Sunday, August 3, 2014

That's Not Actually Volapük

What are you implying that he said?
A short item on the sports page of the August 3, 1914 Washington Herald claims that it includes a line of Volapük, but what’s actually there looks more like mangled Esperanto. By 1914, the Volapük movement was long since dead, with only a small number of Volapük speakers remaining. Yet it was still mentioned in newspapers from time to time, though without much frequency. Over the years, reporters had moved from portraying it as the archetypal incomprehensible tongue to the archetypal failed international language scheme.

It’s a filler item, wedged in between the last of the sports reports (the scores of the game between the Washington Cricket Club and the Baltimore Sons of St. George) and the advertisements (Dr. Reed’s specialties include “Private Diseases”). It reads:
In Volapuk Mallnovin ketnatojn iam means “Should auld acquaintance be forgot;” which leads us to be thankful that what George Stovall says to umpires never has been translated into Volapuk.
I do not speak Volapük, but I did take a glance through a Volapük-English dictionary, doing enough research to assure myself that this was not Volapük. It looks like garbled Esperanto.

Wikipedia explains who George Stovall was (I look things up so you won't have to). Given the reference to "umpires," it was no surprise that the was a major league baseball player and team manager of the period. It could have been in either role that he was making comments to the umpire, though it's not clear why those comments shouldn't have been translated into Volapük (which the extract wasn't in, anyway).

Mallnovajn konatojn iam (to correct the Esperanto) is “Sometime old acquaintances.” So, it isn’t even a full translation of the phrase as given in the Herald. I was able to find an Esperanto translation of “Auld Lang Syne” into Esperanto. It started with the lines:
Malnovajn gekonatojn iam
ĉu forgesu ni?
Do we sometimes forget old acquaintances? But the real question here is "how did the Herald confuse Esperanto for Volapük?
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  1. Hmmm... well, I guess the writers of sports-page filler items can't be expected to be experts in distinguishing one constructed language from another! Probably didn't expect anyone to bother reading it anyway, and anyone who did, would probably not know the difference between Esperanto and Volapük. Still, if I had happened to come across that fragment in my daily paper, even supposing that I didn't know the difference, it would strike me as very odd and mystifying...

  2. Or perhaps it was actually in Esperanto, but the typesetter simply couldn't be bothered to get it right?

    Bernardo Verda


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