Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Unhappy Birth of Ido

If this writer only knew
how many there were.
Ido was introduced in late 1907, but it seems it wasn’t until August 1908 that it came to the attention of the New-York Tribune, which wrote about the new language on August 26, 1908. The general tone of the article seems to be against the whole idea of a international language. I know from my reading that there were still many contemporaneous voices calling for a international language, though the skeptics had been there from the beginning.

Near the end of the article, there’s a suggestion that Ido will itself have a schism, bringing yet another proposed international language to the fore. Point of fact, that actually happened. I’ve previously noted that the language Adjuvilo[1] was created as a further reform of Ido, and there were others. I find myself wondering about the “family trees” of various planned languages, since I know that Volapük also spawned a number of reform projects.

The New-York Tribune piece is a bit long, but I’m going to transcribe it all, since it makes some nice points about the status of the international language movement in 1908.
A split in the universal language camp and a rival to Esperanto placed in the field! It was bad enough to have literally unspeakable Volapük imposed upon the Babel-burdened world, though it soon ran its little anti-English course and vanished. It was worse to have Esperanto dinned into suffering ears as the one simp on our scientific universal speech without knowledge of which no man should see linguistic salvation.[2] But what are we to say of this schism at the international conference of Esperantists and the “inauguration” of another scientific universal language?[3] The new tongue may not be quite as different from its predecessor as is Ethiopian from Choctaw, but it is sufficiently different to bring confusion and dismay to those who are piously seeking here for that unity of speech which the old saying assures us is found only in heaven.

They began by calling this new speech the “Linguo Internaciona di la Deligataro,”[4] which being interpreted is the “International Language of the Delegates”—to wit, the delegates of the disgruntled and seceding Esperantists. But that name was entirely too long, so now they call it Ido,[5] a name which has at least the merits of brevity, simplicity and euphony. Dictionaries, grammars, readers, phrase-books and other textbooks of Ido have already been published, and magazines and newspapers are projected. It differs from Esperanto in several important respects which would seem to give it an advantage over that tongue.[6] Thus it has a purely phonetic alphabet, it has no accent marks, it has no special accusative form for nouns, and it uses Latin rather than German roots.[7] When printed it looks, as does Esperanto, much like “pi,” but of course, one pie differs from another pie in texture.

Apparently, then, instead of bringing the world to the use of a single language, these deft manufacturers of artificial speech are increasing the diversity and consequent confusion of tongues. In the last score of years they have added at least three to the cosmopolitan Babel,[8] and there is no assurance that we shall not tomorrow hear of a schism among the users of Ido and the organization of another scientific linage which will be confidently proclaimed as positively the Real Thing. Meantime there is consolation in the knowledge that in spite of it all our poor old, much berated and infinitely abused English language is doing as well as might reasonably be expected, thank you, being now the vernacular of more people than any other—except possibly the Chinese, which really doesn’t count, since in it you can’t tell the difference between a wedding notice and a laundry check—and is being used as an international linage much more, and is making far more rapid progress toward universal use than any other in the world, even than Volapük, Esperanto, Ido and the speech of our elevated railroad guards all put together.
The writer has it that Volapük was “imposed,” but the whole thing, during its brief flight of popularity, was wholly voluntary, of course. It’s also clear that writer saw Volapük as a rival to English. But when the writer said that
there is no assurance that we shall not tomorrow hear of a schism among the users of Ido and the organization of another scientific linage which will be confidently proclaimed as positively the Real Thing
it’s almost like the writer knew that Otto Jespersen, the professor of linguistics who initially championed Ido, would later introduce his own, “improved,” international language, Novial. For that matter, although not offered as a schism of Ido, "Antido" was proposed by René de Saussure as a compromise between Esperanto and Ido. Saussure noted in his introduction to Antido, the "lingo internaciona,"that "the object of this brochure is not to reform Esperanto" (translation mine), but instead an "attempt to establish, if possible, a base of agreement" with the Ido faction.

But if the international language isn't going to be Voapük, Esperanto, or Ido, what then? Is the position of English assured? If so, then why do we see the anxiety over Chinese. With all those people who speak Chinese, what if they become the dominant world power? Would we all then be speaking Mandarin? I have my doubts though it seems to have worried someone at the Tribune.

With Ido less than a year old, it was already getting dismissive notices in the press. Sort of a sad beginning for a new language whose early adherents were no doubt certain that they had found the answer to the international language problem. Of course, by 1908, the New-York Tribune was already saying that there was no such problem and that English would do nicely.

  1. In writing this, I was briefly confused between Adjuvilo (created by Claudius Colas) and Adjuvanto (created by Louis de Beaufront. I suspect that Colas named his project in imitation of de Beaufront’s.  ↩
  2. Clearly this is someone who does not like the idea of an international language.  ↩
  3. At the 1908 conference (Dresden), the reformists were still seeking to bring the entire movement with them.  ↩
  4. Linguo Internaciona di la Deligataro in Esperanto is Lingvo Internacia de la Deligataro.  ↩
  5. Various Esperanto sources state there was a period where it was named “Elo.”  ↩
  6. It may “seem,” but Ido never made much out of those supposed advantages. I noticed on Wikipedia that the total attendance at Ido conferences is the size of a small event at an Esperanto congress.  ↩
  7. For the most part, Esperanto uses words derived from Latin and French. I’ve seen it estimated that about 60% of the language comes from Latin or French. It’s probably more now than it was in 1908, since a vast vocabulary has been added in which animal and plant names are taken from their taxonomic names.  ↩
  8. Arika Okrent lists 79 languages for 1888 to 1908, which doesn’t include Volapük or Esperanto, which were introduced before that, in her book In the Land of Invented Languages.  ↩

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