Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tutonish — From an “Economist of Language”

Why doesn't anyone
take me seriously?
The New York Sun spent almost an entire column on July 31, 1904 finding fault with Tutonish, a proposal for an universal language that was proposed by Elias Molee in 1902 and then subsequently revised by him several times. But unlike most of the languages cited in the article, Molee didn’t see his language as a means to ease international communication, but a replacement for the Germanic languages, including English.

Molee notes in Tutonish, or Anglo German Union Tongue (1902) that he expects criticism, “knowing full well the tendencies of the public to regard any innovation as the result of ‘Crankism.’” The Sun not only gave him the criticism, but clearly also viewed this as begin the work of a crank. The idea, mentioned below in the Sun article, of a conference in the Hague to settle the details of the language, is mentioned in the 1902 book, then elaborated in Molee’s 1904 publication, Tutonish, A Teutonic International Language.

Tutonish: A Union Tongue.
It seems to be about as easy to launch an “international” language anywhere as to found a religion in Boston.[1] Yet can any enthusiast recapture his first, fine careful rapture for Volapük?[2] Along comes Esperanto and kicks Volapük insolently into the street. Banging at the study door is a gang of outlandish speeches: Visona, Spelin, Neo Latine, Kosmos, Idiom Neutral, Lingua, Pasilingua, Clarison, incomprehensible jargons, Babel out-Babelled. These may have but curious and temporary philological or grammatical interest, but they teach a moral lesson. They show us how much time some men will spend in the hope of saving a little. They illustrate Goethe’s adage or paradox that Time is infinitely long and wide.

Elias Molee, Ph. B.,[3] of Tacoma, an old and a favorite authority or defier of authority in the matter of international language has just[4] published a pamphlet on “Tutonish,” a union language of Saxon English, Teutonic English and German words, with a small percentage of Scandinavian and Dutch. He wants an International SpeechCongress to meet at The Hague[5] and agree upon the spelling, grammar and a vocabulary of 20,000 words to Tutonish. The delegates are to compile a geography[6] of 60,000 words, with an appendix on etiquette, a complete letter write, rules of health, rules of morality, tables of weights and measures.[7] For fifty years this general and foreign geography is to be studied from fifteen to thirty minutes a day. By that time, Mr. Molee tells us rather clammily, “the present old people would have died away,” and everybody would or should know Tutonish.

Mr. Molee is hopeless as to a world language. So he contracts a Teutonic group language. He reckons the United States and New Guinea among Teutonic countries. The guileless aborigines of New Guinea may not protest against this classification, but the millions of Americans of Celtic, Latin, Semitic, Slavonic, Turanian and other stocks may decline to yearn for an all-Teuton language.

A piece of Tutonish, not utterly dark and by no means bright, may give some notion of its beauties:
“it vilm bi bikvem (convenient) fur du grand [entire] belt, if vok [week] and mont name bin abliedn [derived] from di zaal-vords [cardinal numbers], vich must lern’ls [be learned] bei all menshes [men] eniveg [anyway], vi bold an vat vi vels [know] um [about], and an cords vich vi ken befor. di zaal-vords bi among di eina [first], vich man kern so dat du ganz felt get hi name ov di vow dags and monts mitaut autra [extra] erineriru [memorizing], dis giv vi [us] mor selfklar cords fur vio [our] childs and outlanders tu kern leit.”
Melodious numbers! “What would you do with our old and rich literature?” Mr. Molee asks in a catechism. “I should burn the most of it to get more room for new books,”[8] he answers sternly. We should love to see the everlasting ocean of Cockranesque and Bryanesque congealed into Tutonish. Mr. Molee is sure that “the love for the crooked and irregular old tongues is to a great extent manufactured for political purposes.” It may be so, but if Mr. Molee will throw away the name “Tutonish” and adopt “Union,” he will have a good trade from the start. Few persons use more language than the “labor” loaders, and they want the union label on it. By a little effort Mr. Mollee can have English declared “unfair” or positively “scab.”
We’re almost through the article, but what a bizarre turn we’ve taken. Of course, in 1910, labor organizing was a hot topic, and had been for years.
Speaking merely as laymen, we don’t find Tutonish a language which we would borrow time to learn. Something more sociable and diffusible is needed, something that will enable a foreigner to order a poached roc’s egg in Bagdad or bulbul bouillon in the gardens of Gulnare. Here Mr. Molee is helpful. He moves the appointment of a committee of three to construct a “people’s signal language” and abbreviations such as these:
blank
e, the; b, be; h, have; n, and; nsf, and so forth; o, of; ba, been; hd, had; t, to, toe.
And now we are on the roof garden of the world or submitting our personal equation to the equator:

“placing both hands together twelve inches over e head forming a kind of roof, t mean ‘i want a hotel.’ putting e finger in e mouth as if biting it, t mean ‘i want food.’ lifting e arm up n putting e finger in e mouth from above as if drinking from a bottle t mean ‘i want a drink.’ placing a hand under e head, leaning over as if resting on a pillow, t mean ‘i want a bed or lodging.’ holding up e right forefinger t mean ‘a ticket t ______’ (naming e place). putting e right forefinger into e hollow o e open left palm t mean ‘what is e price?’ or ‘cost?’ pointing at a thing with e right forefinger while making circular motion with e finger t mean ‘what do you call that in your language?’”

Mr. Molee scorns capital letters, but he is a little freer with definite and indefinite articles than an economist of language out to be.
That's the end of the Sun article. I skimmed through the introduction of two of his books (thank you Google Books). Continuing with his comments in Tutonish, Molee has a questions and answers section. In it, he says of old books:
I should burn the most of it to get more room for new books. Not more than one book in a hundred is worth reading or being translated. A few great poets, artists and historians, could easily be translated. Religious and scientific books are constantly changed and republished, except the Bible. Those books may as well be republished in the union tongue, after the people have learned that easy language. Few read old books.
Mr. Molee’s book is 110 years old and it has fallen into obscurity. That is one old book few read.
He had a few things to say about Esperanto, so I’ll have to revisit him. However, with the long extract from the Sun, this post is long enough.

  1. Undoubtably a reference to Christian Science.  ↩
  2. A rare example of a newspaper including the umlaut. Most articles spell it Volapuk. My practice has been to use Volapük when I write about it, but type it as the article has it.  ↩
  3. Bachelor of Philosophy  ↩
  4. Two years prior, actually, although Molee published the first revision of Tutonish in 1904.  ↩
  5. The article gives no indication that there was any mechanism by which Mr. Molee’s desire might be granted.  ↩
  6. Doesn’t the writer mean glossary?  ↩
  7. Language and utopian vision.  ↩
  8. Mr. Molee, there is always room for more books. No burnings needed, thank you.  ↩

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