Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW


Chapter VII of the book A Short History of the International Language Movement


One of the most interesting aspects of the Paris Exposition in 1900 was the number of congresses held, all within six months, in the French capital. Their accumulation made manifest the progress of all international activities, the growing feeling of world-wide interdependence and collaboration. They also afforded a practical demonstration of the necessity of an auxiliary language. M. Leau, a French professor of Mathematics, gathered and organized a number of individual scientists and of delegates from learned bodies, who, chiefly as the result of their experience of 1900, had become interested in the question. On January 17, 1901, the "Delegation for the Adoption of an Auxiliary Language" was founded. The aim of this new society was to create a movement of opinion in favour of an international language, and to secure the adoption of one by means of a scientific study of the problem. The matter was to be submitted to the newly created International Association of Academies, a federation of all the most important scientific bodies in the world. In case the Association of Academies should refuse to act, the Delegation itself would elect a committee, to which the final decision would be entrusted. By 1906, the Delegation had enrolled some 1,200 members of Academies and University Faculties, and the representatives of 331 societies of all kinds. Through the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Vienna, the subject was submitted to the International Association, which, on May 29, 1907, declared itself incompetent. The Delegation then decided to proceed to the election of a special committee. Out of 331 delegates, 253 votes, and the following twelve members were chosen by 242 votes or more (these figures, by the way, are worth remembering, and we shall attempt to interpret them at the proper time):

Later on, the Committee was completed by the adjunction of Messrs. Gustav Rados, of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; W. T. Stead, the editor of the London Review of Reviews; G. Peano, Professor in the University of Turin, member of the Academy of Sciences of Turin. Messrs. Bouchard, Harvey, and Stead, unable to attend, were regularly represented by Messrs. Rodet, Hugon, and Dimnet; M. Boirac was represented at some sittings by the prominent peace advocate, G. Moch; the secretaries of the Delegation, Messrs. Couturat and Leau, were also added to the Committee.

This was a magnificent list indeed, and one which proved beyond cavil the soundness of the international language idea; for all these prominent men were known to be in thorough sympathy with the purpose of the Delegation. The Committee met at the Collčge de France, in Paris, from October 15 to 24 -- eighteen sittings in all were held. Its task had been facilitated by the wonderfully painstaking and lucid compilations of the secretaries, Couturat and Leau: Histoire de la Langue Universelle,(1) and Les Nouvelles Langues Internationales.(2) The same gentlemen submitted in addition a very full report. Communications were received up to the last moment from all parts of the world; several authors of language projects appeared in person before the Committee. Dr. Zamenhof delegated his ablest lieutenant, Marquis de Beaufront, to advocate Esperanto. Finally, the following decision was arrived at:

"None of the proposed languages can be adopted in toto and without modifications. The Committee have decided to adopt in principle Esperanto, on account of its relative perfection, and of the many and varied applications which have been made of it; PROVIDED that certain modifications be executed by the Permanent Commission, on the lines indicated by the conclusion of the Report of the Secretaries and by the project of Ido, if possible in agreement with the Esperantist Linguistic Committee."

This declaration was voted by all present, i.e. by Messrs. Ostwald, Baudouin de Courtenay, Jespersen, Dimnet, Hugon, Moch, Rodet, Couturat, and Leau: in other words, by three of the original twelve members, four substitutes and the two secretaries. The "Permanent Commission" was composed of Messrs. Ostwald, Baudouin de Courtenay, Jespersen, Couturat, and Leau, but M. de Beaufront was immediately afterwards made a member of that body. The "project of Ido" mentioned in the final decision was an anonymous pamphlet proposing a number of reforms in Esperanto: it was submitted to the members of the Committee alone, and was not made public until later.

The Permanent Commission was to effect the proposed changes "in agreement with the Esperantist Linguistic Committee"; that body, however, declined to discuss the reforms. If we take a legalistic view of the situation, the Esperantist Committee could not act otherwise; it had been appointed to guide the evolution of the language as defined by the Fundamento; any alteration to the Fundamento itself was beyond its authority.

After obscure negotiations which are of interest only to the individuals immediately concerned, the "Language of the Delegation" severed all connection with orthodox Esperanto, and embarked upon its independent career under the name of Ido. (A) Later on, the fact leaked out that the author of the Ido project was none other than the Marquis de Beaufront himself, Zamenhof's lieutenant and representative. De Beaufront had embodied in his scheme the ideas of M. Couturat on the derivation of words. In the further developments of the language, Prof. Jespersen played a leading part. These three gentlemen may, therefore, be considered as jointly responsible for the new language.

The rest of the story is sad to tell. Accusations of selfish ambition, of greed and "graft," of disloyalty and treason, were bandied to and fro between Primitive Esperantists and Idists. No wars are worse than civil wars, no feuds so fierce as feuds between brothers. Interlinguists of all descriptions, like all initiators of great movements, are earnest and enthusiastic men; in less diplomatic terms, many of them might be called well-meaning fanatics. We cannot but regret that such a philosopher as M. Couturat, for instance, who had given such a splendid example of scientific objectivity in his Histoire de la Langue Universelle, should have so entirely lost his composure. For seven years (he died in the fall of 1914) he flung excommunications broadcast, on conservatives who refused to follow him, on progressives who went one step ahead of him. The pejorative suffix -acho came at the end of every second word in his polemical writings -- and few of his writings were not polemical. He had become that most uncompromising of men: the infallible pope of a small schismatic church. We do not want to single him out as an awful example: many of his friends and of his enemies were as bad or worse; only he fell from a greater height.(3)

The result of these wranglings was disastrous to the cause, and perhaps in no country so strikingly as in America. After the triumphant tour of Prof. Ostwald as an apostle of Esperanto, it seemed as though the movement were to sweep everything before it. There is a healthy radicalism in the American mind, a freedom from old-world prejudices, which made the Esperanto idea a congenial one. The North American Review had a regular Esperanto department: the man who could make and mar presidents could also launch a linguistic boom. The Chautauquas were taking it up. After the schism, the actual number of Esperantists went on increasing, but there was little of the confidence and enthusiasm so noticeable in ante-Delegation days. It is the most convincing evidence of the idea's inevitableness that it was not killed outright by such dissensions among its promoters.

We may now consider the work of the Delegation in three different lights: as the choice of an impartial scientific jury; as the embodiment of the reform spirit in Esperanto; as an independent scheme, Ido, to be judged solely on its own merits.

For many years, it was on the first aspect of the question that the Idists chose to insist upon. Their argument was one of authority. Whether you consider the findings of the Committee of the Delegation as a scientific conclusion or as an arbitral award, the verdict should have been accepted by all interlinguists. Zamenhof in particular had always professed that he was ready to abide by the decision of a properly constituted authority; now this promise was put to the test. In disregarding the award, in preferring their own pet projects to the disinterested result of a collective and scholarly investigation, the authors were recreant to the spirit of science; in refusing to accept the authority of the Committee, after having submitted their schemes to its consideration, they were guilty of bad faith. Such was the position of M. Couturat.

The whole problem, therefore, hinges on the authority of the Committee. On this point non-partisans find it hard to sympathize with the Idists. The Delegation claimed to represent three hundred learned societies: but three hundred is not a large number, out of the thousands that exist in any single country. The delegates from these societies were, in many cases, practically self-appointed, and the body which they were supposed to represent was not in any way bound by their decision: the proof is that hardly any of the three hundred has confirmed in any practical manner the choice of the Delegation, whilst several have protested against the use of their name. The delegates elected a committee, by 242 votes at least out of the 253 that were cast. What is the meaning of this surprising unanimity among men from all parts of the world, who never met in the flesh and had no ways of exchanging their views? It simply means that the delegates accepted blindly the list proposed by the secretaries, because nothing else could be done, and because that list was as good as any. But, good or bad, what is its authority beyond that of its individual members? It was in truth appointed by two men, who, however competent and well-intentioned, could not claim that they "represented the world."

In eighteen sittings only, this Committee examined the whole problem, its principles, its history, the innumerable solutions proposed; and in that hurried fashion, it reached the conclusion we have quoted. But let us note that the final decision was arrived at by a unanimous vote ... of three only out of the original twelve members. The other six were four substitutes and the two secretaries, men of the highest merit, no doubt, but whose names had never been submitted to the Delegation. Let us also note that the verdict was ambiguous. Some of those who voted it understood it to be an endorsement of Esperanto, which in no case could be used against Esperanto. The original members who voted the final decision were Messrs. Ostwald, Baudouin de Courtenay, and Jespersen, a chemist and two philologists. But M. Baudouin de Courtenay refused later to support the Ido schism, and thus condemned the interpretation which had been given of the verdict of the Committee.

Finally, it was contended that the Committee did not offer any guarantee of impartiality. It was manifestly "worked" by its secretaries, and they, as well as a majority of members, were known to be Esperantophiles. Other schemes, worthy of the most serious consideration, Universal, Latino sine Flexione, and especially Idiom Neutral, never had even a fighting chance. The secretaries had made it plain in their report that the adoption of Esperanto was inevitable: this was not merely a matter of preference, it was a question of actual strength -- the Committee knew that its authority was not sufficient to impose any other solution, even if it had been considerably superior. But then, all talk of "scientific objectivity and disinterestedness" was idle.

On the other hand, the Esperantists had some right to complain that their scheme had not been properly defended. They might even say that it had been betrayed; for the man who accepted to represent Dr. Zamenhof was, under a pseudonym, the author of the rival scheme which was finally adopted. This alone, if the decision of the Committee were a formal judgment, would be sufficient to make it invalid and to necessitate its revision.

As a matter of fact, the "impartial judgment" was a mere pretence. The policy of the leaders of the Committee was a masterpiece of secret diplomacy. The progress of Esperanto was a fact: to this progress there were two minor obstacles, a few blemishes in the language itself, and the actual or threatened competition of other schemes. M. Couturat wanted to bring to Esperanto two priceless gifts: the willing renunciation of its rivals, and the endorsement of a group of illustrious men; in exchange, he asked for a few reforms. The intention was admirable, but the plan was too clever. It would have been preferable not to try to smuggle a compromise under cover of a scientific decision.

There was something sadly ludicrous in the insistence of the Idists upon an "authority" that no one would recognize. Mere assertion of authority will lead you to the lunatic asylum more surely than to the throne: the difference between a madman and an emperor is measured by the number of their respective followers. Now the general public quietly ignored the Delegation, the Committee, and its successor the Idist academy; the scientific world remained absolutely unruffled. The vast majority of interlinguists stoutly denied the power of M. Couturat's creation. It is true that M. Bollack, whose "Blue Language" had no chance of being adopted, abandoned it for Ido; a few Neutralists, a number of Esperantists did the same. But Messrs. Rosenberger, Molenaar, Peano, Zamenhof, all those whom it would have been essential to conciliate, held themselves aloof. Either as a piece of popular propaganda, as a scientific conclusion, or as an arbitral award, the decision of the Committee must be pronounced a failure, and therefore a mistake.

The lack of authority of the Delegation, which was manifest from the very first, is the best justification of the attitude of the Esperantists. Their policy is definite, in practice it has been found successful: No fundamental change in the language until the question has been taken up by an official authority. Zamenhof, once more, was willing that his Esperanto should be reformed, transformed, or even discarded altogether, provided it be in favour of a language so established and supported that it would be secure once for all. He might have accepted the arbitration of the Association of Academies, although that body could hardly be described as an "official" authority. But he could not, without abandoning his well-tried method, follow Messrs. Couturat and Leau wherever they wanted to lead him. For what guarantee was there that any number of self-appointed Delegations would not crop up in the future, and successively request Esperanto to introduce reform after reform, to suit the individual fancy of their promoters? One, headed by Messrs. Rosenberger, Molenaar, and Peano, might have wanted to make the language more a posteriori; another, led by Prof. Sweet, would have made it more a priori; a third would have insisted on equal representation of Slavic, Teutonic, and Latin roots; then Mr. Hamilton Holt would have urged that Chinese and Urdu be taken into account. And so ad infinitum.

The Esperantists had therefore to weigh the advantages that would accrue from the improvements proposed against the dangers which such a departure from their established discipline might cause to the whole movement. It is possible to hesitate between the two courses: the choice depends upon the relative importance that is attributed to the social and to the purely linguistic elements in the success of the cause. Excellent men, devoted to the idea, thoroughly competent in that special field, conscientiously adopted the one or the other. There was no "treason" and no "wilful blindness" in either case. Sharks, cranks, and obtrusive busybodies there are in Esperantoland, which is broad enough to contain all sorts and conditions of men. But we are persuaded that Reformists and Antireformists were both, on the whole, disinterested and sincere.

Ido began, therefore, as Reformed-Esperanto. It corrected a number of defects which Dr. Zamenhof himself had pointed out as early as 1894. The accented letters, objectionable from every point of view, aesthetic, scientific, or practical, were done away with. The unfamiliar plurals in oj, aj, uj, disappeared; the adjective was made invariable; substantives changed -o to -i in the plural; the accusative was retained only in cases of absolute necessity; the arbitrary table of correlative words was made more natural; the international spelling of many roots was restored; many others were selected anew on a more scientific principle; the system of derivation was rendered more logical, more regular. The language, on the whole, retained all the advantages of primitive Esperanto, whilst, in point of immediate intelligibility, it could almost compare with the purely Neo-Latin schemes -- Neutral, Panroman, and Latino. (B)

It must be said, however, that not all good judges are ready to admit the superiority of Reformed- over Primitive-Esperanto. There are points about the newer scheme which are highly disputable. The sound k, for instance, can be expressed in three different ways: k, q, and x ( = ks or gz). There are exceptions to the rule of accentuation. The Ido derivation is based on certain conceptions of M. Couturat, which are ingenious, but not absolutely convincing, and one may be allowed to prefer the theories of M. René de Saussure (Antido) in justification of Esperanto practice. Some corrections to the Esperanto vocabulary are rather unfortunate: if birdo for bird was not satisfactory, surely ucelo, which is barely Italian, and nothing else, can hardly be said to be an improvement. The root avi', which is international in such words as aviary, aviculture, or even the ornit' adopted by Idiom Neutral, would have been preferable. Ido is in many respects a compromise between Esperanto and Neutral: we believe that what was said of Neutral may be said of Ido: their superiority over Esperanto is not so great as to justify the risk involved by the change.

Non-Esperantists, on the other hand, complained that Ido had retained many of the most objectionable features of Esperanto. Partisans of the greatest possible degree of naturalness object to the grammatical endings in o and a; such words as omnibuso, opero, boao, are difficult to defend; they object no less to the presence, in a language which is overwhelmingly Romanic, of a strong Germanic element. In a few lines of Mr. Couturat's, we came across the following: nur, vorti, darfar, yena, grantata. These words will be totally incomprehensible to people who know only Latin and a Romanic language; all except the last will be puzzling to English-speaking people. Germans will not be assisted by the presence of these Teutonic roots, because they are too few, and because they are frequently altered in transcription ( Wörter, dürfen ). Again, the a posteriorists criticize the formation of autonomous derivatives and compounds, when there already exist international terms. Ido has got rid of tagnoktegaleco, but it has kept vortolibro for lexicon or dictionary, Ido calls itself helpanta linguo, whilst auxiliar is already European. It has marala for the well-known maritime. The conjugation in Esperanto was wonderfully ingenious, subtle in its simplicity, but decidedly artificial: the Ido conjugation is more ingenious still, but more synthetic, and more alien to the spirit of modern languages. Thus it has a present, past, and future infinitive: amar, amir, amor; thus it forms its anterior tenses by the addition of ab: Me amabos, I shall have loved; thus it has a synthetic passive, created by the addition of -es (root of esar, to be): Me amesis, I was loved; me amabesis, I had been loved. All this is neatly logical, but it takes us back to the rich and strange conjugation of Volapük.

The destinies of the language were entrusted to an Academy. That body played the same part, and used the same method, as the Kadem Volapüka, which created Idiom Neutral. It was composed predominantly of Esperantist reformers, just as the earlier body was composed of Volapük reformers. But Rosenberger's society escaped from Volapükist influences much more completely than Jespersen's from Esperantist influences: the old academy was thus in better position to do scientific work. In both cases, new words were adopted on the basis of their internationality: this was indicated by the initials D., E., F., I., R., S. placed after the proposed term. Latin was left out of the reckoning: the Idists apparently forgot that no language was more universally taught in the secondary schools of all European nations. Instead of counting purely and simply the number of languages in which a given form occurs, the Idists attempted to take into account the number of people who speak those languages. The dictum of Prof. Jespersen: "That international language is best, that is easiest for the largest number of people," was thus reduced to an arithmetical formula. The selection of a root resulted from the comparison of two sums. In Progreso, the linguistic Ido magazine,(4) such arguments as the following could be found: "One ought to adopt for bread the most international ward bredo (English + German = 190 millions), instead of pano (French + Spanish + Italian = 134 millions)"(5) ; "We must adopt for spring the word vesno (Slav, 130 millions) instead of printempo, only French." (6)

Several fallacies are involved in this way of counting, in spite of its severely scientific appearance. For one thing, only "great" languages are taken into consideration: not only are all the tongues of Asia excluded, but Portuguese, spoken by 30 millions, who may be 50 within half a century, but also Polish, and other "minor dialects" ; no doubt we must draw the line somewhere, but as the line is bound to be arbitrary, the impressive definiteness of the figures quoted means very little indeed. If Ido makes an invidious distinction between "major" and "minor" languages, it is on the contrary too democratic as far as individuals are concerned. In the figures used by the Academicians, an illiterate mujik counts for exactly as much as the most highly trained professional man. Now, from the point of view of international relations, the former is really non-existent, the latter should count for a great deal. (D) The factor of mere numbers ought, therefore, to be corrected by a coefficient of culture. It would be difficult to figure out such a coefficient accurately; it would be impossible to publish it without giving offence; so it might be best to drop all mathematical pretence, and return to the rough-and-ready method of the Neutralists. Furthermore, it is not the total number of people who speak a language that should count in this case, but the degree of internationality it has already achieved, its diffusion beyond its own geographical domain. Thus there is no doubt that, in the international field, Italian is more important than Russian: its use in music, its longer literary tradition, the number of Italians abroad, the number of foreign visitors in Italy, the intrinsic facility and beauty of the language -- all these are elements that cannot be expressed by "34 v. 130." (E)

Prof. Jespersen said: "That language is best ..." but his principle was applied separately to individual Words, not to the vocabulary as a whole. The result is that Ido, a hybrid, is intelligible only to the people who have made a special study of it, or who happen to know all the languages it is derived from. For an Asiatic or a Slav, it is, of course, as incomprehensible as Pan-roman or Latino; for a German, it offers, here and there, a few mangled Teutonic roots, totally insufficient to make the meaning of a single sentence clear; an Englishman or a Frenchman would get along well enough, if they did not come across such words as irgu, balde, nur, erste. (7) Ido is easier than Esperanto in so far as it has progressed towards the Neutral-Panroman-Latino group; it remains arbitrary and difficult in so far as it has stopped short in its evolution.

Ido had a clientčle ready to hand among the Esperantists: so its diffusion was soon greater than that of any other scheme, except orthodox Esperanto. It is true that it came a long way behind -- to the hundred magazines published monthly in Esperanto before the war, Ido could oppose only twelve; but all other projects together mustered only six. Ido has practically no literature: its leaders are inclined to pooh-pooh the efforts of the Esperantists in that line. They enrich their language in a different way, through linguistic discussions rather than through the practice of translation and original composition. The result, at any rate, is not to be despised: the dictionary completed by Messrs. Couturat and de Beaufront is the richest found in any artificial tongue. Difficult passages from Gomperz' Greek Thinkers were rendered from German into Ido, and then, by a different person, unacquainted with the original text, from Ido into German: practically no shade of meaning was lost in the double process. (8)

During the first few years of its existence, Ido changed with bewildering rapidity. Finally, it was found advisable to take a leaf from the much-derided Esperanto Fundamento: for no project which remains in a fluid state can hope to conquer the world. So a "period of stability" was established, during which the language could be enriched, but not modified; that period began on July l, 1913, and was to last ten years; but it has been prolonged by six years, because the activities of the Academy and the whole Ido movement were practically suspended from 1914 to 1920.

The fate of Ido depends absolutely upon that of Esperanto. If the final solution of the problem is to be, for practical reasons, a compromise between primitive Esperanto and more recent, more "natural" projects, then Ido will probably offer as good a basis for mutual concessions and amicable agreement as the world could wish. If the Idists consider themselves as a linguistic committee, preparing the reforms which may be found desirable after the official adoption of Esperanto, their activities are unimpeachable.

But many Idists take a very different view of the situation. They spend a notable portion of their energy in violent anti-Esperantist campaigns. The Esperanto papers affect to ignore Ido; the Ido press is full of attacks against the rival language. It seems to us that in so doing they are cutting the ground from under their own feet. If Esperanto were to collapse, as Volapük collapsed thirty years ago, then there would be no further need of a compromise. The international language idea would suffer a long eclipse; and when it emerged again, it would be in a form totally free from "Esperantisms" -most probably in the form of simplified Latin. Conservative and insurgent Esperantists have the same interests; it is by no means essential that they should unite; but, at any rate, they ought to stop fighting. (9)


(1) Hachette, 8vo, xxx-576 pp.
(2) Ibid., 8vo, 112 pp.
(3) It must be said that these polemical excesses were due to personal enmities which arose at the time of the meetings of the Delegation. With men who had not been embroiled in that lamentable affair, both Idists and Esperantists retained their scholarly equanimity. The present writer was honoured, in 1911-13, by an extensive correspondence with Prof. Couturat, in which hardly any trace of bias or animosity can be detected.
(4) Progreso ceased to appear after the death of M. Couturat; the Swedish Ido paper Mondo is now the official organ of the Academy.(C)
(5) No. 48, p. 707.
(6) No. 47, p. 663.
(7) Or even livar, which to an Englishman would recall to live, rather than to leave.
(8) Similar experiments were performed with Esperanto, with the same satisfactory results ; for instance, the Educational Committee of the Parisian Chamber of Commerce selected three highly technical documents of a legal and commercial nature, in which absolute definiteness of meaning was essential. These documents were submitted to the same process of double translation, into Esperanto and back into French, and the wonderful precision of the international language was once more established.
(9) The following two passages will serve as samples of Ido:
  "Tamen, balde la tempi parfinesos .... La olda Europana sulo sukusas de su la lasta polvi dil feudala ordino; la pulso di la libera populi esas nerezistebla, la kombati unigos omnfi, e la versita sango fertiligos la sulo por la jermifo dil idei" (Mondo Feb. 1921).
  THE LORD'S PRAYER : Patro nia, qua esas en la cielo, tua nomo santigesez ; tua regno advenez; tua volo facesez quale en la cielo, tale anke sur la tero. Donez a ni cadie l'omnidiala pano, e pardonez a ni nia ofensi, quale anke ni pardonas a nia ofensanti; e ne duktez ni aden la tento, ma liberigez ni del malajo. Nam tua esas la regno, la povo e la glorio eterne. Amen!
(Communicated by A. Rostrom, Secretary of the American Ido Society.)

Editor's postnotes (Donald J. HARLOW)

(A) This is apparently an incorrect interpretation of what actually happened. The Ido Permanent Commission, apparently attempting to force the issue, presented an ultimatum to the Esperanto Linguistic Committee, as per Ostwald's letter to Boirac of Dec. 14, 1907. It was, however, the Esperantist side that broke off negotiations (letters from Zamenhof and Boirac to Ostwald of Jan. 18, 1908, and Zamenhof's circular letter to the Esperantists of the same date).
(B) Someone who did not share Guérard's preference for "naturalistic" (neo-Romance) schemes might disagree that any of these points constituted an improvement, however.
(C) Progreso was later revived and continues publishing today. Mondo, as well as the Ido Academy, seems to have disappeared.
(D) Guérard wrote this too early to take note of the important role the workers' Esperanto movement (the "illiterate mujiks") played in the European Esperanto movement between the wars, and far too early to note the role of poor villagers in the naissance of the African Esperanto movement in the past quarter century. In fact, it is the emphasis on convincing an unconvinceable intelligentsia that has led to a certain stagnancy in the (West) European Esperanto movement since World War II. It is fairly obvious that even the most illiterate of mujiks would be glad to have contacts abroad -- if only he had some way of doing so; and it is precisely the easily-learned planned language that can provide him with this valuable tool. Planned language projects that cater primarily for an educational and regionally limited clientele are cutting their own throats.
(E) Of course, as a friend of mine pointed out after reading Jespersen's dictum, if it were logically applied every word in the planned language in question would be borrowed from Mandarin Chinese. We may, however, suppose that Jespersen's term "greatest number" should be understood to be followed by "of West Europeans".