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Objections to constructed languages


Latin?Edit

Latin was for centuries the international tongue of the higher intellectual world, and it is still used extensively in the Roman Catholic Church: why not then revive it for all purposes? It would certainly have the advantage of being neutral and thus avoid the objections just mentioned. To those few scholars who dream of this rôle for Latin the reply is obvious: Latin has had that position, and has lost it irrevocably in consequence of the natural development of the last three centuries or more. Even classical scholars use Latin very little nowadays in their scientific papers. And outside their narrow circles very few people are now able to read, still less to speak or write, Latin in spite of the great number of hours devoted to that language in many schools. How many scientists would now be able to read Newton's or Tycho Brahe's works in the original? And how many are there who read even such excellent works as Erasmus's Encomium Moriæ or Holberg's Nicolaus Climius in Latin? When it comes to expressing the ideas of our own day, the deficiencies of classical Latin appear with ruthless clarity: telephones and motor-cars and wireless have no room in Ciceronian Latin, and it will be of little use to coin Neolatin words for these and other modern inventions, for the whole structure of the language with its intricate forms and complex syntax, which tempts the writer to twisted sentences, has become so utterly antiquated that we of the twentieth century wince at the idea of having to clothe our thoughts in that garb.

Recently G. de Reynold in two remarkable articles (in the Revue de Genève, May and June 1925) - after a scathing criticism of the barbarisms of Esperanto and after a condemnation of the idea of an artificial language, which in my view is exaggerated and unjust - brought forward the proposal to use as an international language not classical Latin, but the Latin of the Middle Ages, with its simplified sentence constructions (quod instead of infinite clauses, etc.) and even further modernizations: he thinks it will be easy for a conference of philologists and experts of all countries to agree on a system for adapting Latin forms and phraseology to contemporary uses. This is to my mind much more Utopian than such a scheme as that advocated below: for where is such a conference to begin, and where to end? Irregular verbs? I think most lovers of Latin will object to a simplification of sum, es, est, and where are we to draw the line in the use of the subjunctive and the ablative, etc. etc.? Further as to the meanings and uses of words: is bellum classium to mean naval warfare or war of the classes in the modern sense? Redactio, sociologia, eventualitas, fixatio, realismus, radicalismus, jurista, vegetarianus and similar coinages would, of course, have to be admitted in spite of the protests of classicists, but what is to be done with radium and radio, not as case forms of radius, but as independent words? Hundreds of similar questions would inevitably arise, and the conference would probably split up into small groups representing the most diverging standpoints - some advocating the Latin of the Vulgate, others that of Erasmus, while some would simplify inflexions in a few points and others in a great many more, even down to partisans of Peano's Latino sine flexione, which in the eyes of not a few scholars is a barbarous profanation of the Latin they love, and which is evidently very far from de Reynold's idea. Even after a repeated reading of his eloquent plea I cannot help looking on Latin as irretrievably dead, at any rate for our purposes, which should cover the interests not only of scholars, but also of merchants, technicians, politicians and other men of the practical world. It is no use saying that Latin culture and through it the Latin language has pervaded and is pervading modern life in thousands of ways: no one denies that, and therefore great parts of the Latin language must necessarily be incorporated in our Interlanguage of the future - but only those parts which have proved their vitality by surviving in the languages actually now spoken - that is the test of what we can use and what not.

The decisive reason, however, why we must oppose the adoption of one of the existing languages, living or dead, is that each of them is several times more difficult than a constructed language need be and than those constructed languages are already which have any chance of being selected; while in Part II I shall try to show that it is possible in some respects to go further in simplification than most of the proposed artificial languages have gone. It will now be our task to consider those objections which are constantly raised against the idea of a constructed language and to show that they are far from being conclusive.

Last modified on 9 June 2008, at 02:48