Novial/AIL The Delegation. Ido

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Latino sine Flexione

The Delegation. Ido.[edit]

The number of such schemes, each perhaps with some good points, but none of them in every respect superior to the rest, was disquieting to several earnest friends of the idea of an interlanguage, who were, not without reason, afraid that puffing advertisements, political intrigues, or monetary influences might some day force on the world an auxiliary language which was not quite good enough for the purpose. They also felt that if they now learnt one language and perhaps used it for bringing out an important scientific work, they might find in a few years' time that that system had been abandoned in favour of another one. This anxiety gave rise to the "Délégation pour l'adoption d'une langue auxiliaire internationale" (1900). Under the able and energetic leadership of the French philosopher L. Couturat signatures were gathered chiefly from scientific bodies and men of science for the proposal that the final selection of an international language should be left to some authoritative committee, preferably the "Association internationale des Académies," which comprised all the most important scientific Academies of the world. As, however, the Association declined the task, the Delegation in 1907 thought the time had come to appoint a Committee of its own to select the best auxiliary language for international use.

Under the presidency of the famous chemist W. Ostwald this Committee held a long series of meetings in Paris, in which we discussed the chief projects that had appeared down to that time. Inventors had been invited to appear and defend their schemes, and some made use of this opportunity. Esperantists made an unsuccessful attempt at intimidating the Committee into accepting Esperanto en bloc on account of its having more adherents at the moment than all the other projects counted together. It soon turned out that there were really only two schemes in existence that could receive serious consideration, Esperanto and Idiom Neutral, and that it was out of the question to accept either of them in its then shape, and very difficult to combine the good elements of the two into one harmonious whole.¹

Then, one day, we found on our tables an anonymous pamphlet said to be writtten by "Ido," no one of us at the time suspecting that under this name was hidden Louis de Beaufront, one of the leading French Esperantists, who on account of his supposed conservatism had just been chosen by Zamenhof to represent him and to defend Esperanto before the Delegation Committee (this, by the way, he had done with great eloquence and skill, laying chief stress on those points in the structure of Esperanto which were kept unchanged by "Ido," and which were criticized in the meetings, by myself more than by anybody else). But this anonymous project struck in some ways that middle course between the two rival languages, of which we were in search, and likewise embodied Couturat's ideas of word-formation. So, though the Committee could not accept this project in every detail, in its final verdict it gave the preference to Esperanto, with the reservation of several changes to be worked out by a small sub-committee "in the direction indicated by the secretaries' report and by the project called Ido, and if possible in agreement with the Esperantist Language Committee."

Some of the leading Esperantists had promised, or half-promised, friendship and cooperation, but after a short time Zamenhof and his nearest friends declared that they would have nothing to do with the Delegation Committee or its language, and so began the fratricidal war which has not yet ended, though it has lost much of its bitterness. Dictionaries and grammars were soon brought out in the new language, which after a good deal of hesitation was baptized with the stupid name of Ido; and the monthly publication Progreso was devoted to the propagation and constant improvement of that language under the able direction of L. Couturat. Seven big volumes had appeared, when the world war put an end to the periodical, which is a vast storehouse of (partially at any rate) valuable discussions on linguistic questions. Couturat deserves the highest praise for his liberality in opening up the pages of Progreso even to articles written in rival languages, less for his furious onslaughts on some Esperantists, though it must be admitted that their methods were not praiseworthy. The death of Couturat just at the beginning of the war was a very severe blow to the cause of the international language.

Some of the most influential men in the Esperanto camp joined the Idists (Ahlberg, Kofman, Lemaire, Schneeberger, to mention only a few of them), and brought with them a not inconsiderable body of private soldiers, but a still greater number remained under the old colours. The new language, as it was modified through the discussions in Progreso till it had become more and more unlike de Beaufront's original project, proved a most flexible and rich language, superior to Esperanto in a great many respects, though, as I shall have occasion to show in the special part, not satisfactory in every point. Its chief fault in my eyes is that its framers did not at the outset take as their motto (with an apology to Dante and to a German comic paper) "Lasciate ogni Esperanto voi ch'entrate," but it must be recognized that the Ido chiefs have nearly all of them shown that they take the word "Progreso" seriously, and are ready to go on even now working at the perfection of the IL without thinking that the last word has already been spoken in that respect. This open-mindedness is seen especially in the "Pasilogio" of Ahlberg's monthly Mondo.

The failure of the Committee of 1907 to carry through the programme of producing something which would be accepted by everybody concerned was chiefly due, as it is now easy to see, to two things. In the first place the time was not yet ripe for a final decision: the principles of an interlanguage had not been thrashed out scientifically, and much of the short time at the Committee's disposal had to be spent in clearing away much old rubbish, so that a great many important details had to be left for further discussion in Progreso. Secondly, though the Committee comprised some eminently competent members, it was not as a whole authoritative enough in the eyes either of interlinguists or of the world at large; and the same is true of the Ido Academy which was appointed to carry on its work. But in spite of all - in spite also of the amount of energy squandered away in the quarrels of Esperantists and Idists - the Delegation and the Ido Academy have left their indelible mark on the interlanguage movement, and their influence has been chiefly for the good - witness, among other things, the way in which Esperantists have given up several of their compound conundrums in favour of simple internationally known words like akuzi, exkuzi, heziti, etc.

¹ I print here with the permission of Mrs. Sweet, a letter which the late Dr. Sweet sent in 1907 to the Delegation Committee:

DEAR SIR,- It seems clear that the ideal way of constructing an a posteriori language would be to make the root-words monosyllabic, and build up the whole vocabulary on them, without any borrowed words; and to make the grammar a priori in spirit as well as form - independent of European grammar and parts of speech, no concord, no verbs, etc. But the result would be inferior to a wholly a priori system, and yet the foundation would be so obscured that the language would not be easily accessible to Europeans; it would not be learnt in a few minutes, like Idiom Neutral. From this point of view the choice lies between IN and Esperanto. But in their present form they are both so defective from their own point of view that they can only be regarded as a basis. But as IN is, it affords a better basis than Esp because it carries out consistently the principle of the maximum of internationality in the root-words, and because its grammar as well as its vocabulary is a posteriori, and much simpler and less tricky than that of Esp. Esp cannot be reformed: it would fall to pieces. The spelling of IN is good. Its vocabulary is good; it only wants to get rid of its homonyms, such as kar, and its alternative forms, such as sienti(fi)k. The grammar should be thoroughly recast on the same principle of the maximum internationality as the vocabulary. The general principles of word-order and syntax generally should be based on English and French - the most analytic of European languages - whenever they agree. Where they disagree, logical and practical considerations should decide. There would be little difficulty in coming to an agreement on this basis: adjective after noun, accusative shown by position, not by inflection; definite and indefinite articles preserved, but used as in English, etc. A priori elements need not be absolutely excluded. This is what I should do if I were obliged, under pain of death, to furnish a new language within six months.