Novial/AIL Conclusions

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The history of the Interlanguage Movement should not deal exclusively with the various systems proposed up till now, but should also take into account all those believers in an auxiliary language who have not been willing to enlist in one or the other camp or who, though making practical use of either Esperanto or Ido or Occidental, have yet a strong feeling that the last word has not been said in the question of the final shape of the Interlanguage. Various attempts have been made of recent years by non-partisan interlinguists to have the question referred to some impartial competent committee selected by some authoritative body - the League of Nations or its "Commission de Coopération Intellectuelle," or the "Union Académique Internationale," or the "International Research Council." So far all such attempts have failed, but it seems as if the movement has grown stronger after each rebuff, which has thus proved only a postponement of something that is certain to come when the first indifference of international statesmen and scholars has worn off. An important sign of the times in this direction is the recent foundation of the International Auxiliary Language Association of America (I.A.L.A.), which has already in its brief life through its impartial propaganda for the idea, through various pedagogical experiments, and through the bringing about of gatherings of adherents of different systems, contributed very considerably towards the creation of that general interest and mutual good will without which the Interlanguage Movement cannot hope for a final victory.

It is now time to point the moral. The history of all these various attempts, as I read it, teaches us the following lessons:

(1) There is a real need for a constructed interlanguage: after each failure of one scheme others will crop up, and that will continue until a satisfactory solution has been found.

(2) A language may have a temporary vogue, but if it has obvious defects, criticism will sooner or later lead to schisms and new and better systems, as was the case with Volapük, with Esperanto, with Idiom Neutral, and now with Ido. The scientific and political world will not accept a language that can be justly and severely criticized by competent authorities.

(3) Only those schemes have had a considerable number of adherents which were worked out in sufficient detail and completeness to allow of their being used for the most various purposes.

(4) When details in proposed interlanguages are criticized, it is nearly always because they are unnatural, i.e. deviate more than necessary from what is found in existing languages or what us already international in these, or else because they are unnecessarily complicated in their grammatical structure or incapable of expressing ideas with a sufficient degree of precision. These, then, are the things to be avoided in a future interlanguage. The less arbitrary and the more rational the forms, the more stable will they be.

(5) All recent attempts show an unmistakable family likeness, and may be termed dialects of one and the same type of international language. This shows that just as bicycles and typewriters are now nearly all of the same type, which was not the case with the early makes, we are now in the matter of interlanguage approaching the time when one standard type can be fixed authoritatively in such a way that the general structure will remain stable, though new words will, of course, be constantly added when need requires.

These considerations, and especially the conviction that the technique of language construction has reached a high degree of perfection, have emboldened me to present the new scheme for an international auxiliary language which will form the subject of the second part of this book. As such a scheme must have a name, I have called it NOVIAL = Nov (new) I.A.L.,

where I.A.L. stands for International Auxiliary Language.

The principles which have guided me will appear partly from what I have said already, partly from the detailed discussion in Part II. I must here specially mention the formula I put forward in 1908, and which since then has been very often quoted by Idists: That international language is best which in every point offers the greatest facility to the greatest number (modelled, of course, on Hutcheson's and Bentham's famous dictum: That action is best which accomplishes the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers).

This does not mean, as some would have it, that we should take Chinese as our interlanguage, because that language is known to the greatest number of men: for while written ideographic Chinese is the same all over China (though only partly known to most Chinese), the same is not true of spoken Chinese, which lives in several varieties. Besides, Chinese with its tone system would offer unsurmountable difficulties to everybody else. But I cannot object to my formula being taken to refer only to Europeans and those inhabitants of the other continents who are either of European extraction or whose culture is based on European civilization. If the principle is understood in this way I think it will prove a safe guide in most cases, though it is evident that it is impossible mathematically to calculate the comparative ease of different forms, except with regard to parts of the vocabulary.

It is, however, very important to remember that the facility of which we speak here is not merely the superficial facility, with which a printed message can be understood at first sight - that is something, but not everything. For an interlanguage to be really useful it must be easy not only to the reader, but also to the intending writer and speaker, and this implies a good deal more. An irregularly formed word may be extremely easy of comprehension to anyone who has it in his own language or who knows it from another language with which he happens to be familiar, but it may at the same time be very difficult to anybody else, much more difficult than a regular formation employing a suffix he has learnt once for all and which can be applied to a number of words. Our principle thus makes for the greatest possible regularity - though one or two small exceptions, if well motived and easily remembered, should not alarm us: as a matter of fact, not a single constructed language is totally exempt from exceptions, not even Esperanto, in spite of the boastings of its adherents.¹

An interlanguage can thus be made many times more easy that any of the national languages. The latter may be compared to old picturesque towns with irregularly winding streets having unsystematic names, while are interlanguages are like American cities, whose streets are straight lines intersecting one another at right angles and are numbered instead of named. Or we may say that while a national language is like a stroll between trees on small footpaths, an interlanguage is like rushing along in a railway carriage or motor-car on a good straight broad road. In the latter case one gets rapidly along and reaches tracts that are beyond the reach of the pedestrian, but one cannot enjoy all the delicate shades of beauty which a leisurely walk will reveal to one, and it is impossible to acquire the same intimate familiarity that is to be obtained by repeated strolls. Each method of locomotion has its advantages, and nothing hinders us from combining both. In the same way an interlanguage will never make national languages superfluous, and can never afford the delight felt by all serious students of foreign languages - not to mention the fact that the study of one of these opens up access to that part of its literature which cannot be fully enjoyed in translations. In comparing the value of the two kinds of language study we should thus take into consideration first that one of them requires say ten or twenty times as long a time as the other, secondly that the one gives access to more valuable literature and to the whole national life of a foreign country, but that on the other hand the other puts one in contact with inhabitants of several countries at once. The advantages of the study of the interlanguage will of course be multiplied many times over, when it has spread much more than at present, when, consequently, much valuable scientific and general literature is translated into it, and will be even greater when the interlanguage is taught everywhere as "the second language to everybody."

But that, the reader will say, is a far-off dream. Quite so, but then, as Lowell says, "most of the best things we now possess began by being dreams."

¹ La is not inflected in case and number, like the other adjuncts in -a. Not every adverb ends in -e; and -au, which evidently was meant as a kind of prepositional ending, is used very unsystematically. The genitive in -s (kies) is found only very sparingly and forms an exception to the usual manner of expressing the genitive relation. When multe da or kelke da is used, no sign for the accusative can be added.

Last modified on 9 June 2008, at 16:31