Newspaper from 1887: The Universal Language.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

By Universal Language, of course, this newspaper means Volapük. Esperanto's Unua Libro had been published just a few months earlier but Volapük was still much more popular at the time, and this newspaper (The Bangor Daily Whig and Courier) had a fairly detailed article on the language in December that year.

The best part about these newspapers: the ads. MAKE HENS LAY, Purify your blood with Hood's Sasparilla, Ladies! - do your own dyeing at home!, Carriage sponges, and new raisins.

Here it is.

The Universal Language.

John Martin Schleyer is a scholar and a linguistc of some celebrity. He was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden, in 1831, and is not as old a man as he looks. His invention of Volapuk was a great intellectual feat. This universal language has gained a firm footing in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary, Italy, France, Sweden, and especially in Syria and Arabia, having been introduced also into Russia (south), America, Asia, and the north of Africa. It has a vocabulary of seventeen thousand words. These are printed with the grammar. When, a few months ago, the Volapukists held their grand international congress at Munich, and most of the countries of Europe sent representatives, the good repute of America for enlightened curiosity was saved by one gentleman from Cincinnati. Herr Schleyer, the inventor of the language, took the chair in the name of the association of France. He explained that Volapuk was not meant to suppress other tongues, but only to supply a new one for the common purposes of all mankind, and in particular for the promotion of universal brotherhood. The inventor hopes to induce the German government to admit Volapuk to the list of languages transmissable by telegraph within the empire. In Denmark it has been officially recommended to telegraph clerks as a subject of study. The knowledge of it spreads rapidly in France. According to the prospectus of the Volapuk-Almanach for 1888, there are in Germany and Austria alone some twenty thousand amateurs or masters of this eight-year-old "world language."

Volapuk means world's speech, vol, meaning world, and puk, speech. The language consists of the best of over twenty tongues, omiting their irregularities. The most is taken from the English language, the others being represented according to their importance. The pronunciation is arranged to be easy for all nations; the letter "R," therefore, is seldom used. If that letter is contained in English words when brought into Volapuk, it is changed to L. All the letters are English. The consonants are pronounced as in English, and the vowels like Spanish. Every word is spelled phonetically, there being no silent letters. The rules of the Volapuk grammar have no exceptions. It even goes so far that plurals from the pronoun I (ob) are formed regularly by adding an s (obs), the same way as with every noun. Adjectives and verbs can be formed from every noun by adding the syllables "ik" or "on." Certain syllables are used to save memorizing a large vocabulary; an instance is the syllable "le" which when prefixed to any word, expresses the same general idea in a larger degree. House in Volapuk is "Dom." The prefix gives the word "ledom" meaning palace. The syllable "lu" prefixed to a word denotes the same idea in a smaller sense. Using the same example, "ludom" is cottage. These two syllables alone save the memorizing of one hundred words. Out of a classification of nine hundred words it is necessary to memorize but three hundred and two syllables. Volapuk is so arranged that in translation all peculiarities of style are retained. To one unaccustomed to the sound of the language it seems strange, but its harmony grows upon the ear. The whole grammar is contained in four small pages.

The Open Court, a paper devoted to educational interests, furnishes the following condensed account of Schleyer's method:

The simple Anglo-Saxon roots abound in English and their brevity caused their adoption. The numerals are 1 bel, 2 tel, 3 dil, 4 fol, 5 tull, 6 mal, 7 vel, 8 jol, 9 zul, 10 bals, 20 tels, 100 tum, 1,000 mil, million balion; 11 would be balsebal, the letter e meaning and. So 21 would be telsebal.

There is but one declension. S added to any word forms the plural which is never formed in any other way. The first three vowels added to any noun form the genitive, dative and accusative. Thus:

Vol, Nom. World.
Vola, Gen. Of the World.
Vole, Dat. To the World.
Voli, Acc. The or a World.

Words would be vols. Every noun is declined in the same way. The verbs are all regular and there is but one conjugation. The tenses are denoted by the letters a e i o u placed before the verbs; the vnletter preceding these denote the passive voice. The personal pronouns are ob I, ol thou, om he, of she, os it, on they.

The verb Lof, to love, would be conjugated thus:

Lofob, I love. Lofobe, we love.
Lofol, thou lovest. Lofols, ye love.
Lofom, he loves. Lofoms, they (on) love.
Lofof, she loves. Lofofs, they (f) love.
Imperfect, alofob. I loved.
Perfect, elofob. I have loved.
Pluperfect, ilofob. I had loved.
Future, olofob. I will love.
Future perfect, ulofob. I will have loved.

Palofob is I am loved, pelofob, I have been loved and so on.

Negatives are no. Adjectives are formed by adding ik to the noun; gud is the good and gudik, good, compared thus: gudik, gudibum, gudbium (an umlaut over the last u in the last word.) Adverbs are made by adding o to the adjective; gudiko is well.

The Portland Argus prints letters from several Maine educators, the first being from Prof. Chapman, of Bowdon College. He writes: I have but a word to say concerning the "new universal language" which is attracting general notice just now.

As an ingenious contrivance for facilitating intercourse between people of different tongues, when the object of intercourse is to make a bargain, to order a dinner, to seek out or to impart information on topics of current interest, and, in general, to substitute for language an artificial medium of communication, the so-called Volapuk is worthy of attention and respect. Among the nations which jostle each other on the continent of Europe it would have its greatest value; and it is even conceivable that, though the influence of travel and commerce, it might become the common speech of a people not anchored to its native language by a native and noble literature; for such a literature often takes a strong grip upon the very irregularities and anomalies of speech, which this device seeks to avoid.

For the purpose which it seems especially designed and adapted to serve, it may have considerable value; but for the higher uses of language, or as a means of promoting "universal brotherhood," it is hardly reasonable to expect much from it.

Professor John S. Sewall writes: I will say that so far as I am acquainted with the facts, the new world language will in my judgment prove a great convenience. In our age there is vastly more intercourse between nations than ever before; and that not only along commercial lines, but in the manifold relations of literature, science and friendship. And such a universal medium for the interchange of thought will greatly facilitate communication. I do not imagine it is perfect, and doubtless many amendments will be needed. But that such a language is of value is already demonstrated by its use.


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