Thursday, June 5, 2014

How Do You Say "Goodbye" in Volapük?

Is that what they were
talking in Paris?
I've long seen it said that the appearance of Esperanto brought about the end of Volapük. The Volapük movement was limping along and then a better candidate for an international language came along. Judging from newspaper reports, Volapük was already struggling with more dissections and defections then it seemed Esperanto would it its time.

By 1893, a number of rivals had appeared to challenge Volapük, many of which were reformed versions (the umlauts were the first thing to go, no matter how fondly Schleyer thought of them). It seems the Volapük movement would have collapsed if Zamenhof had never created Esperanto, though by 1891, Nuremburg Volapük Society had become the Nuremburg Esperanto Society (I'll get to that).

I'm not sure how fast news of the fall of Volapük travelled, but the Jamestown Weekly Alert of Jamestown, North Dakota (then, the Dakota Territory), reported on June 1, 1893, that French Volapük society had disbanded. Clearly, there was no sympathy in the Jamestown press:
Many people will perhaps breath a sigh of relief on hearing that Volapuk is doomed in this country at least. French business men will have none of it.
There is no corresponding report that Esperanto had been taken up, and the Société pour la propagation de l’espéranto, the initial French Esperanto organization, wasn't to come about for another five years.

Volapük had done much better in Paris only a few years before:
Lectures in the new language, which was to undo all the damage wrought by the Babel affair long ago, were attended by numerous students of both sexes, and small sheets in the strange compound of tongues were disseminated every week among adepts and the general public. By degrees the craze died out and the number of Volapukists in Paris dwindled down to a few enthusiastic persons full of sentiments peculiar to those who cling through thick and thin to lost causes.
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