Some two dozen people gathered in a small city in Germany for four days this week to speak a language most have never even heard of

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the 19th of August a group of some two dozen people from five countries gathered in the small German city of Tübingen (pop. 85 000) for a four-day event, and though it made headlines locally in German (Stuttgarter Zeitung article here, Focus article here, Südkurier article here, Badische Zeitung here and mp3 of a ten-minute radio interview here with one of the participants) a bit of attention in English couldn't hurt.

The gathering is a yearly gathering held by a group of people known as Idists, who speak a language invented in 1907 called Ido, created in order to be an easy language for the rest of the world to learn and speak as a universal second language. The language may resemble Italian and Spanish somewhat at first sight, but it has been created in order to be as easy to learn as possible, which means that nearly all of the difficulties one finds in learning a language have been removed. In Ido all nouns end in o (domo = house). Many languages have irregular plurals but not so in Ido - change the o to i (domi - houses) and you have the plural. Conjugation is easy: present tense is -as (me iras = I go), past tense is -is (me iris = I went), future is -os (me iros = I will go), and so on, with no exceptions for any verb. Compare this to just two tenses of a single French verb:
To go - aller
Present tense: je vais, tu vas, il va, nous allons, vous allez, ils vont
Future tense:j'irai, tu iras, il ira, nous irons, vous irez, ils iront

The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.
and it's easy to see why this language takes much less time to learn than another. While a student of French is busy learning a single verb the student of Ido can already conjugate in all tenses for all verbs without fail, and this applies to other aspects of the language as well. No irregular plurals, pronounced exactly as written, no grammatical gender, and so on. The problem, of course, is the (relatively) tiny speaker population, the classic constructed auxiliary language catch-22: "I have a hard time being noticed because I have few speakers. I have few speakers because it's hard to get noticed." Much the same as Linux in the beginning, in fact, or the Dvorak keyboard today - something the vast majority knows nothing about, but that the users absolutely love and swear by, and that in the beginning only the most adventurous and idealistic are willing to try. As Linux today and the metric system show, however, simply starting out new and small and up against a much larger and well entrenched alternative does not always doom one to failure.

These yearly events, though in theory they could be held anywhere, are always held in Europe and have had an average of 16 participants per year which makes this year's gathering a relatively large one. Some two dozen may seem like a small number, but keep in mind that this is the two dozen that have the time and money to spend four days in Germany just to speak the language, and the number of those using it online throughout the world is estimated to be a few thousand.

To learn more about the language itself it would be easiest to simply read the Wikipedia article on the language, but YouTube also provides some interesting samples for those who want to hear what it sounds like straight away.

Here it is spoken:

and here it is sung.

So how was the conference this year? A message here in Ido from one of the participants provides some detail (translated by me).

Segun mea opiniono la Ido-renkontro 2010 en Tübingen esis vere granda suceso. -- In my opinion the Ido-gathering 2010 in Tübingen was a really large success.

Partoprenis plu kam 20 Idisti de kin landi. -- More than 20 Idists from five countries participated.

Ye la venerdio ni havis inform-estaleyo en la centro di la civito e la intereso por Ido esis tre granda. -- On Friday we had an information-exhibition in the centre of the city and interest in Ido was very large.

Me ed altra Idisti interparolis tri hori kun interesita personi e la reakti esis tre pozitiva. -- I and other Idists talked for three hours with interested people and the reactions were very positive.

Detlev anke facis publika diskurso pri artificala lingui. -- Detlev also had a public discourse on artificial languages.

Pro nia publika aktivaji quar personi - du yuna viri e du yuna mulieri - partoprenis en la mikra Ido-kurso da Detlev Groth e rapide lernis nia linguo. -- Due to our public activities four people - two young men and two young women - took part in the small Ido course by Detlev Groth and quickly learned our language.

Anke la intereso di la jurnalaro esis tre granda. -- Interest by newspapers was also very large.

Diversa jurnalisti asistis en kelka parti di nia renkontro. -- Various journalists assisted in some parts of our gathering.

Mem radio-stacioni interviuvis ni e multa germana jurnali skribis pri la Ido-renkontro. -- Even radio stations interviewed us and many newspapers wrote about the Ido gathering.

Dum la labor-kunsido di la ULI ni tre serioze e vivace diskutis pri diversa temi en nia movado quale la futuro di Parolez Ido, la linguala komitato e la futuro di privata Ido-biblioteki. -- During the work meeting of the ULI (Ido Language Union) we very seriously and lively discussed various subjects in our movement such as the future of Parolez Ido, the language committee and the future of private Ido bookstores.

La ULI-membri di la renkontro decidis ke la Ido-renkontro 2011 eventos en Luxemburgia en la urbo Echternach. -- The ULI members at the gathering decided that the Ido gathering in 2011 will happen in Luxembourg in the city of Echternach.

Ido vivas e funcionas. -- Ido lives, and it works.

Asistis jurnalistino en kelka parti di nia renkontro. -- A female journalist assisted in some parts of our gathering.

E pos du dii lu esis kapabla sen problemi komprenar nia linguo! -- And after two days she was able to understand our language without problem!

La Germana Ido-Societo adoptis nova statuto e havas multa nova projeti. -- The German Ido Society adopted a new statute and has many new projects.

Segun mea opininio la suceso di Tübingen montris ke la Idisti mustas agar publike. -- In my opinion the success of Tübingen showed that Idists need to act publicly.

Ne suficas diskutar en la interreto. -- It's not enough to discuss on the internet.

Ni bezonas aktiva Ido organizuri en plura landi, qui esas kapabla agar publike. -- We need active Ido organizations in many lands, capable of acting publicly.

Bezonas plu aktivaji en la reala mondo en plura landi e ne nur en Germania! -- We need more activity in the real world in many countries and not just in Germany!

So what does the future hold for Ido? More hard work over the upcoming years, certainly, and if there is enough of this hard work them perhaps a continued incremental increase at these conferences each year, more attention each time, and perhaps some day a breakthrough.

Spanish in the United States.
What is likely to be just as important as this, however, is the state of three or four languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, and maybe French. English remains the unrivalled default language for international communication, but shows weakness in certain areas such as Florida and California, countries such as Trinidad and Tobago are electing to make Spanish their official languages as well as English, and English hardly seems to be making a dent in South America as a whole. China now has the world's second largest GDP and interest in the language continues to increase, while French, while seemingly on the ropes, has a vast hidden potential known as sub-Saharan Africa which is expected to provide the language another half billion speakers by 2050. So if English only succeeds at remaining a first among equals, and doesn't seem to be on the road to becoming the world's universal language, perhaps this deadlock will provide more interest in an alternative, something created to be easy to learn and not just the language of one group or another. Time will tell.

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