History of the International Language Ido

A Brief History of the Search for a World-Language.

When Ido appeared at the beginning of this century it was the product of many decades of work in artificial languages. For this reason its inventors cannot take all the credit for their success; they owed a great deal to their predecessors in the field. Pascal, Descartes and Leibniz are among the famous names associated with the idea of constructed languages. But here we will begin our story with the inventor of the first artificial language to acquire a mass following. His name was Father J. M. Schleyer, and his language was called Volapük.

Volapük appeared in 1880, and within ten years acquired hundreds of thousands of adherents. Large numbers of books and periodicals appeared in Volapük all over the world, but within a few years it was close to death. The reason for its prompt demise is now widely held to be that people became dissatisfied with too many of its features. Many of its elements were completely arbitrary, and the words were mutilated versions of familiar European ones, eg. Italy became Täl, academy became kadem. People began to ask if a more natural system wouldn't be preferable, and came to the conclusion that it would. Unfortunately, and not for the last time in this story, its inventor did not agree. And so ended the first part of the search.

The next brave soul to try to design a complete language was a Polish oculist and amateur linguist, Dr. L. L. Zamenhof. When it appeared in 1887 it went by the name of "Lingvo Internacia de la Doktoro Esperanto", but soon it became known simply as Esperanto, which was a word in the language itself meaning "one who hopes". The new language was clearly superior to Volapük, but took longer to pick up followers. By 1900, however, it had superseded Volapük, and had become the main artificial language. In its early years Esperanto experienced the same problems as Volapük, namely that people began to question some of its more arbitrary features. At first Zamenhof was sympathetic to these complaints, but later became, as Schleyer before him, completely opposed to reforms.

The next event in the history of world-language was the Delegation. This was first set up in 1900, and a committee was appointed in 1907. This committee included eminent linguists, scientists and philosophers, and soon came to the decision that there were only two schemes at that time which were worthy of consideration. The first was Zamenhof's Esperanto, unchanged since its launch in 1887; the second was a language called Idiom Neutral, which had been developed by the old Volapük Academy. The latter was quite different from Volapük, and was a definite improvement on the old scheme. The eventual decision reached by the Delegation was to accept Esperanto, but with major reforms along the lines suggested by the project Ido, which at that time was known only as the pseudonym of the anonymous author of a new scheme, an outline of which had been brought before the Delegation. These reforms also took into account the linguistic progress made by Idiom Neutral.

And so Ido was born. The French philosopher Louis Couturat and his colleagues, including the unmasked inventor Louis de Beaufront, set to work on perfecting the scheme. In this they unfortunately lost the support of the Esperantists, who stood steadfast in their allegiance to Zamenhof's "Fundamento", which set out for all eternity the basic rules of their language. The new language Ido quickly emerged as a significant improvement on Esperanto. Gone were the many features which had always upset people most: the heavy and unnatural j for the plural, used in no other language (though having a prototype in Ancient Greek); the agreement of adjective with noun in case and number; the compulsory accusative endings; and the circumflexed letters which were so tricky to print. In addition Couturat overhauled the whole system of derivation in Esperanto, to produce a system which was far more precise, because each affix (see Course below) had a definite meaning which could not be "fudged", and the whole process of adding affixes to words was completely reversible. This meant that Ido was both simpler and more precise and powerful than Esperanto, an amazing achievement.

In addition to those already mentioned there are a number of other complete language schemes which have been devised. An Italian mathematician named Guiseppe Peano in 1903 began work on a language called Latino sine Flexione. This was to be a simplified version of classical Latin, with all the difficult word endings (inflexions) removed. The scheme attracted a lot of attention, mainly because of the reputation of its author, but was not a huge success, and has attracted much criticism. It wasn't without utility though, and Peano managed to publish papers in his new language.

The most important other projects were de Wahl's Occidental, based exclusively on West European languages; Jespersen's Novial, a formidable achievement, which has since split into two different versions; the IALA's Interlingua, which attempted not so much to construct a language as to codify the common elements in European languages; and Glosa, an old system revitalised which attempts to provide a useful international language with as few words as possible. Of all the languages we have now mentioned, however, Esperanto and not Ido has the largest following today. In the last paragraph we will ask why this is, and if it is likely always to be so.

Esperanto continues today to enjoy perhaps millions of followers (though it is another matter how many could be said to be speakers), while no other constructed language can claim anything like this level of success. The reason for this is that Esperanto has never lost its following after the initial "craze" for it, in the way that Volapük did. The snowball has continued to roll and collect more snow, and no other language has been able to put a serious dent in its size. The problems mentioned above, however, have not gone away, but have stayed just beneath the surface of the Esperanto movement, ready to emerge at any time. I believe that Ido is a superior language, which is why I have set up this page instead of simply learning Esperanto. But my intention is not to damage the community Esperanto enjoys: it is merely to publicise the fact that Esperanto is not, and cannot be, the last word in the search for a world-language.

This history was compiled with help from Otto Jespersen's book "An International Language" (George Allen and Unwin), and Henry Jacob's book "A Planned Auxiliary Language" (Dennis Dobson).

James Chandler 1997.

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