Tuesday, April 8, 2008

the very first designed language: Volapuk

Before there was Esperanto (Espo) there was Volapuk.

The Flemish cryptographer Dr. Auguste Kerckhoffs was for a number of years Director of the Academy of Volapük, and introduced the movement to several countries. However tensions arose between Dr. Kerckhoffs and others in the Academy, who wanted reforms made to the language, and Schleyer, who insisted strongly on retaining his proprietary rights. This led to schism, with much of the Academy abandoning Schleyer's Volapük in favor of Idiom Neutral and other new constructed language projects. Another reason for the decline of Volapük may have been the rise of Esperanto. In 1887, the first Esperanto book (Unua Libro) was published. As the language was easier to learn, many Volapük clubs became Esperanto clubs.

D: http://donh.best.vwh.net/Esperanto/EBook/chap03.html#volapuk

The first world congress of Volapük was held in Germany in 1884, the second in 1887, the third in 1889. At the first two congresses, business was carried on in German, the language of most of the participants. This may have been a good thing; at the third congress, business was carried on in Volapük, and it was then that the Volapük movement received its death blow.

The forces that shattered the Volapük movement were both linguistic and social in nature; language, after all, does not function in a vacuum. A quick look at them may be instructive, and help us understand the development and fate of later constructed languages, not least of Esperanto.

D: forming words with infixes could be very demanding. Many folks were annoyed at the use of deformed European word roots. For example, Volapuk means "world speech".

At its peak, about 100,000 folks could speak Volapuk. Whether they could carry on a conversation remains unclear. Attempts to simplify aspects of Volapuk that were too complex for an international movement failed. Attempts at reform met with resistance. While the infighting ensued, Zamehof introduced Esperanto.

D: what are themes we see in Volapuk? These are themes we will continue to see throughout the history of such language movements.
1) simple imitation of the structure of the local language
2) the mistaken assumption that this structure will be easy to outsiders
3) use of synthetic infixes rather than analytic word particles for meanings
4) initial success and enthusiasm
5) resistance to reform that would fix shortcomings
6) internal strife in that language movement
7) a better language comes along.

D: this is a nifty how-to kit to design your own language. You too can have a language that only you know, and nobody else wants to learn!
Don't worry - that is just me being cynical.

D: each entry on this blog will include some charming aspect of English that is irregular or difficult.
We tell children and foreigners to add -ED to show past tense. Well, we don't say SINGED. We say SANG. Just one of many that must be exhaustively memorized from lists.

QOTD: "A common allegiance to form of expression that is identified with no single national unit is likely to prove one of the most potent symbols of the freedom of the human spirit that the world has yet known. "
Edward Sapir

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