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Volapük

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Volapük2006-07-17 13:20
2 comments
by Flemming Funch

I didn't know it was a real language. Volapük. The Universal Language Nobody Speaks. More from Metafilter. This is the start of the Lord's Prayer in Volapük:
O fat obas, kel binol in süls, paisaludomöz nem ola!
Not that I have much use for that, but that kind of shows why it maybe didn't catch on.

In Danish, "volapyk" has become a general term for "incomprehensible nonsense". Which maybe is deserved, if you don't speak it. But it sounds like it could almost be as fun as learning Klingon, although not quite. Here's a little rundown of the origins of Volapük:
An old German peasant once wrote to his son in America, asking for money. The U.S. postal authorities returned his letter because they couldn't decipher the address—understandably, given that the old man knew no English and didn't write German very well. He complained to his neighbor, a retired priest named Johann Martin Schleyer: now I have no money. Schleyer was sympathetic. His health was poor, and he had to support his own aging father on the small pension he received from the Church. What was needed, he decided, was a better means of international communication. So Schleyer invented one: He called it the National Alphabet, a system of 37 letters which could express the sounds of any language in the world.

Was his neighbor grateful? All we know is that no one used the National Alphabet, that letters continued to go astray, and that Schleyer, saddened by the failure of his system, developed insomnia. One sleepless night in March 1879, he received a communication from God, instructing him not to despair, and to make a new language that everyone in the world could speak. Schleyer already knew more than 60 languages (although how well he spoke any of them, other than German, isn't clear; see "Umlauts"). In a year, he distilled his knowledge into a single, rational idiom. He called it Volapük, or "world-speech." He based its words on English roots, using a simplified phonetics that eliminated the sounds th and ch, and replaced the letter r (difficult for the Chinese) with the letter l. These changes made many of Schleyer's new words hard to recognize. You could, for example, look at the word flen for a long time and not guess that it was derived from the English friend; even if you knew that flen means friend, you would be unlikely to guess that Flent was the new word for France.

Even so, Volapük was a vast improvement over the other universal languages available at the time. These ranged from the "philosophical language" of John Wilkins, in which each letter stood for a distinct concept, and the meaning of a word was—in theory—evident from its spelling, to Jean François Sudré's Solresol, a language based on musical scales, which, although almost impossible to speak, could be whistled or played on the trumpet. Ordinary people could both speak and understand Volapük, and many of them soon did.

Nine years after Schleyer published his grammar, the language had a quarter of a million speakers; some accounts put this number as high as a million. Volapük primers were printed in 21 languages, and the dictionary had grown from 2782 to more than 20,000 words. At the Third Volapük International Congress, held in 1889, everyone spoke Volapük, even the porters and the waiters. There were Volapük societies from Sydney to San Francisco, at least 25 Volapük periodicals, including the Cogabled ("Jest Book"), which printed nothing but Volapük humor. The language was so popular that many people considered the question of universal communication settled once and for all. An English scholar named Alexander Ellis, in a report to the London Philological Society, concluded that "all those who desire the insubstantiation of that 'phantom of a universal language' which has flitted before so many minds, from the days of the Tower of Babel, should, I think, add their voice to the many thousands who are ready to exclaim lifom-ös Volapük, long live Volapük!"
Well, it almost caught on, obviously. If everything had worked out a little better in the long run, I might have been writing this in Volapük today.


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2 comments

19 Aug 2016 @ 05:12 by National drink of Pakistan @39.36.81.64 : Malik
The tragedy in Pakistan continues to worsen as relief supplies and aid fall far short of what is required. More aid is anxiously needed as the potential for millions of fatalities begins to loom.  


17 Oct 2016 @ 04:48 by Google Maps Street View @103.238.68.81 : Google Maps Street View
Thanks for sharing. I hope it will be helpful for too many people that are searching for this topic.
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