Ido: The Beginning

Ido: The Beginning

More authoritative information on Ido can be found at:

A. L. Guerard: The Delegation for the Adoption of an International Language - Ido (Beginnings of Ido)

W. E. Collinson: Esperanto and Its Critics (Comparing Ido and Esperanto)

James Chandler, who seems to be the strongest Ido presence currently on-line, and whose planned-language pages deserve your attention, has taken me to task for my treatment of the creation of Ido, and forced me to review the available materials on that period. James writes (1):

One other thing. I have now read and re-read your Ido history section many times. I have come to the conclusion that the way in which it is written is at best unhelpful and at worst extremely damaging to the IL movement. I have no doubt that not a few people have by now stopped by and read through your IL history. It is a shame that they will have come away with a one-sided, unobjective version such as this. There are very many points on which you give such a twisted view of events that I may reasonably say that you have lied. Many other points are presented in such a misleading way that the effect is no less harmful. It is interesting to note the lack of references you give in the course of your account.

To my horror, in reviewing the source material I discovered that the situation was actually worse than I presented it. It appears that, as stated above, the Delegation -- again, totally lacking in any kind of authority to adopt any planned language for any group other than itself -- actually adopted Esperanto, possibly with the addition of certain unspecified reforms. It was Couturat who, writing the minutes of the Delegation's proceedings after the delegates had permanently dispersed, specified the modifications of Ido; and it was Couturat who, through some interesting verbal manipulations, within a matter of weeks had trumpeted that the Delegation had adopted Ido. Here is what I wrote to James about this topic (2):

May I suggest, then, that you read Couturat's letter of January 18, 1907, to Zamenhof, which is available in Dietterle's Originala Verkaro (p. 464) and in Leteroj de Zamenhof, Vol. II, pp. 9-15; in this letter, written more than nine months before the Delegation met, Couturat not only assures Zamenhof that Esperanto will be accepted by the Delegation, but even describes the language that will be used by the Delegation to ensure that outsiders don't get the (correct) impression that the matter was cut and dried before it started. (Couturat addresses Z. as "kara Majstro", an expression that Z despised and which, in the light of later events, was as dishonest as de Beaufront's "Judas" kiss at Geneva in 1906.) The implication here is that Couturat from the very start intended to orchestrate the actions and decisions of the Delegation Committee -- though perhaps not in the way he presented to Zamenhof. (Zamenhof's letters from that year indicate that he was not particularly impressed.)

You might also wish to read Lemaire's famous (notorious) letter to Couturat of May 2, in which the Major offers his own services in Couturat's cause:

Will you yourself be able to present your project to the Delegation? If not, I place myself at your disposal as a straw man. I am making this offer to you with the best of intentions, and -- must it be said? -- with the desire to be of possible help to you, more effectively than through simple support...

This, again, almost half a year before the Delegation met -- under rules that forbade the author of a language from himself representing it (though apparently an exception was made for Peano, who was on the Delegation).

As to whether the Delegation would see things his way or not, in the end the matter was irrelevant, because the Delegation went home and left Couturat in full control of the field. Couturat, as secretary, reported the results as follows:

The Committee has declared that the theoretical discussions are closed, and has chosen the permanent Commission, whose first task will be to study and fix the details of the language to be adopted. This Commission contains Messieurs Ostwald, Baudouin de Courtenay, Jespersen, Couturat and Leau. (1) -- The Committee has decided that none of the languages examined can be adopted en bloc and without modifications. It has decided to adopt mainly Esperanto, because of its relative perfection and because of the many and various applications which it has already received, on condition of some modifications to be made by the permanent Commission in the direction defined by the conclusions of the Report of the Secretaries and by the project of Ido (2), working to reach agreement with the Esperantist Language Committee. Finally it has decided to coöpt M. de Beaufront to the permanent Commission, because of his special competence.

(1) Baudouin de Courtenay, the other linguist in the Delegation, disappeared from the Commission almost immediately; Ostwald, who remained an Idist, nevertheless broke with the Commission within a few months and established his own Ido office. Jespersen remained the only "outsider" in the Commission.

(2) "Ido" was the pseudonym used by the author of the language, apparently primarily Couturat (again, see Waringhien's "Kulisaj manovroj" and the correspondence he quotes there).

Gaston Moch, who had sat in as Emil Boirac's substitute -- and who himself favored some "reforms" and eventually joined the Ido movement; he should not be considered as having been unsympathetic -- upon being presented with the protocols of the Delegation, apparently protested some of the conclusions they drew:

...the sentence that "Overall all the main principles of the project Ido were approved" might be interpreted as an adoption in principle of the Ido project, which -- I have the best motives for saying so -- in no way coincides with the opinion of the almost unanimity of the Committee members. Furthermore, I would not have accepted such an editing if it had been presented to me during the meeting. In addition, I do not remember having heard that the permanent Commission was to have as a task "to study and fix the details of the language to be adopted" -- nor having seen and signed such a protocol...

(Waringhien adds: The protocol in question remained unchanged, and despite the confession of the Secretaries that "in truth, the protocol was not signed by M. Moch", the official text continued to assert, permanently, that "all these decisions were adopted unanimously.")

So what we find is that the Delegation went home and never met again, that Couturat wrote the protocol of the Delegation without total fidelity to the actual decisions of the Delegation, and that Couturat, Leau and de Beaufront were left in command of the field in Paris (with Jespersen putting in an occasional oar and providing a certain amount of publicity) -- left to actually sit down and define the language after the Delegation dispersed. (See e.g. the Report on the Work of the Permanent Commission, which appeared in Progreso I, p. 9.)

Interestingly, after having seen in the protocol as published that Esperanto was to be adopted, with some changes, we find Couturat writing to Zamenhof, two days after the Delegation broke up:

...About the name of the language which has been adopted, nothing has been decided. (Couturat to Zamenhof, October 26; LdeZ vol. II p. 50)

So Couturat, within two days and with no mandate for doing so (except for the fact that he runs the permanent Commission) is already talking about a whole new language. (He continues that he would prefer to use the name Esperanto, if the Esperantists will accept that; he also assures Z that the person Ido "is neither M. Leau nor myself.") See also Couturat's letter to Boirac of November 2:

...The Committee of the Delegation has adopted in principle the project Ido, and the changes that the Permanent Commission intend to make in this are so unimportant that it prefers to await the proposals of the Language Committee.

So Couturat's own adoption of Esperanto with some changes has in the space of nine days become an adoption of the project Ido. Remarkable! And there is also Couturat's Circular of November 6:

...It has been agreed that the complete grammar of Ido serves as a basis of our discussions and that everyone is supposed(3) to accept from this grammar everything which he does not propose changing.

(3) "estas supozita", not "devas".

See also Moch's moderately long letter, again protesting Couturat's misunderstanding (deliberate?) of the Delegation's mandate, of November 6.

So we see that the Delegation may have approved the adoption of Esperanto with some (undefined) changes along the lines suggested by Ido (Moch implies, in his protests, that even this is an exaggeration), and that Couturat, after closing the Delegation down, very quickly moved from this point to the historical revision that the Delegation had adopted the Ido project, at least in principle. Since, again, evidence is that Couturat at least masterminded the development of Ido, it would appear that he had attained the position he wanted: himself in possession of the field with the mandate to promote his own language project.

Hopefully, publication of the above will satisfy James's desire that I provide interested persons with details of our short interchange of opinion and fact, as he expressed it publicly (3):

A few weeks back I sent Don personally two very lengthy messages criticizing his "How to build a language page", particularly the Ido section, but also the section on Novial, both of which I felt to too unjust to be excused by "personal opinion" (which, of course, Don Harlow is as entitled to express as anyone else). Please excuse me if I don't repeat it all here; I'm sure Don has kept the messages and will gladly send them to Ken or anyone else if they ask, along with his responses.

By the way, let me add some comments on terminology. Delegation and Committee of the Delegation appear to be identical; the Delegation seems to have been meeting as what is known in parliamentary terms as a "committee of the whole". Commission is the permanent commission established by the Delegation (more likely, established by Couturat, with the consent of the Delegation), consisting of Couturat, Leau, de Beaufront, Jespersen, Ostwald and (possibly) de Courtenay; as mentioned, de Courtenay and Ostwald disappeared relatively quickly.

I have omitted from this report some discussion between me and James about the relative roles of Couturat and de Beaufront, de Beaufront's apparent pathology, and matters having to do with the structures and lexical source materials of Esperanto and Ido.


(1) Personal communication from James Chandler, on or about 1997.07.28.
(2) Personal communication to James Chandler, 1997.07.29.
(3) Posting by James Chandler to AUXLANG mailing list, 1997.09.04.