by Prof. Otto Jespersen, Copenhagen, 1912

[Translated from the Ido Original by Gilbert H. Richardson.]

In June 1907 the Delegation for the adoption of an international auxiliary language in accordance with its statutes elected a committee which had to decide which artificial language was the most suitable to be introduced in international communications.

The counting of the voting papers was managed by the well known French General Sebert. In October of the same year the committee thus elected met in Paris where altogether 18 long and fatiguing sittings took place. Not all those who were elected came; some had availed themselves of the right granted them by the statutes to send a deputy with power to act for them. The members who attended had the following native languages: French, German, English, Danish, Italian, Polish (Russian). The following sciences were represented: Philology, Astronomy, Mathematics, Chemistry, Medicine, Philosophy.

As Honorary President was elected the astronomer Förster of Berlin, who however was able to take part in only a few sessions; as President the Chemist Prof. Ostwald of Leipzig (Nobel Prizeman); as Vice Presidents the two professors of Philology Baudouin de Courtenay of St. Petersburg and myself. Besides the linguists just mentioned the following took part in the discussions with the greatest zeal and persistence: the Secretary Prof. Couturat of Paris, Rector Boirac of Dijon (President of the Esperantist "Lingva Komitato"), his deputy Mr. Gaston Moch (who was also allowed to take part in the sessions at which Mr. Boirac himself was able to be present), Mr. P. Hugon (representative of W. T. Stead) and the mathematician Prof. Peano of Turin. The discussions were conducted almost all the time in French; sometimes however Prof. Baudouin de Courtenay preferred to speak German, and once or twice Mr. Peano spoke in his "Latina sen flexiono." The discussions on Mr. Spitzers "Parla" (see below) were at his desire conducted wholly in German. The debates were directed with eminent ability by Prof. Ostwald, who was able to prevent too strong a display of feeling, and who by his special synthetically philosophical talent had a remarkable capacity for seizing the principles and the great main view-points and of preventing the debates getting lost in details.

Before the sessions in Paris a very important work had been done. Messrs. Couturat and Leau already in 1903 in "A History of the Universal Language" ("Histoire de la langue universelle") had given a critical resumé of the systems of artificial language which had till then appeared , and supplemented it in 1907 by "The new international languages" ("Les nouvelles langues internationales.") We received a great many books and pamphlets about all the most important languages proposed, and further many letters from inventors, advocates and opponents. The letters addressed to the Delegation as such and not to individual members of the Committee had been summarised and analysed by the secretaries in a fairly large type-written pamphlet which we received about one month before we met; this pamphlet also contained a critical article on the position of the problem as it then was, which was afterwards printed under the title of Conclusions of the Report ("Conclusions du rapport.") During the conference also came letters, among others from the eminent English linguist Sweet, from Dr. Zamenhof, from the head of the Neutralists Rosenberger. Thus we had no little material to consider and furthermore several unpublished systems were submitted to us for examination.

The inventors of language systems had been invited to attend either in person or by representative to defend their systems. This offer was availed of by Dr. Nicolas (Spokil), Mr. Spitzer (Parla) and Mr. Bollack (La langue bleue); moreover Dr. Zamenhof got himself represented by Mr. de Beaufront, who had been propagating Esperanto for many years; and almost as representative of Neutral came Mr. Monseur, professor of comparative philology in Brussels: yet his plea had the character less of a positive defence of Neutral than of a zealous and expert insistence on the weaknesses of Esperanto. Of the discussions with those outside the committee two episodes deserve special mention: Dr. Nicolas emphasised as an advantage of his system founded on "a priori" principles, that it was constructed in accordance with a firm grasp of the laws of mnemonics and therefore was especially easy to remember. Yet he was almost offended when I wished to begin examining him about his own dictionary, and so it appeared that he could not remember the words which he himself had made. Mr. Bollack in a very elegant discourse presented his "Langue bleue" for the diffusion of which he had devoted a great deal of money; he ended by declaring that although he wished naturally that his language should be adopted, he would nevertheless accept the verdict of the committee of experts if it went otherwise; this promise he has kept loyally by being now an eminent member of the Ido organization in Paris.

In the course of the discussions it soon became evident that not a single member of the committee was prepared to accept a language of the a priori type containing words chosen arbitrarily, but that everyone was in favour of making the fullest use of the elements which were already international in the natural languages. The choice was therefore restricted to languages of the group whose best known representatives are Esperanto, Neutral, Novlatin and Universal, which may be considered in many respects as varieties of the same linguistic type. The first two especially as the best elaborated and thought out languages played the principal part in the debate, and the advantages of each were compared with the other. In favour of Neutral was the natural alphabet without circumflexed letters, which Esperanto alone of the hundred or so artificial languages dared to offer the world; furthermore the more natural selection of the words in many cases, especially in the pronouns, where the a priori and quite artificial contrivance of Esperanto was strongly criticised. On the other hand in Esperanto more had been done to prevent ambiguities; the frequently crude and ungraceful word-forms of Neutral have been avoided, and by using everywhere different terminations in the different parts of speech it is managed that any one who has once learnt that easy system can quickly and with certainty find his bearings in the phrases so that clear understanding results; at the same time the many final vowels give euphony and render the pronunciation more easy to all the many nations whose languages but rarely have consonants at the ends of words.

There was a very detailed discussion on the principles of internationality in the choice of words, on the formation of words (derivation) and on unambiguity. With regard to the first idea was approved which I proposed in "Tilskueren" in 1905, that internationality ought not to be measured by the number of languages in which the word occurs, but the number of people who through their native language are acquainted with it. The discussion on word-formation was directed mainly to the dissertation which Mr. Couturat had published a short time before, "Étude sur la dérivation en Esperanto"; its principles were defended with success by Mr. Couturat against Mr. Boirac who maintained the superiority of Zamenhof's principle.

During the last sessions the centre of the discussions was the anonymous Ido-project, which was brought forward by Mr. Couturat on behalf of the author; none of the members of the committee knew anything about the author other than the negative, that it was neither due to Couturat, Leau, nor to any other member of the committee itself. It was a kind of Esperanto in which regard had been paid to the objections which had been made already before then from many quarters to the language of Zamenhof; and thus it exhibited in many points the desired mean between Esperanto and Neutral. Yet this project on being examined in detail was not approved in all particulars, neither concerning grammar, nor concerning the choice of words; and that language which was never published consequently differs in many points from what is now known under the name of Ido. (This fact is worth remembering, because many objections directed against the great changeableness of the Delegation's language are based on the difference between the project and the final language, although it is clearly not just so to introduce into the debate an unpublished rough draft.)

As it was evidently impossible to thrash out thoroughly and decide on all the innumerable small details we united in choosing a smaller subcommittee for that work, and after that we adopted unanimously (therefore also with the votes of the Esperantists) the following declaration: "None of the existing languages can be adopted in its entirety and without changes, but the committee decide in principle to adopt Esperanto because of its relative perfection and because of the large use of many kinds which has already been made of it, but with the reservation of several changes to be carried out by the Permanent Commission (i.e. the above mentioned sub-committee) in the direction indicated by the conclusion of the secretaries' report and by the project called Ido, and if possible in agreement with the Esperantist language committee."

* * * *

Out of regard for the collaboration with the Esperantist committee it was decided that this decision should not be published for the time being. From a competent quarter we had been given good hope that the "Lingva Komitato" would easily be able to agree with us on everything essential, and we separated on October 24th confident that all friends of the idea of a world-language would soon successfully rally around the reformed Esperanto.

But it soon began to appear that there existed in the Esperanto world elements very hostile to this collaboration. Dr. Zamenhof, who several times had declared that he would submit if a competent scientific committee were to change his language "out of recognition" - Dr. Zamenhof, who himself in 1894 had proposed extremely radical changes in Esperanto (of which changes several agree with those which we carried out) - who twice over as recently as 1906 proposed changes which were not published by the Esperantists (among them I mention -e instead of -au, avoidance of the plural termination -j, bona patró instead of bonaj patroj, e instead of kaj, kom instead of kiel, Anglio instead of Anglujo, breva instead of mallonga, mem instead of malpli, sub instead of malsupren) - Dr. Zamenhof, who even after the close of our sessions had sent us some small proposals for reform in his language - this same Dr. Zamenhof now suddenly in January 1908 broke off all discussion with us, declared that the Delegation altogether did not exist for him, and from that time on he maintains the rigid unchanged Esperanto without removing any of the defects which practitioners and theorists alike had pointed out.

The chief Esperanto reviews opposed the new language partly by systematic silence as to its real nature, avoiding discussions on the real (linguistic) questions, partly by a series of personal attacks. (The Danish Esperanto Review has long been an honourable exception to these tactics).

The personal attacks were concentrated mainly around Mr. L. de Beaufront, especially after it became known that he had been the author of the anonymous Ido project at the same time as he represented Dr. Zamenhof before the committee. Here I intend neither to defend nor to condemn the moral aspect of his conduct; for me as for the rest of the members of the Committee the purely objective question as to the essential qualities of the language to be adopted was always the only one which could be decisive; and our final result absolutely could not have been different, even if Dr. Zamenhof himself had been present in person before us. We were all very well acquainted with Esperanto, which moreover was strongly represented in our sessions, among others by Rector Boirac; any partiality against Esperanto cannot be alleged. It is to be regretted that no shorthand reporter was present to record all our discussions in Paris: if there had existed an official shorthand report, then according to my firm conviction the vast majority of the attacks both against de Beaufront and against the whole Committee would have fallen away to nothing and without effect. Then it would have been seen that nothing in our conversations need fear publication, but that they were serious, solid, objective discussions between competent persons, who had no other end in view than to get to know the truth. Fortunately also the great majority of the members of the committee stood high above any sort of suspicion.

It has very often been said that we were only to choose among the systems already in existence, but that we exceeded our competence in carrying out or proposing changes in one of them; but to this we may reply: our right to do this was acknowledged indirectly by Dr. Zamenhof when he begged us urgently not to make serious changes in Esperanto, and directly by the adherents of Neutral and other systems. No one would have contested our right to adopt Neutral with the reservation of many changes, by which that language was assimilated somewhat to Esperanto, and the final result would then have been just the same as the present language. If we preferred definitely to mention Esperanto as the basis which was adopted in an altered form, that was done out of regard for the Esperantists in thanks for their important work in making the idea of world language known and popular, and not for any other cause whatever.

After the rupture we laboured with zeal to perfect the dictionaries and the grammar; they were published in the spring of 1908, the former with a preface by me which gave an outline of the theoretical basis of the language. Therein I formulated for the first time the principle which has often been referred to since with approval: "The best auxiliary international language is that which in all points offers the greatest ease to the greatest number of people."

Almost at the same time in accordance with the proposal of Ostwald and with a programme approved by him and by the other members of the committee there was started the review "Progreso". In it were discussed freely and from many points of view the principles and details of our language; and it soon became apparent that what was most objected to by the greatest number of critics from many countries, was words and forms of Esperanto, which we had left remaining, sometimes against our own principles. After a Union of the friends of international language was formed, the members of it elected an Academy to decide on the linguistic questions that had been discussed in Progreso, and this academy during the past years has improved the language in many points, so that now very little work remains, if you leave out the selection of words for quite special and technical conceptions. Many partisans of Ido from many countries have helped to bring out a language which in almost all respects is truly excellent: among the most important and laborious collaborators I wish to mention our indefatigable secretary and editor L. Couturat in Paris, Paul de Jankó in Constantinople, and Birger Jönson in Copenhagen. It is very important to emphasise the fact that the present language Ido is not the product of the work of one individual, but the resultant of the efforts of many years and of many persons to produce a language as easy, clear and rich as possible - a language which both scientists and men of action can with confidence recommend for the fullest use in all international relations.

From Two Papers on International Language in English and Ido, 1921.

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