Objections to Constructed Languages

Objections are raised both by professional philologists (linguists) and by laymen. Among the former I must here specially mention the two leaders of German comparative linguistics, Brugmann and Leskien, but their attacks were made at the time when Esperanto was beginning to gain favour, and later languages have avoided not a few of the imperfections found fault with by the two Leipzig professors. In 1925 Professor G. Güntert in his Grundfragen der Sprachwissenschaft tried to reduce the whole idea ad absurdum, but on the basis of so deficient a knowledge of the facts of the case and with so prejudiced a mind that he proved less than nothing. It would be a very great mistake to suppose that professional philologists as a body are against constructed languages; it would be much more correct to say that those among them who have gone most into the question are the best disposed to them. I may mention here among those who have spoken in favour of the idea in abstracto, Schuchardt, Vilh. Thomsen and Meillet - three of the greatest stars in the philological world - and among those who have actually taken part in the International Language Movement, Baudouin de Courtenay, Ernst Kock, Wallensköld, Collinson and Sapir, all of them university professors.

People who hear about constructed languages will often say that such a language must be as lifeless as a dead herring, and that we may just as well think of setting up an homunculus made in a chemical retort and claiming for it the qualities of a living human being. Languages are not organisms, and their "life" is not to be compared with that of animals or plants. Forty years ago Schuchardt was able to make short work of this objection by showing how much in the so-called natural languages was really artificial, that is, due to conscious endeavours and conscious selection, and yet was just as capable of "living" as anything else. What we have to do is to study existing languages and their history so as to find out the actual laws of their development and then build on what has most vitality.

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James Chandler 1997.