The Loom of Language

by Frederick Bodmer

Chapter XII

Pioneers of Language Planning

      Our last chapter was about the diseases of natural languages. This one is about the pathology of artificial languages. To many people the last two words, like interlanguage or world-auxiliary, are terms synonymous with Esperanto. In reality Esperanto is only one among several hundred languages which have been constructed during the past three hundred years; and may pople who are in favour of a world-auxiliary would prefer to choose one of the languages which a large proportion of the world’s literate population already use. The merits of such views will come up for discussion at a later stage.

Language-planning started during the latter half of the seventeenth century. The pioneers were Scottish and English scholars. Several circumstances combined to awaken interest in the problem of international communication at this time. One was the decline of Latin as a medium of scholarship. For more than a thousand years Latin made learned Europeans a single fraternity. After the Reformation, the rise of nationalism encouraged the use of vernaculars. In Italy, which had the first modern scientific academy, Galileo set a new fashion by publishing some of his discoveries in his native tongue. The scientific academies of England and France followed his example. From its beginning in 1662, the Royal Society adopted English. According to Sprat, the first historian of the Society, its statutes demanded from its members a close, naked, natural way of speaking... preferring the language of the artisans, countrymen, and merchants before thant of wits and scholars. About thirty years later the Paris Académie des Sciences followed the example of its English counterpart by substituting French for Latin.

The eclipse of Latin meant that there was no single vehicle of cultural intercourse between the learned academies of Europe. Another contemporaneous circumstance helped to make European scholars language-conscious. Since the sixteenth-century Swiss naturalist, Conrad Gessner, had collected samples of the Lord’s Prayer in twenty two different tongues, an ever-increasing variety of information about strange languages and stranger scripts accompanied miscellanies of new herbs, new beasts, and new drugs with cargoes coming back from voyages of discovery. Navigation and missionary fervour fostered new knowledge of near and middle Eastern languages, including Coptic, Ethiopic, and Persian. It made samples of Amerindian, of Dravidian, of Malay, and of North Indic vernaculars available to European scholars. In becoming Bible-conscious, Europe became Babel-conscious.

One linguistic discovery of the seventeenth century is of special importance, because it suggested a possible remedy for the confusion of tongues. The labours of Jesuit missionaries diffused new knowledge about Chinese script. To seventeenth-century Europe Chinese, a script which substituted words for sounds, was a wholly novel way of writing. Still more novel was one consequence of doing so. To the reader of the Loom it is now a commonplace that two people from different parts of China can read the same texts without being able to converse with one another. To seventeenth-century Europe it was a nine days’ wonder, and the knowledge of it synchronized with a spectacular innovation. Symbollic algebra was taking new shapes. The invention of logarithms and the calculus of Leibniz, himself in the forefront of the linguistic movement, gave mankind an international vocabulary of computation and motion.


All this tallies with the fruits of research in comparative grammar two hundred years later. Leibniz was far ahead of his time in other ways. He was alive to what Malinowski call the “sliding of roots and meanings for one grammatical category to another” (p. 170), and anticipated Ogden’s Basic (p. 473) by embarking on an analysis of the particles to ascertain their meaning and the requisite minimum number. He regarded this as a task of the utmost importance, and carried it out with particular care. Notably modern in this context is a shrewd guess. Leibniz suggests that metaphorical extension has expanded the field of reference of prepositions, all of which originally had a spatial significance. Thus we give them a chronological value, when we say: between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in the future, before 1789, etc.

The projects of Dalgarno and Wilkins had this in common with others put forward during the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century. They started from a preconceived logical system without reference to living speech. As late as 1858 a committe report of the French Société Internationale de Linguistique denounced the design of an international auxiliary built of bricks taken from natural languages. The reason given was that all natural languages, classical and moder, dead and living, are embedded in cultural levels which modern man had left behind him. A language “clear, simple, easy, rational, logical, philosophical, rich harmonious, and elastic enough to cater for all the needs of future progress” must also be a language made out of whole cloth.

The vogue of a priori languages conceived in these termis is easy to understand. Language-planning was cradled by the needs of a scholarcaste cut off from the common aspirations of ordinary people, without the guidance of a systematic science of comparative linguistics. Inevitably the movement initiated by Dalgarno and Wilkins shared the fate of proposals for number reform put forward by Alexandrian mathematicians from Archimedes to Diophantus. Proposals for an international language with any prospect of success must emerge from the experience of odrinary men and women, like the Hindu number-system which revolutionized mathematics after the eclipse of Alexandrian culture.

Still it is not fair to say that the Efforts of Dalgarno, Wilkins, or Leibniz were fruitless. It may be true that international reform of scientific nomenclature initiated by the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus was catalysed by controversy which his more ambitious predecessor provoked. The movement which came to a focus in the Systema Naturae encouraged revision of chemical terminology with results which its author could not have foreseen. It created and international vocabulary of Latin and Greek (p. 250) roots. In a sense, though unwittingly, revision of chemical terminology realized Wilkin’s dream of a real character. Modern chemistry has a vocabulary of ideographic and pictographic symbols for about a quarter of a million pure substances now known.

The efforts of the catalinguists were not stillborn. They continued to stimulate other speculations for fully a century. Diderot and D’Alembert, joint editors of the French Encyclopédie, alloted an article to the same theme. The author was no less a personage than Faiguet, Treasurer of France. Its title was Nouvelle Langue (1765). Though merely a sketch, it anticipated and outdistanced proposals for mote than a hundred years later. Like his forerruners in England, Faiguet recognized the wasteful and irrational features common to Western European languages, and had enough historical knowledge to notice the analytical drift in the history of his mother tongue. The outcome was a highly regularized skeleton of grammar for a universal a posteriori language, i. e. one which shares features common to, and draws on, the resources of existing languages. In contrast to Faiguet’s mother tongue, the New Language had no article and no gender-concord. The adjective was to be invariant, as in English or, as the designer says, a sort of adverb. Case-distinction, which has disappeared in nouns of French and other Romances languages, made way for free use of prepositions.

In all this Faiguet had a far better understanding of what is and what is not relevant than the inventor of Esperanto with its dead ballast of a separate object case (p. 463) and its adjective plural. Perhaps because his own language gave him little guidance, Faiguet made no very radical suggestions for simplifying the verb system. It was to consist of a single regular conjugation without personal flexions. This cleansing of Augean stables was offset by the terminals -a for the present, -u for the future, -é for the imperfect, -i for the perfect, and -o for the pluperfect. In addition there were three different infinitive forms (present, past, future), and a subjunctive which was indicated by an -r added to the indicative. Perhaps Faiguet would have used the axe more energetically if he had been inspired by the needs of humanity at large. Like his predecessors he was chiefly at pains to provide “the learned academies of Europe” with a new means of communication.

Faiguet did not compile a vocabulary, and none of his contemporaries took up the task. Alertness to the waste and inconvenience of language confusion was still confined to the scholarly few. It did not become acute and widespread till steam-power revolutionized transport, adn the ocean cable annihilated distance. Language-planning received a new impulse in a contracting planet. Where the single aim had been to cater for the needes of international scholarship, the needs of international trade and internationally organized labour became tenfold more clamorous.

Humanitarian sentiment reinforced more material considerations. The inventor of Volapük, and many of its ardent advocates, regarded linguistic differences as fuel for warmonguer and hoped that an interlingua would help to seal the bonds of brotherhood between nations. In fifty odd ephemeral auxiliaries which cropped up during the second half of the nineteenth century, several common features emerge. With few exceptions each was a one-man show, and few of the showmen were sufficiently equipped for the task. With one exception they were continental Europeans bemused by the idiosycrasies of highly inflected languages such as German, Russian, or one of the offshoots of Latin. Each of them created a language in his own image. They did not look beyond the boundaries of Europe. If the inventor was a Frenchman the product must needs have a subjunctive; and when the Parisian votaries of Volapük objected to Schleyer’s ä, ö, and ü, their Teutonic brothers in arms took up the defence with a zeal befitting the custody of the Holy Grail of the Nordic Soul.

The nineteenth-century pioneers of language-planning did not appreciate the fact that China’s four hundred millions contrive to live and die without the consolation of case, tense, and mood distinction, indeed without any derivative apparatus at all. Why they ignored Chinese and new hybrid vernaculars such as Beach-la-Mar, Creole French, and Chinook, etc., is easy to understand. What still amazes us is that they could not profit by the extreme flexional simplicity of English, with is luxuriant literature, outstanding contributions to science, and world-wide imperial status. They had little or no knowledge of the past, and were therefore unable to derive any benefit from research into the evolution of speech. Almost alone, Grimm saw what lessons history has to teach. A few years before his death, Grimm recanted his traditional loyalty to the flexional vagaries of the older European languages, and laid down the essential prerequisites of intelligent language-planning. The creation of a world-auxiliary is not a task for peremptory decisions:

Wise words!


     The first constructed language which human beings actually spoke, read, wrote, and printed was Volapük (1880). Its inventor was Johann Martin Schleyer, a German catholic priest, zealous alike in the cause of world-trade and universal brotherhood. Hence his motto: Menade bal puki bal (For one humanity one language). According to his disciples, he knew an amazing number of tongues. If so, he benefited little from his learning. It was evidently a handicap. It prevented him from understanding the difficulties of Volapük for less gifted linguists.

     The new medium spread very rapidly, first in Germany, then in France, where it found an able apostle in Auguste Kerckhoffs, professor of Modern Languages at the Paris Hight School for Commercial Studies. There was a French Association for the propagation of Volapük, there were courses in it —and diplomas. Maybe with an eye on the annual turnover, a famous departmental store, Les Grands Magasins du Printemps, also espoused the cause. Success in France encouraged others, especially in the United States. By 1889, the year of its apogee, Volapük has about 200,000 adherents, two dozen publications, supported by 300 societies and clubs. Enthusiastic amateurs were not the only people who embraced the new faith. Academically trained linguists also flirted with it.

     Volapük petered out much faster than it spread. When its partisans had flocked together in Paris for the third Congress in 1889, the committee had decided to conduct the proceedings exclusively in the new language. This light-hearted decision, which exposed the inherent difficulties of learning it or using it, was its death-knell. A year later the movement was in full disintegration. What precipitated collapse was a family quarrel. Father Schleyer had constructed the grammar of his proprietary product with the redundant embellishments of his own highly inflected language. Professor Kerckhoffs, supported by most of the active Volapükists, spoke up for the plain man and called for reduction of the frills. In the dispute wich ensued, Schleyer took the line that Volapük was his private property. As such, no one could amend it without his consent.

     It is impossible to explain the amazing though short-lived success of Volapük in terms of its intrinsic merits. There was a monstrous naïveté in the design of it. A short analysis of its sound, grammar, and vocabulary suffices to expose its retreat in the natural line of linguistic progress. Part of the comedy is that Schleyer had the nerve to claim he had taken spoken English as his model, with due regard to any merits of German, French, Spanish, and Italian. The vowel battery of Schleyer’s phonetic apparatus was made up of a, e, i, o, u, together with the German ä, ö, ü, of which the last is notoriously difficult for English-speaking people to pronounce. In conformity with his German bias, the consonants included the guttural ch sound. Out of chivalrous consideration for children, elderly people, and China’s four hundred million, Schleyer discarded the r sound in favour of l (absent in Japanese) and other substitutes. This happened before anyone drew Schleyer’s attention to the fact that the Chinese have an r. By then he had changed our English red or German rot to led. Similarly rose becomes lol.

     In the grammar of Volapük the noun, like the noun of German and unlike that of Anglo-American or of any Romance language, trailed behind it case-marks with or without the uniform plural -S. In this way father becomes:


     There was no grammatical gender. Where sex raised its ugly head the simple noun form represented the male, which could assimilate the lady-like prefix ji-, as in blod-jiblod (brother-sister) and dog-jidog (dog-bitch). The adjective was recognizable as such by the suffix -ik, e. g. gudik (good), supplemented by -el when used as a noun, e. g. gudikel (the good man), jigudikel (the good woman). Gain on the roundabouts of levelling the personal pronoun (ob = I, ol = thou, obs = we, ol = you, etc.) was lost on the swings, because each person had four cases (e. g. ob, obi, oba, obe). From the possesive adjective derived from the pronoun by adding the suffix -ik, e. g. obik (my), you got the possesive pronoun by an additional -el, e. g. obikel (mine). Conjugation was a bad joke. In what he had to learn about the vagaries of the Volapük verb, the Chinese paid a heavy price for the liquidation of r. Wheter there was or was not an independent sunject, the personal pronoun stuck to the verb stem. So fat löfom literally meant the father love he. There were six tenses, as in Latin, each of them with is own characteristic vowel prefixed to the stem, presumably in imitation of the Greek augment:

I love.
I loved.
I have loved.
I had loved.
I shall love.
I shall have loved.

     Strange to say, the prefix a- of the imperfect and the o- of the future also appeared on adverbs formed from del (day), adela (yesterday), adelo (to-day). There were characteristics suffixes for a subjunctive and a potential mood, and each with all six tense forms, e. g. elöfomla (that he has loved). By prefixing p- you could change the active to the passive, and interpolate an i immediately after the tense-mark to signify habitual action. So it was possible to make one word to say of a woman that she had been loved all the time. The Schleyer imperative, like the Schleyer deity, was threefold, with a gentle will-you-please form in -ös, a normal one in -öd, and a categorical of the won’t-you-shut-up sort in -öz. The mark of interogation was a hyphenated li, prefixed or suffixed, and the negative particle was no placed before the verb, e. g. no-li elöfons-la? (will you not have loved?). If admittedly more regular than either, Volapük had almost as many grammatical impedimenta as Sanskrit or Lithuanian.

     The Volapükists rightly claimed that the root-material of their language was taken from English, German, Latin, and its modern descendants. Unluckily, the roots suffered drastic castigation from Father Schleyer’s hand before they became unrecognizable in the Volapük lexikon. The memory of the beginner had nothing to bite on. All roots had to conform to a set of arbitrary conditions. To take on several prefixes and suffixes, they had to be monosyllabic, and even so the enormous length to which such a word could grow forced Schleter to italicize the root itself. He had to alter all words which ended in a sibilant (c, s, z, etc.) to accommodate the plural s; and every root had to begin and end with a consonant. From this German sausage-machine, knowledge emerged as nol, difficulty as fikul, and compliment as plim, the German word Feld as fel, Licht as lit, and Wunde as vun. The name of the language itself illustrates the difficulties of detection. Even geographical names did not escape punishment. Italy, England, and Portugal became Täl, Nelij, and Bödugän. Europe changes to Yulop, and the other four continents to Melop, Silop, Fikop, and Talop. Who would guess that Vol in Volapük comes from world, and pük form speech?

     The method of word-derivation was a fanciful, as illogical, and as silly as the maltreatment of roots. In the manner of the catalanguages, there was a huge series of pigeon-holes each labelled with some affix. For instance, the suffix -el denotes inhabitants of a country or person-agents. So Parisel (Parisian) wore the same costume as mitel (butcher). The suffix -af denoted some animals, e. g. suplaf (spider), tiaf (tiger), but lein (lion) and jeval (horse) were left out in the cold. The names of birds had the label -it, e. g. galit (nightingale), the names of diseases -ip, e. g. vatip (hydropsyy), and the names of elements -in, e. g. vatin (hydrogen). The prefix lu- produced something ambiguously nasty. Thus luvat (more literally dirty water) stood for urine. Lubien (a nasty bee) was a Volapük wasp. Schleyer’s technique of building compounds of Teutonic length turned the stomachs of his most devoted French disciples. As a sample, the following is the opening of Schleyer’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer:

     We can understand the succes of Volapük only if we assume that it satisfied a deep, though still uncritical, longing equally acute in humanitarian and commercial clircles. So it was a catastrophe that a German parish priest provided this longing with ephemeral satisfaction at such a low technical level. For a long time to come the naïvetés of Volapük and its well-deserved collapsed discredited the artificial language movement. Curiously enough it found many disciples in academic circles, including language departments of universities, always the last refuge of lost causes. The American Philosophical Society, founded by Benjamin Franklin, though sympathetic to proposals for a world-auxiliary, was not taken in. It appointed a committee in 1887 to assess the merits of Schleyer’s interlanguage. In a very enlightened report the committee formulated principles of which some should embodied in any future constructed world-auxiliary. It rejected Volapük because its grammatical structure turns back on the analytical drift of all the more modern European languages, and because its vocabulary is not sufficiently international.

     The committee suggested the issue of an invitation to all learned societies of the world with a view to starting an international committee for promoting a universal auxiliary based on an Aryan vocabulary consonant with the “needs of commerce, correspondence, conversation, and science.” About two thousand learned bodies accepted this invitation of Franklin’s Society to a Congress to be held in London or Paris. The Philological Society of London declined the invitation with thanks, for reasons equally fatuous. One was that there was no common Aryan vocabulary. The other was that Volapük was used all over the world. It was therefore too late in the day to offer a substitute.

     After the third Congress of 1889, votaries of Volapük washed their hands of the whole business, or ratted. Many of those who ratted followed the rising star of Esperanto. Some regained confidence and continued to tinker with Schleyer’s system. Before the final collapse St. de Max had proferred Bopal (1887), and Bauer Spelin (1888). Thereafter came Fieweger’s Dil (1893), Dormoy’s Balta (1893), W. von Arnim’s Veltparl (1896), and Bollack’s Langue Bleue (1899). There were several other amendments to Volapük with the same basic defects. The stock-in-trade of all was a battery of monosyllabic roots, cut to measure from natural languages, and that past human recognition, or cast in an even less familiar mould from an arbitrary mixture of vowels and consonants. The root was a solitary monolith surrounded by concentric stone-circles of superfluous, if exquisitely regular flexions. There was declension and conjugation of the traditional type, and a luxuriant overgrowth of derivative affixes. The essential problem of word-economy was not in the picture. Indeed, the inventor of La Langue Bleue (so-called because the celestial azure has no frontiers) boasted that 144,139 different words were thoretically possible within the framework of his phonetic.

     Before Volapük, far better artificial languages had appeared on the market without attracting enthusiastic followers. One was Pirro’s Universal-Sprache, a purely a posteriori system of a very advanced type. The noun, like the adjective, is invariant. Prepositions take over any function which case-distinction may retain in natural languages. The outward and visible sign of number is left to the article or other determinants. The personal pronoun with a nominative and an accusative form has no sex-differentiation in the third person. A verb without person or number flexions has a simple past with the suffix -ed, a future with -rai, and compund tenses built wit the auxiliary haben. Unlike so many before and after hom, Pirro did not shirk the task of designing a vocabulary. His lexicon consisted of 7,000 words, largely Latin, hence international, but partly Teutonic. The number of affixes for derivatives was small, but since he took them over from natural languages they were not particularly precise. The merits of the following specimen of the Universal-Sprache speak for themselves:

     Though it discouraged some, Volapük also stimulated others to set out along new paths. More than one disillusioned Volapükist recovered to undertake the task which Schleyer had executed with maladroit results. One ex-Volapük enthusiast, Julius Lott, invented Mundolingue (1890). It was a neo-Latin language. A moderately well-educated person can quite easily read it, as the following specimen shows:

      Another language which owed its existence to Volapük renegades was Idiom Neutral (1903). It was designed by members of the Akademi Internacional de lingu universal. This body came into being at the Second Volapük Congress. When it developed heretic doctrines the great Datuval (inventor) unsuccesfully excommunicated the rebels. The claim of Idiom Neutral in its own time was that it had a vocabulary baded on the priniciple of greatest international currency. The reader who compares Schleyer’s version of the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer (p. 458) with the following can see how completely it had grown apart from Volapük:


The collapse of Volapük left the field clear for Esperanto. Esperanto was the child of Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, a Russian-Polish Jew (1859-1917). He put forward his first proposals when Father Schleyer’s invention was at the height of its popularity. Zamenhof had spent his early youth at Bielostock, where Russians, Poles, Germans, and Jews hated and ill-treated one another. Reinforced by a humanitarian outlook, this distasteful experience stimultated the young pioneer to reconcile racial antagonisms by getting people to adopt a neutral medium of common understanding. Incubation was long and painful. He was still at grammar-school when inspiration dawned. So it was natural to seek a solution in revival of one or other of the two classical languages. Slowly Zamenhof learned to recognize the chaotic superfluity of forms in natural speech. It was English which opened young Zamenhof’s eyes:

The design of a simplified grammar did not detain him long; but he was held up when he began to construct a vocabulary. Then it dawned on him that we can make an unlimited number of new words by means of derivative affixes added to a single root. The manufacture of suitable affixes led him back to Wilkins’s theme, analysis of notional relations. His first idea was to make up his own stock-in-trade of roots. He soon realized the difficulty of learning the arbitrary root-forms of Volapük and began to see that living languages work with a high proportion of common or international words. A preliminary Romano-Teutonic lexicon was born of this recognition. In its final form the project appeared in 1887 under the pseudonym Linguo Internacia de la Doktoro Esperanto (International Language by Dr. Hopeful).

Unlike Schleyer, Zamenhof sustained a sensible humility towards his own creation. He did not look upon it as final. He invited criticism. His intention was to collect, discuss, and publish the objection raised, then to amed its shortcomings in the light of the findings. The public ignored Zamenhof’s request for sympathetic and elightened criticism. Esperanto remained unchanged till 1894, when its author himself initiated a drastic reform. It found its first adherentes in Czarist Russia where the authorities suppressed its organ, La Esperantisto, because it published an article by Tolstoi. From Russia it spread to the Scandinavian countries, to Central Europe, thence to France, where it had strong support in university circles. In 1905 the Goverment of the French Republic made Zamenhof an Officer of the Légion d’Honneur. In 1909 H. M. King Alfonzo conferred upon him the honour of Commander in the Order of Isabella the Catholic. After a brief eclipse during the Great War of 1914-1918, the wave of pacifist sentiment which subsequently swept over the world gave it new momentum.

We should accept figures about its spread and popularity, when given by Esperantists themselves, with the caution we should adopt towards data about the vitality of Erse or Gaelic when those who supply them are Celtic enthusiasts. According to a report published by the General Secretariat of the League of Nations (but based upon data provided by Esperantists), Esperanto could boast of about 4,000 publications, consisting of original works, translations, text-books, propaganda items, etc. In Albania it became a compulsory subject in secondary and higher education. In China the University of Peking offered courses. Madrid, Lisbon, and several German towns placed it on the curriculum of Police Schools. In Great Britain it was popular in Labour Colleges, and got some encouragement from such publicists as Lord Bryce, H. G. Welss, Lord Robert Cecil, and Arthur Henderson. In the U. S. S. R., the People’s Commissariat for Public Education appointed a Commission to examine its claims in January 1919, and to report on the advisability of teaching an international language in Soviet schools. The Commission decided for Esperanto, though Zinoviev favoured Ido. Five German towns made Esperanto a compulsory subject in primary schools under the Weimar Republic, and the National Esperanto Institute for the training of teachers at Leipzing received official recognition from the Ministry of the Interior. During the winter 1921-22 there were 1,592 courses in Germany for about 40,000 adults, half of them working-class people. On June 8, 1935, the National-Socialist Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust, decreed that to teach Esperanto in the Third Reich was henceforth illegal. The reason he gave was that the use of artificial languages such as Esperanto weakens the essential value of national pecularities.

Esperanto just failed to gain support which might have made history. In spite of wire-pulling and high-grade publicity management, its promoters were not able to persuade the League of Nations to come out unequivocally in favour of its use as the international language. Whether this was a calamity the reader may judge from what follows. Let us first look at its phonetic build-up.

Though Esperanto uses all the letters of the Roman alphabet except three (Q, X, V), its aspect is unfamiliar on the printed page. This is due to its five accented consonants, C^, G^, H^, J^, S^, a novelty open to more than one criticism, more particularly that such symbols impede recognition of international roots and slow down the speed of writing. The corresponding sound are equally open to unfavourable comment. The H (like h in horn) and the H^ (like ch in Scots loch) are difficult sound for people brought up to speak Romance languages. Other sounds which cause embarrassment to many national are represented by such combinations as SC (= sts), KC (= kts), and NKC, e. g. funkcio (function). In contradistinction to the practice of Volapük, which had end-stress appropiate to the importance of its suffixes, the accent of an Esperanto word falls invariably on the last syllable but one, e. g. virbóvo (bull).

With many other artificial auxiliaries, Esperanto shares the dubiously useful grammatical trick of labelling each of the “parts of speech” with its own trade-mark. The noun singular must end in -o, the adjective in -a, the derived adverb in -e, the infinitive in -i. The official defence is this. A reader can recognize at once which words express the main theme of an Esperanto sentence and which merely express qualifications. The ubiquitous vocalic endings of Esperanto, like those of Italian, make the spoken language sonorous and prevent accumulation of economists expect spread of slumps throughout civilized world.

Zamenhof learned nothing from the obliteration of subject-object distinction in the English and Romance noun. Esperanto has an object case-form ending in -n both for nouns and pronouns, e. g. ni lernas Esperanton (we are learning Esperanto). Esperantists claim that people who speak or write Esperanto enjoy greater freedom of word-order, and can therefore reproduce that of the mother tongue without making a statement unintelligible in writing. If the goat eats the cabbage, we can also say that the cabbage eats the goat, because the n of the Esperanto cabbage shows that it is harmless. The Esperanto object case-form is also an accusative of direction in the Latin style. Instead of the preposition al (to) you may use the accusative and say, e. g. mi iras Londonon (nom. Londono) = I am going to London. Apparently the Esperanto for our verb go does not sufficiently express locomotion.

To make the plural of an Esperanto noun we add -j to the singular, e. g. kato (cat) — katoj (cats), accus. katon — katojn. There is no grammatical gender, but for some reason difficult to fathom Zamenhof could not break away form the institution of adjectival concord. His adjective has to trail behind it the case and number terminals of the noun, e. g. nomin. bela rozo or obj. belan rozon (beautiful rose) — belaj rozoj or belajn rozojn (beautiful roses). Without regard for feminist sentiment, names of females come from names for males by interpolation of -in before the trade-mark -o of the noun, e. g. patro (father), patrino (mother), frato (brother), fratino (sister.) Without deliberate deference to feminine sentiment Zamenhof reverses the process to manufacture the novel product fraùlo (unmarried young man) by analogy with fraùlino (German Fräulein = Miss).

The Esperanto verb has, like that of most of the more recent artificial languages, a single regular conjugation, without flexion of number or person, e. g. mi skribas (I write), li skribas (he writes), ni skribas (we write). It sticks to affixation for tense and mood, and thre is no shortage of them. We have to learn the -i for the infinitive, -as for the present indicative, -is for the past indicative, -os for the future, -u for the subjunctive and imperative, and -us for the conditional. There is only one auxiliary, esti (to be). By chasing it through the different tenses and moods (estas, estis, estos, etc.) and then combining it with the three active participles (amanta loving, aminta having loved, amonta going to love), you can manufacture 18 different compund construction, and then double the number by substituting passive participles for the active ones (amata loved, amita having been loved, amota going to be loved).

Zamenhof’s vocabulary consists of a collection of arbitrarily chosen roots, which grow by addition of about 50 derivative prefixes, suffixes, and infixes. The most glaring defect of the Esperantist stock of words is that it is not consistently international. To be sure, Zamenhof did choose some roots which are pan-European. In this category we find atom, aksiom, tabak, tualet. He also chose roots which are partially international, i. e. common to a large number of European languages. In this class we meet, e. g. ankr (anchor), emajl (enamel). These international and semi-international words had to comply with Zamenhof’s sound and spelling conventions. They also had to take on Esperanto terminals. As often as not they are therefore unrecognizable, or at best difficult to recognize, e. g. kafo (coffee), venko (victory), koni (know), kuri (run). What is worse, they are often misleading. Thus sesono does not mean season, as we migth suppose. It means one-sixth. So also fosilo stads for a spade, not for a fossil. Not even the starchy food called sago escaped mutilation. Its rightful name was changed to saguo presumably because sago (Latin sagitta) was badly needed to designate the Esperanto arrow.

Zamenhof rejected an enormous number of internationally current words. He dismissed hundreds ending in -ation, -ition, and -sion, or distorted them, e. g. nacio for nation, nacia for national. A large class of words in the Esperanto dictionary are not international in any sense. To coax the susceptibilities of Germans, or Russians who do not or did not then welcome addition of international terms derived from Latin or Greek roots, Zamenhof included words which add to the difficulties of a Frenchman or a Spaniard without appreciably lightening the burden for a Dutchman or a Bulgarian. This compromise was responsible for roots such as bedaur (German bedauern = regret), flug (German Flug = flight), knab (German Knab = boy), kugl (German Kugel = sphere).

Striking illustrations of Zamenhof’s fear of national susceptibility, and his desire to keep an even balance, are the Esperanto words for dog, year, hair, and school. For dog, one naturally expects kano (cane in Italian, cão in Portuguese, chien in French) corresponding to our adjective canine. In deference to German and Scandinavian sentiment, it is hundo. For year the Swedish equivalent is år, German Jahr, French an, Italian anno, Spanish año, Portuguese ano. There is clearly no agreement between the Romance and the Teutonic word-form; but the root ann- is common to annual (English), annuel (French), Annalen (German). Zamenhof selected the German form, jar. The word for hair illustrates the same absurdity. In Swedish it is hår, German Haar, Italian capello, Spanish cabello, Portuguese cabelo, French cheveu. Again we have an international root in our technical words capillary or capillarity, corresponding to the German Kapillar —(Kapillargefäss, Kapillarität). Zamenhof chose the purely Teutonic form har. One of the most international words in daily speech is school (Latin schola, Italian scuola, French école, German Schule, Swedish skola). Zamenhof chose lernejo.

From such roots as raw materials of his dictionary, the Esperantist builds new words by simple juxtaposition, as in vapors^ipo (steamboat), fervojo (railway), or by adding prefixes and suffixes. Some of the affixes come from other languages with a native halo of vagueness. Others are whims of Dr. Zamenhof himslef. Thus the prefix bo- signifies relation through marriage, as in bopatro (father-in-law), the suffix -et is diminutive, as in venteto, breeze (from vento, wind), and -eg is augmentative, as in ventego (gale). Even among the votaries the prefix mal- has never been popular. The uninitiated European would naturally assume that it means ill or bad, as in many international words. In Esperanto denotes the opposite of, hence such strange bed-fellows as malbona (bad), malamiko (enemy), malfermi (to open). The derivative affixes of Esperanto have a characteristic absent from other constructed languages. They can lead their own lives if protected by an ending to signify a part of speech deemed suitable for philosophic abstractions. This trick is encouraging to philosophers who indulge in the in-ness of a one-ship which fills the us-dom with anti-ty.

Esperanto claims to be an auxiliary which satisfies human needs on an international scale, yet is easier to learn than any natural language. One should think that such a claim involves existence of a vocabulary free from redundancies and local oddities. The sad truth is that neither Zamenhof nor his disciples have ever made an intelligent attempt at rationalization of word material. Unless one is a gourmet, a horticulturist, or a bird-watcher, it is difficult to see why a 36-page English-Esperanto dictionary should be encumbered by entries such as artichoke = artis^oko, artichoke (Jerusalem) = helianto, nightshade (deadly) = beladono, nightshade (woody) = dolc^amaro. In the same opus nursing of the sick (Esperanto flegi, from German pflegen) is differentiated from nursing of children (Esperanto varti, from German warten) when an Esperanto equivalent of to look after would have covered both. The Key to Esperanto pushes specialization further by listing kiso = kiss, and s^maco = noisy kiss. If I shake a bottle Esperanto calls it skui, but if I shake my friend’s hand it is manpremi. When a chamois leaps into the Esperanto world it turns into a c^amo, but the stuff with wihich I get the dirty off my window is not a compound of chamois and leather, as you might think, it is s^amo.

Esperanto fostered several rival projects, and their appearance gave rise to anxiety. The year 1900 was the foundation of the Delegation of the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language. This body, which had the support of leaders in the academic world, including the chemist Ostwald, the philologist Jespersen, the logician Couturat, approached a large number of scientific bodies and individual men of science with the suggestion that some competent institution, preferably the International Association of Academies, should take over the task of pronouncing judgment on rival claimants. The Association refused to do so, and the Delegation itself eventually appointed a committee with this object in 1907. Initially discussion focussed in two schemes, Esperanto itself and Idiom Neutral (p. 460). The delegates then received a third proposal under the pseudonym Ido. The author of this bolt from the blue was Louis de Beaufront, till then a leading French Esperantist. The Committee decided in favour of Esperanto with the proviso that reforms were necessary on the lines suggested by Ido. The Esperantists officiall refused to collaborate with the delegation in the work of reform, and the delegation then adopted the reformed product which took the pseudonym of its author. In some ways Ido is better, but it has the same defective foundations as Esperanto. It has dropped adjectival concord but retains the accusative form of the noun as an optional device. The accented consonants of Esperanto have disappeared. The vocabulary of Ido contains a much higher proportion of Latin roots, and is well-nigh free of Slavonic ingredients. The root themselves are less distorted. The system of derivative affixes has been pruned of [...] lties [...] inflated by a [...] based on quasi-logical preoccupations. In place of the six prefixes and twenty-two suffixes of Esperanto, Ido has sixteen prefixes and forty suffixes.

There have been other bitter feuds between orthodox Esperantists and reformist groups. After Ido came Esperantido by René de Saussure. The three following equivalent sentences illustrate the family likeness of Esperanto, Ido, and Esperantido:


Por homo vere civilizita, filozofo aù juristo, la kono de la latina lingvo estas dezirebla, sed internacia lingvo estas utila por moderna komunikado de unu lando al alia.


Por homo vere civilizita, filozofo od yuristo, la konoco di Latina esas dezirinda, ma linguo internaciona esas utila por la komunikado moderna de un lando ad altra.


Por homo vere civilizita, filozofo or yuristo, la kono de la latina linguo estas dezirebla, sed internacia linguo estas utila por moderna interkomunikado dey un lando al alia.

INTERLINGUA [Latino sine flexione]

No rival successfully arrested the spread of Esperanto, though several of its competitors were inmeasurably superior. Every new project made for more internationality of the basic word material. Coming from different directions pioneers of language-planning were converging to a single focus. Some searched the living European representatives of the Aryan family for terms common to the greatest number of them, and inevitably arrived at a vocabulary essentially Latin in its character. Others took the outcome for granted, and went straight to the neo-Latin languages for bricks and straw. A third group extracted from Classical Latin what remains alive, i. e. its vocabulary, and discarded what is dead, i. e. its grammar. The most interesting, and till now the most enlightened, attempt to modernize Latin is Latino sine Flexione (Interlingua), devised by the Italian mathematician, Giuseppe Peano. In 1908 Peano became Director of the Academia pro Interlingua, formerly the Akademi de Lingu Universal, and at a still earlier stage in its career, the Kadem bevünetik Volapüka, founded by the second and third Volapük Congress. The Academia was a meeting-ground for people interested in applied linguistics. Any enthusiast could join and contribute to its organ in any artificial language which his fellow travellers could easily understand. The aim was to discover what is most international among the existing welter of European languages.

Since 1903 Peano had been publishing his research in a simplified form of Latin. He did not know that Leibniz (p. 451) had proposed something similar, till one of his pupils came accross the German philosopher’s observations on rational grammar and a universal language. On January 3, 1908, Peano did something quite unprofessorial. He read a paper to the Academia delle Scienze di Torino. It began in conventional Latin and ended in Peanese. Citing Leibniz, he emphasized the superfluities of Latin grammar. As he discussed and justified each innovation he advocated, he incorporated it in the idiom of his discourse forthwith. Grammar-book Latin underwent a metamorphosis on the spot. What emerged from the chrysalis was a language which any well-educated European can read at first sight.

Interlingua aims at a vocabulary of Latin elements which enjoy widest currency in the living European languages of to-day. It therefore includes all words with which we ourselves are already familiar, together with latinized Greek stems which have contributed to international terminology. Of itself this does not distinguish Interlingua from some other auxiliaries. Five out of six words in the Esperanto dictionary have roots taken from Latin, directly or indirectly. The Latin bias of Ido, Occidental, or Romanal is even stronger. What distinguishes Interlingua from Esperanto and its relatives is the garb which the international word wears. In Zamenhof’s scheme the borrowed word had to conform with the author’s ideas about spelling, pronunciation, and flexional appendices. After clipping and adding, the end-product often defies recognition on an international scale. Peano followed a different plan. He did not mutilate his pickings. The latin word has the stem-form, that is, roughly the form in which we meet it in modern languages.

What Peano regards as the stem of a noun, adjective, or pronoun is the ablative (p. 315) form, e. g. argento, campo, arte, carne, monte, parte, plebe, principe, celebre, audace, novo. Every one of these words occurs in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. We ourselves are familiar with them in argentine, camp, artist, carnivorous, mountain, part, plebeian, pricipal, celebrity, audacious, novelty. In this way Latin words preserve their final vowels. The stem-form of the Peano verb is the Latin imperative, or the infinitive without -re. So we get ama (amare), habe (habere), scribe (scribere), audi (audire), i (ire). Interlingua has no mobile derivative affixes to juggle with. It is wholly analytical, like Chinese or, we might almost add, Anglo-American. What prefixes and suffixes remain stick firmly to the Latin or Greek loan-word with all their diversity of meaning, contradictions and obscurities in English, French, or Spanish usage.

The grammar of Interlingua will not delay us long. Its supreme virtue is its modesty. In Peano’s own words, the minimum grammar is no grammar at all. No pioneer of language-planning has been more iconoclastic towards the irrelevancies of number, gender, tense, and mood. It is Chinese with Latin roots, but because the roots are Latin (or Greek) there is no surfeit of ambiguous homophones. What Latin labels by several different genitive case-marks, Interlingua binds together with the “empty” word de, equivalent to our word of. Thus Latin vox populi, vox dei, becomes voce de populo, voce de Deo. Number indication is optional, an innovation wich no future planner can ignore. What is now familiar to the reader of the Loom, Peano first grasped. He saw that number and tense intrude in situations where they are irrelevant, and we become slaves of their existence. Whether we like it or not, we have to use two irrelevant Anglo-American flexions when we say: there were three lies in yesterday’s broadcast. The plural s is redundant because the number three comes before the noun. The past were is irrelevant because what happened yesterday is over done with. Interlingua reserves the optional and international plural affix -s (Latin matres, Greek meteres, French mères, Spanish madres, Dutch moeders) for situations in which there is no qualifier equivalent to many, several, etc., or nothing in the context to specify plurality, e. g. the father has sons = patre habe filios, but three sons = tres filio. It is almost an insult to Peano’s genius to add that Interlingua has no gender apparatus or that the adjective is invariant. If sex is relevant to the situation, we add mas for the male, and femina for the female, e. g. cane femina = a bitch. There is no article, definite or indefinite. The distinction I—me, he—him, etc., which almost all Peano’s predecessors preserved, dies an overdue death. Me stands for I and me, illo for he and him.

Demolition of the verb-edifice is equally thorough. There are no flexions of person or number. Thus me habe = I have, te habe = you have, nos habe = we have. There is also no obligatory tense-distinction. This is in line with the analytical drift of modern European languages (cf. especially Afrikaans, p. 285) which rely on helpers or particles to express time or aspect. The -ed like the -s in two rabbits escaped yesterday is redundant. We have no need for either of them when we say: two sheep hurt themselves yesterday. The Interlinguist says heri me es in London (yesterday I BE in London), hodie illos es in Paris (to-day they BE in Paris), eras te es in New York (to-morrow you BE in New York). Peano’s attitude to tense is on all fours with his attitude to number. Where explicit particles, or context do not really specify past time, the helper e before the verb does so. Similarly i (from ire) indicates the future as in the French construction je vais me coucher (I am going to bed). Thus the Interlinguist says me i bibe = I am going to drink, or me e bibe = I drank.

Though one of the most attractive projects yet designed, Peano’s Interlingua has several weak points. Some of them spring from the fact that its author had his eyes glued on the European mise-en-scène, and more particularly, on the cultural hierarchy. So he never asked himself whether Interlingua was free from sounds likely to cause difficulties to linguistic communities outside Europe. There is another grave but easily remediable omission. A completely flexionless languages such as Interlingua calls for rigid rules of word-order. Peano bothered little about the necessary traffic regulations. The capital weakness of Interlingua is that its vocabulary is too large. Its author ignored the interests of the peoples of Africa and Asia, as he also ignored the plain man in Europe. Had he had more sympathy with their needs he would have worked out a minimum vocabulary sufficient for everyday purposes. He did not. The 1915 edition of Peano’s Vocabulario Commune contains 14,000 words which have currency in leading European languages. Here is a sample of Interlingua:


Bacon has said that the true and lawful goal of science is to endow human life with new powers and inventions. Throughout his long and distinguished career, the great Danish linguist Jespersen has had the courage and originality to emphasize that philology has the same “true and lawful goal” as any other sicence. As a young man he espoused in turn Volapük and Esperanto. Later he helped to shape Ido. In 1928 he put forward a project of his own making, but like many other Esperanto renegades did not succeed in shedding the larval skin of his highly inflected past. He called it Novial.

Novial is the latest arrival. It is not the last word in language-planning. Naturally, it is better than Esperanto or Ido. Because it had the advantage of coming later, it could scarcely be otherwise. Besides, Jespersen is the greatest living authority on English grammar. It would be surprising if a constructive linguist failed to recognize the cardinal virtues of a language so dear to him. What Jespersen calls the best type of international language is one: which in every point offers the greatest facility to the greatest number. When he speaks of the greatest number he refers only to Europeans and those inhabitants of the other continents who are either of European extraction or whose culture is based on European civilization. This sufficiently explains why Novial retains so many luxuries common to Western European languages.

For instance, the Novial adjective has a conceptual neuter form, ending in -um. From what is otherwise the invariant ver we get verum, which means true thing. In defiance of decent thrift, Novial has two ways of expressing possessive relations, an analytical one by means of the particle de, and a synthetic by means of the ending -n. Thus Men patron kontore is Novial for: my (mine) father’s office. Jespersen’s treatment of the verb conforms to the analytical technique of Anglo-American. This at leat is an enormous advance upon Esperanto, Russian, Lithuanian, and other difficult languages; but is not particularly impressive if we apply the yardstick of Pekingese or Peanese. Future and conditional are expressed by the auxiliaries sal and vud, perfect and pluperfect by the auxiliaries ha and had. Novial departs from English usage in one particular. The dictionary form does the work of our past participle in compound past tenses, e. g. me protekte, I protect, me ha protekte, I have protected. This recalls the class of English verbs to which cut, put, or hurt belong. What simplification results from this is nullified by the superfluous existence of two ways of expressing past time, a synthetic one which ends in the Teutonic weak -d, e. g. me protekted (I protected), and an analytical one involving an equivalent non-emphatic Chaucerian helper did, e. g. me did protekte. There are no flexions of mood; but the student of Novial has to learn how to shunt tense forms appropiate to indirect speech.

Like Esperanto, Novial has a bulky apparatus of derivative affixes for coining new words. They recall forms which exist in contemporary European languages; but Jespersen is at pains to give each a clear-cut meaning. There are many whimsicalities in the choice of them. A special suffix denotes action, another indicates the result of an action, and a third is for use when the product of the action is specially meant, as distinct from the way in which it is done. (Got it?) In the list of prefixes we meet an old acquaintance, the Esperanto bo-. This indicates relation by marriage, e. g. bopatro (father-in-law), bomatra (mother-in-law), bofilia (daughter-in-law). How long the mother-in-law will continue to be a menace to monogamy, or how long monogamy will continue to be the prevailing mores of civilized communities we cannot say. Meanwhile it is just as easy to make a joke about the analytical English or Chinese equivalent of Jespersen’s bomatra.

In building up his vocabulary Jespersen aimed at choosing the most international words. Since there are many things and notions for which there are no fully fledged international (i. e. European) terms Jespersen embraces the eclecticism of his predecessors. The result is a mongrel pup. The following story illustrates its hybrid character:


With one exception, G. J. Henderson, who published two proposals, Lingua in 1888 and Latinesce a few years later, none of the promoters of constructed languages during the nineteenth century were American or British. With few exceptions, no continental linguists of the nineteenth century, and none of the leaders of the world-auxiliary movement, recognized the fact that one existing language, that of the largest civilized speech community, is free from several defects common to all outstanding projects for an artificial medium, before the publication of Peano’s Interlingua.

This is not altogether surprising. Because English spelling teems with irregularities, and still more because of the vast resources of its hybrid vocabulary, learning English is not an easy task for anyone who aims to get a wide reading knowledge. So academic linguists trained in sedentary pursuits overlooked the astonishing ease with which a beginner can get a good working knowledge of the Anglo-American interlanguage as a vehicle of unpretentious self-expression. C. K. Ogden and his colleague, I. A. Richards, are largely responsible for the growing recognition of the merits which won high tribute from Grimm. Ogden and Richards chose Anglo-American usage as the case material of The Meaning of Meaning, a handbook of modern logic. What began as an academic examination of how we define things, led one of the authors into a more spacious domain. Hitherto we had thought of English as the language with the large dictionary. Ogden’s work has taught us to recognize its extreme word economy.

To resolve this paradox the reader needs to know the problem which Ogden and Richards discuss in their book. Latent in the theme of the The Meaning of Meaning is the following question: what is the absolute minimum number of words we need to retain, if we are to give an intelligible definition of all other words in Webster’s or the Oxford Dictionary? The answer is, about 800, or between two and three months’ work for anyone willing to memorize twelve new words a day. This great potential word-economy of Anglo-American is due to the withering away of word-forms dictated by context without regard to meaning. We have had many examples of this process, especially in Chapters III, IV, and VII. Our natural interlanguage has shed redundant contextual distinctions between particles and between transitive and intransitive verbs. We can now do without a battery of about 400 special verb-forms which are almost essential to ordinary self-expression in French or German. This is not disputed by critics who carp at the absence of names for everyday objects in Ogden’s 850 Basic Word List, and it is not necessary to remind readers of the Loom that Anglo-American has another supreme merit which pioneers of language-planning, other than the great linguist Henry Sweet, were slow to realize.

Academic British grammarians, with few notable exceptions such as Bradley, have always been apologetic about the flexional “poverty” of English, and disposed to fondle any surviving flexions they could fish up. In fact, there are only three surviving obligatory flexions which we need to add to our items for a serviceable vocabulary of new words: (a) -s for the third person singular of the present tense, or for the plural form of the noun, (b) -d or -ed for the past tense or participle of verbs, (c) -ing, which can be tacked on to almost any word which signifies an action or process. The genitive -s is optional, as are the -er and -est of essential comparatives or superlatives. The seven forms of the verb be, four or five forms of a few —not more than a dozen— common strong verbs, and half a dozen irregular noun plurals, round up the essentials of Anglo-American grammar other than rules of word-order.

Thus the essential grammar of Anglo-American is much simpler than that of the only two artificial languages which have hitherto attracted a considerable popular following. The language itself is the most cosmopolitan medium of civilized intercourse, and it can boast of a copious literature produced at low cost. It is the exclusive Western vehicle of commercial transactions in the Far East, and the common tongue of business enterprise on the American continent. It is also a lingua franca for the publication of a large bulk of scientific research carried on in Scandinavia, Japan, China, and in countries other than France, Germany, or Italy. For all these and for other reasons, the movement to promote Anglo-American as a world-auxiliary has eclipsed the enthusiasms with which former generations espoused proposals for constructed languages.

Whatever fate has in store for Ogden’s system of Basic English, everyone who is interested in the interlanguage problem must acknowledge a debt to its author for clarifying the problem of word-economy and specifying the principles for making the dictionary of a satisfactory word-auxiliary. What is not beyond dispute is whether his particular solution of the problem is the best one. To avoid the inflation of a basic vocabulary with separate verbs, Ogden takes advantage of the enormous number of distinctive elements which can be replaced by one of about sixteen common English verbs in combination with other essential words. Thus we can make the following combinations with go followed by a directive:

We can also manufacture many verb equivalents by combining some common English verbs with nouns or adjectives, in accordance with the precedent of Bible English: make clean, make wet, make whole, make well, make a fire of, make a fuss about, make trouble. Reliance on such combinations is the method of verb-economy peculiar to Basic English. The Basic Word List contains only the verbs: come, go, get, give, keep, let, make, put, seem, take, be, do, have, say, see, send, may, will. It is possible to say anything in effective English which does not offend accepted conventions of grammar without introducing any verbs not included in this list.

We could make any language more easy to learn by lopping off its useless flexions and regularizing those which are useful, and if we deprived French of its preposterous encumbrance of personal flexions (fifty per cent unpronounced) and the still more preposterous burden of gender or number concord, Frenchmen might still decipher the product, as we can decipher pidgin English. It is doubtful whether this would help a foreigner to read French books, and the great practical advantage of a living, in contradistinction to a constructed, language is the amenity of cheap books already available. Besides, no Frenchman would agree to learn a mutilated form of his own language as an auxiliary for peaceful communication.

This is not the result at which Ogden aims. Spelling reform or simplification of Anglo-American grammar, beyond the elimination of optional survivals for which accepted isolating constructions already exist, would lead to something different from the Anglo-American in which millions of cheaply produced books come out yearly. So Ogden accepts all the few obligatory flexions and irregularities inherent in correct usage and rejects only those (e. g. the optional genitive) which we need not use. He has proved his claims for Basic as a means of self-expression by translating technical works and narratives for educational use into a terse idiom which is not umpleasing to most of us. The prose style of J. B. S. Haldane is often almost pure Basic. Basic is not essentially a different sort of English from Anglo-American as we usually understand the term. It would be better to describe it as a system by which a beginner can learn to express himself clearly and correctly according to accepted standards with no more effort than learning a constructed language entails.

The recently published New Testament in Basic is a sufficient refutation of the criticism that Basic is a pidgin English. The word list of the Basic New Testament contains some special Bible words which make the total up to a round 1,000. The following is a fair sample for comparison with the King James (Authorized) Bible (Mark x. 21-24 and Acts iv. 32):


Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whasoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have trasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common... Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.


And Jesus, looking on him, and loving him, said, There is one thing needed: go, get money for your goods, and give it to the poor, and you will have wealth in heaven: and come with me. But his face became sad at the saying, and he went away sorrowing: for he was one who had much property. And Jesus, looking round about, said to his disciples, How hard it is for those who have wealth to come into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were full of wonder at his words. But Jesus said to them again, Children, how hard it is for those who put faith in wealth to come into the kingdom of God!

And all those who were of the faith were one in heart and soul: and not one of them said that any of the things which he had was his property only; but they had all things in common... And no one among them was in need; for everyone who had land or houses, exchanging them for money, took the price of them, and put it at the feet of the Apostles for distribution to everyone as he had need.

Some critics of Basic will say that it is tainted with the philosophical preoccupations of Wilkins, Leibniz, and Bentham —the armchair view that the main business of a language is to “transmit ideas.” To be sure, transmission of ideas is an unnecessarily charitable description of the everyday speech of people who have to eat, dress, buy cigarettes, pay rent, mate, or excrete. Admittedly a large part of the daily intercourse of intellectuals themselves deals with situations in which it is not convenient to define a beefsteak as a cut from the back end of a mele cow kept on the fire long enough with the right things —and so forth. Advocates of Basic may reasonably reply that this concern for our common humanity is spurious, that early training by the method of definition would do much to raise the general intellectual level of mankind, and that the main thing for the beginner is to get self-confidence as soon as possible, at the risk of a little long-windedness.

The focus of intelligent criticism is the form of verb-economy which Ogden has chosen. His critics point out that those who have used Basic idioms as a substitute for the more usual type of Anglo-American in examples such as those cited above already know English and have no doubt about the meaning of such combinations as get for or go with. Is the correct idiomatic construction for the verb of another language equally obvious, if we do not already know English? It is certain that a foreigner will deduce from its literal meaning the idiomatic verb in the sentence Martha had her hands full of the work of the house? This difficulty comes out in three ways of translating into Basic idiom each of the highly indefinite native verbs (a) try, (b) ask:

(a) attempt = make an attempt at.
test = put to the test.
judge = be the judge of.
(b) question = put a question about.
request = make a request.
invite = give an invitation.

Though it is quite correct English to put a question and make a request, it is difficult to see why a Chinese shoudl prefer these forms to making a question or putting a request. Indeed the Chinaman would be at home in his native idiom if he took advantage of the fact that attempt, test, judge, request, question, and all be used as verbs or nouns and that we request the presence of a person when we invite him. By exploiting this most remarkable feature of English word-economy it would be easy to devise a world-list no longer than that of the official Basic 850 without recourse to this bewildering multiplicity of idioms. We could also include a few words such as purchase, which can be verb (to purchase), noun (the purchase of), or adjective (purchase price), without such periphrases as give money for when we have to refer to an activity of daily occurrence. This way of solving the problem of verb-economy has another advantage. The Basic construction is long-winded. The Chinese trick is snappy.

It goes without saying that any attempt to simplify Anglo-American within the framework of generally accepted conventions has a ready welcome where there is continuous contact between British administrators and Oriental or African populations with a multitude of local vernaculars. Owing to the influence of American trade and medicine, and to that of American Universities and philanthropic foundations in the Far East, the influence of their common language extends far beyond the bounds of the British Empire or the United States. As a lingua franca in China and Japan, it has no formidable European competitor. Esperanto or any form of rehabilitated Aryan would have no prospect of outstripping Anglo-American unless it first established itself by general agreement as the official medium of a United Europe. In more than one respect Esperanto is inferior, and in none superior, to English. With its wealth of flexions it limps far behind several European languages; and it would be a bold boast to say that its vocabulary is more international than that of English.

There is already a large educational publishing clientele for proposals which aim at promoting the use of Anglo-American as the lingua franca of technology and trade in backward and subject communities. Basic is not the only proposal of this sort. From Toronto comes West’s method. This is based on word-counts, and presumably therefore aims to cater for the needs of those whose immediate goal is rapid progress in reading facility. Miss Elaine Swensen of the Language Research Institute at New York University has devised another system, H. E. Palmer of the Institute for Research in English Teaching in Tokyo a third (Iret). In American Speech (1934), Dr. Jane Rankin Aiken has put forward Little English, with an essential vocabulary of 800 words, i. e. 50 less than Basic. Others exist and will come.


The first desideratum of an interlanguage is the ease with which people can learn it. If we apply this test to rival claimants, two conclusions emerge from our narrative. One may well doubt whether any constructed language with the support of a mass movement is superior to Anglo-American, especially if we consider the needs of the Far East or of the awakening millions of African. At the same time, it would be easy to devise an artificial language vastly superior to Anglo-American by taking full advantage of neglected lessons from comparative linguistics and of the short-comings of our predecessors in the same endeavour. If historical circumstances favour the adoption of a living one as a world language, Anglo-American has no dangerous rival; and practical reasons which make people prefer Anglo-American to any artificial interlanguage, however wisely conceived, will inevitably check any bid to supersede the Anglo-American dictionary. Simplified English, whether Basic or Iret, Swensen or Aiken —not to mention more to come— can scarcely aspire to be other than a passport to the more ample territory of the great English-speaking community, and a safe-conduct to its reach treasury of technical literature.

To these conclusions it is reasonable to add another. No artificial interlanguage movement sponsored by voluntary effort can hope to swamp the claims of Anglo-American in the East. Thus our hopes for a neutral constructed language stand or fall with the prospects for a Europe united by a democratic constitution based on intelligent prevision of linguistic problems which democratic co-operation must surmount. The choice before us may be settled for many decades to come by historical circumstances over which we have no control. If historical circumstances do allow us to cast our vote, it will be supremely important to recognize the implications of a decision in favour of Anglo-American or of a new start in language-planning.

If advocates of constructed languages have been peculiarly blind to the intrinsic merits of Anglo-American, those who champion its claims as a world-auxiliary have been equally deaf to its extrinsic disabilities. Though Anglo-American is not a national language, it is not a politically neutral language. If a victorious alliance of the English-speaking people attempts to make it the official medium of a united Europe, its use will make the British nation a Herrenvolk. It will perpetuate all the discords which arise when one speech-community enjoys a privileged position in the cultural and social life of a larger group. There is only one basis of equality on which nations can co-operate in a peaceful world order without the frictions which arise from linguistic differences. A new European order, or a new world order in which no nation enjoys favoured treatment will be one in which every citizen is bilingual, as Welsh or South African children are brought up to be bilingual. The common language of European or world citizenship must be the birthright of everyone, because the birthright of no one.

History has not yet given its verdict. It may not be too late to forestall disasters of a maladroit decision. For that reason the last chapter of The Loom of Language will deal with principles which must dictate a wholly satisfactory solution of the world-language problem. Whatever final decision blind fate or intelligent prescience imposes on the future of the most widely distributed and the only talking animal on this planet, this much is clear. The efforts of the pioneers of language-planning and the work of men like Ogden will not have been for nothing. Ogden’s principle of word-economy must influence the design of any satisfactory artificial language of the future. Some features of the later interlanguages, such as Jespersen’s and Peano’s, will inevitably influence the teaching of Anglo-American, if it is destined to be the auxiliary language of the whole world.


Histoire de la langue universelle.
A Short History of the International Language Movement.
An International Language.
Word Economy.
Basic English versus the Artificial Languages.
Delphos or the Future of Language.

Siguiente: Language Planning for a New Order

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