Essence and future of the idea of an international language
Translated by Alfred E. Wackrill
II. Is an International language necessary?
III. Is an International language possible?
IV. Will an International language ever be introduced?
V. What will the International language be like?
VI. What sort of artificial language will be introduced into general use?
VII. Is it possible for a better artificial language to be created?
"The Principles and Prospects of the Idea of an International
All ideas, destined to play an important part in the history of the human race, have ever the same unvarying experience: when they appear, the people of the day meet them not only with a remarkably obstinate mistrust, but even with a certain unaccountable hostility; the pioneers of these ideas have much to contend with and much to endure; they are looked upon as madmen, as childishly silly, or even absolutely as very dangerous persons. At a time when those who are engaged in every kind of utterly aimless and useless absurdity, if only it is in vogue and in accordance with the routine ideas of the public, are enjoying not only all the good things of life, but also the honourable title of "scholars" or "public benefactors," the pioneers of new ideas meet with nothing but derision and opposition; the casual unlettered simpleton looks down upon them and tells them that they are engaged in foolish pursuits; the casual newspaper penny-a-liner writes about them "witty" articles and remarks, without having taken the trouble to find out anything as to what it is that they are actually working at; and the public, which always follows the shouter with sheep-like tractability, laughs and guffaws, and does not for a single minute ask itself the question whether there exists a single grain of common-sense in all these "witty" gibes. About these ideas "it is the thing" to talk only with an ironical and contemptuous smile; therefore A, B and C do the same, and each of them is afraid even for one minute seriously to entertain the ridiculed idea, for he "knows from the outset that there is nothing in it but nonsense," and fears that he himself may be reckoned among the number of "those fools," if he for one minute attempts to take a serious attitude towards this folly. People wonder "how, in these practical times, such foolish cranks can appear, and why they do not get put into the lunatic asylums."
But some time passes. After a long succession of battles and afflictions the " simpleton cranks " have attained their object. Mankind has heen enriched by a new and important acquisition, and derives from it benefits of the greatest scope and diversity. Then the tables are turned. The new thing, in its acquired strength, appears to men so simple, so "self-evident," that they are at a loss to know how people lived for ages and ages without it. When the later generations read the stories of how the original contemporaries of the idea behaved towards it, they absolutely decline to believe, and think that the historians have invented the whole thing to ridicule bygone times. " Can it be," they say, " that. the whole world then consisted of idiots? Did people really exist, who opposed the pioneer:s with such absurd objections; did the rest of mankind remain silent; did not the first-encountered five-year-old child keep saying to these critics : `Why, sirs, you are talking the most frightful, groundless, nonsense, the refutation of which is before your veyv nose!? It is absolutely incomprehensible! The historians are certainly exaggerating ! "
Read the history of the birth of Christianity, and of various great ideas in the domain of morals, philosophy and science ; read the history of the discovery of America, of the introduction of railways, etc., etc. Everywhere esactly the same. " Es ist eine alte Geschichte, doch bleibt sie immer neu" (It is an old story, yet it remains always new). The light appears as an indispensable necessity to him who starts far away, but it hurts the eyes of those who stand near, and they try to extinguish it. The idea of Columbus, that "there must exist a western route to India." seems to us now so simple, so natural, that we simply will not believe that men could ever have existed, who, knowing full well that the Earth is a globe, could doubt that every country is approachable not only from the east, bul also from the west; and that in this unexplored west might lie unknown countries of interest to us. When we read those arguments which they brought against Columbus, such as, that no one had voyaged westward from Europe, ergo it was impossible to do so, that God had forbidden it to be done, that the ships would slip down the slope and be unable to come back up it again. arid so forth,- we reluctantly ask ourselves how grown men could have talked such nonsense, for which, in our days, any child would blush. And yet, at that, those stupid objections were the very things that were held as truths, admitting of no doubt ; as the most logical opinion of the whole reasoning world ; and the ideas of Columbus were rregarded as an infantility unworthy of attention. When people were shown the force of steam and how it could be applied, it did not seem that any reasoning man could contradict it ; and yet how many years of fighting of distress, and ridicule its inventor had to endure ! And even when it came to pass that the aims was successfully realised, when for three whole years locomotives had been running in England, and bringing immense advantage, there were on the continent of Europe learned men, nay, whole learned societies, who, instead of simply looking and being convinced, were still writing abstruse treatises to show that the construction of locomotives was a childish enterprise, that it was impossible, that it was harmful, and so forth. What is this? we ask ourselves. Is it some sort of universal epidemic idiocy ? Did such generations really exist ? Yes, such generations existed, and we, who now are astonished, are in point of fact no better than they, and our descendants will be no better than we. All these people with their exasperatingly silly arguments and attacks were, however, not idiots, although they now perhaps seem so to us. Their whole fault consisted only in this, that, owing to the natural mental inertia common to us all, they either were unwilling to form any opinion at all on the phenomena just coming into existence, preferring to limit themselves to good healthy laughter, or proceeded to their verdict with a conviction already formed, that the thing proposed to them was not feasible ; and they strove to make all their arguments fit in with that previously made decision, oblivious to the complete groundlessness of these arguments ; and against the arguments of the defendants of the new idea they closed their brains with the stoutest of locks; and thus these latter arguments, which strove to prove the possibility of that which "everyone knew to be impossible," necessarily appeared to these inert people just as infantile as now appear to us the counter arguments which they then adduced.
To that class of ideas, such as appear to their contemporaries as empty fantasy, and to later generations seem so natural that they do not understand how for ages the world got along without them,--to that class belongs also the idea of the introduction of a common language for communications between different peoples. When our descendants shall read in history that these people, these kings of the Earth, these highest representatives of human intelligence, these demi-gods, during whole thousands of years lived in close proximity to one another without understanding each other, they simply of the next century to his teacher, "that men existed who denied the possibility of an artificial language, when such a language was there, before their very noses. had already a rich literature and excellently fulfilled already in practice all possible functions that can be demanded of an international language ; and these gentlemen, instead of for ever talking their theoretical nonsense, had only to open their eyes and look.' Is it possible that grown men should have kept on talking their verbose absurdities about some difference in the vocal organs of the nations, when every child saw, at every step, people of one nation conversing perfectly well in the language of another ? " And the teacher will reply : " It is indeed incredible, but so it was !"
However, at the present time, in the matter of an international language, routine and mental inertia are beginning gradually to give way to wholesome reason. Articles have for some considerable time been appearing here and there in various newspapers and reviews, fully approving of the idea itself and of its promoters. But these articles are still halfhearted, as if their authors are afraid, (praying) that no one may expose them to public dishonour. These timorous voices are dissipated in the blatant chorus of those who shout their ridicule, so that the very large: majority of the public, prone only to follow the loudest shouter, and to consider every scoffer a sage, every assailant a hero and every victim of assault as in the wrong, still continues to regard the idea of an international language as a frivolous, infantile notion. It is not this public that we undertake to convince, for all our words would lie wasted in vain. This class only time will convince. Tomorrow it will be constructing monuments to the pioneers of the idea, with the same mob-instinct with which it. now pelts them with mud. Our discourse is intended only for those who have tried to assume towards our idea an attitude of independent judgment, but, who, under the influence of various opinions received, have lost their balance, do not know what attitude to take, would wish to believe, and at the same time are tormented by constant doubts. For these we will here analyse the question whether we, the friends of the idea of an international language, are really working for some utopian scheme, and whether, as our opponents believe, all our labours will be wasted for nought; or whether we are making for an end clearly defined, indubitable and certain of later accomplishment.
We are aware, esteemed listeners, that you are accustomed to treat with respect only such arguments as are teeming with quotations, interwoven with an array of high-sounding names of authorities and ablaze with an incrustation of high-flown would-be-scientific terms. We warn you that nothing of all this will be found in our discourse. If you think only that worthy of your attention which is bound up with high-sounding names, read some work about international language, and you will there find a long series of renowned and authoritative scientists who have laboured for the idea of an international language. But here we will discharge all superfluous ballast, and will speak to you only in the name of naked logic. Pay no regard to what Peter says or what John says, but think for yourselves. If our arguments are right, accept them,-if they are wrong, reject them, were even thousands of highsounding names attached to them.
We will systematically analyse the following questions :- (1), Whether an international language is required; (2), whether it is possible in principle; (3), whether the hope exists that it really will be introduced in practice ; (4), when and how this will be done, and what kind of language will be introduced ; (5), whether our present endeavours are leading towards any definite end, or whether we are still acting blindly and running the risk of seeing our labours perish in vain, and whether reasoning men must still stand aloof from us until "the thing becomes clear.''
Is an international language required ? This question will, by its simple-mindedness, evoke a laugh from the later generations, in the same way as our contemporaries would laugh, for example, at the question " is a postal service required ?" The greater part of the intelligent world, even now, will consider this question as quite superfluous ; still, for the sake of logical sequence, we put this question, owing to the fact that there still exist many people who answer it in the negative. The sole motive which some of these persons put forward is the following : " An international language will destroy the national languages and the nations." We confess that, rack our brains as we may, we have never been able to understand in what, exactly, would consist the misfortune for humanity, if one fine day it should appear that nations and national languages no longer existed, but that there existed only one universal human family with one common human language. But let us suppose that this really would be a calamity, and we will hasten to reassure these gentlemen. An international language desires only to afford to persons of different nations, who now stand like mutes in each other's presence, the power of understanding one another; but it by no means aims at interfering in the internal life of the nations. To fear that an international language will destroy the national languages is just as ridiculous as, for example, to fear that the postal service, which affords to men far apart from one another the power to communicate, threatens to annihilate spoken communication between mankind ! " International language" and " all-world language " are two entirely different things, which must not be confounded. If we were to suppose that there will happen at some time a confluence of people into one race-embracing community, the blame for this " misfortune" (as the national chauvinist. will tem it) will not, rest upon the international language, but upon the altered convictions and opinions of mankind. Then the international language will really facilitate man's attainment of that which he will have already decided upon in principle as desirable; but if the movement towards confluence does not originate among men independently, the international language will certainly not wish of its own accord to impose such a union upon men. Leaving quite on one side the question of desirability or undesirability of national chauvinism [exaggerated patriotism], we will take note only of this, that even the hottest blind chauvinism must not exclude the quest of an international language ; for the relation between this quest and national chauvinism is of the same kind as between national patriotism and love for one's family. Could anyone say that the extension of intercommunication and mutual agreements between people of the same country (the patriotic object) in any way endangers family affection ? In itself, the international language not only cannot weaken the national languages, but, on the contrary, it must undoubtedly tend to their great advancement in strength and development. Owing to the necessity of acquiring various foreign languages, it is now but seldom that we can meet with anyone who has perfect acquaintance with his native tongue; and the languages themselves, constantly hustling one against the other, are becoming ever more and more confused and maimed, and are losing their natural richness and charm. But: when each of us is obliged to learn only one foreign language (and that, moreover, a very easy one), all will have the opportunity to learn his own language thoroughly ; and every language, freed from the pressure of many neighbours, and reserving entirely and solely to itself the powers of its own people, will soon develop most powerfully and brilliantly.
The second motive which the enemies of international language put forward is the fear that one of the national languages may be chosen as an international language, and that then people will not mutually approach one another, but simply some one people will oppress and swallow up all the others by virtue of the immense advantage which it will gain over all the others. This argument. is not without foundation, but it can only be urged against one or another ill-considered and unsound .form of international language. And it of course loses all its signification if we can show that, none but a neutral language can be and will be an international language ; and this we shall demonstrate below. Consequently, if we place on one side for a time the question as to the possibility or impossibility of the introduction of an international language (we shall deal with this point later), if we make the supposition that the introduction of such a language depends only on our desire, and if we exclude any egregious false step in the choice of the language, everyone must grant that there cannot be even the slightest question raised as to the harm of an international language. But the utility which such a language would afford to the world is so enormous and obvious to all that there is no particular reason why we need to speak about it. However, we will say a few words about this, if only for the completeness of our investigation.
Did it ever occur to you, what in particular has lifted humanity so immeasurably higher than all other animals, which in point of fact are constructed on the same lines as Man ? Our whole high culture and civilisation we owe to one sole thing : to the possession of language, which has rendered possible to us the interchange of thought. How would it fare with us, proud kings of the world, if we could not communicate by speech one with another, if everyone of us had to work out for himself from the beginning the whole of his knowledge and intelligence, instead of making use-thanks to the interchange of thoughts--of the already matured results of the experience and varied knowledge of entire ages, of whole millions and milliards of other creatures like ourselves ? In such a case we should not stand one least little step above those various animals that surround us, and are so devoid of wisdom and so helpless ! Take from us our hands, our feet, what, you will, but leave to us the mere power of interchanging thoughts,-and we shall remain the same monarchs of nature, and shall constantly and indefinitely make towards perfection : but give each of us even a hundred hands, give us even a hundred different hitherto-unknown senses and powers, but take from us the power of interchanging thoughts,-and we shall remain animals, devoid of wisdom and helpless. But if the very incomplete and limited ability to interchange thoughts has had such enormous significance for the human race, think what enormous and incomparable advantage would accrue to humanity from that language which would make the interchange of thoughts complete, and, thanks to which, not only would A be able to converse with B, C with D and E with F, but each of them would be on terms of mutual understanding with all the others! A whole hundred of great inventions will not make in the life of the human race such a great and beneficent revolution as the introduction of an international language will do! Let us take a few small examples. We take trouble to translate the works of every nation into the languages of all the other nations; but this swallows up unproductively a huge quantity of labour and money ; and yet, with all this. we are able to translate only a most insignificant portion of human literature; and the enormous remainder of the literature of the race, with its rich stores of various thoughts, remains out of the reach of all. But when an international language should exist, then everything which appears in the domain of human thought would be translated only into this one neutral language ; and many works would be written directly in this language ; and all products of the human mind would come within the reach of us all. For the perfecting of one branch or another of human knowledge, we organize at every step international congresses.-but, what a miserable part they play, when he who is able to take part in them is not he who really would like to hear something with profit, not he. who really would like to communicate something of importance, but only he who knows how to chatter in several languages. Our life is short, and science is vast; we must learn, learn, learn ! To learning we can devote only a part of our short life, to wit, the years of our infancy and youth ; but: alas ! a great part of this precious time goes quite unproductively for the learning of languages ! How much we should gain if, thanks to the existence of an international language, we could devote to the learning of real and positive sciences the whole of the time now given to the unproductive learning of languages. How high then would humanity rise !
But we will speak no more upon this point, for whatever attitude each of our listeners takes towards one or another form of international language, we doubt whether there will be found a single one amongst them who would doubt the utility itself of such a language. But since to many persons, unaccustomed to render to themselves a strict account of their sympathies and antipathies, it usually appears that when they do not approve one form or another of any idea they must needs attack the idea itself as a whole,-therefore we, for the sake of system in our investigation, ask each one of our esteemed audience above all to note well in his memory that he entertains no doubt as to the utility of an international language as a whole-if such should be introduced. Make a mental note, then, gentlemen, of the first conclusion at which we have arrived, note and remember that you concur in this conclusion, namely : The existence of an international language, by means of which, the people of all countries and nations could make themselves mutually understood, would confer immense benefit on the human race.
Now we will pass on to the second question : " Is an international language possible?" As to this, again, no unprejudiced person can doubt even for a minute; for not only no facts exist, not even the smallest, which would argue against such a possibility, but also there do not exist even the most trifling causes which would make anyone doubt, even for a minute, as to such a possibility. Certainly there are persons who, with scientific cock-sureness, make it appear that language is a thing natural, organic, depending upon special physiological qualities of the organs of speech of the different nations, upon climate, heredity, crossing of races, historical conditions and so forthy. And, to the crowd, such learned talk is very imposing, especially if it is to a sufficient extent interwoven with various quotations and occult technical terminology. But a man of learning, who has the courage of his own judgment, knows well that all this is mere empty
pseudo-scientific chatter, which has no sense, and which could very easily be refuted by the first encountered child. Why, we all know well from our common knowledge that if we take a child from any country or nation, and bring it up from the day of its birth among persons of a nation totally foreign and even antipodal, it will speak in the language of that nation just as well and purely as any native-born son of that nation. If it is usually difficult for a grown-up person to learn a strange language, this by no means results from the construction of his organs of speech, but simply from the fact that he has not the patience, the time, the teachers, the means or so forth. This same grown-up person would have met with precisely the same difficulties in learning his native tongue, if, in his infancy, he had not been educated in this language, but had had to learn it by the help of lessons. As it is, every man of learning, even now, must learn several foreign languages ; and he certainly does not choose those languages which seem suited to his organs of speech, but only those which he requires; consequently there is nothing impossible in this, that, instead of everyone learning various languages, all should acquire one and the same language, and thus be able to understand each other. Even if every one should not possess the commonly accepted language in full perfection, still the question of international language would be settled ; and men would no longer stand like deaf mutes in the presence of one another. And we must remember that if it were everywhere known that for the purpose of world-wide communication it was only necessary to acquire one language, then everywhere them would exist a multitude of good teachers of this language, and of special schools; everyone would learn this language with the greatest willingness and enthusiasm ; and finally, all parents would accustom their children to this language in their infancy, concurrently with their native tongue. So that, leaving on one side, for the present, the question as to whether people will choose some one language for the international role, and whether they will succeed in arriving at an agreement with regard to this choice, we in the meantime establish the fact, which without any doubt follows from all that we have said above, namely, that the mere existence of an international language is quite possible. Carefully record, then, in your memory these two undoubted conclusions at which we have so far arrived, viz. : -
1. An international language would afford immense advantage to the human race;
2. The existence of an international language is quite possible.
Will an international language ever be introduced? If we have come to the conclusion that an international language would afford immense advantage, and that its existence is possible, then from these two conclusions this other naturally flows, that such a language will, sooner or later, inevitably be introduced ; for else we must deny to humanity the existence of the most elementary intelligence. If a language capable of fullfilling the international role were hitherto non-existent, but had still to he created, then a reply to this question put. at the head of this chapter would be inconclusive : for it would be still unknown whether anyone could create such a language. But we know that very many languages exist,and that any one of them could be adopted, in case of need, as international, but with the distinction that one of them would be more suitable for this end, and another less. Consequently we have everything ready, and we only need to form the wish and to make the choice, -and in such a case the reply to the question above put can no longer be doubtful. Man lives a conscious life, and incessantly aims for his own good : consequently if we know that such or such a matter promises to mankind an enormous and undoubted advantage, and that it is within reach, we can always confidently predict that, from the moment when men give their attention to the matter, they will ever pertinaciously strive more and more towards it, and will not cease their endeavour until they attain their end. If two groups of men are separated one from the other by a stream, but know that it would be greatly to their advantage to get into mutual communication, and they see that planks for the connection of the two banks lie quite ready to their hands, then one need not be a prophet to foresee with complete certainty that sooner or later a plank will be thrown across the stream, and communication will be established. It is true that some time usually passes in hesitation, and this hesitation is usually brought about under the most senseless pretexts : wiseacres say that the attempt to establish communication is childish, as it is no one's occupation to put planks across streams, and it is a. thing that "people don't do." Men of experience say that those who went before them did not put planks across streams, consequently it is a utopian scheme ; learned men prove that communication can only be a natural affair, that the human organism cannot move on planks, and so forth. Nevertheless, sooner or later, a plank is put across, and communication is established. Thus it is with every useful idea, thus with every useful invention ; as soon as the unprejudiced men come to the undoubted conclusion that the said thing is very useful and at the same time practicable, they have known with perfect conviction beforehand that sooner or later, come what may, the thing will be accepted, in spite of all opposition on the part of routinists ; for this is ensured, not only by the natural intelligence of mankind but also by its drift towards practical good and profit. Thus it will also be with the international language. During many centuries, men, not being in great need of an international language, did not entertain the question ; but now, when the increased communication bet:ween men has turned their attention to this question ; now, when people have begun to be convinced that an international language will bring them enormous benefit, and that it is attainable, they will doubtless aim at it ever more and more : its necessity will become every day more palpable to them, and they will no longe rest satisfied until the question is solved. Can you doubt this? Certainly not ! When this will come it is not our present intention to predict : it may come in a year, or in ten years, in a hundred years, or even after several centuries ; but one thing is quite certain, that however much the first pioneers of this idea will have to endure, and even if this idea should relapse into slumber many times and for whole decades, it will die no more : ever more often and more insistently will sound voices demanding the introduction of an international language; and in the end, sooner or later --if the question is not solved by society itself-- the governments of all countries will have to yield, to arrange an international congress and choose some one language as international. In this there can only be a question of the time : some of you will say that it will come very soon, others will say that it will come only in the far distant future; but that this event as a whole will come at some time, and that mankind, seeing, the immense utility and at the same time the feasibility of an international language, will not for ever remain indifferent to the affair, a mere herd of helpless creatures not understanding one another --of this certainly no one of you doubts even for a minute. We ask you then to note in your memory the third conclusion to which we have come, namely
"Sooner or later an international language will of a certainty be introduces"
Here we shall make a short pause, and say a few words about ourselves, the combatants for the idea of an international language. From all that we have proved, you see that. we are by no means such faddists and utopians as many of you may have supposed us, and as many newspapers depict. us, not caring to enter into the nature of that for which we are contending. You see that we are striving for a thing that. will confer immense benefit on mankind, and which sooner or later must needs to attained. Therefore every reasoning person may boldly join us, not fearing the ridicule of a folish and thoughtless crowd. We strive for an object well-considered and certain, and therefore no kind of ridicule or assault will drive us from the path. The future belongs to us. Let us even suppose that that form of international language for which we are striving should appear wrong, and that the coming international language will be not that one which we have chosen,-well, but this need by no means disconcert us, for we strive not for the form but for the idea, and we have only given a concrete form to our operations because all abstract and theoretical contention usually leads to nothing. Later on we shall show that even that concrete form of the language is also well-considered and has an undoubted future: but even were you to doubt this, well, the form by no means binds us. If this form shall appear wrong, we will change it to-morrow, and if necessary we will change it again the day after to-morrow ; but we shall fight for our idea till such time as it shall, sooner or later, be fully realized, If we, in obedience to the voice of egotistic indifference, were to hang back from our labour just because the form of the international language may be different from that for which we are now labouring, this would mean the same as, for example, refusing the use of steam because a better means of communication may afterwards be found ; or refusing constitutional improvements because better forms of constitutions may be found later on. Now we are still weak, and every simpleton can still ridicule us and point. the finger at us ; but he laughs best who laughs last. Our cause moves slowly and with difficulty ; it may well be that the majority of us will not live till the moment when the results of our action will appear, and that till death itself we shall be an object of mockery ; but we shall go to the grave with the consciousness that our cause will not die, that it never can die, that sooner or later it must achieve its aim. And even if, weary with thankless labour, we should in despair and apathy let fall our hands,--even so the cause will not die. In place of the tired fighters will appear new fighters ; for we again repeat that if it is beyond doubt that an international language, would confer immense benefit on humanity, and that it is practicable, then, to every man not blinded with routine, there can be no doubt, that sooner or later it will be achieved ; and our constant labour will be to mankind an unceasing reminder, till such a time as the idea of an international language shall be realized. Our descendants will bless our memory, and towards those wiseacres who now call us faddists they will take the same attitude as we now take towards the sage contemporaries of the discovery of America. of the invention of steam carriages, and the rest.
But let us return to our interrupted inquiry. We proved that an international language will of a certainty be introduced sooner or later ; but the question remains: when and how will it corne? It may be that it will come only after hundreds, or even thousands, of years. For this purpose, is it absolutely necessary to secure the mutual consent of the government of all countries? To give more or less satisfactory replies to these questions, we must first investigate another question, namely : " can we foresee what kind of language will be international?" Between the former questions and the latter one there exists the following slight connection. If we cannot foresee what kind of language will be made international, and if different languages have more or less equal chances of this, then we must wait until the governments of all (at least the most important) kingdoms shall decide to arrange a congress in this behalf and to settle the question of an international language. He who knows with what great difficulty governments decide on any new departure, will understand that still many many years will go by before the governments will find the question of an international language sufficiently matured and worthy of their interposition ; and, after that, there will probably elapse Yet a further series of years for the labours of various committees and diplomatists, before the matter will be settled. Private persons and societies would in this case be able to do nothing ; they could only keep on urgin, the governments, but they could not solve the question themselves without the intervention of the governments. The solution of the question in such a case would therefore still be very very far off. But it would be quite a different matter if it should appear that we can with complete accuracy and full assurance foresee what
<to be continued...>