Considerations on the Introduction of an International Language into Science



WHILST the preceding chapters have sufficiently demonstrated that the construction of an artificial international language is not only possible, but already in all probability fixed as regards its fundamental principles, it will be desirable here to give some account of the inner relations between science and the auxiliary language.

Without doubt one of the most important conditions to be satisfied by an artificial international language is that it should be capable of being employed in science. Considering the leading part which science plays to-day in the life of nations, the system which this intellectual Great Power will adopt cannot be a matter of indifference; indeed, its capability of serving the needs of science might well be regarded as the test of an artificial language. It is, for example, conceivable that a particular system, although unsuitable for the purposes of science, might work quite well so far as commercial relations are concerned.

Before we examine the relationship between science and auxiliary language the question may be asked whether an international language is at all necessary in science, and whether it is likely to be introduced therein. We may consider that this question has been settled by the discussions contained in the previous chapters. The general question of the introduction of an artificial auxiliary language having been answered in the affirmative, the further question may be raised as to why, in spite of the existence of different artificial auxiliary languages, such as Volapuk, Esperanto, Neutral Idiom, Novilatin, Universal, etc., science has not long ago adopted and introduced one of them. Quite apart from the actual circumstances which have prevented this, a perfectly precise answer may be given to the above question. There have not been wanting experiments in this direction. Already in the Volapuk period endeavours were made to translate scientific works into Volapuk in order to prove that this language could also be of service to science. In particular the translations of Dr. Miess's Craniology, Dr. Winkler's Petrification of Fishes, and the Eastern Travels of the Crown Prince Rudolph were boasted of by the Volapukists. Esperanto has gone further, and is, as a matter of fact, more capable of development in this direction. There appears a periodical, Scienca Revuo, which in popular form conveys the most important results of different sciences to Esperanto readers. Fechner's little book on life after death and some others have also been translated. All these attempts possess an extraordinary interest for the great experiment in language on which mankind has been engaged during the last twenty years, and the greatest thanks are due to their authors. It is only, indeed, after many attempts that an experiment can be successfully carried through. But, without wishing to deny that very remarkable things have been accomplished, all these experiments prove one fact beyond question, namely, that the languages mentioned do not even approximately, and cannot indeed possibly, satisfy the requirements which science must demand of the artificial auxiliary language. Science could not, therefore, have chosen any of these languages as the artificial auxiliary language even had she wished, nor could she do so in the future without experiencing failure. An examination of the reasons for this state of affairs will enable us to arrive at the relation between science and the international auxiliary language. It can be shown what the nature of this relationship must be, and it follows therefrom whether any particular system will or will not be serviceable to science. There are two necessary criteria, namely, internationality of vocabulary and logical precision of expression.

One might be inclined to emphasise the importance of the second criterion without paying any attention whatever to the first, and to regard a system constructed on a purely logical basis as alone worthy of science. But this would be a retrograde step, for indeed the question of artificial language originated with the idea of a so-called philosophical language in the mind of Leibnitz and afterwards. If one takes the point of view that the scientific auxiliary language should be constructed on an ideographic basis (that is to say, a system of correlation between symbols and ideas, which, however, as it is a language, must be capable of being spoken), one arrives at an a priori system, as it is called in the theory of universal language. Thanks to the laborious and self-sacrificing work of the thousands who during the last twenty years have devoted and still devote themselves to the great experiments in language, we are able nowadays to refer this question to the test of experience. The latter has shown with absolute certainty that a priori systems cannot be spoken. The learning of any natural language, with all its irregularities, peculiarities, and anomalies, is child's play compared to the learning of an a priori system. All experiments in this direction have failed and need no longer be seriously considered. But even when an artificial language has not been constructed a priori another error, producing much the same effect, may very greatly injure its facility in practice. An otherwise so successful system as Volapuk came finally to grief through an error of this sort. Although Volapuk was constructed by a man of whom it is said that he was master of, or at least acquainted with, fifty-five living languages, and although, according to its whole nature, it appeared to be modelled very closely on natural languages, nevertheless the abbreviations which Schleyer introduced so often into the words he took over (for example, vol for world, puk for speak, Melop for America) produced the same psychological effect as if his word-formations had been a priori. Man is, in fact, a psychological as well as a logical being. If there is to be any practical outcome, we must, therefore, under all circumstances base our work on the psychological principle of internationality. It is only this which confers on the auxiliary language the quality of being easily learnt and spoken, which is unconditionally necessary for its practical use in science, as in other departments of life. Such systems are called a posterori, and experience shows that the more a posteriori elements are contained in an international language the more it conforms to Jespersen's fundamental principle of the greatest ease for the greatest number of people. But, one may argue, does it not follow from this that the best solution would be the introduction of a national language into science? Certainly not, for this would not offer the greatest facility to the greatest number of people, because the formation of the so-called idioms, which, apart from grammatical difficulties, hinder the learning and use of a language, would in the case of many national languages interfere with the internationality of the vocabulary. These idioms have a very similar effect to the a priori word formations, and diminish the intelligibility, lucidity, and facility of logical expression. The only international auxiliary language which will be of practical use in science will be constructed according to the a posteriori principle of maximum internationality, and will be almost or entirely free from idioms. If we add to this that it must possess that logical clearness of expression which we have described above as the second criterion, we have the general conditions which must be satisfied by an international language suitable for science.

Apart from the practical value of the principle of internationality, there exists in science another very special reason for regarding it as a necessary condition to be satisfied by an international auxiliary language.

We may inquire, in fact, from a purely scientific standpoint, how far the systems which have been devised up to the present have adjusted themselves to the international language which already exists in science. For all the thousands of words in scientific and technical nomenclature which, apart from their nationality, the scientific men of all countries have been inventing for centuries according to very uniform principles, as well as the likewise largely international expressions of "unofficial" nomenclature, form a possession of modern scientific civilisation of such magnitude, importance, and value, that it cannot on any account be sacrificed. On the contrary, all these words, as well as many similar ones derived from daily life, form the true, natural, and practical basis of international language.

This international auxiliary language, which forms one of the foundation stones of our general, scientific, and technical culture, is so closely bound up with the life and existence of science and has become so much the second nature of all scientific men, especially investigators, that they have long become accustomed to write and think in this language apart from their nationality. It is an easily ascertained fact, and one that is well known to the scientific men of all countries, that the latter can read foreign scientific literature much more easily than newspapers or novels written in the same languages. The explanation of this is that the foreign scientific works, on account of their technical vocabulary, are written in a language which possesses a much more international character than that of the novels or newspapers. It cannot, therefore, be denied that there actually exist already, particularly in science, the beginnings of an international (and largely artificially created) auxiliary language which is written, spoken, and read. We find here ready made the first provisional lexicon of the scientific international language. It cannot, therefore, be urged that science should "select" any one of the proposed artificial languages, because the selection of words is by no means an arbitrary process. The only procedure possible to science must be the construction of an international language on the basis of the already existing foundations. Science can never accept as an international language, one which destroys the actually existing internationality of scientific nomenclature.

As we see, these considerations, like the former, lead us to the conclusion that the auxiliary language must be based on the principle of maximum internationality; that is to say, its vocabulary must be taken a posteriori from the international treasury, and must not be invented according to any a priori system or special idiom. It follows from this that the auxiliary language of the future must inevitably be chiefly Romance in its character, for Latin is the international auxiliary language which still lives and flourishes for, and by means of, science.

The objection might be made here that the simplest solution would be the reintroduction of Latin into science as the auxiliary language. But this contradicts one of our fundamental premises, for Latin fails just as much as all other national languages to satisfy our second criterion, namely, that of complete logical precision. Besides, it is too difficult.

Esperanto does not even approximately satisfy the necessary conditions; it infringes, in fact, all three. On the one hand, its vocabulary is very far from being constructed according to the principle of maximum internationality; on the other hand, the Esperantists are supposed to make up for this defect by the famous principle of vortfarado (i.e., word manufacture!), with the result that their language falls into the error of creating idioms. For example, in Esperanto the beginning of the sentence "A rotary transformer might be called a motor-generator, but the latter name is usually applied to machines with independent armatures," is translated in the following way: Turnighan alispecigilon oni povas nomi motorproduktanto, which literally translated reads, "A self-turning otherwise-making instrument can be called a motor-producer."

Apart from these fundamental errors of Esperanto, it lacks a systematic method of word formation, the importance of which has been demonstrated in a masterly and convincing fashion by Couturat in the previous chapter. Hundreds of times the puzzled reader of an Esperanto text is in doubt about the sense of an adjective, even such common expressions as stony and made of stone being rendered in Esperanto by the same word (shtona). A phrase such as "It is perhaps possible" cannot be accurately translated into Esperanto, since, on account of its "simplicity," the words perhaps and possible are both rendered by the same a priori word, eble. With regard to choice of vocabulary, other systems, in particular "Neutral Idiom," are exceedingly superior to Esperanto. In this last product of the Volapuk movement the principle of internationality has been finally recognised. A language academy was founded which constructed a lexicon according to this principle. Unfortunately, as Jespersen has very fully shown in Chapter III., this principle was not interpreted in the right manner, so that the language lacks logical clearness in spite of the international character of its vocabulary.

We need not, therefore, be surprised that science has hitherto been unable to adopt any of the artificial systems as the international auxiliary language. That would have been a false step, and would only have produced confusion.

It is only at the present time that one has arrived at a clear recognition of the principles on which such a language must be based. The only artificial system which can claim that its "inventors" have endeavoured in its "construction" to combine and consistently carry out the principles of internationality and logical precision (namely, systematic choice of sterns and a regular system of derivation) is, as will be sufficiently evident from the preceding chapters of this book, the language of the Delegation. Without doubt the internaciona linguo di la Delegitaro will have to undergo changes and improvements, for one cannot expect that such a gigantic task as the introduction of an international auxiliary language can be accomplished all at once. We hold, however, that "Ido" represents the first artificial language concerning whose introduction into science serious discussion is possible. We may state with full confidence to-day that, so far as human calculation is possible, the attempt to carry this out will be crowned with success.

On the other hand, this introduction will not be without a useful reaction on science, not only in respect to the development and extension of its external life as an international Great Power, but also with regard to the more perfect unification and extension of its language and nomenclature on the lines of strict and complete internationality. An expression of opinion on this, point will be given in the following chapter.


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James Chandler 27-Nov-97.