Considerations on the Introduction of an International Language into Science



ANYONE who wishes to swim without the help of others is faced by a "vicious circle." In order to swim he must jump into the water, but before he entrusts himself to the water he ought to be able to swim. In spite of this, many people learn to swim without a teacher. How do they do that? They go at first only into shallow water, and splash about there until they have become more or less familiar with this element. Then, when they perceive that they can propel themselves in it, they go gradually into deeper water.

If we wish to get scientific men to use the international language, we must probably recommend the same method and advise them to move about in the shallower regions of every-day language before they venture into the deeper waters of science. The instruction concerning the movements of swimming given by the swimming-master on dry land corresponds to a lesson of a couple of hours on the simple grammar of the international language. Further progress, leading up finally to the introduction of the latter into science, can be divided into three stages, which we may describe by the words reading, writing, and speaking.

I. Reading.- The extraordinary ease with which every educated person, and especially anyone who has learnt Latin or one of the Romance languages, can read and understand the language of the Delegation almost without any previous study, indicates that the first stage will not be difficult of attainment. But one would require scientific reading material in order to gain practice in scientific reading, and there we are again faced by a vicious circle. For, in order to create such reading material, we require authors who can write it, and yet the latter can only learn to express themselves in the international language by means of already existing reading material. We must therefore at first make use of the language of daily life and carry over into science whatever is found to be suitable for scientific purposes, after which more sharply defined meanings may be assigned to the words. It has been indicated in the previous article how the remaining special scientific nomenclature can be determined. When this preliminary work is sufficiently advanced the following way will lead quickest to the goal.

There will be founded an international journal divided into as many divisions as correspond to the groups of sciences to be dealt with. We have here in view more particularly the theoretical and practical sciences of nature, because they have much more urgent need of an international auxiliary language than the "humanities," whose representatives are more likely to possess a sufficient knowledge of languages. For example, mathematics, mathematical astronomy, mathematical geography, mathematical physics, geodesy, etc., might form one group; general and experimental physics, chemistry and physical chemistry, electrotechnics and applied chemistry, mechanics and mechanical engineering, etc., a second group; mineralogy, petrography, crystallography, geology, etc., a third group; biology, systematic and physiological zoology and botany, morphology, etc., etc., a fourth group. Extensions of these groups and other modes of arrangement might of course be introduced.

The foundation at first of several separate periodicals would not be advisable.

The following remarks may be made concerning the contents of this journal. In conformity with our plan, it should not at first contain any original articles, for the international language is not intended to replace the natural ones, but only to act as an intermediary between them. Besides, the journal must not contain any insignificant or uninteresting articles if it is to attract and interest readers. But eminent authors, even if they could command the international language, would not publish important original articles in a journal which naturally at first would not have any very great circulation.

The journal must therefore contain chiefly translations of interesting articles from all branches of science and from all languages, and also extracts from the more important literary productions. The editorial committee of this journal should be independent of the Language Academy, but nevertheless in close contact with it, in order, on the one hand, to guarantee the correctness of the language by means of the Academy, and, on the other hand, to help the latter by acting as its scientific adviser. The gradual dissemination of this periodical would have the effect that a considerable number of scientific men, especially those of the younger generation, would be induced to read and understand the international language without any expenditure of trouble injurious to their professional work.

II. Writing.- From reading a comparatively easy step leads to writing. The number of scientific men would soon increase who could either write directly in the international language, or, at all events, translate a paper written in a natural language into the international language. Owing to the gradually increasing dissemination of the international Review, a first-hand publication of such papers in the Review would soon be very much in the interest of the authors, as the acceptance of their papers would itself be a mark of honour, whilst the rapid distribution amongst all nations would be likewise advantageous.

III. Speaking.- The speaking of the international language at first in small and then gradually amongst wider circles and finally at international congresses can only be attempted later. This attempt must not, however, be made before its success is fully assured, and the language has received a certain amount of consolidation through its application to writing.

We have already remarked in another place that the introduction of the international language is not nearly so difficult as it appears at first sight, almost the only difficulty being the establishment of the confidence that this goal can be attained.

When one tries to swim for the first time it seems as if one would never succeed. But when, after a few lessons one has seen one's comrades moving safely and merrily in the water, courage comes, and with it success. We shall therefore show in an appendix by means of an example that the language of the Delegation is already capable of expressing difficult passages with all possible fidelity.

At a time when the language had only just been fixed and when he had very little practice in its use, L. Couturat translated into it a particularly difficult passage from the work of Gomperz (the Viennese Academician) on Grecian Thinkers. The present author, without having seen the original, retranslated it at Graz from the international language into German, and sent this to Gomperz at Vienna with the request, that he would give his opinion on the accuracy of the retranslated passage. Gomperz wrote characterising the reproduction as "astonishingly exact," "the test as extraordinarily successful, and the result in a high degree favourable to the possibility of employing the international language." This test must certainly be regarded as a very severe one, because the German language is foreign to the first translator, whilst, owing to its philosophical nature, the subject was not familiar to the second translator as a physicist. For the sake of English readers, a similar experiment has just been made, the results of which are given in Appendix III. A passage from Professor W. James's Talks to Teachers on Psychology, dealing with the laws of habit, was translated into Ido by Professor Couturat, and the Ido text retranslated into English by Mr. P. D. Hugon in London, who was unacquainted with the original. A comparison of the two English texts demonstrates the marvellous lucidity of Ido as a medium for the transmission of thought without distortion.

Two things are indispensable for the realisation of a great idea. In the first place, the idea must, as regards its nature and value, have a rational foundation, and its possibility must be demonstrated. In the second place, there must be present courage, energy, and persevering devotion in order to realise practically that which has been recognised to be right and good. No amount of energy, however great, can produce a lasting result from a mistaken idea; but at the same time nothing great has ever been accomplished by doubters and pessimists. The readers of our brochure will concede to us that the idea of an international auxiliary language and its realisation by means of the language of the Delegation have in the foregoing chapters been fully examined in the cold light of reason and shown to be good and practicable, whilst the appendices will enable this opinion to be experimentally tested and confirmed. Now that the head has done its work, the heart, the source of courage and devotion, must do its part. We have full confidence, therefore, in calling upon the representatives of science, who have followed us so far, to assist us in the work, in the first place by joining the Uniono di I'Amiki di la Linguo Internaciona and by making its labours known. This step can be taken also by those who do not see in the language as at present constituted the final and best solution of the problem, for before one can reach the topmost heights one must traverse the intervening stages. We ourselves do not consider that our language is the best possible, but we regard it as one which is susceptible of continuous improvement without its immediate and future use being injured thereby.


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James Chandler 29-Nov-97.