How many of us must testify to the inadequacy of the average "required" courses in language to give appreciation for foreign literatures, while of course their utter inefficiency, so far as the direct conversational use of these tongues is concerned, must be self-evident, in view of the laughter-provoking absurdities in style and diction, the impossible pronunciations and accents we achieve.
In one of George du Maurier's books, two little English boys in a French school are requested by the master, proud of his own English, to render into its English equivalent, "je voudrais pouvoir." Translated "I should like to be able" by the little Englishmen, they were at once corrected by the master. "Non, non, you do not know your native tongue. It is to say, 'I vould vill to can'" Being then told to translate, "je pourrais vouloir," from the small bad boys came the alert response, "I vould can to vill."
We all know, from both literature and life, the appalling waste, the tremendous throwing about of brains to little use, in much of the current study of foreign languages.
Recognizing the difficulties involved in learning the natural tongues, the minds of men have been occupied for more than two hundred years with projects for an artificial language that should be the means for international communication. But the thought naturally suggests itself—why should we not make use for this purpose, of some one of the already existing idioms, developing and simplifying it if necessary. Logically the great classical tongues of Greek and Latin come in first for consideration. It has been demonstrated, however, that for many reasons they are impossible. Their highly inflected structure, their inverted sentence order, especially in the case of the Latin, are wholly alien to the modern mind. For centuries, indeed, Latin retained a certain sort of internationality among scholars and churchmen, but not in the common walks of life; while Greek, in spite of the four millions of modern Greeks, could make no propaganda, because, in addition to countless inflections, it retains an unfamiliar alphabet.
Considering the four principal modern languages, French, English, German and Italian, the first two alone have ever been able to entertain even a hope of becoming international. Among diplomats, courtiers, officials and people of polish and culture generally, French has of course for many centuries been regarded as an indispensable tongue, and in this way it has actually attained to a limited amount of inter-nationality. The precision, neatness and certain high quality of style in its phrase, its rather simple grammar and its capacity for expressing nice distinctions and fine shades of meaning, must always strongly appeal in its favor. Its difficulties of idiom, and particularly its pronunciation and accent, which absolutely can not be correctly acquired by adults, and which can be conveyed only by the cultivated French teachers themselves to ourselves as children, preclude all hope for the universality of French in any but an academic sense.
Germany, the Mecca of scientists, publishes every year an absolutely appalling mass of scientific literature; so that to every investigator, a reading knowledge at least, of German, is as indispensable as his native tongue, whatever that may happen to be. Yet German, cumbered with a clumsy, inverted sentence-order, with its complex inflections of nouns and verbs, its incredible genders and its rather difficult pronunciation, has never dared even to aspire to internationality. Except that the Germans are indefatigable workers, and publish an inconceivable volume of scientific literature, their tongue would to-day be no more widely known than Danish.
As to our own well-beloved mother tongue, we are told on every hand (in English-speaking countries) that English is rapidly becoming the world-language. We are confronted with census statistics to this point; but an analysis of the figures somewhat weakens the force of the general assertion. In America, and in the English and American dependencies, there are absolute hordes of non-English-speaking peoples. But even were this otherwise, allowing the utmost to the figures, we should still have but a minor part of the inhabitants of the civilized world as users of English.
What are then the inducements to bring the rest of the world to the speaking of English? Who does not remember the story of the valiant British matron, who, on being accosted in southern France by the phrase, "You foreigners," replied: "No, you are 'foreigners,' we are English." To your true, insular, middle-class Englishman, all the rest of the world, with patronizing exception of the Americans, is composed of "foreigners," speaking various absurd jargons, wholly impossible to understand, but really quite unimportant after all.
Your American, knowing in his bones that he is a hopeless hash of Irish, German, Scandinavian and Hebrew, with garnishings, perhaps, of "Anglo-Saxon,"—whatever that may be or ever was—is yet no whit less provincial in his noisy assertion of the manifest destiny of the language which he has learned to speak in a way, and with various brogues and accents. To the language slogan of the English, he joins perforce the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which are to "follow the flag"—at more or less discreet distance in their more than Roman triumphal progress over the lands of the hitherto unappropriated peoples waiting to be discovered and utilized. If there be such a thing as an Anglo-Saxon idea, upon which England and America are in perfect spiritual accord, it is that all the rest of the unexploited races of the globe should be put at once into Derby hats and trousers, made by the Israelites of London, New York and Chicago, to buy which, satisfactorily and abundantly, the prospective purchasers must, of course, be made to learn "the language of Shakespeare."
The American, who is also an idealist and under illusions, would graft on the suffrage. "Buy our goods, wear our clothes, talk English and vote—for us," is the good orthodox, Anglo-American receipt for civilization.
Suppose, however, we drop national prejudices for awhile, and look at our language through other eyes.
Modern English is, as we know, a magnificent composite, possessing the richest, most varied, most expressive vocabulary imaginable. As fully heir of the polished classical tongues through the Norman French as of the homely and rugged Teutonic stocks through the Saxon, our English language certainly offers us a wealth of words without compare among the civilized tongues of to-day. Add to this a minimum of grammar, an absolute simplicity, flexibility and mobility of structure, and why should English be other than the best possible international form of speech?
What then are the deterrent factors which operate to hinder and check the spread of English? First and foremost, our absurd, impossible and chaotic spelling. To language students, of course, the evolution of our orthography is clearly traceable; but to the plain man of other nations, who has not grown up in English from King Alfred, nothing seems more witless, more grotesque, lawless and incomprehensible than our spelling, and its utter divorce from pronunciation.
We spell s-l-o-u-g-h, and call it "sluff" if we refer to an abscess, but "sloo" if we refer to a swamp, over which the wind may be said to s-o-u-g-h— "soff." Remove but the initial "s," and we no longer have a swamp, but a lake—l-o-u-g-h, pronounced "loch." Change but the "o" to "a," and we have l-a-u-g-h—"laff," but c—a-u-g-h-t—"cawt," or dr—a-u-g-h-t—"draft." Or, again we have t-o-u-g-h—"tuff," b-o-u-g-h—"bow," t-h-r-o-u-g-h—"throo" (but th-o-r—o-u-g-h, "thurrow"), c-o-u-g-h, "cawff," d-o-u-g-h, "doe," and p-l-o-u-g-h, "plow."
"Coughing in the chill wind soughing through tough boughs, which overhang the sloughy dough-like slough that joins the dismal lough, the lonely peasant sat beside his plough," would make good verbal gymnastics for the ambitious foreigner.
The sound of "e-i" is one thing in freight and weight, and another in sleight and height; and in "either" it is either eyther or eether, while to the Irishman it is nayther.
B-o-w is the "bōw" to shoot with, or the "bŏw" of a boat. A man may glōw with pride, or glŏwer in wrath. We "mōw" the hay, but put it into the "mŏw." We all agree to say "mōon" on the one hand, and "bŏok" on the other (except in England where they say "bōok"), but some of us say "rōot," "rōof" and "hōof," while others say "rŏot," "rŏof" and "hŏof." We all of us put a "fŏot" into a "bōot"' just as surely as we put a "toe" into a "shoe."
Is it any wonder that our English word system seems to a foreigner a museum of unlabeled curiosities?
Our pronunciation and accent, peculiar in themselves, varying, moreover, to distraction over the English-speaking world, are just as serious stumbling-blocks to others, as, say, French and German accent and pronunciation are to us. The six sounds of "a," the four sounds of "e," the two of "i," the five of "o" and the four of "u" give us those delicate assonances, and that fine shading of sound in words that makes for variety, interest and charm; but the complexity with which those twenty-one unmarked vowels invest the correct pronunciation of our English language is absolutely maddening to foreigners, especially since no one can possibly predict from the pronunciation of the vowels in one word their pronunciation in any other word having essentially the same spelling, and no one can possibly say what extraordinarily diverse combinations of vowels and consonants in English may not be pronounced exactly alike.
The very names, moreover, that we give to our vowels, and which are their principal and most frequently recurring sounds in our words, are, with the exception of "o," peculiar to English alone among the European family of languages, as applied to the letters in question. The so-called "continental" sounds of a, e, i, o, u, as in singing do, re, mi, fa, are practically universal, except in the English-speaking countries. Indeed, there seems to be, at least with us in America, a wide-spread sort of shamefacedness about the use of any other but the flat "ā" and "ă" sounds for "a," and the long "e" and "i" sounds for those letters. "Ask," "alf," "waft" are pronounced far and wide as "ăsk," "hălf" and "wăft," if not indeed "āysk," "hāyff" and "wāyft." "Amen" is "aye-men," "Alabama," "Kansas," "Iowa" are attractive in their vowels, properly pronounced; but "Ail-bay-ma," "Kain-zuss," "Eyé-o-way" or "Eye-ó-wi" are sufficiently common to indicate the trend among the unchecked multitudes. The Spanish "Colo-rä’-do" is beautiful; but what of our universal "Colo-răd’do," to say nothing of the unspeakable, but, alas, not unheard, "Colo-rāy’-do"? Americans, especially western Americans, do seem to feel it an affectation to use correctly the available sound-materials of the English tongue.
The point is, that while our vowel sounds do admit of beauty and euphony in the spoken tongue, and while our better speakers and more cultivated people do actually use their delicate shadings, to the delight of sensitive ears, the general drift among the English-speaking masses is to limit themselves to the use of a few of the least attractive and melodious of these sounds, and to those which are the least familiar to the masses of other nations as applied to the letters in question. This tendency certainly does not add to the allurements of English for foreigners. So far as the consonants are concerned, we undoubtedly possess one combination, the "th" sound, as in "the," which seems to present unusual difficulties to almost all other peoples. Who can formulate a rule that will cover the irregularities exhibited by "gem" and "get," by "ginger" and "gimlet," by "gill," the measure, and "gill," of fish; of "s" in "serve" and "preserve," "sound" and "resound," "hawsers" and "trousers," that will serve to aid the foreigner learning English?
Taking our orthography as a whole, there seems to be but little hope for the success of any radical scheme for revision. Witness the hoots of derision that, from London to San Francisco, have followed at the heels of Mr. Carnegie and his simple spellers, with their little handful of three hundred phoneticized words. As a matter of fact we are proud of our spelling as a national heritage. It preserves for us "the history of the language." We have a word "phthisical" which we should spell "tizical," since that is its peculiar pronunciation. We refuse to spell it in that way, because the combinations "ph" and "th" have been arbitrarily chosen to represent two Greek letters that do not exist in our alphabet! Despite the weakness of the argument for our orthography as preserving the historical origins of words, it remains as the most potent, because the most sentimental obstacle to reform, unless it be that blind subservience to routine, that love of the unchanged thing for its own sake alone. Be this as it may, our English orthography will gradually, and in time, conform more and more to phonetic principles. But for the practical needs of the non-English, the interest of the language as a world speech, the movement is fairly glacial in its slowness, and the world will not wait.
Our English grammar, while simple in the main, presents some most eccentric irregularities in the conjugation of the verbs and the nouns. Consider some of our amusing singulars and plurals. A dealer, wishing to buy a dozen of that tailor's article called a "goose," after hanging despairingly between "geese" and "gooses" wrote "Send me one tailor's goose. P.S. Send eleven more of the same." We say "mouse" and "mice," but "house" and "houses" (howzes), "blouse" and "blouses" (blowses), while we also say "grouse" and "grouse" alike in singular and plural.
Perhaps our verbs are simple in their use for the most part; but how many of us are absolutely safe on our feet with respect to the use of "may" and "can," of "flee" and "fly," of "shall" and "will," or, dare I say, even of "sit" and "set," or of "lie" and "lay" on occasion? We think we know we sit down, that the sun and the hen, set, and that we set bread. And perhaps we are quite positive as to what we and the sun have done, grammatically speaking, when we have concluded our actions. But after the setting hen has commenced to "set," has she "set," has she "sat," or has she been "seated ?" We are as confident that sun "rises" as that it "sets"; and as confident that we "raise" as that we "set" the bread, but how many of us do not vaguely wonder at times, when the process is over, whether that bread has really "risen," or whether it has not "raised" after all?
The conjugation of the verb, that bugbear in all languages, has been reduced to a trifle in English, but we must not forget the distracting irregularities in the past and perfect tenses which our children and uneducated people with logical instinct are constantly endeavoring to straighten out. Why need we say "catch" and "caught," but "snatch" and "snatched," "sing, sang, sung" but "bring, brought, brought"? We say "see, saw, seen," "saw, sawed, sawn." But put the two together into "see-saw," and behold, we say that we have "see-sawed," not that we have "seen-sawn." We have "lit," or we have "lighted" the lamp, but we have "bitten" the apple, even against the authority of the baby, who says "bited." There are those of us who would find it immensely easier to tell whether a man had been "drunk," than to know at once, and on the spot, whether the cause of his intoxication were something he "had drunk" or "had drank."
To conclude: the presence of numberless colloquial idioms, impossible to "parse" or to explain by any simple rule, such as render the plays of Shakespeare almost incomprehensible to foreigners, such as throw into despair the students of Aristophanes, these are the characteristic features of every "natural" language, different in each, and no less difficult in the English than elsewhere. While they give a tongue much of its piquancy, its individuality, they immensely augment the difficulties of its mastery.
But, finally, there are two fundamental inescapable facts, inherent in the nature of things, which will inevitably make it impossible for any great living tongue—the native language of any people, however powerful and aggressive—to become, in the widest and most real sense of the word, international. First, the essential fact that no single such language, however broad, even the English, contains in its structure, vocabulary and idiom, enough of the elements of internationality already present and available to make it acceptable to, and easy of acquisition by, all other peoples. In all cases, the use of any single existing language internationally, involves the neglect of valuable, useful, beautiful, skilful forms of speech, possible in each of the others. The second, and perhaps the most serious fundamental obstacle exists in the mutual jealousy of nations, and national, provincial pride in one's own language. The experiences of Russia with Poland and Finland, of Austria with Hungary and Bohemia, of Germany with Alsace, are instructive.
To-day the nationalistic tendency is rampant in every tiny state and dependency in Europe; is fermenting among all the black and brown and yellow peoples over the earth who have heard of Japan's victory over a white race. And as the natural concomitant of this tendency, or indeed often as its main expression, we see dozens of petty dialects, once thought doomed to be swallowed up in a few of the great languages, now not only resisting furiously any such engulfment, but aspiring themselves to be great, to be spoken widely over the earth. Instead of Europe, for example, becoming more homogeneous in language with the development of the great consolidated states, it is apparently becoming more heterogeneous. The Bulgarians would Bulgarize the Balkans, including Macedonia, which the Greeks in turn are equally determined to Hellenize. Roumania and Servia have developed a national pride of language undreamed of in the seventies. Neither Russia nor Germany, despite the harshest measures, has succeeded in displacing Polish in its share of the dismembered kingdom. Every patriotic writer in Finland, in Lithuania, in Bohemia, rejects the great "world languages" for Finnish, for Lett, for Czech. Even the Irish are fervently reviving Erse. The Hollanders show no signs of a readiness to abandon Dutch for German, nor do the Walloons of Belgium intend to yield to the dominant French of their state.
As once in the early middle ages, writers in Italy and France, in England and Germany, disdained to express themselves in the common vulgar speech, owning Latin alone as worthy of putting on parchment. As later, Charles V. of German-Austria, told of how he talked in Latin to God, in Spanish to his family, in French to his courtiers, in Italian to the ladies, and—in German—to his horses only. So, not longer ago than in the last century, ambitious writers in the minor tongues, disdainful of the "peasant dialects" smacking of the soil, set their thoughts over into French, spoke in French, thought in French. To-day there is scarcely a tongue in Europe, however obscure or forgotten, that is not sedulously cultivating its own idiom in a conscious literary way.
On the edge of our world are Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Persian, spoken by vigorous, populous national stocks, emerging into or fully participating in our complex international life, coming closer and closer every day by rail, steamer, telegraph and wireless, and to-morrow by the airships. Under the wise control of England, the native polyglot hordes of India are developing, preparing for a future nationality, which will not be English; in which the English language will remain what it is to-day, a foreign tongue. Over the huge domains of Mexico, Central and South America, millions upon millions of swarming people in the days to come will fill these lands with a vast Spanish and Portuguese speaking population. Will these then be among the "minor languages," to which their present position in Europe now relegates them?
What, then, of all these strong peoples who refuse to be assimilated, who are engaged in amplifying their own languages, and have no intention of meekly becoming absorbed by ours; who buy and sell, farm, mine and manufacture, produce and exchange increasingly, who share in the world's power of thought and, expression, who are making or will make great discoveries in science, who will meet in conventional dress with our august selves, whether we like it or not, around the council tables of the globe?
Tell me, is any single national form of idiom adequate for all of these? Will any such be accepted by all of them? Will the whole world of human races, with its hundreds of languages and dialects, blunder along forever, chained in the shackles of polyglot speech?
Is a world language, then, really possible? As a universal language, in the sense of one that is to replace all others,—manifestly not, or if at all, only in some extremely remote epoch. How, then, shall we achieve the more immediate, rational and practical aim, of acquiring a single auxiliary medium of international speech, that shall replace no single language, however obscure, that shall remain forever neutral, and that shall be equally acceptable to all? Clearly, not by means of any existing national, "natural" tongue, but through the outright construction of an "artificial" language, which shall possess:
First, a vocabulary having a maximum of internationality in its root-words for at least the Indo-European races, living within or bordering on the confines of the old Roman Empire, whose vocabularies are already saturated with Greek and Latin roots, absorbed during the long centuries of contact with Greek and Roman civilization. As the center of gravity of the world's civilization now stands, this seems the most rational beginning. Such a language shall then have:
Second, a grammatical structure stripped of all the irregularities found in every existing tongue, and that shall be simpler than any of them. It shall have:
Third, a single, unalterable sound for each letter, no silent letters, no difficult, complex, shaded sounds, but simple primary sounds, capable of being combined into harmonious words, which latter shall have but a single stress accent that never shifts.
Fourth, mobility of structure, aptness for the expression of complex ideas, but in ways that are grammatically simple, and by means of words that can easily be analyzed without a dictionary.
Fifth, it must be capable of being, not merely a literary language, but a spoken tongue, having a pronunciation that can be perfectly mastered by adults through the use of manuals, and in the absence of oral teachers.
Finally, and as a necessary corollary and complement to all of the above, this international auxiliary language must, to be of general utility, be exceedingly easy of acquisition by persons of but moderate education, and hitherto conversant with no language but their own—in all a most formidable and exacting list of requirements. Is it possible, is it worth while to attempt to fulfill them?
The redoubtable Doctor Johnson, on visiting the Giants' Causeway in Ireland, remarked that "it was worth seeing, but not worth going to see." By a sort of analogy, there are very many people who would doubtless endorse the idea of an international tongue, were one achieved and at hand, but who would not, in the absence of one, consider the difficult game of its devising worth the candle of its getting. However, it is interesting to note that this very fascinating problem has occupied the minds of men to such an extent during the past two hundred years that no less than sixty distinct systems of international speech have been published within that period. That these attempts are not to be classified with the chimeras of perpetual motion and the like, we may assure ourselves from no less authoritative an opinion than that of the late Professor Max Müller, who gave it as his deliberate judgment that an artificial international language, was not only a necessary, but a practical and feasible project. That it is inconceivably difficult so to combine all the necessary features of such a language as to ensure its general adoption is evidenced by the fact that out of the sixty systems referred to, but two have actually succeeded in becoming more than printed theories. But two have ever been spoken and written by any number of people.
The first of these was Volapük, of which the author was Johann Martin Schleyer, born in Baden, Germany; a Roman Catholic curé, of a village near Constance, in Switzerland, where he published in 1880, a "Grammatik der Universalsprache für alle Erdbewohner." A few years ago he was still alive in Constance, having survived his language. His admirers credited him with a knowledge of eighty-three tongues. Volapük found an active propagator in Dr. August Kerchhoffs, professor of modern languages in L'école des hautes études commerciales of Paris. Beginning about 1886, it spread rapidly through France, and thence to the great cities of Europe and America. In 1889 there were 283 Volapükist societies scattered over the globe; its adherents were estimated at about a million; the number of published books on Volapük amounted to 316, of which 182 appeared in 1888 alone, and which were written in twenty-five languages. There were some twenty-five journals devoted to its propaganda, of which seven were published in Volapük alone. Three international congresses were held, the last one in 1889, in which the proceedings were in Volapük, and the language seemed to have become an established fact. But the same year saw the beginning of its decline, which was far more rapid than its rise. To-day Volapük is among the dead languages, possessing but a handful of faithful adherents.
The rapid rise and spread of Volapük, from 1886 to 1890, and its subsequent decline and ultimate extinction, demonstrate that the desire for an international language was universal, and that Volapük, in part, fulfilled the requirements. A study of that language clearly reveals the causes of its success, as well as of its failure. The grammar was simple and regular in construction, except in the multiplicity of its verb inflections. The letters had each but one sound; the words were absolutely phonetic; but the language had two fatal defects, the complexities just referred to in the conjugation of the verb, and the fact that the words were not formed on already existing international roots. Most of the root-words used were to be found in the Teutonic languages alone. All of them were mutilated beyond recognition; sometimes according to some phonetic rule, oftentimes according to a wooden arbitrary outline. Many of the words were actually "made up" meaningless sounds constructed according to a mechanical scheme of the author's. At best, Volapük looked unfamiliar, was inharmonious, ugly and uncouth in appearance and sound, and failed in the primary needs of an international tongue, except in the fact of possessing a grammar far more simple than any of the "natural" languages. As a matter of curious interest, and to illustrate some of the salient characteristics of the language, the Paternoster is given in Volapük, as follows:
"O Fat obas, kel binol in süls, paisaludomöz nem ola! Kömomöd monargän ola! Jenomöz vil olik, äs in sül, i su tal! Bodi obsik vädeliki givelös obes adelo! E pardolös obes debis obsik, äs id obs aipardobs debeles obas. E no obis nindukolös in tentadi; sod aidalivolös obis de bad. Jenosöd."
Note: Simple vowels with continental pronunciation; Umlauts as in German; consonants as in English, except c (tch), g (always hard), h (German ch), j (French ch), x (always ks), y (as in yoke), z (ts); tonic accent always on the last syllable of the word.
The second successful attempt at devising an international form of speech found issue in Esperanto, now apparently past the experimental working stage, and seemingly launched upon a rising tide of popularity and success. Some 100,000 people are now said to be able to correspond in Esperanto, and a large number of these speak it fluently. The number of the Esperanto groups seems to be increasing by leaps and bounds, and is placed at about three hundred thus far, distributed over all the four quarters of the globe. The propaganda has even reached Japan, which has fifteen hundred Esperantists, and a journal published in Japanese and Esperanto, and the very latest move appears to be the proposed invasion of China. In all about twenty journals are devoted to Esperanto, the organs of affiliated societies in each of the chief European states and in America. Seven magazines are published exclusively in the language, including some quite pretentious literary, illustrated and scientific monthlies. The London Chamber of Commerce has adopted Esperanto as a commercial tongue, and has organized classes and examinations in the language. Commercial schools in England, France, Germany and Sweden are offering courses, and in America, voluntary classes have been instituted in a number of our high schools and universities. In France, the language has received the approbation of the minister of war and marine, who commends it to the French military service. Finally, Esperanto has received the unqualified and enthusiastic endorsement and support of men eminent in language studies, the sciences and the arts, in every important country. Among these may be cited the late Professor Max Müller, of Oxford, and among living Englishmen, Professor W. W. Skeat and Sir William Ramsay; in Germany, the great name of Ostwald stands first, while in France the language seems to be enjoying among the intellectual élite a veritable réclame. Academicians, university professors, professional men, are flocking in imposing numbers to the ranks of the wearers of la verda stelo. Berthelot, Poincaré, Boirac, rector of the University of Dijon; General Sébert of the French army, indicate the personnel of the Esperanto movement in France, while in far Russia, rears the titanic figure of Count Leo Tolstoi, friend of humanity, as the champion of Esperanto in the name of universal peace and good-will among mankind.
There has already been inaugurated a system of Esperanto consulates throughout the world, with resident consuls, charged with the interests of Esperanto travelers. A "Centra Oficejo" (Central Office) has been established in Paris: an "Adresaro," or published list of the names and addresses of the adherents of Esperanto throughout the world, is issued annually, and a very considerable volume of literature, original and translated, already exists in Esperanto. Finally, two eminently successful congresses have been held: the first in Boulogne-sur-mer in France in 1905, and the second in Geneva, Switzerland, last August. At both of these congresses, hundreds of delegates from twenty-five or more nationalities met, conversed, transacted business in general. Numerous section meetings were held on various topics. Public programs were presented—theatrical, musical and literary—all in Esperanto. The new American Esperanto Journal, in its initial number of January, 1907, publishes an interesting letter from Dr. E. Y. Huntington, assistant professor of mathematics at Harvard, describing his experiences at the Geneva congress, from which extracts are as follows:
Finally, just what is Esperanto? Esperanto is the name given to a language composed by Dr. Ludovic Lazare Zamenhof, a physician of Warsaw in Russian Poland, born in 1859, in Bielostok in Russia, and now, therefore, in the prime of life. His first publication, issued in Warsaw in 1887 under the pseudonym of "Dro. Esperanto," literally translated, "one who hopes," bore the title "Langue internationale, Préface et manuel complet." The project, which had occupied the author from his youth, made scarcely any impression in the first years after its publication. Volapük then held the field, after the utter fiasco of which, Esperanto suffered from the effects of the general wave of skepticism, ridicule and obloquy that followed in the wake of its failure. It was indeed a considerable time before a new proposal for an international language could so much as gain a hearing in Europe. But Esperanto found a brilliant expositor, also in France, in the person of M. Louis de Beaufront of Louviers, to whose enthusiastic adhesion to the language in its early days is undoubtedly due to a very considerable degree its present success. To an almost fanatical enthusiasm M. de Beaufront conjoined extraordinary talent and ingenuity in the exposition of the merits and claims of Esperanto, and marked tact and cleverness in disarming its opponents. After ten years the effects of the efforts of the founder and his supporters began to be felt; and France soon began to teem with the Esperanto movement. To-day, what began as the desperate struggle of a forlorn little band of idealists, against contempt, ridicule and misrepresentation, and against almost hopeless odds, has risen to the proportions of a formidable affair of international significance, challenging the attention of rulers.
What now are definitely the claims of this remarkable tongue, the sole achievement of a single human being, wrought unaided by a single brain, a work of supreme genius? Without going into one slightest detail, let it be simply said that it answers fully to all the fundamental requirements above mentioned for an international language. Its grammar can be read and perfectly understood in an hour. The pronunciation is simplicity itself, as the letters have each but one simple sound, and the accent rests always on the same syllable, the penult. Seventy per cent. of the word-roots will be recognized at sight by a person of good education in English alone. The utter simplicity of its syntax might make it appear as though such a language must necessarily be bare, meager and inexpressive. On the contrary, as the result of its extraordinary structure, it is ample, rich and full, with much of the flexibility and mobility of English, much of the style and precision of French, not a little of the elegance and grace of Italian, while in great measure it has the full, sonorous quality of sound and imposing dignity of form peculiar to the Latin.
By way of illustration, compare the Paternoster in Esperanto and Latin.
|Patro nia kiu estas en la ĉielo,||Pater noster qui es in coelis,|
|sankta estu via nomo;||sanctificetur nomen tuum;|
|venu regeco via;||adveniat regnum tuum;|
|estu volo via, kiel en la ĉielo,||fiat voluntas tua, sicut in coelo,|
|tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.||et in terra.|
|Panon nian ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiau;||Panum nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie;|
|kaj pardonu al ni ŝuldojn niajn,||et dimitte nobis debita nostra,|
|kiel ni ankaǔ pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoi;||sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;|
|kaj ne konduku nin en tenton, sed liberigu nin||et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos|
|de la malbono. Car via estas la regado,||a malo.|
|la forto kaj la gloro eterne.|
|Note.—Vowels have continental sounds. Consonants as in English, ĉ ch in church, otherwise c ts; s sh; final j as y. Each syllable is pronounced. Accent on the penult.|
It will suffice to conclude with a translated extract from a recent French memoir, entitled, "La Langue Universelle" (Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1904), by Couturat and Leau. This memoir is the result of a comparative study and research into all the published systems of international speech appearing within the past two hundred years. The authors are two members of an official delegation, appointed by the International Association of Academies, which undertook, at the instance of the French Academy of Sciences, to consider the adoption of an international auxiliary language. Concluding their critique of Esperanto, the writers say:
- This article was prepared in January, 1907.
- During the writing of these lines, one of our most eminent journals, The North American Review, has allied itself definitely with the Esperanto propaganda, lending the inestimable prestige of its great influence to the interests of the language in America.