This pamphlet is not meant to offer a definite plan or method of acquiring, or cultivating, a universal language. Rather, it is merely a suggestion that an ideal tongue might be developed over a long period of years, possibly several generations; and that all races and nationalities should have a part in its cultivation.
The illustrations of the irregularities and inconsistencies in the English and French languages are the most simple, those that should be obvious to the “average man” whose life is occupied in making a living, and in living; or whose time is taken up in activities that do not involve the study of languages. The less obvious irregularities and inconsistencies should be well known to those whose vocations make it necessary for them to have a more or less accurate knowledge of the languages with which they work.
It may be observed that no effort has been made to carry the suggestions to logical conclusions. To have done so would have been, in effect, suggesting a definite plan of proceeding, and that would be contrary to the object for which the pamphlet was prepared.
If these few pages suggests to a few well informed persons, as well as to some who never give language a thought, that a universal tongue may be attained, or cultivated, it will justify the small effort expended in their preparation.
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From the position of the sunlight and the shadows on the floor and walls, and from the sound of the traffic on the street below my hotel room window, I realized that I had slept well into the forenoon, which was contrary to my habits. I had been dreaming, which was very unusual for me; but I had not rested well until long after midnight. I had been thinking of the bi-lingual situation and its inconveniences. When I was fully awake, the sensation of a long and clearly remembered dream reminded me of long years ago, when I was a student, sometimes solving mathematical problems in my dreams.
It was not an uncommon thing, in my late ’teens and early twenties, when my mind would be blurred from intense study, for me to awake in the morning and put on paper the solutions, that came to me in my sleep, of difficult mathematical problems. This experience in the hotel in Montreal, some forty years later, must have been the same mental process working on a rather more extensive scale, and assembling the results of more or less confused reasoning, and of discussions with others, over a period of many years.
In my childhood and youth in Montreal, I was accustomed to the use of two languages, and thought nothing of it more than I would think of a change in the weather. We used each language as circumstances required it. It was just normal, if I ever hesitated to think about it at all. My education was received in the English language schools. The French seemed to us, English speaking people, just a secondary tongue; and, with me, indifferently acquired.
I moved to Western Canada, when I left school, where I contacted about a dozen different languages in the daily pursuit of my affairs. I pondered many years over the inconvenience, annoyance, and expense in human energy—and at this period of human history too—caused by the multiplicity of languages. I realized how it may not have been a great inconvenience generations ago, when the masses seldom moved but a few miles from the places of their birth and the places where they would finally be laid to rest. But, today, is it excusable?
I often wondered if a common language could be devised, and accepted by all humanity. Musing, pondering, over such a possibility, the spectre of international disagreements over trade, boundaries, navigation, and a thousand other things would drive such ideas from my mind, for the time, but always to return.
Having reached the usual age for retirement from active business, and having my affairs so arranged that they took little of my time or attention, thoughts of the lingual conflicts and of the inadequacy of many modern languages seemed to take full possession of my mind, as they never did before. I was commencing to think
that the multiplicity of tongues might be the greatest obstacle in the way of international understanding and good-will. I thought of the many attempts in the past that had been tried, with only questionable success, to eliminate languages spoken by minorities within the boundaries of single states. Again I would remember the efforts of public spirited persons to introduce a universal tongue without eliminating the native or usual languages, but with very little success. It seemed to be easier to know what should be done, or what was desirable, than to know how to do it.
It seemed to me, too, that the many diversities of literatures, propagating diverse ideals and ideas, in different tongues, might not be altogether conducive to the best understanding between races, or between nationalities.
The language question was like some of the difficult mathematical problems: the more I thought about it the more it seemed insoluable.
I was passing a few weeks in my native city, Montreal, with its two languages; and, now, with the experiences of a lifetime to sharpen in my insight to human affairs, the inconvenience of the two languages, especially in a large city, was brought home to me as never before. Thoughts of it were my constant companions, as I visited old familiar places, and met friends of my childhood still using the two languages talking with their neighbors until what seemed to me to be a solution came to me in the night.
It was then that I had an experience which may suggest something to those who think seriously of this language quandary. My experience was like those of my youth with the difficult mathematical problems. Such an experience is not a special inspiration, nor anything supernatural. It may be but the orderly assembling, in the mind, of the unmistakable factors while the thoughts are not distracted by extraneous influences—an experience common to many students.
It was in the year 19XY that I made my sojourn in futurity in my dreams. I shall try to outline some of my observations and the results of my research into the development of the common language which was in use through the whole world. The reader may determine for himself how long a period, in years, may have elapsed between 1950 and 19XY.
It was not the English, nor the French, the language I heard spoken around me in the hotel foyer. I listened attentively hoping to be able to identify it; but, for some time, with only partial success. It was in many ways unlike any language I had ever heard spoken; yet there was something about it that brought back memories of discussions I had had with others who had given some thought to the inconsistencies and other shortcomings of the languages of our times. With my background of two native tongues, and
a smattering of conversational usages in several others, I soon found that I could follow the usual, every day conversations, and read the newspapers.
There was something unusually pleasant about this new language, something almost musical, something that other languages did not possess. It seemed that most of the incongruities and absurdities of our two languages were absent. Much of their awkwardness seemed to have been avoided, while many of their most pleasing words and sounds were retained. Euphony must have been the dominant watch-word in the development of this new tongue. Even with all its unusual and delightful qualities, it was recognizable as something I had heard discussed, or something I had thought of before.
When I secured a morning paper, and found I could read it with fair facility and pleasure, I was especially impressed by the regularity of the conjugations of the verbs, and by the general regularity of all inflections of every part of speech. In many cases the verbs were borrowed from English, French, and other languages with which I had acquired some familiarity in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Western Canada. And many of the words were modified so one could use them without hesitation or mispronunciation, even with a very rudimentary insight to grammar. The whole language seemed to show the hand of the artist, as well as that of the practical cultivator of . . . . efficiency.
Indeed, the regularity of the inflections, the syntax, the pronunciation, and almost the entire grammatical system of the language, in a way, was more or less familiar to me. I had heard them suggested and discussed, by those the world calls visionaries, many times during the last three or four decades. And here I find them assembled in my . . . vision.
To reassure myself, I spoke to the gentleman sitting beside me, reading a Bombay magazine. He was a person of about middle age, rather darker complexioned than most Canadians; his eyes were dark, and he wore a well groomed black beard. He had the appearance of a well educated, refined, and thoughtful Oriental. I felt quite safe in cultivating his acquaintance. I asked him, “What langue is this paper printed in?”
“Why, the Universal Language,” he answered, but he scarcely concealed his surprise at such a question. I felt that I should have to explain that I was but a visitor, from 1950, and that I was not altogether conversant with the ways of 19XY.
“1950!” he exclaimed, in surprise. “That was before I was born.”
I explained that in 1950 many thoughtful people were discussing the possibilities of a universal language, and that some thought of it as a practicable possibility, even for the immediate future. But how could the world have attained a common language in the space of less than XY years? And how could the nations
have co-operated to devise and teach a common tongue, when all other major differences were being settled by war or by show of force? were my natural questions.
“Is it possible,” I asked, “that all the great powers have been able to get together with the weak and less advanced, and to agree on a language that would be suitable and acceptable to all? What sacrifices must have been made!”
“No, the nations didn’t decide on a universal language. There was no attempt made to devise, or create, a language that would suit all. That would have been utterly impossible, and beyond the human capacity for compromise. The authorities merely agreed to cultivate a common tongue, or more correctly, to facilitate the unification of all existing languages,” he explained.
For a time that was beyond my powers of comprehension. But let us reflect: Is not the English the unification of several languages? And may not the same be said of the French; and, probably, of all the continental languages, from the Straits of Dover to the Yalu Sea? Right now, in 1954, many languages are still in the process of unification. Even our own English still has shades of variation between the North and South of England, and between Canada and the Old South of the United States. But the process of unification goes on developing the languages with little constructive care, and under the restraining hand of . . . let us say, charitably, traditions and conventions.
My new acquaintance was Al Kasha, correspondent in Montreal for a chain of newspapers in India. When he offered to assist me in orienting myself to the conditions of 19XY, and to show me the points of interest and beauty in the city, in which I, now, felt myself a comparative stranger, I was highly elated and anxious to commence some research into the means and ways of lingual cultivation and development, to take back to the people of 1954.
The next few days, as I travelled about the city and its environs with Al Kasha, I met with surprises everywhere: it was not only the beauty of the parks and homes, and the absence of the ugly and unkemptness; but at every turn, I found evidence of a high standard of intelligence and education. On almost every lawn I saw children amusing themselves with crayons, brushes, and canvas, imitating the paintings of their elders, or venturing originals; while music of older children and adults exuded from open doors and windows on every side.
The homes in which I had the privilege of visiting with Al Kasha were veritable institutes of art, art and music seemed to be the answer to the question: how to spend the leisure afforded by the industrial achievements of the times. On closer observation, I saw that the sciences were not being neglected. In most homes where the parents were of a scientific or mathematical turn of mind, or where the children had inclinations for scientific or mechanical
experimentations, I observed that the basements and out-buildings often were little laboratories.
Was it that the orderly and artistic language, reflected as an orderly and artistic way of life, would have induced such a regard for beauty and such an effort to attain it was evident everywhere?
“How do the young people find time for all these achievements in arts and science?” I inquired.
“They do all this in the time their fathers and grandfathers used to waste learning grammar,” Kasha explained. “Pronunciation and spelling in the universal language is as simple as breathing, and it is as easy to learn to speak the language correctly as it is to learn to use the knife and fork at the dinner table. My grandfather,” he continued, “a college graduate, used to tell me that he commenced learning the language of our province in the kindergarten, and that he was still trying to learn it at eighty. I know that he was still referring to the dictionary at eighty, sometimes for irregularities he had not yet met, in his long life, sometimes for those he had forgotten.”
It was commencing to dawn on me that the children and young people were happily spending the time which, in past generations would have been sacrificed to the study of irregular verbs, irregular conjugations, irregular pronunciations, irregular spellings, and a multitude of other irregularities in inflections for number, gender, and person, almost unconsciously, and with a pleasant effort, acquiring something useful.
I was more than ever confirmed in my idea that the study of a modern language, except by those who made languages a specialty, was a waste of a great part of one’s youth and a considerable part of one’s adult years; and that the study and acquisition of a modern language is the work of a lifetime, and in ninety nine cases in a hundred it is a job badly done. But the worst part was the waste of untold hours that might have been used to cultivate something useful or beautiful in science or art.
To find out how this “Universal Language,” as Al Kasha usually called it, was achieved was now my only ambition. I must find the answer, and take it back to my own generation! I remembered how long it took a small community to decide on the location of a new park, and to agree as to how it should be laid out; and how national governments would spend years, or even decades, on a constitutional amendment that would be obsolete in another decade; and how nations would spend generations trying to settle some minor international matter that any sane person should be able to settle over night, once he had the facts; but, minority rights, local prejudices, and a multitude of other chimerical reasons would blind the masses to the advantages of reasonable compromise.
I determined to get to work in the Library of History without delay. Al Kasha kindly arranged for my pass to the libraries, and
secured me the assistance of a very competent secretary, John Smith, a very brilliant young man, who seemed to consider the period immediately preceding 1950 as the commencement of the ending of the dark ages.
Smith was a serious person, wholly enamoured to his work, and thoroughly permeated by an ambition to assist in bringing the language to a still higher and more beautiful and more ultilitarian plane. He seemed to derive an intense pleasure from the mere presence of the tiers of volumes, dating from the time of the cuneiform to 19XY. Here he showed me the ancient Persian, Babylonian, and Egyptian, there the Greek and Latin, then the modern languages and literature. He was continually expressing surprise that people would use such cumbersome languages for so many generations. When we approached the section of the library containing the modern writings, he said, “These are the last of the instruments of torture to which the young people were subjected before 1950.” . . . “Instruments of torture!” I could not but think how fitting the description was.
We now came to the section containing the works I was about to examine, the writings of the period between 1950 and 19XY. They comprised the records of the International Language Congress, which I shall describe on another page. They included the reports of committees, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, letters written by the principal persons who had contributed to the transition, as well as the records of the deliberations of the Congress.
After a few days in the library among the stacks of volumes covering the development and transition period, and after consulting with Smith, I decided that, with my secretary’s assistance rather, with his guidance—I would be content to prepare only a few short commentaries, setting out the most important devices and means employed by those who were instrumental in so great an achievement.
It is not my purpose to describe what was done, alone; but, as well as I can, in limited space, to tell how it was done. Let us keep in mind that it is always easier to know what should be done than to know how to do it. To know what methods and devices were used to overcome local, racial, and national prejudices is of more importance than to know merely what the result was. I shall endeavour, then, to describe the means and manner of the cultivation of the language.
In the late forties and early fifties, after the close of the second world war, improvements in the means of travel, good roads, highly perfected automobiles, autobuses, airplanes, and even more comfortable railway trains, induced more people to travel than ever before. The rapidly expanding commerce of highly industrialized countries, too, made it necessary for more people to travel and to
reside in foreign countries, with the necessity of using foreign languages in the daily routine of their business. It was becoming more and more obvious that a universal language would be a great benefit to commerce, and to international understanding and goodwill.
Long before this, attempts had been made to force the languages of conquering countries on the conquered, but with little success. Several attempts had been made, within the last century, to introduce ready made languages, with a few isolated successes; but they did not serve the requirements of commerce. Esperanto was used, as an alternative language by some Eastern European countries in the diplomatic and military services; and it became something of a parlor study and pastime in parts of Western Europe and in the United States. It was quite obvious, however, to those who had time to study, that to acquire it, or any other language, would require ten or twelve years of constant application, in a favorable environment before one would be able to use it with facility, spoken, written, and as a language for ordinary recreational reading; while for those who had only limited leisure it would be almost impossible to acquire a working knowledge of it in a lifetime.
After the second world war, about a dozen business houses, engaged in international trade between the principal cities of Europe and Asia and Africa, set up a commission to study the possibilities of maintaining a system of linguistic clearing-houses to facilitate business transactions in the principal commercial and trading seaports of the world, and to train young men in Oriental and other foreign languages. The commission went to work at what most people who had any experience in foreign trade, and especially in Oriental trade, regarded as an impracticable and fantastic undertaking.
After about a year of inquiry and investigation, the commission seemed to have no clear idea of what might be useful. However, it finally made a recommendation: that the interests of trade and international goodwill would be served by intensifying the teaching of foreign languages in all public and private schools, commencing with the lowest grades and continuing through all grades to university graduation; and by setting up, in a few eastern seaport cities, a system of commercial intelligence-offices, and language or translation clearing-houses, with facilities for specialized training in languages for the staffs; the services of which should be available to all merchants and others that contributed to their support. It is hardly necessary to say much about these recommendations as they were never fully carried out, and the few clearing-houses that were set up soon disappeared.
One member of the commission, August Werner, a Scandinavian with strong international leanings, dissented. In a short minority report, he recommended that an international linguistic congress should be set up and maintained as a permanent institu-
tion to develop a universal language; but first, to standardize, as far as possible, international commercial terms and expressions, and some other commercial facilities, such as weights and measures; and to promote the use of an international trade vocabulary. This plan was well accepted by many forward-looking people in the teaching profession and in the business world. The first Congress was convened in Montreal in 19CD with representatives from almost all countries and linguistic groups.
The first session of the Congress was made up of about eighty delegates, some of whom were sponsored by national governments, some by educational institutions, some by commercial and labor organizations, and others by public spirited persons who contributed the expenses from their private means, while several delegates were sponsored by religious denominations.
Taken as a whole, it was a fair cross-section of society, fairly intellectual, and rather inclined to progressiveness, although few of the delegates had any clear idea of what should be done, or how to go about it. Some of the newspapers were inclined, at first, to describe it as a new kind of talk feast, and there may have been some justification for their describing it so. Some of the delegates were very stubborn, especially those from the “great powers,” and stuck to some very unreasonable prejudices. In fairness, it should be remembered that they came to the Congress with very little preparation; and that, among the older delegates especially, the idea of a universal tongue had never been given much thought.
The English, French, and Spanish representatives had their particular reasons why their respective languages should be adopted as a world tongue. The English based their claims on the facts that theirs was the most widely used of all modern languages, and that it had some recognition as being the language of commerce. They made the claim, too, that much of the world’s best literature was written in English. One delegate said that Shakespeare could not have been written in any other language, as the English, alone, had something that made some contribution to it, something that no other language possessed, something indefinable, that could not be translated into any other language; and which would be lost to humanity if English ever became a dead language.
The French had equally good claims: Their language, while not as widely used as the English, was the language of the highest cultures, and of diplomacy; and it was much easier to learn than the English. It had, too, a large Latin content, much greater than most of Northern European languages had, which would make it much easier to acquire in some of the more populous countries of Southern Europe, where, to a great extent, the languages were derived from the Latin. And besides that, well educated people in all parts of the world had some knowledge of both French and
Latin; and they would be a source on which to draw for leadership in teaching the French.
The Spaniards based their claims largely on the comparative ease with which Spanish could be learned by foreigners, as compared with other languages. And there was the additional claim that it was the most commonly used language in South America and Northern Africa.
Many of the delegates from the more self-assertive nationalities had long lists of authors whose works, according to them, would be forever lost to humanity if their languages were not chosen; and they even gave the Congress warning that their governments and educational authorities might look coolly on any program which did not select their languages as, at least, a nucleus or pattern. Indeed, the commencement was not altogether promising. It looked as if the Congress might wreck itself on the old rocks of national jealousies and selfishness.
Latin was suggested on the grounds that many European languages were largely derived from it. Its sponsors claimed that thirty-five per cent of the English, and about seventy or eighty per cent of the French, Spanish, and Italian was directly borrowed from the Latin; that the priests of all religions, and professional men generally, were required to have more or less Latin before commencing their professional studies and that they, as leaders of thought throughout the world, would be potential supporters, and even instructors, if the Latin language were selected.
At the commencement of the second week of the discussions in the Congress, figuratively speaking, a bomb was exploded by a young man from Afghanistan, Afgana by name. He was a graduate of a European university, and he had spent several years in postgraduate work in Turkey. While in Europe he distinguished himself in his studies; he was better known, however, for his unorthodox views and original ideas. He had a strong personality and a very engaging manner, which seemed to assure him attention everywhere. His father was a rather successful herdsman in the fastness of the Afghanistan Mountains. He fully appreciated his son’s talents, and made a considerable sacrifice to provide him with the best education he would take both in western institutions of learning and in those of the Middle East. When news of the world Language Congress reached him, Afgana Senior lost no time in having his son named as the representative of Afghanistan, although it cost him one hundred sheep and several elephants to persuade the politicians and officials. In addition to which he was obliged to pay his son’s expenses at the Congress.
Young Afgana accused the western delegates to the Congress of trying to foist on the world some cumbersome and unsuitable language, without any regard for the wishes of the great centers of population and of lack of vision, in trying to draw the Asiatics into a language experiment in which nothing of their national
characteristics would have any part. He reproached them, too, for their lack of team-work in proposing so many rival languages, and each nationality maintaining that its own language possessed something that the others lacked.
Speaking of the boast some had made about their respective literatures, and the fears they had expressed that much worthy literature would be lost for all time if their language were not chosen, he told the Congress that there was nothing in western literature to compensate the Orient for giving up its own.
“I would be willing,” he said, “to see all the literature of Western Europe obliterated from human memory, if the bad and useless went with the good, and if its going would lead to a universal language. And I would be willing to see all Asiatic literature go the same way, on the same terms. I would trust the present and future generations to replace them both with something better.”
“No language,” he assured the Congress, “would be acceptable to the Asiatics unless it was drawn from all modern languages; and we in the East may be depended on to cooperate in salvaging all that is worthwhile in all languages, eastern and western alike.”
Esperanto had its supporters; and many conceded that it might be the solution if some way could be found to induce the masses to learn it; but its questionable success in the past was not forgotten. Dr. Gomez, a delegate from Central America, gave his utmost support to Afgana’s contentions, that no existing language, especially no European language, would be suitable or acceptable to the rest of the world.
Several long periods were devoted to the discussion of the methods of teaching. Should the beginning be made in the lower grades of the public schools, or in the higher institutions. Some thought that the press and radio might be important factors in keeping it before the public. Evening classes and study groups were suggested as a means of popularizing the idea. A few optimistic delegates thought that, if all means of instruction were used aggressively, one generation would suffice to bring almost any language into common use. There are no limits to some people’s optimism.
The whole discussion was very human, and failed to reach a working plan that suited anybody, or that all could take back to their respective countries with a reasonable chance of acceptance. The Congress seemed to be very little different from a ratepayers’ meeting in a small town, trying to decide how to secure a one hundred thousand dollar water system, with a revenue of ten thousand dollars a year and an empty treasury.
A proposal was made by a delegate from France, supported by one from Germany and by another from Siberia, that a committee of five should be named to inquire into the ways and means of approach to the whole language question; and that all delegates should bring it to the attention of the public, as far as possible, in
order to have the widest public discussion. This delegate’s idea was that, if there were enough public enthusiasm and support worked up throughout the world, almost any language, developed along international lines, would be generally acceptable. Another optimist!
The proposal to name a committee of five was put in the form of a motion, discussed, and literally torn to pieces, and amended; and, finally, it emerged from the debate in the form of a resolution to appoint five committees of five members each to work in different parts of the world and to report separately to the next session of the Congress, the following year. A large publicity committee was named, too. It was to be a permanent committee; and its principal duty was to stimulate interest, especially in the press and on the radio; and, incidentally, to stress the need of funds.
Possibly there were not in the first congress many persons with suitable background and experience to initiate such a stupendous undertaking. As one newspaper put it! “There were some optimists who would have been willing to support any language, from Sanskrit to Siwash, that the Congress might adopt; then there were the more pessimistic, or moderate, who would have been well satisfied with a new universal phonetic alphabet and some simple rules for pronunciation. Between these two extremes, there was a considerable minority who wanted to make a start towards the unification of all languages, no matter how small that start might be. They contended that it would be only a matter of time till commonsense, a great crisis, or a long process of evolution, possibly a thousand years, would ultimately bring about complete unification; but the common sense route to unification, to them, seemed preferable to the others.
At the adjournment of the first Congress, it would seem to those that followed the discussions attentively that nothing would be accomplished. There were so many dear prejudices that would have to be compromised, especially on the part of the western nations. Most of the newspaper correspondents sent out pessimistic reports; and some of the delegates, who thought nothing would be achieved, seemed to take it as the part of discretion to discredit the whole movement, and to withdraw from further participation in it.
Fortunately Afgana and Gomez were on the same committee of five. They had almost a year before the Congress would reassemble in which to combat adverse influences which at first seemed to gain so much momentum, especially in the West. Afgana and Gomez were both persons of strong personalities. They were endowed with boundless energy, and they were enthusiastic for the cause. Some Americans, who were in sympathy with Afgana’s stand, undertook to raise funds to combat the defeatism of the less optimistic delegates and others outside the Congress. The response to their appeal for funds was stupendous, not only in the United States, but in
Europe and as far east as Tokyo; and a number of generous contributions came from India and Africa.
With plenty of money for propaganda purposes, the Afgana-Gomez faction, nominally in the name of the publicity committee, was able to carry on an aggressive campaign all over the world. And while Gomez, with a few chosen colleagues, worked on the report and recommendations for the next session of the Congress, Afgana had over two hundred paid lecturers out for the whole year, explaining their plan to the masses, all the way from Montreal to Buenos Aires and from London to Sydney. And besides these there was an army of enthusiastic volunteers and part time workers.
Many influential newspapers took the stand that nothing was to be lost in giving the Congress their utmost support; and that if the main object was not fully attained they would know, at least, why it failed. East and West, North and South, and all racial and religious groups would get to know each other better, and get to know the force of each other’s prejudices.
“Compromise,” seemed to be the popular slogan of the press in most parts of the world; and the smaller publications followed, almost unanimously, the lead of the large metropolitan dailies. It is not overstating it to say that the press and the radio were almost a determining force in moulding public opinion in favor of accepting any reasonable recommendations the committees and Congress might make.
Browsing one day in the library, I found an interesting clipping from a Hamburg daily of about this date. It was recounting the many times in history that a strong government undertook, not only to prescribe the political and religious beliefs of the masses, but even their most intimate lives and habits.
“Might it not be possible,” the writer asked, “that such a government might find itself in power again, and undertake to impose on the rest of humanity a language shaped to its own liking, and to serve its own ends; and, at the same time, professing to be serving the Almighty and the best interests of mankind?” The writer and many thoughtful people saw just such a contingency as being within the range of possibility, if the world failed to face the task in a rational way.
The few that expected big things from the second congress were not altogether disappointed: the five committees brought in recommendations. One recommended the creation of a complete new language with a grammatical structure made up of selected features from existing languages, and a vocabulary selected from the lingual groups or languages of the large and populous countries. It was a well worked out plan in most details. They even worked out a teaching plan, from the lowest grades to post-graduate work in the universities. It was estimated that the grammar and enough of the vocabulary could be prepared to commence teaching
it in about twelve months, and that one generation would be required to bring it into general use among the younger people.
Another committee’s plan was to adopt the Latin, with many modifications in the grammar, including a complete revamping of the irregular verbs, or reconstructing them from one or more of the principal parts, and with the inflections of one of the regular conjugations. All new words were, when possible, to be made from the Latin, unless a word from a modern language were especially suitable. This committee made no suggestions as to the methods of teaching, more than to offer the opinion that the time spent on teaching existing languages would be sufficient to teach the new Latin tongue.
Two of the other committees submitted recommendations that wholly new languages, with very little regard for existing vocabularies, and with a grammar based somewhat on the Latin, but very much modified by the elimination of all irregularities, would serve best the conflicting claims of all races and groups. The recommendations of those two committees seemed to most of the delegates rather impracticable and obscure. They were dropped with little discussion.
The Afgana-Gomez committee recommended, what they called, the “cultivation of language”: A verb structure was first to be devised, which would be nothing more than a system of inflections for time, mood, and for the participles. These inflections would be added to the verb stems of all existing languages. All inflections for number and person would be eliminated from all verb usages. The nouns, pronouns and adjectives would indicate the number and person when it was necessary to do so in ordinary writing and conversation; but special marks or inflections might be provided for these parts, to be used only for emphasis or to avoid ambiguity. Time and usage would tell if such inflections were necessary.
They used for examples the present tense of the verbs to be and to give, making the forms uniform for number and person—but not suggesting that they should be a part of the permanent language:
I am, you am, it am: we am, you am, they am.
I give, you give, it give; we give, you give, they give.
And as an illustration of the inflection for time, they took the French verb, donner, to give, with its inflections for time: donnerai, donnais, etc.; which they held to be more simple than the English.
In short, the plan recommended that mood and time be indicated by short inflections, or short syllables, of one vowel sound, or one vowel and one consonant sound each; but always retaining the same form for number and person.
The recommendations called for a common auxiliary verb to be used with all existing verbs in all languages. It was suggested, too, that it might be used as a prefix or suffix, but that detail would have to be worked out by those who were charged with formulating the conjugation; and that it should have a uniform usage from the very commencement, in all languages and during the whole transition period. It was especially emphasized that whatever auxiliary verb was adopted should be used only as an auxiliary in the conjugation of other verbs. The use of verbs, as in other languages, such as, to be and to have, both as auxiliaries and to denote in one case being, and in the other possession, was held to be inconsistent with the rational cultivation of language.
The forms, “I am going” (to do so and so), and like expressions in English, and rather similar usages in French with aller and venir were discountenanced in the recommendation.
The committee estimated that the new uniform verb structure could be acquired and brought into general use in about ten or fifteen years. Both Afgana and Gomez recommended very strongly, and their recommendation was concurred in by the other members of the committee, that the Congress should leave alone all other parts of speech until the verb forms were thoroughly mastered by the masses, and until they were being used with fair freedom and facility, even if it required a generation to do so.
They maintained that if it took twenty-five years to acquire a satisfactory familiarity with the verb structure, a major step would be achieved in developing a universal tongue, and that the time would be well spent. Besides that, it would give ample time for public discussion of the next step, and for interested persons or groups to make suggestions to the Congress.
They saw, too, the possibility of the whole program being interrupted by war; but if one part of speech, the verb, were in the process of being taught, or if it were in general use, it would not be so liable to be dropped and forgotten as a partially acquired language might be.
Their idea was to retain the democratic procedure throughout the whole transition period. They maintained that by the time the world would be ready for the next step, say twelve or fifteen, or even twenty years, many of the people who took part in the first Congress would have passed on, or their usefulness would be impaired by age and failing health; and younger people would be taking their places, and taking an active part in determining the course the Congress should follow.
Gomez, especially, was opposed to planning anything more than the verb structure for the time. “We may leave,” he said, “to the people of future decades, or future generations an heritage; but we may not have the right, in all cases, to say what they may or may not do with that heritage. The Dead Hand has governed, in many ways, too long and too arbitrarily.”
The debate on the three plans lasted several weeks. Most of those who had teaching experience favored the Afgana-Gomez plan. The other plans, they seemed to think, might be acceptable to a community of students, or to a studious leisure class; but teaching either of them to busy business or professional people, or to farmers, working long days in the fields and doing chores in the evenings, or to laborers who had lost their study habits when they left school in the lower grades, would be a different thing.
Afgana and Gomez maintained that the fundamentals of their plan, the regular conjugation of the verbs and the rational use of the auxiliary verb, could be learned in a few weeks; and that anyone of normal intelligence would be able to apply them in less than a decade. Their suggestions for teaching were, that a few hours each week in the class-room from the lowest grades to the highest, would soon give everyone of school age a working knowledge of the verb structure, and its use would gradually spread outside the class-room, the older people acquiring it from their children and from their older sons and daughters in the higher institutions or in the evening schools. At first, some thought it would be slower than the other plans, but there was the contention of its advocates that it would require only the minimum of formal teaching and class work; and that instead of requiring intense urging by the educational authorities, it might soon become something of a popular pastime.
One enthusiastic delegate declared that the acquisition of a uniform conjugation of all verbs, in all languages, would be the greatest achievement in human history, to be attained in one decade.
Those who opposed the Afgana-Gomez plan claimed that it would require two hundred years to realize the complete unification of the languages by approaching it in, what they called, a piecemeal way; to which Afgana replied, that it would be worthwhile to humanity if it took two thousand years. Then he offered the prediction, that if it were approached in a rational and democratic way, that there were boys and girls going to school who would live to see the universal language an accomplished fact.
Madam Lin Wan, of China, made a very sound defense of the plan. She spoke of about six thousand years that had elapsed between the making of the first rude carriage wheels and the perfecting of the modern, rubber tired automobile wheel, maintaining that nobody could fairly criticize the wheelwrights for the centuries spent in perfecting this simple but useful contrivance. “They improved it,” she said, “from time to time, from century to century, as needs demanded the improvements. But that could not be said of those who have been entrusted with the direction and development of languages.”
She also compared the automobile with the horseless carriage of sixty years ago. “The people of nineteen hundred,” she said,
“might have regarded the horseless carriage as imperfect, and refused to use it, demanding a perfect model or none at all; but if they had we would not have today’s beautiful stream-lined models.”
She urged the Congress to go slowly, and let the people acquire the grammar of one part of speech first; and then, with ten or even twenty years of experience and discussion, everybody would be better equipped to decide what the next step should be.
The majority of the delegates were in favor of the Afgana-Gomez plan; but there was some uncertainty in the Congress as to whether the public, which was kept minutely informed by the press and radio, would be willing to accept a plan which provided only for the development of the verb, and left the rest for future Congresses—probably for future generations. It was at last decided to accept the plan tentatively and to have a final vote on it the following year.
Afgana spent a busy year, and made a very successful case for the plan. He made a host of enemies, too, by his criticism of what he called, “The literary cast of the West,” which, according to him, has stood in the way of the natural development of all European languages for centuries, and which was still continuing to obstruct their natural growth. “If a new means of transportation were under examination,” he once said, in discussing the work of the Congress, “or if a new and better way of making bread were discovered, humanity would clamor to use it the next day; but if a new and better way of expressing one’s thoughts is devised, it is taboo and vulgar, and an indication of intellectual inferiority to use it.”
“Under pressure of false pride and false teachings,” he once said, “If one misspells a word in writing, or mispronounces a word, one will blush if one’s attention is called to it, although it is being spelled or pronounced in the most rational and most natural way, and in the way suggested by the spelling and pronunciation of similar words. And at the same time, if he found a better way to make a pen, or a means to improve a typewriter, with which to write these words, it was readily accepted by everybody.” And again he remarked, “One of the main and conventional cares in teaching language, these modern times, is to keep people from improving it, and to retain as many as possible of the cumbersome and ridiculous usages that may have served well the intelligence, scarcely above that of cave dwellers, of dark centuries, long past.”
Afgana continued speaking and writing in this strain for the entire year, stressing the progress of science, and science applied to industry; and continually emphasizing that nobody objected, while there was a dignified and organized reaction to changes and improvements in speech and language, in so much that people considered any innovation in language a vulgarity or ignorance, and altogether undesirable.
At the third Congress, the Afgana-Gomez plan was accepted with an overwhelming majority. The learned Gomez had not been idle during the probation period: While his more enthusiastic associate was campaigning for the adoption of their plan, he was preparing a working model of the verb structure and many well thought out plans of teaching it, to submit to the authorities of each country, ready fashioned to their respective languages and dialects. “Hit the iron while it is hot” must have been his motto: Within a few weeks of the final passage of the plan by the Congress, his model was in the hands of all interested authorities in every part of the world.
There was an influential faction in the Congress that wanted to drop, not only the inflections of verbs for number and person, but also the inflections of nouns to indicate the plural, and they even suggested dropping the idea of gender altogether. A single form, they contended, would suffice to indicate one or more than one, without the slightest ambiguity, in all expressions, when used with a suitable adjective, if the idea of number was necessary. And as for gender, it was held to be entirely unnecessary in most cases in English in which it was used; and still more so in French. A few of the many illustrations that were offered in the Congress will show some of the most useless and unjustifiable inflections and usages:
To make the general statement we say men walk. It was contended that, man walk, considering that both “man” and “walk” were taken as either singular or plural, would convey the same idea once we were accustomed to the usage. One man, two man, several man would be the forms when it would be necessary to be more specific. We say, two cars collided, to convey the idea that more an one car was in the collision. Here we use the plural forms for both the noun and the adjective, which might be called a double plural. The same idea might be expressed by saying, two car, all car, many car, several car. In fact we use the expressions, “Many a time,” and “many a person,” without any loss of clearness.
Horses eat oats; here we use the plural forms to make a simple statement about horses and oats. Horses eat wheat, a plural form and a collective which is essentially plural in meaning, although singular in form, yet the meaning is clear. Horse eat oat, and horse eat wheat would express the same idea just as well as the plural forms.
Sheep eat wheat, sheep eat straw; here we use the singular forms, and we convey the idea just as well as if we said sheeps eat wheat, or sheeps eat straws.
The expressions: one dozen, two dozen, several dozen, several bushel, one deer, four deer, one fish, six fish, two dozen grouse, the means, various means, a people, and most people are all very clear because we are accustomed to them, yet they do not conform to the
usual grammatical rules. It takes time and effort to learn all these irregularities.
The arguments against gender were quite as convincing as those against number. In fact, it did not require much persuasion to convince the most reactionary that there were no sound reasons for regarding the words: wind, ocean, sun and love as masculine and moon, nature, ship, and night as feminine.
One delegate went so far as to describe these “refinements,” as he called them, as drivel. What may future generations call them?
It was suggested, too, that the French went further with the unnecessary inflections than the English; for example they say un bon livre, deux bons livres, une bonne plume, deux bonnes plumes, inflecting the adjectives to agree with the inflections of the nouns for both number and gender.
Some of the French delegates were especially critical of the inflections of nouns for gender, using for examples such words as, professeur and Médecin of which the feminine form is not permitted, the masculine form being used in all cases although there are a great many female teachers and physicians; and, at the same time, boulanger, baker and cuisinier, cook, are regularly inflected for gender. And bateau, boat, which is masculine, as are most nouns ending in “eau,” while eau, water, is feminine. And they mentioned the feminine “tion” endings, coming directly from the Latin—Latin words in “tion” are usually feminine—which seemed to them as questionable justification for continuing the usage to this day and generation.
Then there was a long list of words of which the forms did not suggest gender; such as, main, hand, feminine; pied, foot, masculine; troupe, troop, feminine; groupe, group, masculine; bras, arm, masculine; jambe, leg, feminine; ligne, line, feminine; signe, mark, masculine.
There are a long and tiresome discussion of the Latin, with its three genders, recognizable to most of us in the spelling or by the terminations of the words. The Latin was cited as being responsible for the use of gender in most European languages; but an elderly and scholarly gentleman undertook to shift the responsibility back to the Greek, and even further into antiquity. He was talking above the heads of ninety per cent of the delegates.
A Boston delegate, Dr. Mary O’Sullivan, speaking in the Congress, said: “While the indiscretion of devising all these inflections and inflicting them on humanity from century to century may not wholly be chargeable to the Romans it seems that the Latin language has always been a potent instrument in the hands of Stupidity in perpetuating them to the present day.”" And speaking of the French, she said she recalled with horror the day her first French teacher told her it would be necessary to learn the gender
of almost all French nouns, as most rules for gender were perforated with so many exceptions that they were useless.
“A linguist,” she said, “might show other linguists reasons for each and every exception to the rules for gender, but the reasons for the exceptions and irregularities made little difference to the most of us. Our short lives should be filled with something that is more conducive to happiness and well-being.”
Criticism for the unnecessary inflections was not confined to the English and French. Those speaking for many other languages were equally censorious of the inflections for gender and number in. their respective tongues; all were agreed that they should be minimized, if not completely dispensed with.
It was recognized in the congress, and by most competent persons everywhere that the pronouns, conjunctions, and prepositions, which are probably the most commonly used words in all languages, would present some special difficulties. It was generally thought that the pronouns should be introduced a few years before the expiration of the time estimated for the thorough acquisition of the conjugation of the verbs; and that all pronouns should be released at the same time, to avoid misuse or misapplication; while the conjunctions and prepositions might be released a few at a time over a period, possibly, of ten or fifteen years; but not until all had fair dexterity in the use of the pronouns.
This plan was adopted, and its execution entrusted to a commission headed by Gomez, which devised a system of pronouns and pronominal adjectives with regular declensions and no unnecessary inflections.
It seems almost unnecessary to mention that the genitive and possessive cases, and kindred usages, in many languages, were among the principle stumbling blocks in the way of easy agreement on case forms; but the spirit of compromise, which was rapidly developing as people were commencing to envisage the advantages that should be derived from a universal tongue, seemed to have been a potent factor in reaching agreements.
The pronouns and pronominal adjectives were released about ten years after the conjugation; and Gomez, with his associates, turned their attention to the conjunctions, prepositions, and such adverbs as were closely enough related to them to be treated at the same time.
The reconstruction of these parts of speech proved quite as controversial as that of the pronouns; but they were finally prepared long before the world was ready for them. Before releasing them, Congress made a systematic survey to be sure that the conjugation and pronouns were satisfactorily acquired by the masses. Then the conjunctions, prepositions and the few adverbs were released, commencing with two, three, or four a year, with but few minor changes, from time to time, from the original code as it was offered
by the commission; but without material changes from the general plan.
As these parts of speech, pronouns, pronominal adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions, and adverbs—the most commonly words used, and misused especially in conversation, in all languages—were released, some people expressed fear that the deviations in their use that might soon develop in different parts of the world would seriously retard the whole process of cultivation of the universal tongue.
Such fears might have been well grounded in an age when only a small part of the masses could read and write; but, now, with education within the reach of all, in all walks of life, and in almost all countries, a more optimistic attitude soon prevailed, which was obvious as reports of their favorable acceptance gradually reached the Congress from all parts of the world. But it was still recognized that some of these words might be controversial for some time to come; and that they might be subject to some modifications, or even replacements, but within the process of normal growth and careful cultivation of the language.
About the year 19GH, there was a feeling among those who were actively promoting the work that a crucial moment was arriving; and that much wider discussion, on the part of the masses, of what progress had been made and what the next step should be would be conducive to a better understanding by everybody and a revival of popular enthusiasm. The nouns, adjectives, and adverbs had not yet been discussed publicly to any great extent. There was the question, too, of the alphabet; and pronunciation and syntax would soon have to be considered. Apparently something would have to be done to arouse the public out of the apathy into which it had been gradually slipping.
It was decided to hold a six months’ sitting of the Congress at which every shade of thought, from the crowned heads to beggars, from the highest institutions of learning to the most illiterate laborers, from the metropolitan bankers to the lowest paid industrial workers would have an opportunity to present their views. To hold the interest of the masses, it seemed it would be necessary to adhere to the most democratic procedure.
This was a constructive move, new interest was imparted to all stratas of society. Australian herdsmen, African traders, Chinese tea and rice growers, United States bankers and manufacturers, Ukrainian agriculturists, European trade interests and labor unions, and South American cattlemen and coffee growers sent delegates to the Congress. And each contributed something worthwhile to the discussions. And besides the contributions they made, they took back with them a very comprehensive idea of the magnitude of the undertaking that still confronted the Congress, as well as the assurance that it was proceeding along the most democratic lines without favor to any language, race, religion, or other consideration.
Some thought that the adjectives and adverbs, for sake of simplicity, should have the same form, and that an adjective or adverb suffix, when it was necessary to make the distinction to avoid ambiguity or for emphasis, might be used; and that adjective adverb inflections might be added regularly to the nouns, where we so often use the plain nouns as adjectives, and even as adverbs.
Similarly, it was suggested that a suffix or prefix might be used with nouns or pronouns to denote sex in expressions where it was necessary, or where it would make the sense clearer.
One delegate, from an English speaking country, who was in favor of complete and immediate dropping of many inflections in all languages read in the Congress, a long list of terminations to indicate trades and professions; a few of which we quote: “engineer, dentist, sawyer, filer, doctor, wheelwright, doorman, parliamentarian, cowboy, electrician, shepherd, hostess, and surveyor.” He read, too, a list of adjectives, derivatives: “Selfish, humorous, jocular, jolly, morbid, worthless, upright, and others in ‘ed’.” This delegate did not claim that all these and similar terminations could be dropped without loss of expressiveness and beauty to the language. His contention seemed to be that many of them could be dispensed with, and that in the new language a much more simple and uniform system, to replace these usages, could be devised.
Before the last of the popular delegates reached their homes, there was a tentative grammar rolling off the press in almost every country, and in every language. It contained the new conjugation of the verbs, the pronouns, the conjunctions, and the prepositions as they were accepted by the Congress. It contained, too, the suggested system of nouns, adjectives, and adverbs—rather the suggested system of inflections for these parts of speech, for which one more year was to be allowed for discussion, criticism, and recommendations for possible changes, before they would be finally accepted.
A few pages of the grammar were devoted to pronunciation. It was suggested that the last syllable of words of two or three syllables might be slightly stressed. It was recognized that longer words might present greater difficulties, if rules were laid down prematurely for their pronunciation; and it was recommended that no changes in them, for accent, should be made till about the time of acceptance of the universal vocabulary. As to the two and three syllable words whose last syllables did not readily lend themselves to accent, their pronunciation was to be left in abeyance for the time: that was that each language was to continue, temporarily, its existing usage.
There was another recommendation of some importance: that each language would drop or modify unusual sounds, those sounds that were not commonly used by other languages, or were peculiar to small groups or dialects, especially sounds that would be hard for others to acquire.
Let us remember here that several new letters, to represent vowel sounds, were added from time to time to the alphabet; and they were included in the tentative grammar. In fact these new characters, later on, contributed towards the complete recodification of the vowel sounds and the letters representing them.
In the matter of syntax, the Congress was content, for the time, to make one important recommendation: to put the subject, noun, before the verb wherever possible in usual conversation and writing. It was felt quite unanimously that the order of words, or parts of speech, would naturally gravitate around the noun and verb, or subject and predicate; and that the natural usages in the majority of languages would lead to further suggestions, if there developed a great variation of usages in different countries.
It was recognized that the position of relative and interrogative pronouns could not always be restricted by the same rules that applied to the sentences whose subjects and objects were nouns: and it was recommended that all should adhere, for the time, to the existing orders of pronouns in all languages, and especially in English and French.
The order, subject, direct object, indirect object, and verb was recommended for study in all countries, but not to be immediately applied, as a possible word order for pronouns.
The year following the publication of the tentative grammar of 19XY there appeared a flood of new books, written in every language and dialect, but in the new grammatical system. Many of them were hastily gotten together; yet some were worthy contributions to literature; while others were worthless, published merely to participate in the market for books written in the “new language.” Even if some of them didn’t qualify as literature, they were widely read, and they stimulated the interest in the grammar and helped to popularize it.
There was a tremendous up-swing in the number of books sold about this time; which, rightly or wrongly, was credited to the enthusiasm over the publication of the first tentative grammar in the new tongue. But the language was still far from complete.
It is scarcely necessary to say that at the end of the year of probation the grammar was adopted by the Congress. The noun, adjective and adverb system was well accepted by the public; so well, in fact, that the Congress turned its attention to the Alphabet. Another decade or two might see the world ready for a universal alphabet and a universal system of printing.
In the year 19MN the Congress released the alphabet, much sooner than the most optimistic had expected it. Like the other steps, it was not finally approved till the public had had a full year to scrutinize it. Its final acceptance set the stage for another period of intensive teaching and work; but the masses were be-
coming used to the idea, and were so completely convinced of the necessity and advantages of a universal tongue, having had practical experience with books and magazines published in the new grammatical structure, that it was generally accepted with a wonderful collective effort. It was only a few years till many adults, and some elderly people of leisure, had acquired a reading familiarity with the new books; and most people up to middle age commenced to experiment with the alphabet in their personal correspondence. Children in the lower grades were no longer being taught the old alphabets. Most of the 1950 alphabets belonged to dead languages, so far as they were concerned.
When the new alphabet had come into general use, in the year 19PQ fifty universal words, together with their derivatives were released. These words were chosen from all languages by a cosmopolitan commission, of which the impartiality never was questioned. It was well understood that any and every nation might accept or reject a word, or any number of words. If, however, only a few nations rejected a word, it was to stand accepted; but if a majority, or even a considerable number, made objections; another new word might be offered for approval.
The lists of universal words followed, year by year, in increasing numbers; until gradually the world had acquired a fairly complete conversational vocabulary. After the lapse of several years, the same plan was followed to cultivate a more comprehensive vocabulary which would serve most written and literary purposes.
In the year 19PQ the Congress released a dictionary containing about ten thousand words. It would seem to people used to the English and French of 1950 that this was a very limited vocabulary; but when one remembers that almost every word may have several derivatives, it is not difficult to see how it would be equal to a dictionary of fifty or sixty thousand words in English or French. For example, let us take the word love; we have: lovely, loveless, lovable, lovingly, and several other derivatives and compounds.
The inflections all being regular in the universal language, it is very obvious that it would be a waste of paper and printer’s ink to put in the dictionary more than the one primary word love; rather, its equivalent in the universal language, and all the words derived from it or related to it must necessarily follow by adding the regular inflections or appropriate compounds.
About this time a commission was set up by the scientific and technological world to work in conjunction with the Congress and codify a vocabulary of words and expressions suitable for scientific work and writings. It was several years in completing its task and putting it in the form of a dictionary, which was released in 19RS.
The legal and diplomatic professions soon recognized the necessity of a dictionary of legal words and usages. Its preparation was assigned to a special commission, which had it ready for sub-
mission to the Congress in about three years. Other professions and trades followed with dictionaries or suggestions for additions to the language of words and expressions used in commerce, business, finance, and transportation. The medical profession spent several years preparing a very comprehensive and useful dictionary of medical words and usages.
It may be observed that there were several distinct stages in the development of the universal language; regular conjugation of the verbs, pronouns and pronominal adjectives, conjunctions and prepositions and some adverbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs, alphabet, pronunciation, syntax, and vocabulary.
This order would never be used in teaching a child of school age a second language, nor would it be used by an adult in acquiring a foreign tongue. But to develop a new language, and to have it accepted by whole communities of people ranging from the highest intelligence to the most profound stupidity was a different undertaking. Besides, if the work had been interrupted by war or disagreement when the verb was accepted or acquired, or when the complete grammar had been brought into general use, or at any other stage of the development, it still would have been a commencement, even a worthwhile accomplishment, and a foundation for future attempts to unify all languages—provided that the parts attained were not abandoned and the old order restored.
The period between 19PQ and 19XY saw the greatest transition from the old order of languages to the new. The universal vocabulary was, gradually but surely, coming into general use; and each year more people were mastering it. From time to time, small newspapers, in the most unexpected places, remote from the centres of population, commenced to announce that they were going to use it exclusively. Long before 19XY it was the common language of the press and the radio. And priests and ministers, as early as 19RS commenced conducting services in it, in part or in whole. By 19XY it was the recognized language everywhere.
There were, however, a few programs continued on the radio, and the press continued a few publications, in the old languages for the benefit of invalids and old people who failed to keep up with the transition.
While the Congress, at all times, strove to prevent irregularities and incongruities from creeping into the grammar, it always kept in mind the fact, that language is almost a living organism, and that it must be allowed scope for natural development. To have approached the cultivation of the language otherwise would have been as futile as the approach of generations before 1950; but it would have been obstructing the development in a different way, and probably less excusable, in view of present day enlightenment. Like a good practical husbandman, the Congress aimed to facilitate
the better growth and development of the old, rather than to create something altogether new.
It was never forgotten in the Congress how languages have a tendency to create new words, almost a spontaneous force, even when there is no need for the new words, while the old seem to be serving their purpose well. Often they come from figurative usages that seem to emphasize the ideas more forcibly than the usual, approved words; or they come from slang usages which seem to force the new words into everyday speech, and then into recognized vocabularies. These phenomena were fully recognized by the congress; and the universal language was expected, by all competent authorities, to acquire many peculiar usages and idioms.
In the discussion of the natural tendencies of languages to develop in unpredictable ways, Donald MacDougal, an Australian delegate, used a few words in the English language as an illustration. He spoke especially of words that were first used in terms of contempt: The word Christian, or its equivalent in Greek, according to him, was first used in Antioch, in speaking contemptuously of the followers of Christ. And the word, Methodist, was first used in speaking lightly or contemptuously of the followers of Wesley, before they separated from the established church. They were supposed to be methodical in their ways of living; and it is possible that the word, method, did not mean exactly what it does today.
The word, Tory, at one time was a slang word, according to MacDougal, and was applied to robbers in Ireland, who claimed to be Royalists; but were professing adherence to the Royalist cause to justify their robbing the natives. Whig was once the name of a beverage made from sour milk, but was finally recognized as the regular name of a progressive political party in England and in the North American colonies, about the time of the American Revolution, and without any sense of contempt. Both these names of political parties have been displaced by other words, and have almost disappeared from everyday language.
While the origin of these words suggests how even the universal language may be expected to acquire new words, and how words may disappear from use; it does not preclude the possibility of a simple and cultivated grammar.
For several years before 19XY, governments, educational institutions, and educational authorities, and many benevolent societies that were organized for the promotion of culture and the new language, some of which enjoyed large endowments, carried on an aggressive and very successful campaign to promote the production of good literature and drama in the new tongue, and to develop a popular taste for the best. Bonuses were provided, especially by the benevolent societies, to defray part of the cost of printing and distribution of books that measured up to approved literary standards, as judged by qualified persons chosen by the societies and the teaching professions.
There was no effort, on the part of these societies, to promote a cult or school of literature of their liking, as Smith explained it; but just an honest effort to assist those who were capable, and who appeared to have worthwhile ideas and sentiments, to put their ideas in form and to preserve them for the final judgment of future generations.
No effort was made either to encourage or discourage the production of what is usually thought of as “best sellers,” or other popular books. But the societies did much to promote reading of popular literature; as there was a prevalent idea that many people could not be led to read and enjoy literature too far above their heads; and that it was better for them to read what they could understand, and help fill up their leisure; and, incidentally, to familiarize themselves with the language.
Every encouragement was given to translators. Translating became, for a time, almost a distinct profession. The societies and the educational authorities helped to defray the cost of publication of thousands of volumes each year, translated from every language, and in every part of the world. Many of the first translations were very literal, translated as they were by persons who, in their youth, spoke the languages in which these works were written. They will be literary treasures for all time, when those languages are no longer spoken.
As time went on, freer translations commenced to appear, as well as translations in which some of the ideas and sentiments of the translators were obvious. And many of those who commenced writing as translators, were soon producing original works of their own, in which, no doubt, the old authors were potent influences and inspirations.
In 19XY, for the first time since men’s thoughts were first put in writing, all people, in all parts of the world, had equal access to all the truths and beauties of all literatures of all ages. Is it not a privilege to live in such an age?
I was having a farewell dinner with Kasha, Smith and a few others, before returning to the 1950’s, when the question “What may be the reaction of your generation when they hear of your experiences in 19XY?” was put to me.
I was not prepared for the question. However, I ventured “I suppose they will just tear my story to pieces, for the time; but people are commencing to think of far-reaching reforms these days.”
“I hope they will spare your life,” someone remarked.
“People have been hanged or banished for less offences than yours—thinking of improving their sacred languages,” another said.
“As this is a world movement, there is no place to which an offender can be banished,” I replied.
“So much the worse for all the wicked people of your times,” said Smith. “That leaves only the other penalty for those convicted.”
Smith was silent for a few minutes; then, in a more serious strain, he said: “I think that if this transition were being done over again, and by a later generation, the procedure and the result, too, might not be the same.”
“I might have done it differently if I had been managing it, alone,” I said.
“Or I,” said Kasha. “I would have commenced with the alphabet.”
Several others freely gave their opinions as to how the transition should have commenced or carried out.
After an interval of thought, Kasha went on: “Possibly more experienced and wiser people than I directed the transition and cultivation; and, besides that, it is always much easier to know what should be done than to know how to do it, till the lessons of experience have been learned. And, after all, language is a living organism, and it will continue to grow and correct its shortcomings, under proper cultivation.”
“Above all,” Smith added, “what has been done, has been done in the democratic way; and we can trust Democracy to correct its own mistakes.”
When we were settling our dinner checks, I overheard part of an interesting conversation at a table near the cashier’s counter. Two young men, who may have been writers or teachers, thought the plan outlined in the Congress by Professor Sato of Tokyo would have many advantages over the Gomez conjugation. It would have had but one form for the indicative mood, while the present, past and future time, and the nature of the action or state would be indicated by adverbs. According to Sato and those who supported his plan, every part of the verb except the simple present and infinitive are, in reality, verbs and adverbs combined. Their reasoning was, that in many sentences, we denote by the inflection of the verb or by the auxiliary the modified action or state and, then, add the adverb of time or some other modification. To their way of reasoning the idea expressed by the verb inflection is repeated in the adverb.
I moved on as I did not wish to eavesdrop. But it was a pleasure to know that, even in 19XY, people were thinking of improving the language.
It was 1950 with me again. I got up, went over to the window, and drew aside the curtains. As I had slept in this very room forty years ago, I readily recognized the distant landscape and the river; but the old stone and brick buildings that used to line the other side of the street were gone, replaced by a modern steel and concrete
structure, with glass outside walls and front. And the rough stone pavements, of four decades ago, were replaced with a smooth hard-surface of black-top; but above all, instead of the horse-drawn drays and horse-drawn cabs of my childhood days, the traffic was glistening, almost noiseless automobiles.
The radio was but a dream when I slept in this room in 1910; this morning I turned it on for the news while I shaved myself with an electric razor, instead of with the straight razor and soap-and-water lather of half a century ago.
In keeping with my habits, which I acquired since retiring from active business, I took a long walk after breakfast. A few blocks from the hotel, I came to an excavation job, where about a half dozen men, with bulldozers and trucks were doing the work that would have taken about fifty men and fifty horses when I was a boy. I walked on till I approached the river, where my attention was arrested by a graceful, stream-lined diesel liner. How well I remember when these same waters were navigated by slow-moving sailing craft.
I came to a factory where one of my old schoolmates was superintendent. He showed me through the building, proudly pointing out the new labor-saving machinery; and he told me that many of the new contrivances made it possible for one man to turn out as much as two or three did in his father's time.
As I went on I passed a mechanical street-sweeper which replaced a dozen or more laborers with their brooms and push-carts. And on a new street, there was a mechanical hard-surfacing machine doing the work of a gang of shovelmen. It was doing the work of about fifty manual laborers. I passed on, near the railway tracks, and saw a glistening Diesel locomotive silently drawing a passenger train into the station, where, a few years before, the morning air would have been polluted with fumes from a steam locomotive.
None of these things are astonishing; we are all so used to them; but, nevertheless, they are great improvements over the conditions of half a century ago; they were a great improvement over the conditions in the city of my boyhood, Montreal of fifty years ago, when I last saw it. It is needless to say I was impressed.
I passed a new, modern school. It was on the site of the school I attended when I was a boy. It was a marvel of beauty, and an outstanding achievement from the standpoint of the architect and the engineer. But as I stood for a few minutes admiring it, I remembered that the boys and girls were confined there for months—even years‑of their precious youths‑in those beautiful classrooms‑learning the irregularities and inconsistencies of the English and French languages.
As I approached the hotel I passed a large, modern building, where I saw through the windows a modern press turning out newspapers almost faster than I could count them. A roll of paper, weighing several hundred pounds, was revolving at one end of the machine, and the newspapers were coming out of the other end, neatly folded, and ready for the news-stands. The modern printing press is the product of a century of inventions and improvements. It is a far call from the press of one hundred years ago.
I went into the hotel; I was tired after so long a walk. I procured a morning paper at the news-stand; and settled down to rest; and read in a language that has undergone scarcely any improvement for centuries, and which not one in a hundred can write or speak correctly.
SOURCE: Adams, John. The Universal Language of 19XY. [Vancouver?], Canada, 1956. WorldCat gives this information and also: Boston: Branden Press, 1950. 31 pp.
Note: Most obvious typographical errors in the original have been corrected here.
VII: The Conflict of Languages
from Anticipations by H. G. Wells
The Congress by Jorge Luis Borges
On the Language of the Future by M. I. Isayev
Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes: Selected Bibliography
Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo (kun interlingvistiko)
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