International Language - Past, Present and Future: With Specimens of Esperanto and Grammar
by Walter J. Clark
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This e-text uses the digraphs "cx", "gx", "hx", "jx", "sx" and "ux" to represent letters unavailable in the latin-1 character set. The problems of transliteration are discussed in full at the end of the file.








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An artificial language may be more regular, more perfect, and easier to learn than a natural one.—MAX MLLER.

The world is spinning fast down the grooves of change. The old disorder changeth. Haply it is yielding place to new. The tongue is a little member. It should no longer be allowed to divide the nations.

Two things stand out in the swift change. Science with all its works is spreading to all lands. The East, led by Japan, is coming into line with the West.

Standardization of life may fittingly be accompanied by standardization of language. The effect may be twofold—Practical and Ideal.

Practical. The World has a thousand tongues, Science but one: They'll climb up a thousand rungs When Babel's done.

Ideal. Mankind has a thousand tongues, Friendship but one: Banzai! then from heart and lungs For the Rising Sun.

W. J. C.

NOTE.—The following pages have had the advantage of being read in MS. by Mr. H. Bolingbroke Mudie, and I am indebted to him for many corrections and suggestions.

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NOTE.—To avoid repeating the cumbrous phrase "international auxiliary language," the word auxiliary is usually omitted. It must be clearly understood that when "international" or "universal" language is spoken of, auxiliary is also implied.



I. Introductory . . . . . . . . . 1 II. The Question of Principle—Economic Advantage of an International Language . . . . . . 4 III. The Question of Practice—An International Language is Possible . . . . . . . . . 8 IV. The Question of Practice (continued)—An International Language is Easy . . . . . . . . 16 V. The Question of Practice (continued)—The Introduction of an International Language would not cause Dislocation . . . . . . . . . 24 VI. International Action already taken for the Introduction of an Auxiliary Language . . . . . . 26 VII. Can the International Language be Latin? . . . . 33 VIII. Can the International Language be Greek? . . . . 35 IX. Can the International Language be a Modern Language? . . . . . . . . . 36 X. Can the Evolution of an International Language be left to the Process of Natural Selection by Free Competition? . . . . . . . . . 38 XI. Objections to an International Language on Aesthetic Grounds . . . . . . . . . . 40 XII. Will an International Language discourage the Study of Modern Languages, and thus be Detrimental to Culture?—Parallel with the Question of Compulsory Greek . . . . . . . . . . 46 XIII. Objection to an International Language on the Ground that it will soon split up into Dialects . . . 49 XIV. Objection that the Present International Language (Esperanto) is too Dogmatic, and refuses to profit by Criticism . . . . . . . 51 XV. Summary of Objections to an International Language . . 53 XVI. The Wider Cosmopolitanism—The Coming of Asia . . . 57 XVII. Importance of an International Language for the Blind . 61 XVIII. Ideal v. Practical . . . . . . . . 63 XIX. Literary v. Commercial . . . . . . . 65 XX. Is an International Language a Crank's Hobby? . . . 70 XXI. What an International Language is not . . . . 73 XXII. What an International Language is . . . . . 73




I. Some Existing International Languages already in Partial Use . . . . . . . . . 74 II. Outline of History of the Idea of a Universal Language—List of Schemes proposed . . . . . . . . 76 III. The Earliest British Attempt . . . . . . 87 IV. History of Volapk—a Warning . . . . . . 92 V. History of Idiom Neutral . . . . . . . 98 VI. The Newest Languages: a Neo-Latin Group—Gropings towards a "Pan-European" Amalgamated Scheme . . . . . . . . . . 103 VII. History of Esperanto . . . . . . . . 105 VIII. Present State of Esperanto: (a) General; (b) in England 121 IX. Lessons to be drawn from the Foregoing History . . . 131




I. Esperanto is scientifically constructed, and fulfils the Natural Tendency in Evolution of Language . . . 135 II. Esperanto from an Educational Point of View—It will aid the learning of other Languages and stimulate Intelligence . . . . . . . . . 145 III. Comparative Tables illustrating Labour saved in learning Esperanto as contrasted with other Languages: (a) Word-building; (b) Participles and Auxiliaries . 155 IV. How Esperanto can be used as a Code Language to communicate with Persons who have never learnt it . . 161




Note . . . . . . . . . . . 165 I. Pronunciation . . . . . . . . . 166 II. Specimens of Esperanto: 1. Parolado . . . . . . . . . 167 2. La Marbordistoj . . . . . . . . 168 3. Nesagxa Gento: Alegorio . . . . . . 168 III. Grammar . . . . . . . . . . 189 IV. List of Affixes . . . . . . . . . 191 V. Table of Correlative Words . . . . . . . 193 VI. Vocabulary . . . . . . . . . . 194


Sample Problems (see Part III., chap, ii.) in Regular Language . 200


Esperanto Hymn by Dr. Zamenhof . . . . . . . 202


The Letter c in Esperanto . . . . . . . . 204

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In dealing with the problem of the introduction of an international language, we are met on the threshold by two main questions:

1. The question of principle.

2. The question of practice.

By the question of principle is meant, Is it desirable to have a universal language? do we wish for one? in short, is there a demand?

The question of practice includes the inquiries, Is such a language possible? is it easy? would its introduction be fraught with prohibitive difficulties? and the like.

It is clear that, however possible or easy it may be to do a thing, there is no case for doing it unless it is wanted; therefore the question of principle must be taken first. In the case before us the question of principle involves many considerations—aesthetic, political, social, even religious. These will be glanced at in their proper place; but for our present purpose they are all subordinate to the one great paramount consideration—the economic one. In the world of affairs experience shows that, given a demand of any kind whatever, as between an economical method of supplying that demand and a non-economical method, in the long run the economical method will surely prevail.

If, then, it can be shown that there is a growing need for means of international communication, and that a unilingual solution is more economical than a multilingual one, there is good ground for thinking that the unilingual method of transacting international affairs will surely prevail. It then becomes a question of time and method: When will men feel the pressure of the demand sufficiently strongly to set about supplying it? and what means will they adopt?

The time and the method are by no means indifferent. Though a demand (for what is possible) is sure, in the long run, to get itself supplied, a long period of wasteful and needless groping may be avoided by a clear-sighted and timely realization of the demand, and by consequent organized co-operation in supplying it. Intelligent anticipation sometimes helps events to occur. It is the object of this book to call attention to the present state of affairs, and to emphasize the fact that the time is now ripe for dealing with the question, and the present moment propitious for solving the problem once for all in an orderly way. The merest glance at the list of projects for a universal language[1] and their dates will strengthen the conviction from an historical point of view that the fulness of time is accomplished, while the history of the rise and fall of Volapk and of the extraordinary rise of Esperanto, in spite of its precursor's failure, are exceedingly significant.

[1]See pp. 78-87. [Part II, Chapter II]

One language has been born, come to maturity, and died of dissension, and the world stood by indifferent. Another is now in the first full flush of youth and strength. After twenty-nine years of daily developing cosmopolitanism—years that have witnessed the rising of a new star in the East and an uninterrupted growth of interchange of ideas between the nations of the earth, whether in politics, literature, or science, without a single check to the ever-rising tide of internationalism—are we again to let the favourable moment pass unused, just for want of making up our minds? At present one language holds the field. It is well organized; it has abundant enthusiastic partisans accustomed to communicate and transact their common business in it, and only too anxious to show the way to others. If it be not officially adopted and put under the regulation of a duly constituted international authority, it may wither away or split into factions as Volapk did.[1] Or it may continue to grow and flourish, but others of its numerous rivals may secure adherents and dispute its claim. This would be even worse. It is far harder to rally a multitude of conflicting rivals in the same camp, than it is to take over a well-organized, homogeneous, and efficient volunteer force, legalize its position, and raise it to the status of a regular army. In any case, if no concerted action be taken, the question will remain in a state of chaos, and the lack of official organization brings a great risk of overlapping, dissension, and creation of rival interests, and generally produces a state of affairs calculated to postpone indefinitely the supply of the demand. Competition that neither tends to keep down the price nor to improve the quality of the thing produced is mere dissipation of energy.

[1]Esperanto itself is admirably organized (see p. 119) [Part II, Chapter VII], and there are no factions or symptoms of dissension. But Esperantists need official support and recognition.

In a word, the one thing needful at present is not a more highly perfected language to adopt, but the adoption of the highly perfected one we possess. By the admission of experts, no less than by the practical experience of great numbers of persons in using it over a number of years, it has been found adequate. Once found adequate, its absolute utility merely depends upon universal adoption.

With utility in direct proportion to numbers of adherents, every recruit augments its value—a thought which may well encourage waverers to make the slight effort necessary to at any rate learn to read it.



As stated above, the question of principle will be treated here from a purely economical point of view, since practical value, measured by saving of time, money, and effort, must be the ultimate criterion by which the success or failure of so far-reaching a reform as the introduction of an international, auxiliary language will be decided. The bearing of such a reform upon education, culture, race supremacy, etc., is not without importance; but the discussion of these points must be postponed as subsidiary.

Reduced to its simplest form, the economical argument is this:

(1) The volume of international intercourse is great and increasing.

(2) This intercourse is at present carried on in many different languages of varying degrees of difficulty, but all relatively hard of acquisition for those who do not know them as a mother-tongue. This is uneconomical.

(3) It is economically sounder to carry on international intercourse in one easy language than in a large number of hard ones.

(4) Therefore in principle an easy international language is desirable.

Let us glance at these four points a little more in detail.

No. 1 surely needs no demonstration. Every year there is more communication between men of different race and language. And it is not business, in the narrow sense of the term, that is exclusively or even chiefly affected by diversity of language. Besides the enormous bulk of pleasure travel, international congresses are growing in number and importance; municipal fraternization is the latest fashion, and many a worthy alderman, touring at the ratepayers' expense, must wish that he had some German in Berlin, or a little Italian in Milan. Indeed, it is at these points of international contact that language is a real bar, actually preventing much intercourse that would otherwise have taken place, rather than in business, which is organized in view of the difficulty. Then there is the whole realm of scientific and learned literature—work of which the accessibility to all concerned is of the first importance, but is often hindered because a translation into one language does not pay, or, if made, only reaches a limited public. Such bars to freedom of interchange cannot be reckoned in money; but modern economics recognizes the personal and social factor, and any obstacle to research is certainly a public loss.

But important as are these various spheres of action, an even wider international contact of thought and feeling is springing up in our days. Democracy, science, and universal education are producing everywhere similarity of institutions, of industry, of the whole organization of life. Similarity of life will breed community of interests, and from this arises real converse—more give and take in the things that matter, less purely superficial dealings of the guide-book or conversation-manual type.

(2) "Business," meaning commerce, in so far as it is international, may at present be carried on mainly in half a dozen of the principal languages of Western Europe. Even so, their multiplicity is vexatious. But outside the world of business other languages are entering the field, and striving for equal rights. The tendency is all towards self-assertion on the part of the nationalities that are beginning a new era of national life and importance. The language difficulty in the Austrian Empire reflects the growing self-consciousness of the Magyars. Everywhere where young peoples are pushing their rights to take equal rank among the nations of the world, the language question is put in the forefront. The politicians of Ireland and Wales have realized the importance of language in asserting nationality, but such engineered language-agitation offers but a feeble reflex of the vitality of the question in lands where the native language is as much in use for all purposes as is English in England. These lands will fight harder and harder against the claims to supremacy of a handful of Western intruders. A famous foreign philologist,[1] in a report on the subject presented to the Academy of Vienna, notes the increasing tendency of Russian to take rank among the recognized languages for purposes of polite learning. He is well placed to observe. With Russia knocking at the door and Hungary waiting to storm the breach, what tongue may not our descendants of the next century have to learn, under pain of losing touch with important currents of thought? It is high time something were done to standardize means of transmission. Owing to political conditions, there are linguistically disintegrating forces at work, which are at variance with the integrating forces of natural tendency.

[1]Prof. Shuchardt

From an economical point of view, a considerable amount of time, effort, and money must be unreproductively invested in overcoming the "language difficulty." In money alone the amount must run into thousands of pounds yearly. Among the unreproductive investments are—the employment of foreign correspondence clerks, the time and money spent upon the installation of educational plant for their production, the time and money spent upon translations and interpreters for the proceedings of international conferences and negotiations, the time devoted by professors and other researchers (often nonlinguists in virtue of their calling) to deciphering special treatises and learned periodicals in languages not their own.[1]

[1]These are some of the actual visible losses owing to the presence of the language difficulty. No one can estimate the value of the losses entailed by the absence of free intercourse due to removable linguistic barriers. Potential (but at present non-realized) extension of goodwill, swifter progress, and wider knowledge represent one side of their value; while consequent non-realized increase in volume of actual business represents their value in money. The negative statement of absence of results from intercourse that never took place affords no measure of positive results obtainable under a better system.

The tendency of those engaged in advancing material progress, which consists in the subjection of nature to man's ends, is to adapt more and more quickly their methods to changing conditions. Has the world yet faced in a business-like spirit the problem of wiping out wastage on words?

Big industrial concerns scrap machinery while it is yet perfectly capable of running and turning out good work, in order to replace it by newer machinery, capable of turning out more work in the same time. Time is money. Can the busy world afford a language difficulty?

(3) The proposition that it is economically sounder to carry on international intercourse in one easy language than in a large number of hard ones rests upon the principle that it does not pay to do a thing a hard way, if the same results can be produced by an easy way.

The whole industrial revolution brought about by the invention of machinery depended upon this principle. Since an artificial language, like machinery, is a means invented by man of furthering his ends, there seems to be no abuse of analogy in comparing them.

When it was found that machinery would turn out a hundred pieces of cloth while the hand-loom turned out one, the hand-loom was doomed, except in so far as it may serve other ends, antiquarian, aesthetic, or artistic, which are not equally well served by machinery. Similarly, to take another revolution which is going on in our own day through a further application of machinery, when it is found that corn can be reaped and threshed by machinery, that hay can be cut, made, carried, and stacked by machinery, that man can travel the high road by machinery, sooner or later machinery is bound to get the bulk of the job, because it produces the same results at greater speed and less cost. So, in the field of international intercourse, if an easy artificial language can with equal efficiency and at less cost produce the same results as a multiplicity of natural ones, in many lines of human activity, and making all reserves in matters antiquarian, aesthetic, and artistic, sooner or later the multiplicity will have to go to the scrap-heap[1] as cumbrous and out of date. It may be a hundred years; it may be fifty; it may be even twenty. Almost certainly the irresistible trend of economic pressure will work its will and insist that what has to be done shall be done in the most economical way.

[1]But only, of course, in those lines in which an international auxiliary language can produce equally good results. This excludes home use, national literature, philology, scholarly study of national languages, etc.

So much, then, for the question of principle. In treating it, certain large assumptions have been made; e.g. it is said above, "if an easy artificial language can with equal efficiency... produce the same results," etc. Here it is assumed that the artificial language is (1) easy, and (2) that it is possible for it to produce the same results. Again, however easy and possible, its introduction might cost more than it saved. These are questions of fact, and are treated in the three following chapters under the heading of "The Question of Practice."



The man who says a thing is impossible without troubling to find out whether it has been done is merely "talking through his hat," to use an Americanism, and we need not waste much time on him. Any one, who maintains that it is impossible to transact the ordinary business of life and write lucid treatises on scientific and other subjects in an artificial language, is simply in the position of the French engineer, who gave a full scientific demonstration of the fact that an engine could not possibly travel by steam.

The plain fact is that not only one artificial language, but several, already exist, which not only can express, but already have expressed all the ideas current in social intercourse, business, and serious exposition. It is only necessary to state the facts briefly.


Three congresses were held in all for the promotion of this language. The third (Paris, 1889) was the most important. It was attended by Volapkists from many different nations, who carried on all their business in Volapk, and found no difficulty in understanding one another. Besides this, there were a great many newspapers published in Volapk, which treated of all kinds of subjects.

Secondly—Idiom Neutral, the lineal descendant of Volapk.

It is regulated by an international academy, which sends round circulars and does all its business in Idiom Neutral.


Since the publication of the language in 1887 it has had a gradually increasing number of adherents, who have used it for all ordinary purposes of communication. A great number of newspapers and reviews of all kinds are now published regularly in Esperanto in a great variety of countries. I take up a chance number of the Internacia Scienca Revuo, which happens to be on my table, and find the following subjects among the contents of the month: "Rle of living beings in the general physiology of the earth," "The carnivorous animals of Sweden," "The part played by heredity in the etiology of chronic nephritis," "The migration of the lemings," "Notices of books," "Notes and correspondence," etc. In fact, the Review has all the appearance of an ordinary scientific periodical, and the articles are as clearly expressed and as easy to read as those in any similar review in a national language.

Even more convincing perhaps, for the uninitiated, is the evidence afforded by the International Congresses of Esperantists. The first was held at Boulogne in August 1905. It marked an epoch in the lives of many of the participants, whose doubts as to the practical nature of an artificial language there, for good and all, yielded to the logic of facts; and it may well be that it will some day be rather an outstanding landmark in the history of civilization. A brief description will, therefore, not be out of place.

In the little seaport town on the north coast of France had come together men and women of more than twenty different races. Some were experts, some were beginners; but all save a very few must have been alike in this, that they had learnt their Esperanto at home, and, as far as oral use went, had only been able to speak it (if at all) with members of their own national groups—that is, with compatriots who had acquired the language under the same conditions as to pronunciation, etc., as themselves. Experts and beginners, those who from practical experience knew the great possibilities of the new tongue as a written medium, no less than the neophytes and tentative experimenters who had come to see whether the thing was worth taking seriously, they were now to make the decisive trial—in the one case to test the faith that was in them, in the other to set all doubt at rest in one sense or the other for good and all.

The town theatre had been generously placed at the disposal of the Congress, and the author of the language, Dr. Zamenhof, had left his eye-patients at Warsaw and come to preside at the coming out of his kara lingvo, now well on in her 'teens, and about to leave the academic seclusion of scholastic use and emerge into the larger sphere of social and practical activity.

On Saturday evening, August 5, at eight o'clock, the Boulogne Theatre was packed with a cosmopolitan audience. The unique assembly was pervaded by an indefinable feeling of expectancy; as in the lull before the thunderstorm, there was the hush of excitement, the tense silence charged with the premonition of some vast force about to be let loose on the world. After a few preliminaries, there was a really dramatic moment when Dr. Zamenhof stood up for the first time to address his world-audience in the world-tongue. Would they understand him? Was their hope about to be justified? or was it all a chimera, "such stuff as dreams are made on"?

Gesinjoroj (= Ladies and gentlemen)—the great audience craned forward like one man, straining eyes and ears towards the speaker,—Kun granda plezuro mi akceptis la proponon... The crowd drank in the words with an almost pathetic agony of anxiety. Gradually, as the clear-cut sentences poured forth in a continuous stream of perfect lucidity, and the audience realized that they were all listening to and all understanding a really international speech in a really international tongue—a tongue which secured to them, as here in Boulogne so throughout the world, full comprehension and a sense of comradeship and fellow-citizenship on equal terms with all users of it—the anxiety gave way to a scene of wild enthusiasm. Men shook hands with perfect strangers, and all cheered and cheered again. Zamenhof finished with a solemn declamation of one of his hymns (given as an appendix to this volume, with translation), embodying the lofty ideal which has inspired him all through and sustained him through the many difficulties he has had to face. When he came to the end, the fine passage beginning with the words, Ni inter popoloj la murojn detruos ("we shall throw down the walls between the peoples"), and ending amo kaj vero ekregos sur tero ("love and truth shall begin their reign on earth"), the whole concourse rose to their feet with prolonged cries of "Vivu Zamenhof!"

No doubt this enthusiasm may sound rather forced and unreal to those who have not attended a congress, and the cheers may ring hollow across intervening time and space. Neither would it be good for this or any movement to rely upon facile enthusiasm, as easily damped as aroused. There is something far more than this in the international language movement.

At the same time, it is impossible for any one who has not tried it to realize the thrill—not a weak, sentimental thrill, but a reasonable thrill, starting from objective fact and running down the marrow of things—given by the first real contact with an international language in an international setting. There really is a feeling as of a new power born into the world.

Those who were present at the Geneva Congress, 1906, will not soon forget the singing of the song "La Espero" at the solemn closing of the week's proceedings. The organ rolled out the melody, and when the gathered thousands that thronged the floor of the hall and packed the galleries tier on tier to the ceiling took up the opening phrase—

En la mondon venis nova sento, Tra la mondo iras forta voko,[1]

they meant every word of it. It was a fitting summary of the impressions left by the events of the week, and what the lips uttered must have been in the hearts and minds of all.

[1]Into the world has come a new feeling, Through the world goes a mighty call.

As an ounce of personal experience is worth a pound of second-hand recital, a brief statement may here be given of the way in which the present writer came to take up Esperanto, and of the experiences which soon led him to the conviction of its absolute practicability and utility.

In October, 1905, having just returned from an absence of some years in Canada and the Far East, he had his attention turned to Esperanto for the first time by reading an account of the Congress of Boulogne. He had no previous knowledge of, or leanings towards, a universal language; and if he had thought about it at all, it was only to laugh at the idea as a wild and visionary scheme. In short, his attitude was quite normal.

But here was a definite statement, professing to be one of positive accomplished fact. One of two things: either the newspaper account was not true; or else, the facts being as represented, here was a new possibility to be reckoned with. The only course was to send for the books and test the thing on its merits. Being somewhat used to languages, he did not take long to see that this one was good enough in itself. A letter, written in Esperanto, after a few days' study of the grammar at odd times, with a halfpenny Esperanto-English key enclosed, was fully understood by the addressee, though he was ignorant up till then of the very existence of Esperanto. This experience has often been since repeated; indeed, the correspondent will often write back after a few days in Esperanto. Such letters have always been found intelligible, though in no case did the correspondent know Esperanto previously. The experiment is instructive and amusing, and can be tried by any one for an expenditure of twopence for keys and a few hours for studying the sixteen rules and their application. To many minds these are far simpler and more easy to grasp for practical use than the rules for scoring at bridge.

After a month or two's playing with the language in spare time, the writer further tested it, by sending out a flight of postcards to various selected Esperantists' addresses in different parts of the Russian Empire. The addressees ranged from St. Petersburg and Helsingfors through Poland to the Caucasus and to far Siberia. In nearly every case answers were received, and in some instances the initial interchange of postcards led to an extremely interesting correspondence, throwing much light on the disturbed state of things in the native town or province of the correspondent. From a Tiflis doctor came a graphic account of the state of affairs in the Caucasus; while a school inspector from the depths of Eastern Siberia painted a vivid picture of the effect of political unrest on the schools—lockouts and "malodorous chemical obstructions" (Anglice—the schools were stunk out). Many writers expressed themselves with great freedom, but feared their letters would not pass the censor. Judging by the proportion of answers received, the censorship was not at that time efficient. In no case was there any difficulty in grasping the writer's meaning. All the answers were in Esperanto.

This was fairly convincing, but still having doubts on the question of pronunciation, the writer resolved to attend the Esperanto Congress to be held at Geneva in August 1906. To this end he continued to read Esperanto at odd minutes and took in an Esperanto gazette. About three weeks before the congress he got a member of his family to read aloud to him every day as far as possible a page or two of Esperanto, in order to attune his ear. He never had an opportunity of speaking the language before the congress, except once for a few minutes, when he travelled some distance to attend a meeting of the nearest English group.

Thus equipped, he went through the Congress of Geneva, and found himself able to follow most of the proceedings, and to converse freely, though slowly, with people of the most diverse nationality. At an early sitting of the congress he found himself next to a Russian from Kischineff, who had been through the first great pogrom, and a most interesting conversation ensued. Another day the neighbours were an Indian nawab and an abb from Madrid. Another time it was a Bulgarian. At the first official banquet he sat next to a Finn, who rejoiced in the name of Attila, and, but for the civilizing influence of a universal language, might have been in the sunny south, like his namesake of the ancient world, on a very different errand from his present peaceful one. Yet here he was, rubbing elbows with Italians, as if there had never been such things as Huns or a sack of Rome by northern barbarians.

During the meal a Frenchman, finding himself near us English and some Germans, proposed a toast to the "entente cordiale taking in Germany," which was honoured with great enthusiasm. This is merely an instance of the small ways in which such gatherings make for peace and good will.

With all these people it was perfectly easy to converse in the common tongue, pronunciation and national idiom being no bar in practice.

And this experience was general throughout the duration of the congress. Day by day sittings were held for the transaction of all kinds of business and the discussion of the most varied subjects. It was impressive to see people from half the countries of the world rise from different corners of the hall and contribute their share to the discussion in the most matter-of-fact way. Day by day the congressists met in social functions, debates, lectures, and sectional groups (chemical, medical, legal, etc.) for the regulation of matters touching their special interests. Everything was done in Esperanto, and never was there the slightest hitch or misunderstanding, or failure to give adequate expression to opinions owing to defects of language. The language difficulty was annihilated.

Perhaps one of the most striking demonstrations of this return to pre-Babel conditions was the performance of a three-part comedy by a Frenchman, a Russian, and a Spaniard. Such a thing would inevitably have been grotesque in any national language; but here they met on common neutral ground. No one's accent was "foreign," and none of the spectators possessed that mother-tongue acquaintance with Esperanto that would lead them to feel slight divergences shocking, or even noticeable without extreme attention to the point. Other theatrical performances were given at Geneva, as also at Boulogne, where a play of Molire was performed in Esperanto by actors of eight nationalities with one rehearsal, and with full success.

In the face of these facts it is idle to oppose a universal artificial language on the score of impossibility or inadequacy. The theoretical pronunciation difficulty completely crumbled away before the test of practice.

The "war-at-any-price party," the whole-hoggers tous crins (the juxtaposition of the two national idioms lends a certain realism, and heightens the effect of each), are therefore driven back on their second line of attack, if the Hibernianism may be excused. "Yes," they say, "your language may be possible, but, after all, why not learn an existing language, if you've got to learn one anyway?"

Now, quite apart from the obvious fact that the nations will never agree to give the preference to the language of one of them to the prejudice of the others, this argument involves the suggestion that an artificial language is no easier to learn than a natural one. We thus come to the question of ease as a qualification.



[1]Readers who do not care about the reasons for this, but desire concrete proofs, may skip the next few pages and turn in to p. 20, par. 6.

People smile incredulously at the mention of an artificial language, implying that no easy royal road can be found to language-learning of any kind. But the odds are all the other way, and they are heavy odds.

The reason for this is quite simple, and may be briefly put as follows:

The object of language is to express thought and feeling. Every natural language contains all kinds of complications and irregularities, which are of no use whatever in attaining this object, but merely exist because they happen to have grown. Their sole raison d'tre is historical. In fact, for a language without a history they are unnecessary[1]. Therefore a universal language, whose only object is to supply to every one the simplest possible means of expressing his thoughts and feelings in a medium intelligible to every one else, simply leaves them out. Now, it is precisely in these "unnecessary" complications that a large proportion—certainly more than half—of the difficulty of learning a foreign language consists. Therefore an artificial language, by merely leaving them out, becomes certainly more than twice as easy to learn as any natural language.

[1]i.e. they do not assist in attaining its object as a language. One universal way of forming the plural, past tense, or comparative expresses plurality, past time, or comparison just as well as fifteen ways, and with a deal less trouble.

A little reflection will make this truth so absurdly obvious, that the only wonder is, not that it is now beginning to be recognized, but that any one could have ever derided it.

That the "unnecessary" difficulties of a natural language are more than one-half of the whole is certainly an under-estimate; for some languages the proportion would be more like 3:4 or 5:6. Compared with these, the artificial language would be three times to five times as easy.

Take an illustration. Compare the work to be done by the learner of (a) Latin, (b) Esperanto, in expressing past, present, and future action.

(a) Latin:

Present tense active is expressed by—

6 endings in the 1st regular conjugation. 6 " 2nd " 6 " 3rd " 6 " 4th "

Total regular endings: 24.

To these must be added a vast number of quite different and varying forms for irregular verbs.

(b) Esperanto:

Present tense active is expressed by—

1 ending for every verb in the language.

Total regular and irregular endings: 1.

It is exactly the same for the past and future.

Total endings for the 3 tenses active:

(a) Latin: 72 regular forms, plus a very large number of irregular and defective verbs.

(b) Esperanto: 3 forms.

Turning to the passive voice, we get—

(a) Latin: A complete set of different endings, some of them puzzling in form and liable to confusion with other parts of the verb.

(b) Esperanto: No new endings at all. Merely the three-form regular active conjugation of the verb esti = to be, with a passive participle. No confusion possible.

It is just the same with compound tenses, subjunctives, participles, etc. Making all due allowances, it is quite safe to say that the Latin verb is fifty times as hard as the Esperanto verb.

The proportion would be about the same in the case of substantives, Latin having innumerable types.

Comparing modern languages with Esperanto, the proportion in favour of the latter would not be so high as fifty to one in the inflection of verbs and nouns, though even here it would be very great, allowing for subjunctives, auxiliaries, irregularities, etc. But taking the whole languages, it might well rise to ten to one.

For what are the chief difficulties in language-learning?

They are mainly either difficulties of phonetics, or of structure and vocabulary.

Difficulties of phonetics are:

(1) Multiplicity of sounds to be produced, including many sounds and combinations that do not occur in the language of the learner.

(2) Variation of accent, and of sounds expressed by the same letter.

These difficulties are both eliminated in Esperanto.

(1) Relatively few sounds are adopted into the language, and only such as are common to nearly all languages. For instance, there are only five full vowels and three[1] diphthongs, which can be explained to every speaker in terms of his own language. All the modified vowels, closed "u's" and "e's," half tones, longs and shorts, open and closed vowels, etc., which form the chief bugbear in correct pronunciation, and often render the foreigner unintelligible—all these disappear.

[1]Omitting the rare eux. ej and uj are merely simple vowels plus consonantal j (= English y).

(2) There is no variation of accent or of sound expressed by the same letter. The principle "one letter, one sound"[1] is adhered to absolutely. Thus, having learned one simple rule for accent (always on the last syllable but one), and the uniform sound corresponding to each letter, no mistake is possible.

[1]The converse—"one sound, one letter"—is also true, except that the same sound is expressed by c and ts. (See Appendix C.)

Contrast this with English. Miss Soames gives twenty-one ways of writing the same sound. Here they are:

[Transcriber's Note: Letters originally printed in italics are here CAPITALIZED for clarity.]

AtE grEAt fEIGn bAss EH! wEIGH pAIn gAOl AYE pAY gAUgE obEYEd dAHlia champAGnE wEIGHEd vEIn campAIGn trAIT thEY strAIGHt hALFpenny[1]

[1]Prof. Skeat adds a twenty-second: Lord Reay!

(Compare eye, lie, high, etc.)

In Esperanto this sound is expressed only and always by "e." In fact, the language is absolutely and entirely phonetic, as all real language was once.

As regards difficulties of vocabulary, the same may be said as in the case of the sounds. Esperanto only adopts the minimum of roots essential, and these are simple, non-ambiguous, and as international as possible. Owing to the device of word-building by means of a few suffixes and prefixes with fixed meaning, the number of roots necessary is very greatly less than in any natural language.[1]

[1]Most of these roots are already known to educated people. For the young the learning of a certain number of words presents practically no difficulty; it is in the practical application of words learnt that they break down, and this failure is almost entirely due to "unnecessary" difficulties.

As for difficulties of structure, some of the chief ones are as follows:

Multiplicity and complexity of inflections. This does not exist in Esperanto.

Irregularities and exceptions of all kinds. None in Esperanto.

Complications of orthography. None in Esperanto.

Different senses of same word, and different words used in same sense. Esperanto—"one word, one meaning."

Arbitrary and fluctuating idioms. Esperanto—none. Common sense and common grammar the only limitation to combination of words.

Complexities of syntax. (Think of the use of the subjunctive and infinitive in all languages: on and me in Greek; indirect speech in Latin; negatives, comparisons, etc., etc., in all languages.) Esperanto—none. Common sense the only guide, and no ambiguity in practice. The perfect limpidity of Esperanto, with no syntactical rules, is a most instructive proof of the conventionality and arbitrariness of the niceties of syntax in national languages. After all, the subjunctive was made for man and not man for the subjunctive.

But readers will say: "It is all very well to show by a comparison of forms that Esperanto ought to be much easier than a natural language. But we want facts."

Here are some.

In the last chapter it was mentioned that the present writer first took up Esperanto in October 1905, worked at it at odd times, never spoke it or heard it spoken save once, and was able to follow the proceedings of the Congress of Geneva in August 1906, and talk to all foreigners. From a long experience of smattering in many languages and learning a few thoroughly, he is absolutely convinced that this would have been impossible to him in any national language.

A lady who began Esperanto three weeks before the congress, and studied it in a grammar by herself one hour each day, was able to talk in it with all peoples on very simple subjects, and to follow a considerable amount of the lectures, etc.

Amongst the British folk who attended the congress were many clerks and commercial people, who had merely learnt Esperanto by attending a class or a local group meeting once a week, often for not many months. They had never been out of England before, nor learnt any other foreign language. They would have been utterly at sea if they had attempted to do what they did on a similar acquaintance with any foreign tongue. But during the two days spent en route in Paris, where the British party was fted and shown round by the French Esperantists, on the journey to Geneva, which English and French made together, on lake steamboats, at picnics and dinners, etc., etc., here they were, rattling away with great ease and mutual entertainment. Many of these came from the North of England, and it was a real eye-opener, over which easy-going South-Englanders would do well to ponder, to see what results could be produced by a little energy and application, building on no previous linguistic training. The Northern accent was evidently a help in pronouncing the full-sounding vowels of Esperanto.

One Englishman, who was talking away gaily with the French samideanoj,[1] was an Esperantist of one year's standing. He had happened to be at Boulogne in pursuit of a little combined French and seasiding at the time of the first congress held there, 1905. One day he got his tongue badly tied up in a cafe, and was helped out of his linguistic difficulties with the waiter by certain compatriots, who wore green stars in their buttonholes,[2] and sat at another table conversing in an unknown lingo with a crowd of foreigners. He made inquiries, and found it was Esperanto they were talking. He was so much struck by their facility, and the practical way in which they had set his business to rights in a minute (the waiter was an Esperantist trained ad hoc!), that he decided to give up French and go in for Esperanto. This man was a real learner of French, who had spent a long time on it, and realized with disgust his impotence to wield it practically. To judge by his conversation next year at Geneva, he had no such difficulty with Esperanto. He was quite jubilant over the change.

[1]Terse Esperanto word. = partisans of the same idea (i.e. Esperanto).

[2]The Esperanto badge.

Such examples could be multiplied ad infinitum. No one who attended a congress could fail to be convinced.

Scientific comparison of the respective difficulty of Esperanto and other languages, based on properly collected and tabulated results, does not seem to be yet obtainable. It is difficult to get high-class schools, where language-teaching is a regular and important part of the curriculum, to give an artificial language a fair trial. Properly organized and carried-out tests are greatly to be desired. If and when they are made, it will probably be found that Esperanto is not only very easy of acquisition itself, but that it has a beneficial effect upon other language-learning.[1]

[1]See pp. 145-55 [Part III, Chapter I].

Meantime, the present writer has carried out one small experiment in a good secondary school for girls, where French and German are regularly spoken and taught for many hours in the week. The head-mistress introduced Esperanto as a regular school subject at the beginning of the Easter term, January 1907. At the end of term a test paper was set, consisting of English sentences to be rendered into French and Esperanto without any dictionary or other aid, and one short passage of English prose to be rendered into both languages with any aid from books that the pupils wished. The object was to determine how far a few hours' teaching of Esperanto would produce results comparable with those obtained in a language learnt for years.

The examinees ranged from fourteen to sixteen years. They had been learning French from two to seven years, and had a daily French lesson, besides speaking French on alternate days in the school. They had learnt Esperanto for ten weeks, from one to one and a half hours per week. Taking the papers all through, the Esperanto results were nearly as good as the French.

One last experiment may be mentioned. It was made under scientific conditions on September 23, 1905. The subject was an adult, who had learnt French and German for years at school, and had since taught French to young boys, but was not a linguist by training or education, having read mathematics at the university.

He had had no lessons in Esperanto, and had never studied the language, his sole knowledge of it being derived from general conversation with an enthusiast, who had just returned from the Geneva Congress. He was disposed to laugh at Esperanto, but was persuaded to test its possibilities as a language that can be written intelligibly by an educated person merely from dictionary by a few rules.

He was given a page of carefully prepared English to translate into Esperanto. The following written aids were given:

1. Twenty-five crude roots (e.g. lern- = to learn.)

2. One suffix, with explanation of its use.

3. A one-page complete grammar of the Esperanto language.

4. An Esperanto-English and an English-Esperanto dictionary.

He produced a good page of perfectly intelligible Esperanto, quite free from serious grammatical mistake. He admitted that he could not translate the passage so well into French or German.

Such experiments go a good way towards proving the case for an artificial language. More are urgently needed, especially of the last two types. They serve to convince all those who come within range of the experiment that an artificial language is a serious project, and may confer great benefits at small cost. Any one can make them with a little trouble, if he can secure a victim. A particularly interesting one is to send a letter in Esperanto to some English or foreign correspondent, enclosing a penny key. The letter will certainly be understood, and very likely the answer will be in Esperanto.

Doubters as to the ease and efficacy of a universal language are not asked to believe without trial. They are merely asked not to condemn or be unfavourable until they have a right to an opinion on the subject. And they are asked to form an opinion by personally testing, or at any rate by weighing actual facts. "A fair field and no favour."

The very best way of testing the thing is to study the language for a few hours and attend a congress. The next congress is to be held in Cambridge, England, in August 1907.

Nothing is more unscientific or unintelligent than to scoff at a thing, while refusing to examine whether there is anything in it.



In Chapters II., III., and IV. it was sought to prove that a universal language is desirable in principle, that it already exists and is efficient, and that it is very easy. If these propositions are true, the only valid argument against introducing it at once would be a demonstration that its introduction is either impracticable or else attended with such disadvantages as to outweigh the beneficial results.

Now, it is quite true that certain schemes tending towards international uniformity of practice and, therefore, ultimately productive of saving of labour are nevertheless such that their realization would cause an almost prohibitive dislocation of present organization. A conspicuous example is the proposed adoption of the decimal system in coinage and weights and measures. So great is the loss of time and trouble (and therefore of money) entailed by using an antiquated and cumbrous-system instead of a simple and modern one that does the work as well, that the big firm Kynochs some months ago introduced the decimal system, in spite of the enormous difficulty of having to keep a double method going. But hitherto, at any rate, the great disturbance to business that the change would cause has prevented it from being generally made. Both this matter and the curiously out-of-date[1] system of spelling modern English present a fairly close analogy to the multilingual system of international intercourse, as regards unprofitable expenditure of time and trouble.

[1]Out of date, because it has failed to keep pace with the change of pronunciation. Spelling, i.e. use of writing, was merely a device for representing to the eye the spoken sounds, so that failure to do this means getting out of date.

But where the analogy breaks down altogether is in the matter of obstacles to reform.

Supposing that all the ministries of education in the world issued orders, that as from January 1, 1909, an auxiliary language should be taught in every government school; supposing that merchants took to doing foreign business wholesale in an auxiliary language, or that men of science took to issuing all their books and treatises in it; whose business would be dislocated? What literature or books would become obsolete? Who, except foreign correspondence clerks and interpreters, would be a penny the worse? Surely a useful reform need not be delayed or refused in the interests of interpreters and correspondence clerks. Even these would only be eliminated gradually as the reform spread. There would be absolutely no general confusion analogous to that following on a sudden change to phonetic spelling or the metric system, because nothing would be displaced.

Look at the precedents—the adoption of an international maritime code, and of an international system of cataloguing which puts bibliography on an equal footing all over the world by means of a common system of classification. Did any confusion or dislocation follow on these reforms? Quite the contrary. It was enough for England and France to agree on the use of the maritime code, and the rest of the nations had to come into line. It would be the same with the official recognition by a group of powerful nations of an auxiliary language. As soon as the world recognizes that it is a labour-saving device on a large scale, and a matter of public convenience on the same plane as codes, telegraphy, or shorthand, it will no doubt be introduced. But why wait until there are rival schemes with large followings and vested interests—in short, until the same obstacles arise to the choice of an international, artificial, and neutral language, as now prevent the elevation of any national language into a universal medium? The plea of impracticability on the score of dislocation might then be valid. At present it is not. To have an easy language that will carry you anywhere and enable you to read anything, it is sufficient to wish for it. Only, as we Britons are being taught to "think imperially," so must the nations learn in this matter to wish internationally.



The main work of educating the public to "wish internationally," the necessary precedent to official action, has naturally in the past been done by the adherents of the various language-schemes themselves. An outline of the most important of these movements is given in the second part of this book.

But apart from these there is now an international organization that is working for the adoption of an international auxiliary language, and a brief account of it may be given here.

During the Paris Exhibition of 1900 a number of international congresses and learned societies, which were holding meetings there, appointed delegates for the consideration of the international language question. These delegates met on January 17, 1901, and founded a "Delegation for the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language." They drew up the following declaration, which has been approved by all subsequently elected delegates:

* * * * *



The undersigned, deputed by various Congresses and Societies to study the question of an international auxiliary language, have agreed on the following points:

(1) There is a necessity to choose and to spread the use of an international language, designed not to replace national idioms in the individual life of each people, but to serve in the written and oral relations between persons whose mother-tongues are different.

(2) In order to fulfil its purpose usefully, an international language must satisfy the following conditions:

1st Condition: It must fulfil the needs of the ordinary intercourse of social life, of commercial communications, and of scientific and philosophic relations;

2nd Condition: It must be easily acquired by every person of average elementary education, and especially by persons of European civilization;

3rd Condition: It must not be one of the national languages.

(3) It is desirable to organize a general DELEGATION representing all who realize the necessity, as well as the possibility, of an international auxiliary language, and who are interested in its employment. This Delegation will appoint a Committee of members who can meet during a certain period of time. The purpose of this Committee is defined in the following articles.

(4) The choice of the auxiliary language belongs in the first instance to the International Association of Academies, or, in case of failure, to the Committee mentioned in Art. 3.

(5) Consequently the first duty of the Committee will be to present to the International Association of Academies, in the required forms, the desires expressed by the constituent Societies and Congresses, and to invite it respectfully to realize the project of an auxiliary language.

(6) It will be the duty of the Committee to create a Society for propaganda, to spread the use of the auxiliary language which is chosen.

(7) The undersigned, being delegated by various Congresses and Societies, decide to approach all learned bodies, and all societies of business men and tourists, in order to obtain their adhesion to the present project.

(8) Representatives of regularly constituted Societies which have agreed to the present Declaration will be admitted as members of the DELEGATION.

* * * * *

This declaration is the official programme of the Delegation. The most important point of principle to note is Art. 2, 3rd Con.: "It must not be one of the national languages."

As regards the methods of action prescribed, no attempt is to be made to bring direct pressure to bear upon any government. It was rightly felt that the adoption of a universal language is a matter for private initiative. No government can properly take up the question, no Ministry of Education can officially introduce an auxiliary language into the schools under its control, until the principle has met with a certain amount of general recognition. The result of a direct appeal to any government or governments could only have been, in the most favourable case, the appointment by the government appealed to of a commission to investigate and report on the question. Such a commission would examine experts and witnesses from representative bodies, such as academies, institutes, philological and other learned societies. The best course of action, therefore, for the promoters of an international language is to apply direct to such bodies, to bring the question before them and try to gain their support. This is what the Delegation has done.

Now, there already exists an international organization whose object is to represent and focus the opinion of learned societies in all countries. This is the International Association of Academies, formed in 1900 for the express purpose, according to its statutes, of promoting "scientific enterprises of international interest." The delegates feel that the adoption of an international language comes in the fullest sense within the letter and spirit of this statute. It is, therefore, to this Association that the choice of language is, in the first place, left. (Art. 4.)

The Association meets triennially. At its first meeting (Paris 1901) the question of international language was brought before it by General Sbert, of the French Institute, but too late to be included among the agenda of that meeting. The occasion was important as eliciting an expression of opinion on the part of the signatories to General Sbert's address. These included twenty-five members of the French Institute, one of the most distinguished scientific bodies in the world.

At the second meeting of the Association (London 1904) the Delegation did not officially present the question for discussion, but the following paragraph appears in the report of the proceedings of the Royal Society, which was the host (London Royal Society, 1904, C. Section of Letters, Thursday, May 26, 1904, p. 33):

"In the course of the sitting, the chairman (Lord Reay, President of the British Academy) submitted to the meeting whether the question of the 'International Auxiliary Language' should be considered, though not included in the agenda. From many quarters applications had been made that the subject might be discussed in some form or other. Prof. Goldziher and M. Perrot spoke against the suggested discussion, the former maintaining that the matter was a general question of international communication, and did not specifically affect scientific interests; the latter announced that he had been commissioned by the Acadmie des Inscriptions to oppose the consideration of this subject. The matter then dropped."

The third meeting of the Association of Academies was held at Vienna at the end of May 1907, under the auspices of the Vienna Academy of Science. The question was officially laid before it by the Delegation. The Association declared, for formal reasons, that the question did not fall within its competence.[1]

[1]In the voting as to the inclusion of the question in the agenda, eight votes were cast in favour of international language, and twelve against. This considerable minority shows very encouraging progress in such a body, considering the newness of the scheme.

Up till now only two national academies have shown themselves favourable to the scheme, those of Vienna and Copenhagen.

The Vienna Academy commissioned one of its most eminent members, Prof. Schuchardt, to watch the movement on its behalf, and to keep it informed on the subject. In 1904 he presented a report favourable to an international language. He and Prof. Jespersen are amongst the most famous philologists who support the movement.

It is not therefore anticipated that the Association of Academies will take up the question; and the Delegation, thinking it desirable not to wait indefinitely till it is converted, has proceeded to the election of a committee, as provided in Art. 4 of the Declaration. It consists of twelve members, with powers to add to their number. It will meet in Paris, October 5, 1907. It is anticipated that the language chosen will be Esperanto. None of the members of this international committee are English, all the English savants invited having declined.

What may be the practical effect of the choice made by this Committee remains to be seen. In France there is a permanent Parliamentary Commission for the consideration of questions affecting public education. This Commission has for some time had before it a proposal for the introduction of Esperanto into the State schools of France, signed by twelve members of Parliament and referred by the House to the Commission. This year the proposal has been presented again in a different form. The text of the scheme, which is much more practical than the former one, is as follows:

"The study of the international language Esperanto will be included in the curricula of those government schools in which modern languages are already taught.

"This study will be optional, and candidates who offer for the various examinations English, German, Italian, Spanish, or Arabic, will be allowed to offer Esperanto as an additional subject.

"They will be entitled to the advantages enjoyed by candidates who offer an additional language."

At present it is a very usual thing to offer an additional language, and if this project passes, Esperanto will be on exactly the same footing as other languages for this purpose. The project of recognizing Esperanto as a principal language for examination was entirely impracticable. It is far too easy, and would merely have become a "soft option" and a refuge for the destitute.

It is said that a majority of the Commission are in favour of introducing an auxiliary language into the schools, when one has been chosen by the Delegation or by the Association of Academies. It is therefore possible that in a year or two Esperanto may be officially recognized in France; and if this is so, other nations will have to examine the matter seriously.

Considering that the French are notoriously bad linguists and, above all other peoples, devoted to the cult of their own language and literature, it is somewhat remarkable that the cause of an artificial language should have made more progress among them than elsewhere. It might have been anticipated that the obstructionist outcry, raised so freely in all countries by those who imagine that an insidious attack is being made on taste, culture, and national language and literature, would have been particularly loud in France. On the contrary, it is precisely in that country that the movement has made most popular progress, and that it numbers the most scientists, scholars, and distinguished men among its adherents. Is it that history will one day have to record another case of France leading Europe in the van of progress?

Encouraged by the number of distinguished signatures obtained in France to their petition in 1901, the Delegation drew up a formula of assent to their Declaration, which they circulate amongst (1) members of academies, (2) members of universities, in all countries. They also keep a list of societies of all kinds who have declared their adherence to the scheme. The latest lists (February and March 1907) show 1,060 signatures of academicians and university members, and 273 societies. In both cases the most influential backing is in France. Thus among the signatures figure in Paris alone:

10 professors of the College de France; 8 " " " Faculty of Medicine; 13 " " " Faculty of Science; 11 " " " Faculty of Letters; 12 " " " cole Normale; 37 members of the Academy of Science;

besides a host of other members of various learned bodies. Many of these are members of that august body the Institut de France, and one is a member of the Acadmie franaise—M. Lavisse.

It is the same in the other French Universities: Lyons University, 53 professors; Dijon, 34; Caen, 18; Besanon, 15; Grenoble, 26; Marseilles, 56, and so on.

Universities in other lands make a fair showing. America contributes supporters from John Hopkins University, 20 professors; Boston Academy of Arts and Sciences, 13 members; Harvard, 7 professors; Columbia University, 23 professors; Washington Academy of Science, 19 members; Columbus University, Ohio, 21 professors, etc. Dublin and Edinburgh both contribute a few. England is represented by one entry: "Cambridge, 2 professors." Perhaps the Cambridge Congress will change this somewhat. It will be strange if any one can actually witness a congress without having his imagination to some extent stirred by the possibilities.

A noticeable feature of the action of the Delegation throughout has been the scientific spirit in which it has gone to work, and its absolute impartiality as to the language to be adopted. It has everywhere, in its propaganda and circulars, spoken of "an international auxiliary language," and has been careful not to prejudge in any way the question as to which shall be adopted.

It may be news to many that there are several rival languages in the field. Even the enthusiastic partisans of Esperanto are often completely ignorant of the existence of competitors. It was partly with the object of furnishing full information to the Delegates who are to make the choice, that MM. Couturat and Leau composed their admirable Histoire de la langue universelle. It contains a brief but scientific account of each language mentioned, the leading principles of its construction, and an excellent critique. The main principles are disengaged by the authors with a masterly clearness and precision of analysis from the mass of material before them. Though they are careful to express no personal preference, and let fall nothing which might unfairly prejudice the delegates in favour of any scheme, it is not difficult to judge, by a comparison of the scientific critiques, which of the competing schemes analysed most fully carries out the principles which experience now shows to be essential to success for any artificial language.

The impression left is, that whether judged by the test of conformity to necessary principles, or by the old maxim "possession is nine points of the law," Esperanto has no serious rival.



There are some who fully admit the desirability of an international language, but say that we have no need to invent one, as we have Latin. This tends to be the argument of literary persons.[1] They back it up by pointing out that Latin has already done duty in the Middle Ages as a common medium, and therefore, they say, what it has once done with success it can do again.

[1]It has even cropped up again in the able articles in The Times on the reformed pronunciation of Latin (April 1907).

It is hard to argue with such persons, because they have not grasped the fact that the nature of international communication has undergone a complete change, and that therefore there is no presumption that the same medium will suffice for carrying it on. In the Middle Ages the cosmopolitan public was almost entirely a learned one. The only people who wanted to communicate with foreigners (except for a certain amount of commerce) were scholars, and the only things they wanted to communicate about were learned subjects, mostly of a philosophical or literary nature, which Latin was adapted to express. The educated public was extremely small, and foreign travel altogether beyond the reach of all but the very few. The overwhelming mass of the people were illiterate, and fast tied to their native spot by lack of pence, lack of communications, and the general conditions of life.

Now that everybody can read and write and get about, and all the conditions of life have changed, the cosmopolitan public, so far from being confined to a handful of scholars and merchants, extends down to and is largely made up of that terrible modern production, "the man in the street." It is quite ridiculous to pretend that because an Erasmus or a Casaubon could carry on literary controversies, with amazing fluency and hard-hitting, in Ciceronian Latin, therefore "the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus" can give up the time necessary to obtaining a control of Latin sufficient for the conduct of his affairs, or for hobnobbing with his kind abroad.

It is waste of time to argue with those who do not realize that the absolute essentials of any auxiliary language in these days are ease of acquirement and accessibility to all. There are actually some newspapers published in Latin and dealing with modern topics. As an amusement for the learned they are all very well; but the portentous periphrases to which they are reduced in describing tramway accidents or motor-cars, the rank obscurity of the terms in which advertisements of the most ordinary goods are veiled, ought to be enough to drive their illusions out of the heads of the modern champions of Latin for practical purposes. Let these persons take in the Roman Vox Urbis for a month or two, or get hold of a copy of the London Alaudae, and see how they feel then.

A dim perception of the requirements of the modern world has inspired the various schemes for a barbarized and simplified Latin. It is almost incredible that the authors of such schemes cannot see that debased Latin suffers from all the defects alleged against an artificial language, plus quite prohibitory ones of its own, without attaining the corresponding advantages. It is just as artificial as an entirely new language, without being nearly so easy (especially to speak) or adaptable to modern life. It sins against the cardinal principle that an auxiliary language shall inflict no damage upon any natural one. In short, it disgusts both parties (scholars and tradesmen), and satisfies the requirements of neither. Those who want an easy language, within the reach of the intelligent person with only an elementary school groundwork of education, don't get it; and the scholarly party, who treat any artificial language as a cheap commercial scheme, have their teeth set on edge by unparalleled barbarisms, which must militate most seriously against the correct use of classical Latin.

Such schemes are dead of their own dogginess.

Latin, pure or mongrel, won't do.



This chapter might be as short and dogmatic as Mark Twain's celebrated chapter upon snakes in Ireland. It would be enough to merely answer "No," but that the indefatigable Mr. Henderson, after running through three artificial languages of his own, has come to the conclusion that Greek is the thing. Certainly, as regards flexibility and power of word-formation, Greek would be better than Latin on its own merits. But it is too hard, and the scheme has nothing practical about it.



Jingoes are not wanting who say that it is unpatriotic of any Englishman to be a party to the introduction of a neutral language, because English is manifestly destined to be the language of the world.

Reader, did you ever indulge in the mild witticism of asking a foreigner where the English are mentioned in the Bible? The answer, of course, is, The meek shall inherit the earth. But if the foreigner is bigger than you, don't tell him until you have got to a safe distance.

It is this attitude of self-assertion, coupled with the tacit assumption that the others don't count much, that makes the English so detested on the Continent. It is well reflected in the claim to have their own language adopted as a common means of communication between all other peoples.

This claim is not put forward in any spirit of deliberate insolence, or with the intention of ignoring other people's feelings; though the very unconsciousness of any arrogance in such an attitude really renders it more galling, on account of the tacit conclusion involved therein. It is merely the outcome of ignorance and of that want of tact which consists of inability to put oneself at the point of view of others. The interests of English-speaking peoples are enormous, far greater than those of any other group of nations united by a common bond of speech. But it is a form of narrow provincial ignorance to refuse on that account to recognize that, compared to the whole bulk of civilized people, the English speakers are in a small minority, and that the majority includes many high-spirited peoples with a strongly developed sense of nationality, and destined to play a very important part in the history of the world. Any sort of movement to have English or any other national language adopted officially as a universal auxiliary language would at once entail a boycott of the favoured language on the part of a ring of other powerful nations, who could not afford to give a rival the benefit of this augmented prestige. And it is precisely upon universality of adoption that the great use of an international language will depend.

To sum up: the ignorance of contemporary history and fact displayed in the suggestion of giving the preference to any national language is only equalled by its futility, for it is futile, to put forward a scheme that has no chance of even being discussed internationally as a matter of practical politics.

A proof is that precisely the same objection to an auxiliary language is raised in France—namely, that it is unpatriotic, because it would displace French from that proud position.

The above remarks will be wholly misunderstood if they are taken to imply any spirit of Little Englandism on the part of the writer. On the contrary, he is ardently convinced of the mighty rle that will be played among the nations by the British Empire, and has had much good reason in going to and fro in the world to ponder on its unique achievement in the past. When fully organized on some terms of partnership as demanded by the growth of the Colonies, it will go even farther in the future. But all this has nothing to do with an international language. Howsoever mighty, the British Empire will not swallow up the earth—at any rate, not in our time. And till it does, it is not practical politics to expect other peoples to recognize English as the international language as between themselves.

There are, in fact, two quite separate questions:

(1) Supposing it is possible for any national language to become the international one, which has the best claims?

(2) Is it possible for any national language to be adopted as the international one?

To question (1) the answer undoubtedly is "English." It is already the language of the sea, and to a large extent the medium for transacting business between Europeans and Asiatic races, or between the Asiatic races themselves.[1] Moreover, except for its pronunciation and spelling, it has intrinsically the best claim, as being the furthest advanced along the common line of development of Aryan language.[2] But the discussion of this question has no more than an academic interest, because the answer to question (2) is, for political reasons, in the negative.

[1]Another argument is that based on the comparative numbers of people who speak the principal European languages as their mother-tongue. No accurate statistics exist, but an interesting estimate is quoted by Couturat and Leau (Hist. de la langue universelle), which puts English first with about 120,000,000, followed at a distance of 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 by Russian.

[2]This is explained in Part III., chap. i., q.v.



"You base your argument for an international language mainly on the operation of economical laws. Be consistent, then; leave the matter to Nature. By unlimited competition the best language is bound to be evolved and come to the top in the struggle for life. Let the fittest survive, and don't bother about Esperanto."

On a first hearing this sounds fairly plausible, yet it is honeycombed with error.

In the first place, it proves too much. The same argument could be adduced for the abandonment of effort of all kind whatever to improve upon Nature and her processes. "You can walk and run and swim. Don't bother to invent boats and bicycles, trains and aeroplanes, that will bring you more into touch with other peoples. Let Nature evolve the best form of international locomotion."

Again, Nature does not tend towards uniformity. She produces an infinity of variety in the individual, and out of this variety she selects and evolves certain prevailing types. But these types differ widely within the limits of the world under varying conditions of environment. What we are seeking to establish is world-wide uniformity, in spite of difference of environment.

Again, the argument confuses a sub-characteristic with an organism. A language is not an organism, but one of the characteristics of man. After the lapse of countless ages there are grey horses and black, bay and chestnut, presumably because greyness and blackness and the rest are incidental characteristics of a horse. No one of them gives him a greater advantage than the others in his struggle for life, or helps him particularly to perform the functions of horsiness.

Just in the same way a man may be equally well equipped with all the qualities that make for success, whether he speaks English or French, Russian or Japanese. It cannot be shown that language materially helps one people as against another, or even that the best race evolves the best language.[1] Take the last mentioned. If there is one people on the face of the globe who rejoice in an impossible language, it is the Japanese. In the early days of foreign intercourse a good Jesuit father reported that the Japanese were courteous and polite to strangers, but their language was plainly the invention of the devil. To a modern mind the language may have outlived its putative father, but its reputation has not improved, so far as ease is concerned. Yet who will say that it has impaired national efficiency?

[1]Greece went down before Rome. Which was the better race, meaning by "better" the more capable of imposing its language and manners on the world? Yet who doubts that Greek was the better language?

The fact is, that for purposes of transaction of ordinary affairs by those who speak it as a mother tongue, one language is about as good as another. Whether it survives or spreads depends, not upon its intrinsic qualities as a language, but upon the success of the race that speaks it.[1] There is, therefore, no presumption that the best or the most suitable or the easiest language will spread over the world by its own merits, or even that any easy or regular language will be evolved. Printing and education have altogether arrested the natural process of evolution of language on the lips of men. This is one justification for the application of new artificial reforms to language and spelling, which tend no longer to move naturally with the times as heretofore.

[1]A curious phenomenon of our day suggests a possible partial exception. In Switzerland French is steadily encroaching and bearing back German. Is this owing to the intrinsic qualities of French language and civilization? Materially, the Germans have the greater expansive power.

As regards free competition between rival artificial languages, the same considerations hold good. The worse might prevail just as easily as the better, because the determining factor is not the nature of the language, but the influence and general capacity of the rival backers. Of course a very bad or hard artificial language would not prevail against an easy one. But beyond a certain point of ease a universal language cannot go (ease meaning the ease of all), and that limit has probably been about reached now. Between future schemes there will be such a mere fractional difference in respect of ease, that competition becomes altogether beside the point. The thing is to take an easy one and stick to it.



One of the commonest arguments that advocates of a universal language have to face runs something like this:

"Yes, there really does seem to be something in what you say—your language may save time and money and grease the wheels of business; but, after all, we are not all business men, nor are we all out after dollars. Just think what a dull, drab uniformity your scheme would lay over the lands like a pall. By the artificial removal of natural barriers you are aiding and abetting the vulgarization of the world. You are doing what in you lies to eliminate the racy, the local, the picturesque. The tongues of men are as stately trees, set deep in the black, mouldering soil of the past, and rich with its secular decay. The leaves are the words of the people, old yet ever new, and the flowers are the nation's poems, drawing their life from the thousand tiny roots that twist and twine unseen about the lives and struggles of bygone men. You are calling to us to come forth from the cool seclusion of these trees' shade, to leave their delights and toil in the glare of the world at raising a mushroom growth on a dull, featureless plain that reaches everywhither. Modern Macbeths, sophisticated by your modernity and adding perverted instinct to crime, you are murdering not sleep, but dreams—dreams that haunt about the mouldering lodges of the past, and soften the contact with reality by lending their own colouring atmosphere. You are hammering the last nail into the coffin of the old leisurely past, the past that raised the cathedrals, to which taste and feeling were of supreme moment, and when man put something of himself into his every work."

The man must be indeed dull of soul who cannot join in a dirge for the beauty of the vanishing past. Turn where we may now, we find the same railways, the same trams, music-halls, coats and trousers. The mad rush of modernity with its levelling tendency really is killing off what is quaint, out of the way, and racy of the soil. But why visit the sins of modernity upon an international language? The last sentence of the indictment itself suggests the line of defence. "You are hammering the last nail into the coffin of the old, leisurely past...."

Quite so, you are.

The universal ability to use an auxiliary language on occasion rounds off and completes the levelling process. But the old leisurely past will not be any the less dead, or any the less effectually buried, if one nail is not driven home in the coffin. The slayer is modernity at large, made up of science, steam, democracy, universal education, and many other things—but especially universal education. And the verdict can be, at the most, justifiable, or at any rate inevitable, pasticide. You cannot eat your cake and have it; you cannot kill off all the bad things and keep all the good ones. With sterilization goes purification, pasticide may be accompanied by pasteurization. At any rate, "the old order changeth," and you've got to let it change.

The whole history of the "progress" of the world, meaning often material progress, is eloquent of the lesson that it is vain to set artificial limits to advancing invention. The substitution of cheap mechanical processes of manufacture for hand-work involved untold misery to many, and incidentally led to the partial disappearance of a type of character which the world could ill afford to lose, and which we would give much to be able to bring back. The old semi-artist-craftsman, with hand and eye really trained up to something like their highest level of capacity, with knowledge not wide, but deep, and all gained from experience, and not from books or technical education—this type of character is a loss. Many, with the gravest reason, are dissatisfied with the type which has already largely replaced it, and which will replace it for good or evil, but ever more swiftly and surely. But no well-judging person proposes on that account to forgo the material advantages conferred upon mankind by the invention of machinery. If the world rejects, on sentimental grounds, the labour-saving invention of international language, it will be flying in the face of economic history, and it will not appreciably retard the disappearance of the picturesque.

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