by Havelock EllisApril 15th, 2023
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Early Attempts to Construct an International Language—The Urgent Need of an Auxiliary Language To-day—Volapük—The Claims of Spanish—Latin—The Claims of English—Its Disadvantages—The Claims of French—Its Disadvantages—The Modern Growth of National Feeling opposed to Selection of a Natural Language—Advantages of an Artificial Language—Demands it must fulfil—Esperanto—Its Threatened Disruption—The International Association for the adoption of an Auxiliary International Language—The First Step to Take. Ever since the decay of Latin as the universal language of educated people, there have been attempts to replace it by some other medium of international communication. That decay was inevitable; it was the outward manifestation of a movement of individualism which developed national languages and national literatures, and burst through the restraining envelope of an authoritarian system expounded in an official language. This individualism has had the freest play, and we are not likely to lose all that it has given us. Yet as soon as it was achieved the more distinguished spirits in every country began to feel the need of counterbalancing it. The history of the movement may be said to begin with Descartes, who in 1629 wrote to his friend Mersenne that it would be possible to construct an artificial language which could be used as an international medium of communication. Leibnitz, though he had solved the question for himself, writing some of his works in Latin and others in French, was yet all his life more or less occupied with the question of a universal language. Other men of the highest distinction—Pascal, Condillac, Voltaire, Diderot, Ampère, Jacob Grimm—have sought or desired a solution to this problem. None of these great men, however, succeeded even in beginning an attempt to solve the problem they were concerned with.
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The Task of Social Hygiene by Havelock Ellis is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. THE PROBLEM OF AN INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE


Early Attempts to Construct an International Language—The Urgent Need of an Auxiliary Language To-day—Volapük—The Claims of Spanish—Latin—The Claims of English—Its Disadvantages—The Claims of French—Its Disadvantages—The Modern Growth of National Feeling opposed to Selection of a Natural Language—Advantages of an Artificial Language—Demands it must fulfil—Esperanto—Its Threatened Disruption—The International Association for the adoption of an Auxiliary International Language—The First Step to Take.

Ever since the decay of Latin as the universal language of educated people, there have been attempts to replace it by some other medium of international communication. That decay was inevitable; it was the outward manifestation of a movement of individualism which developed national languages and national literatures, and burst through the restraining envelope of an authoritarian system expounded in an official language. This individualism has had the freest play, and we are not likely to lose all that it has given us. Yet as soon as it was achieved the more distinguished spirits in every country began to feel the need of counterbalancing it. The history of the movement may be said to begin with Descartes, who in 1629 wrote to his friend Mersenne that it would be possible to construct an artificial language which could be used as an international medium of communication. Leibnitz, though he had solved the question for himself, writing some of his works in Latin and others in French, was yet all his life more or less occupied with the question of a universal language. Other men of the highest distinction—Pascal, Condillac, Voltaire, Diderot, Ampère, Jacob Grimm—have sought or desired a solution to this problem. None of these great men, however, succeeded even in beginning an attempt to solve the problem they were concerned with.

Some forty years ago, however, the difficulty began again to be felt, this time much more keenly and more widely than before. The spread of commerce, the facility of travel, the ramifications of the postal service, the development of new nationalities and new literatures, have laid upon civilized peoples a sense of burden and restriction which could never have been felt by their forefathers in the previous century. Added to this, a new sense of solidarity had been growing up in the world; the financial and commercial solidarity, by which any disaster or disturbance in one country causes a wave of disaster or disturbance to pass over the whole civilized globe, was being supplemented by a sense of spiritual solidarity. Men began to realize that the tasks of civilization cannot be carried out except by mutual understanding and mutual sympathy among the more civilized nations, that every nation has something to learn from [351]other nations, and that the bonds of international intercourse must thus be drawn closer. This feeling of the need of an international language led in America to several serious attempts to obtain a consensus of opinion among scientific men regarding an international language. Thus in 1888 the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, the oldest of American learned societies, unanimously resolved, on the initiative of Brinton, to address a letter to learned societies throughout the world, asking for their co-operation in perfecting a language for commercial and learned purposes, based on the Aryan vocabulary and grammar in their simplest forms, and to that end proposing an international congress, the first meeting of which should be held in Paris or London. In the same year Horatio Hale read a paper on the same subject before the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A little later, in 1890, it was again proposed at a meeting of the same Association that, in order to consider the question of the construction and adoption of a symmetrical and scientific language, a congress should be held, delegates being in proportion to the number of persons speaking each language.

These excellent proposals seem, however, to have borne little fruit. It is always an exceedingly difficult matter to produce combined action among scientific societies even of the same nation. Thus the way has been left open for individuals to adopt the easier but far less decisive or satisfactory method of inventing a new language by their own unaided exertions. Certainly over a hundred such languages have been proposed during the past century. [352]The most famous of these was undoubtedly Volapük, which was invented in 1880 by Schleyer, a German-Swiss priest who knew many languages and had long pondered over this problem, but who was not a scientific philologist; the actual inception of the language occurred in a dream. Volapük was almost the first real attempt at an organic language capable of being used for the oral transmission of thought. On this account, no doubt, it met with great and widespread success; it was actively taken up by a professor at Paris, societies were formed for its propagation, journals and hundreds of books were published in it; its adherents were estimated at a million. But its success, though brilliant, was short-lived. In 1889, when the third Volapük Congress was held, it was at the height of its success, but thereafter dissension arose, and its reputation suddenly collapsed. No one now speaks Volapük; it is regarded as a hideous monstrosity, even by those who have the most lively faith in artificial languages. Its inventor has outlived his language, and, like it, has been forgotten by the world, though his achievement was a real step towards the solution of the problem.

The collapse of Volapük discouraged thoughtful persons from expecting any solution of the problem in an artificial language. It seemed extremely improbable that any invented language, least of all the unaided product of a single mind, could ever be generally accepted, or be worthy of general acceptance, as an international mode of communication. Such a language failed to carry the prestige necessary to overcome the immense inertia [353]which any attempt to adopt it would meet with. Invented languages, the visionary schemes of idealists, apparently received no support from practical men of affairs. It seemed to be among actual languages, living or dead, that we might most reasonably expect to find a medium of communication likely to receive wide support. The difficulty then lay in deciding which language should be selected.

Russian had sometimes been advocated as the universal language for international purposes, and it is possible to point to the enormous territory of Russia, its growing power and the fact that Russian is the real or official language of a larger number of people than any other language except English. But Russian is so unlike the Latin and Teutonic tongues, used by the majority of European peoples; it is so complicated, so difficult to acquire, and, moreover, so lacking in concision that it has never had many enthusiastic advocates.

The virtues and defects of Spanish, which has found many enthusiastic supporters, are of an opposite character. It is an admirably vigorous and euphonious language, on a sound phonetic basis, every letter always standing for a definite sound; the grammar is simple and exceptionally free from irregularities, and it is the key to a great literature. Billroth, the distinguished Austrian surgeon, advocated the adoption of Spanish; he regarded English as really more suitable, but, he pointed out, it is so difficult for the Latin races to speak non-Latin tongues that a Romance language is essential, and Spanish is the simplest and most logical of the [354]Romance tongues. [237] It is, moreover, spoken by a vast number of people in South America and elsewhere.

A few enthusiasts have advocated Greek, and have supported their claim with the argument that it is still a living language. But although Greek is the key to a small but precious literature, and is one of the sources of latter-day speech and scientific terminology, it is difficult, it is without special adaptation to modern uses, and there are no adequate reasons why it should be made an international language.

Latin cannot be dismissed quite so hastily. It has in its favour the powerful argument that it has once already been found adequate to serve as the universal language. There is a widespread opinion to-day among the medical profession—the profession most actively interested in the establishment of a universal language—that Latin should be adopted, and before the International Medical Congress at Rome in 1894, a petition to this effect was presented by some eight hundred doctors in India. [238] It is undoubtedly an admirable language, expressive, concentrated, precise. But the objections are serious. The [355]relative importance of Latin to-day is very far from what it was a thousand years ago, for conditions have wholly changed. There is now no great influence, such as the Catholic Church was of old, to enforce Latin, even if it possessed greater advantages. And the advantages are very mixed. Latin is a wholly dead tongue, and except in a degenerate form not by any means an easy one to learn, for its genius is wholly opposed to the genius even of those modern languages which are most closely allied to it. The world never returns on its own path. Although the prestige of Latin is still enormous, a language could only be brought from death to life by some widespread motor force; such a force no longer exists behind Latin.

There remain English and French, and these are undoubtedly the two natural languages most often put forward—even outside England and France—as possessing the best claims for adoption as auxiliary international mediums of communication.

English, especially, was claimed by many, some twenty years ago, to be not merely the auxiliary language of the future, but the universal language which must spread all over the world and supersede and drive out all others by a kind of survival of the fittest. This notion of a universal language is now everywhere regarded as a delusion, but at that time there was still thought by many to be a kind of special procreative activity in the communities of Anglo-Saxon origin which would naturally [356]tend to replace all other peoples, both the people and the language being regarded as the fittest to survive. [239] English was, however, rightly felt to be a language with very great force behind it, being spoken by vast communities possessing a peculiarly energetic and progressive temperament, and with much power of peaceful penetration in other lands. It is generally acknowledged also that English fully deserves to be ranked as one of the first of languages by its fine aptitude for powerful expression, while at the same time it is equally fitted for routine commercial purposes. The wide extension of English and its fine qualities have often been emphasized, and it is unnecessary to dwell on them here. The decision of the scientific societies of the world to use English for bibliographical purposes is not entirely a tribute to English energy in organization, but to the quality of the language. One finds, indeed, that these facts are widely recognized abroad, in France and elsewhere, though I have noted that those who foretell the conquest of English, even when they are men of intellectual distinction and able to read English, are often quite unable to speak it or to understand it when spoken.

That brings us to a point which is overlooked by those who triumphantly pointed to the natural settlement of this question by the swamping of other tongues in the [357]overflowing tide of English speech. English is the most concise and laconic of the great languages. Greek, French and German are all more expansive, more syllabically copious. Latin alone may be said to equal, or surpass English in concentration, because, although Latin words are longer on the average, by their greater inflection they cover a larger number of English words. This power of English to attain expression with a minimum expenditure of energy in written speech is one of its chief claims to succeed Latin as the auxiliary international language. But it furnishes no claim to preference for actual speaking, in which this economy of energy ceases to be a supreme virtue, since here we have also to admit the virtues of easy intelligibility and of persuasiveness. Greek largely owed its admirable fitness for speech to the natural richness and prolongation of its euphonious words, which allowed the speaker to attain the legitimate utterance of his thought without pauses or superfluous repetition. French, again, while by no means inapt for concentration, as the pensée writers show, most easily lends itself to effects that are meant for speech, as in Bossuet, or that recall speech, as in Mme de Sevigné in one order of literature, or Renan in another. But at Rome, we feel, the spoken tongue had a difficulty to overcome, and the mellifluously prolonged rhetoric of Cicero, delightful as it may be, scarcely seems to reveal to us the genius of the Latin tongue. The inaptitude of English for the purposes of speech is even more conspicuous, and is again well illustrated in our oratory. Gladstone was an orator of acknowledged eloquence, [358]but the extreme looseness and redundancy into which his language was apt to fall in the effort to attain the verbose richness required for the ends of spoken speech, reveals too clearly the poverty of English from this point of view. The same tendency is also illustrated by the vain re-iterations of ordinary speakers. The English intellect, with all its fine qualities, is not sufficiently nimble for either speaker or hearer to keep up with the swift brevity of the English tongue. It is a curious fact that Great Britain takes the lead in Europe in the prevalence of stuttering; the language is probably a factor in this evil pre-eminence, for it appears that the Chinese, whose language is powerfully rhythmic, never stutter. One authority has declared that "no nation in the civilized world speaks its language so abominably as the English." We can scarcely admit that this English difficulty of speech is the result of some organic defect in English nervous systems; the language itself must be a factor in the matter. I have found, when discussing the point with scientific men and others abroad, that the opinion prevails that it is usually difficult to follow a speaker in English. This experience may, indeed, be considered general. While an admirably strong and concise language, English is by no means so adequate in actual speech; it is not one of the languages which can be heard at a long distance, and, moreover, it lends itself in speaking to so many contractions that are not used in writing—so many "can'ts" and "won'ts" and "don'ts," which suit English taciturnity, but slur and ruin English speech—that English, as spoken, is almost a different [359]language from that which excites admiration when written. So that the exclusive use of English for international purposes would not be the survival of the fittest so far as a language for speaking purposes is concerned.

Moreover, it must be remembered that English is not a democratic language. It is not, like the chief Romance languages and the chief Teutonic languages, practically homogeneous, made out of one block. It is formed by the mixture of two utterly unlike elements, one aristocratic, the other plebeian. Ever since the Norman lord came over to England a profound social inequality has become rooted in the very language. In French, b[oe]uf and mouton and veau and porc have always been the same for master and for man, in the field and on the table; the animal has never changed its plebeian name for an aristocratic name as it passed through the cook's hands. That example is typical of the curious mark which the Norman Conquest left on our speech, rendering it so much more difficult for us than for the French to attain equality of social intercourse. Inequality is stamped indelibly into our language as into no other great language. Of course, from the literary point of view, that is all gain, and has been of incomparable aid to our poets in helping them to reach their most magnificent effects, as we may see conspicuously in Shakespeare's enormous vocabulary. But from the point of view of equal social intercourse, this wealth of language is worse than lost, it is disastrous. The old feudal distinctions are still perpetuated; the "man" still speaks his "plain Anglo-Saxon," and the "gentleman" still speaks his refined Latinized speech. In every language, [360]it is true, there are social distinctions in speech, and every language has its slang. But in English these distinctions are perpetuated in the very structure of the language. Elsewhere the working-class speak—with a little difference in the quality—a language needing no substantial transformation to become the language of society, which differs from it in quality rather than in kind. But the English working man feels the need to translate his common Anglo-Saxon speech into foreign words of Latin origin. It is difficult for the educated person in England to understand the struggle which the uneducated person goes through to speak the language of the educated, although the unsatisfactory result is sufficiently conspicuous. But we can trace the operation of a similar cause in the hesitancy of the educated man himself when he attempts to speak in public and is embarrassed by the search for the set of words most suited for dignified purposes.

Most of those who regarded English as the coming world-language admitted that it would require improvement for general use. The extensive and fundamental character of the necessary changes is not, however, realized. The difficulties of English are of four kinds: (1) its special sounds, very troublesome for foreigners to learn to pronounce, and the uncertainty of its accentuation; (2) its illogical and chaotic spelling, inevitably leading to confusions in pronunciation; (3) the grammatical irregularities in its verbs and plural nouns; and (4) the great number of widely different words which are almost or quite similar in pronunciation. A vast [361]number of absurd pitfalls are thus prepared for the unwary user of English. He must remember that the plural of "mouse" is "mice," but that the plural of "house" is not "hice," that he may speak of his two "sons," but not of his two "childs"; he will indistinguishably refer to "sheeps" and "ships"; and like the preacher a little unfamiliar with English who had chosen a well-known text to preach on, he will not remember whether "plough" is pronounced "pluff" or "plo," [240] and even a phonetic spelling system would render still more confusing the confusion between such a series of words as "hair," "hare," "heir," "are," "ere" and "eyre." Many of these irregularities are deeply rooted in the structure of the language; it would be an extremely difficult as well as extensive task to remove them, and when the task was achieved the language would have lost much of its character and savour; it would clash painfully with literary English.

Thus even if we admitted that English ought to be the international language of the future, the result is not so satisfactory from a British point of view as is usually taken for granted. All other civilized nations would be bilingual; they would possess the key not only to their own literature, but to a great foreign literature with all the new horizons that a foreign literature opens out. The English-speaking countries alone would be furnished with only one language, and would have no stimulus to [362]acquire any other language, for no other language would be of any practical use to them. All foreigners would be in a position to bring to the English-speaking man whatever information they considered good for him. At first sight this seems a gain for the English-speaking peoples, because they would thus be spared a certain expenditure of energy; but a very little reflection shows that such a [363]saving of energy is like that effected by the intestinal parasitic worm who has digested food brought ready to his mouth. It leads to degeneracy. Not the people whose language is learnt, but the people who learn a language reap the benefit, spiritual and material. It is now admitted in the commercial world that the ardour of the Germans in learning English has brought more advantage to the Germans than to the English. Moreover, the high intellectual level of small nations at the present time is due largely to the fact that all their educated members must be familiar with one or two languages besides their own. The great defect of the English mind is insularity; the virtue of its boisterous energy is accompanied by lack of insight into the differing virtues of other peoples. If the natural course of events led to the exclusive use of English for international communication, this defect would be still more accentuated. The immense value of becoming acquainted with a foreign language is that we are thereby led into a new world of tradition and thought and feeling. Before we know a new language truly, we have to realize that the words which at first seem equivalent to words in our own language often have a totally different atmosphere, a different rank or dignity from that which they occupy in our own language. It is in learning this difference in the moral connotation of a language and its expression in literature that we reap the real benefit of knowing a foreign tongue. There is no other way—not even residence in a foreign land if we are ignorant of the language—to take us out of the customary circle of our own [364]traditions. It imparts a mental flexibility and emotional sympathy which no other discipline can yield. To ordain that all non-English-speaking peoples should learn English in addition to their mother tongue, and to render it practically unnecessary for English-speakers (except the small class of students) to learn any other language, would be to confer an immense boon on the first group of peoples, doubling their mental and emotional capacity; it is to render the second group hidebound.

When we take a broad and impartial survey of the question we thus see that there is reason to believe that, while English is an admirable literary language (this is the ground that its eulogists always take), and sufficiently concise for commercial purposes, it is by no means an adequate international tongue, especially for purposes of oral speech, and, moreover, its exclusive use for this purpose would be a misfortune for the nations already using it, since they would be deprived of that mental flexibility and emotional sympathy which no discipline can give so well as knowledge of a living foreign tongue.

Many who realized these difficulties put forward French as the auxiliary international language. It is quite true that the power behind French is now relatively less than it was two centuries ago. [241] At that time France [365]by its relatively large population, the tradition of its military greatness, and its influential political position, was able to exert an immense influence; French was the language of intellect and society in Germany, in England, in Russia, everywhere in fact. During the eighteenth century internal maladministration, the cataclysm of the Revolution, and finally the fatal influence of Napoleon alienated foreign sympathy, and France lost her commanding position. Yet it was reasonably felt that, if a natural language is to be used for international purposes, after English there is no practicable alternative to French.

French is the language not indeed in any special sense of science or of commerce, but of the finest human culture. It is a well-organized tongue, capable of the finest shades of expression, and it is the key to a great literature. In most respects it is the best favoured child of Latin; it commends itself to all who speak Romance languages, and, as Alphonse de Candolle has remarked, a Spaniard and an Italian know three-quarters of French beforehand, and every one who has learnt Latin knows [366]half of French already. It is more admirably adapted for speaking purposes than perhaps any other language which has any claim to be used for international purposes, as we should expect of the tongue spoken by a people who have excelled in oratory, who possess such widely diffused dramatic ability, and who have carried the arts of social intercourse to the highest point.

Paris remains for most people the intellectual capital of Europe; French is still very generally used for purposes of intercommunication throughout Europe, while the difficulty experienced by all but Germans and Russians in learning English is well known. Li Hung Chang is reported to have said that, while for commercial reasons English is far more widely used in China than French, the Chinese find French a much easier language to learn to speak, and the preferences of the Chinese may one day count for a good deal—in one direction or another—in the world's progress. One frequently hears that the use of French for international purposes is decaying; this is a delusion probably due to the relatively slow growth of the French-speaking races and to various temporary political causes. It is only necessary to look at the large International Medical Congresses. Thus at one such Congress at Rome, at which I was present, over six thousand members came from forty-two countries of the globe, and over two thousand of them took part in the proceedings. Four languages (Italian, French, German and English) were used at this Congress. Going over the seven large volumes of Transactions, I find that fifty-nine communications were presented in English, one hundred [367]and seventy-one in German, three hundred and one in French, the rest in Italian. The proportion of English communications to German is thus a little more than one to three, and the proportion of English to French less than one to six. Moreover, the English-speaking members invariably (I believe) used their own language, so that these fifty-nine communications represent the whole contribution of the English-speaking world. And they represent nothing more than that; notwithstanding the enormous spread of English, of which we hear so much, not a single non-English speaker seems to have used English. It might be supposed that this preponderance of French was due to a preponderance of the French element, but this was by no means the case; the members of English-speaking race greatly exceeded those of French-speaking race. But, while the English communications represented the English-speaking countries only, and the German communications were chiefly by German speakers, French was spoken not only by members belonging to the smaller nations of Europe, from the north and from the south, by the Russians, by most of the Turkish and Asiatic members, but also by all the Mexicans and South Americans. These figures may not be absolutely free from fallacy, due to temporary causes of fluctuation. But that they are fairly exact is shown by the results of the following Congress, held at Moscow. If I take up the programme for the department of psychiatry and nervous disease, in which I was myself chiefly interested, I find that of 131 communications, 80 were in French, 37 in [368]German and 14 in English. This shows that French, German and English bear almost exactly the same relation to one another as at Rome. In other words, 61 per cent of the speakers used French, 28 per cent German, and only 11 per cent English.

If we come down to one of the most recent International Medical Congresses, that of Lisbon in 1906, we find that the supremacy of French, far from weakening, is more emphatically affirmed. The language of the country in which the Congress was held was ruled out, and I find that of 666 contributions to the proceedings of the Congress, over 84 per cent were in French, scarcely more than 8 per cent in English, and less than 7 per cent in German. At the subsequent Congress at Budapesth in 1909, the French contributions were to the English as three to one. Similar results are shown by other International Congresses. Thus at the third International Congress of Psychology, held at Munich, there were four official languages, and on grounds of locality the majority of communications were in German; French followed with 29, Italian with 12, and English brought up the rear with 11. Dr. Westermarck, who is the stock example of the spread of English for international purposes, spoke in German. It is clearly futile to point to figures showing the prolific qualities of English races; the moral quality of a race and its language counts, as well as mere physical capacity for breeding, and the moral influence of French to-day is immensely greater than that of English. That is, indeed, scarcely a fair statement of the matter in view of the typical cases just quoted; one should rather say that, as a means of spoken international communication [369]for other than commercial purposes, English is nowhere.

There is one other point which serves to give prestige to French: its literary supremacy in the modern world. While some would claim for the English the supreme poetic literature, there can be no doubt that the French own the supreme prose literature of modern Europe. It was felt by those who advocated the adoption of English or French that it would surely be a gain for human progress if the auxiliary international languages of the future should be one, if not both, of two that possess great literatures, and which embody cultures in some respects allied, but in most respects admirably supplementing each other. [242]

The collapse of Volapük stimulated the energy of those who believed that the solution of the question lay in the adoption of a natural language. To-day, however, there are few persons who, after carefully considering the matter, regard this solution as probable or practicable. [243]

[370]Considerations of two orders seem now to be decisive in rejecting the claims of English and French, or, indeed, any other natural language, to be accepted as an international language: (1) The vast number of peculiarities, difficulties, and irregularities, rendering necessary so revolutionary a change for international purposes that the language would be almost transformed into an artificial language, and perhaps not even then an entirely satisfactory one. (2) The extraordinary development during recent years of the minor national languages, and the jealousy of foreign languages which this revival has caused. This latter factor is probably alone fatal to the adoption of any living language. It can scarcely be disputed that neither English nor French occupies to-day so relatively influential a position as it once occupied. The movement against the use of French in Roumania, as detrimental to the national language, is significant of a widespread feeling, while, as regards English, the introduction by the Germans into commerce of the method of approaching customers in their own tongue, has rendered impossible the previous English custom of treating English as the general language of commerce.

The natural languages, it became realized, fail to answer to the requirements which must be made of an auxiliary international language. The conditions which have to be fulfilled are thus formulated by Anna Roberts: [244]

"First, a vocabulary having a maximum of internationality in its root-words for at least the Indo-European races, living or bordering on the confines of the old Roman [371]Empire, whose vocabularies are already saturated with Greek and Latin roots, absorbed during the long centuries of contact with Greek and Roman civilization. As the centre of gravity of the world's civilization now stands, this seems the most rational beginning. Such a language shall then have:

"Second, a grammatical structure stripped of all the irregularities found in every existing tongue, and that shall be simpler than any of them. It shall have:

"Third, a single, unalterable sound for each letter, no silent letters, no difficult, complex, shaded sounds, but simple primary sounds, capable of being combined into harmonious words, which latter shall have but a single stress accent that never shifts.

"Fourth, mobility of structure, aptness for the expression of complex ideas, but in ways that are grammatically simple, and by means of words that can easily be analysed without a dictionary.

"Fifth, it must be capable of being, not merely a literary language, [245] but a spoken tongue, having a pronunciation that can be perfectly mastered by adults through the use of manuals, and in the absence of oral teachers.

"Finally, and as a necessary corollary and complement to all of the above, this international auxiliary language must, to be of general utility, be exceedingly easy of acquisition by persons of but moderate education, [372]and hitherto conversant with no language but their own."

Thus the way was prepared for the favourable reception of a new artificial language, which had in the meanwhile been elaborated. Dr. Zamenhof, a Russian physician living at Warsaw, had been from youth occupied with the project of an international language, and in 1887 he put forth in French his scheme for a new language to be called Esperanto. The scheme attracted little notice; Volapük was then at the zenith of its career, and when it fell, its fall discredited all attempts at an artificial language. But, like Volapük, Esperanto found its great apostle in France. M. Louis de Beaufront brought his high ability and immense enthusiasm to the work of propaganda, and the success of Esperanto in the world is attributed in large measure to him. The extension of Esperanto is now threatening to rival that of Volapük. Many years ago Max Müller, and subsequently Skeat, notwithstanding the philologist's prejudice in favour of natural languages, expressed their approval of Esperanto, and many persons of distinction, moving in such widely remote spheres as Tolstoy and Sir William Ramsay, have since signified their acceptance and their sympathy. Esperanto Congresses are regularly held, Esperanto Societies and Esperanto Consulates are established in many parts of the world, a great number of books and journals are published in Esperanto, and some of the world's classics have been translated into it.

It is generally recognized that Esperanto represents a great advance on Volapük. Yet there are already signs [373]that Esperanto is approaching the climax of its reputation, and that possibly its inventor may share the fate of the inventor of Volapük and outlive his own language. The most serious attack on Esperanto has come from within. The most intelligent Esperantists have realized the weakness and defects of their language (in some measure due to the inevitable Slavonic prepossessions of its inventor) and demand radical reforms, which the conservative party resist. Even M. de Beaufront, to whom its success was largely due, has abandoned primitive Esperanto, and various scientific men of high distinction in several countries now advocate the supersession of Esperanto by an improved language based upon it and called Ido. Professor Lorenz, who is among the advocates of Ido, admits that Esperanto has shown the possibility of a synthetic language, but states definitely that "according to the concordant testimony of all unbiased opinions" Esperanto in no wise represents the final solution of the problem. This new movement is embodied in the Délégation pour l'Adoption d'une Langue Auxiliaire Internationale, founded in Paris during the International Exhibition in 1900 by various eminent literary and scientific men, and having its head-quarters in Paris. The Délégation consider that the problem demands a purely scientific and technical solution, and it is claimed that 40 per cent of the stems of Ido are common to six languages: German, English, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish. The Délégation appear to have approached the question with a fairly open mind, and it was only after study of the subject that they finally reached the [374]conclusion that Esperanto contained a sufficient number of good qualities to furnish a basis on which to work. [246]

The general programme of the Délégation is that (1) an auxiliary international language is required, adapted to written and oral language between persons of different mother tongues; (2) such language must be capable of serving the needs of science, daily life, commerce, and general intercourse, and must be of such a character that it may easily be learnt by persons of average elementary education, especially those of civilized European nationality; (3) the decision to rest with the International Association of Academies, and, in case of their refusal, with the Committee of the Délégation. [247]

The Délégation is seeking to bring about an official international Congress which would either itself or through properly appointed experts establish an internationally and officially recognized auxiliary language. The chief step made in this direction has been the formation at Berne in 1911 of an international association whose object is to take immediate steps towards bringing the question before the Governments of Europe. The Association is pledged to observe a strict neutrality in regard to the language to be chosen.

The whole question seems thus to have been placed on a sounder basis than hitherto. The international language [375]of the future cannot be, and ought not to be, settled by a single individual seeking to impose his own invention on the world. This is not a matter for zealous propaganda of an almost religious character. The hasty and premature adoption of some privately invented language merely retards progress. No individual can settle the question by himself. What we need is calm study and deliberation between the nations and the classes chiefly concerned, acting through the accredited representatives of their Governments and other professional bodies. Nothing effective can be done until the pressure of popular opinion has awakened Governments and scientific societies to the need for action. The question of international arbitration has become practical; the question of the international language ought to go hand in hand with that of international arbitration. They are closely allied and both equally necessary.

While the educational, commercial, and official advantages of an auxiliary international language are obvious, it seems to me that from the standpoint of social hygiene there are at least three interests which are especially and deeply concerned in the settlement of this question.

The first and chief is that of international democracy in its efforts to attain an understanding on labour questions. There can be no solution of this question until a simpler mode of personal communication has become widely prevalent. This matter has from time to time already been brought before international labour congresses, and those who attend such congresses have doubtless had occasion to realize how essential it is. [376]Perhaps it is a chief factor in the comparative failure of such congresses hitherto.

Science represents the second great interest which has shown an active concern in the settlement of this question. To follow up any line of scientific research is already a sufficiently gigantic work, on account of the absence of proper bibliographical organization; it becomes almost overwhelming now that the search has to extend over at least half a dozen languages, and still leaves the searcher a stranger to the important investigations which are appearing in Russian and in Japanese, and will before long appear in other languages. Sir Michael Foster once drew a humorous picture of the woes of the physiologist owing to these causes. In other fields—especially in the numerous branches of anthropological research, as I can myself bear witness—the worker is even worse off than the physiologist. Just now science is concentrating its energies on the organization of bibliography, but much attention has been given to this question of an international language from time to time, and it is likely before long to come pressingly to the front.

The medical profession is also practically concerned in this question; hitherto it has, indeed, taken a more lively interest in the effort to secure an international language than has pure science. It is of the first importance that new discoveries and methods in medicine and hygiene should be rendered immediately accessible; while the now enormously extended domain of medicine is full of great questions which can only be solved by international co-operation on an international basis. [377]The responsibility of advocating a number of measures affecting the well-being of communities lies, in the first place, with the medical profession; but no general agreement is possible without full facilities for discussion in international session. This has been generally recognized; hence the numerous attempts to urge a single language on the organizers of the international medical congresses. I have already observed how large and active these congresses were. Yet it cannot be said that any results are achieved commensurate with the world-wide character of such congresses. Partly this is due to the fact that the organizers of international congresses have not yet learnt what should be the scope of such conferences, and what they may legitimately hope to perform; but very largely because there is no international method of communication; and, except for a few seasoned cosmopolitans, no truly international exchange of opinions takes place. This can only be possible when we have a really common and familiar method of intercommunication.

These three interests—democratic, scientific, medical—seem at present those chiefly concerned in the task of putting this matter on a definite basis, and it is much to be desired that they should come to some common agreement. They represent three immensely important modes of social and intellectual activity, and the progress of every nation is bound up with an international progress of which they are now the natural pioneers. It cannot be too often repeated that the day has gone by when any progress worthy of the name can be purely national. [378]All the most vital questions of national progress tend to merge themselves into international questions. But before any question of international progress can result in anything but noisy confusion, we need a recognized mode of international intelligence and communication. That is why the question of the auxiliary international language is of actual and vital interest to all who are concerned with the tasks of social hygiene.


It must be remembered that the international auxiliary language is an organic part of a larger internationalization which must inevitably be effected, and is indeed already coming into being. Two related measures of intercommunication are an international system of postage stamps, and an international coinage, to which may be added an international system of weights and measures, which seems to be already in course of settlement by the increasingly general adoption of the metric system. The introduction of the exchangeable international stamp coupon represents the beginning of a truly international postal system; but it is only a beginning. If a completely developed international postal system were incidentally to deliver some nations, and especially the English, from the depressingly ugly postage stamps they are now condemned to use, this reform would possess a further advantage almost as great as its practical utility. An international coinage is, again, a prime necessity, which would possess immense commercial advantages in addition to the great saving of trouble it would effect. The progress of civilization is already working towards an international coinage. In an interesting paper on this subject ("International Coinage," Popular Science Monthly, March, 1910) T.F. van Wagenen writes; "Each in its way, the great [379]commercial nations of the day are unconsciously engaged in the task. The English shilling is working northwards from the Cape of Good Hope, has already come in touch with the German mark and the Portuguese peseta which have been introduced on both the east and west sides of the Continent, and will in due time meet the French franc and Italian lira coming south from the shores of the Mediterranean. In Asia, the Indian rupee, the Russian rouble, the Japanese yen, and the American-Philippine coins are already competing for the patronage of the Malay and the Chinaman. In South America neither American nor European coins have any foot-hold, the Latin-American nations being well supplied by systems of their own, all related more or less closely to the coinage of Mexico or Portugal. Thus the plainly evolutionary task of pushing civilization into the uneducated parts of the world through commerce is as badly hampered by the different coins offered to the barbarian as are the efforts of the evangelists to introduce Christianity by the existence of the various denominations and creeds. The Church is beginning to appreciate the wastage in its efforts, and is trying to minimize it by combinations among the denominations having for their object to standardize Christianity, so to speak, by reducing tenet and dogma to the lowest possible terms. Commerce must do the same. The white man's coins must be standardized and simplified.... The international coin will come in a comparatively short time, just as will arrive the international postage stamp, which, by the way, is very badly needed. For the upper classes of all countries, the people who travel, and have to stand the nuisance and loss of changing their money at every frontier, the bankers and international merchants who have to cumber their accounts with the fluctuating item of exchange between commercial centres will insist upon it. All the European nations, with the exception of Russia and Turkey, are ready for the change, and when these reach the stage of real constitutionalism in [380]their progress upward, they will be compelled to follow, being already deeply in debt to the French, English, and Germans. Japan may be counted upon to acquiesce instantly in any unit agreed upon by the rest of the civilized world."

This writer points out that the opening out of the uncivilized parts of the world to commerce will alone serve to make an international coinage absolutely indispensable.

Without, however, introducing a really new system, an auxiliary international money system (corresponding to an auxiliary international language) could be introduced as a medium of exchange without interfering with the existing coinages of the various nations. Réné de Saussure (writing in the Journal de Genève, in 1907) has insisted on the immense benefit such a system of "monnaie de compte" would be in removing the burden imposed upon all international financial relations by the diversity of money values. He argues that the best point of union would be a gold piece of eight grammes—almost exactly equivalent to one pound, twenty marks, five dollars, and twenty-five francs—being, in fact, but one-third of a penny different from the value of a pound sterling. For the subdivisions the point of union must be decimally divided, and M. de Saussure would give the name of speso to a ten-thousandth part of the gold coin.

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