Preface to the Novial Lexike

by Otto Jespersen, 1930

They haue beene at a great feast of languages, and stolne the scraps. - SHAKESPEARE

Was die Sprache gewollt, haben die Sprachen zerstört. - SCHILLER

L'égoïsme et la haine ont seuls une patrie,
La fraternité n'en a pas. - LAMARTINE

THIS book presents the most necessary vocabulary of the international language NOVIAL (NOV new, International Auxiliary Language). In my book, An International Language (London, G. Allen & Unwin; German translation Eine internationale Sprache, Heidelberg, C. Winter), the reader will find: (1) an introduction showing the urgent need for such a language, (2) the history of the movement with criticism of earlier proposed artificial languages, (3) a detailed grammar, in which, chapter by chapter, the reasons are given that have led to precisely those and to no other forms, (4) the scientific principles of word-selection, and (5) some specimens intended to show the use of the language for different purposes and in different styles.

How should an auxiliary language for international usage be constructed?

The phonetic system must be as simple as possible and contain no sounds or combinations which would present difficulty to many nations. Hence we can admit the five vowels a, e, i, o, u only, but neither nasalized vowels nor rounded front vowels (ü, ö), which are absent from such important languages as English, Spanish, Italian, Russian. As regards consonants we are similarly obliged to exclude palatalized sounds, such as those in French agneau; It. ogni, egli; Spanish año, calle; and the German ch- and the English th- sounds. By the exclusive use of s, where some languages distinguish a voiceless s and a voiced z, an important simplification is gained, not only because some nations are ignorant of that distinction, but also because the distribution of the two letters would necessarily be often arbitrary and consequently would have to be separately remembered for each word. Accentuation (stress) should not be used to discriminate words.

Our spelling, too, must be as easy as possible; we must therefore avail ourselves of all such simplifications as have already been made in some languages, e.g. f instead of ph, t instead of th; single instead of double consonants and vowels, as in Spanish. Accents and other accessory marks above or at the side of letters are superfluous complications. No letter should be allowed to have two distinct pronunciations according to its position: g in gi, ge must sound as in ga, go (cp. E. give, get). I know very well that many people would prefer c in conclusione, cria, clari, etc., where I write k; the Romanic nations and the English dislike the letter k (which is not beautiful!); but I must ask the reader to consider the fact that not only the Germans, the Dutch, and the Scandinavians, but also the Slav nations, thus very many millions, write k in Latin loan-words (in Polish, for instance, kleryk, kredyt, klasa, kronika, krystal; correspondingly in Czech, Russian, etc.). The new official Turkish spelling with Roman letters is in perfect agreement with the rules I had adopted for Novial before knowing of the fact: bank, koridor, fabrika, kontrol, kolosal, sivil, bisiklet .... Anyhow, k seems indispensable before e and i, e.g. anke, kelki; amike friend (epicene), hence naturally amiko, amika, amikal. I grant, however, that the adoption of c instead of k in those combinations would not essentially affect the character of Novial and would be much more tolerable than the use of c for the sound of s or ts, which is particularly annoying before a, o, u (as in Esperanto). In an international language we might, perhaps we should, write everything in small letters, as the rules for capitals are more or less arbitrary in all languages - at present, however, I dare not propose that reform.

The grammar must be very simple and easy, i.e. as regular as possible. If one ending is adopted for the plural (here s) or for female beings (here a), it is best to apply it to all words, not only to nouns, but to pronouns as well. Some interlinguists do not acknowledge this principle and thus set up special pronominal forms for those two categories, alleging that pronouns are irregular in all languages, and that it is therefore against ordinary linguistic psychology to create regular pronouns. This, however, is only a half-truth, one might even say that it is a fallacy: in their historical development even pronouns tend towards regularity, as I have demonstrated with regard to English as far back as 1891; and if such simplification comes about very slowly in this class of words, the reason is that the extremely frequent use fixes the forms in the memory. Exactly the same thing happens with the most often used verbs, which for the same reason in all our languages are irregular (am, is, was, be; bin, ist, sind, war; suis, est, sont, était, fut, sera; go, went; vais, aller, irai; gehe, ging, gegangen ...); but in spite of this no interlinguist has proposed to give an irregular inflection to the corresponding verbs in a constructed language. An exception is just as indefensible in one case as in the other. Progress in national languages has everywhere been in the direction of simple and analytic forms - this should be the guiding principle in the construction of an international language. And naturally such a language can and must be less capricious and less complicated than even the most progressive natural language.

Fortunately there exist numerous word-building elements (prefixes and suffixes) that are already known internationally and can be adopted without any change. The only thing required is to define their use and to be free to apply the same prefix or suffix to all words, whereas natural languages present all kinds of more or less inexplicable restrictions. Vague and inaccurate definitions of suffixes should have no place in a rational language, and even less acceptable - to mention one example only - is the two Latin prefixes in in two nearly contradictory senses: inscrit inscribed and ínscrit unwritten (the accent is an unsatisfactory and ineffective palliative). One of the great advantages of a constructed language is the power it gives every speaker to form a word by means of well-known suffixes without having first to inquire whether it is already in use; but if radicals and affixes are well chosen, it is possible by such means to form an astonishing number of universally known derivatives.

The chief principle for the selection of vocables is to use, wherever possible, words that are already international, and where these are missing to take those words which create least friction. Unfortunately, some perfectly international words have meanings that are so far from being precise that they should be avoided in a really philosophical language, e.g. nature, form, pension, materialism, romantic. Novial does not and cannot pretend to remedy general deficiencies of that order, but in other cases I have endeavoured to specify meanings precisely. Where the languages that form the basis of Novial present the same or closely similar forms for two notions which it is necessary to keep apart, the most distinctive and the most easily remembered forms have been chosen. Thus for the two meanings of German Bank = French banque, banc = English bank, bench, the forms banke (with bankere, bankrote) and benche are in every respect better than banko and benko (Ido), or banq (bank with banqero and bancrott) and banc (Occidental: how is one to pronounce these words differently?). This dictionary contains many examples of such differentiations which seem to me desirable or even indispensable (organe orgele; borse purse; pasa pase pasu; volkane vulkanisa; komun komunie ...).

No one who knows the other constructed languages, and has given some little thought to the difficult problems which the construction of a language involves, will be surprised to find that I have in many cases vacillated between two forms where general principles do not with certainty lead to one single solution. Now I prefer vorde, set, ot, mensu, where at first I said vorte, sep, ok, monate. In a few cases I give two words as equally legitimate and leave the choice to interlinguists of the future (sal ve; moneye pekunie; guere milite; vapornave stimshipe). One might mention here among possible improvements the extension of the suffixes ia, especially after nt (inteligentia, konvalesentia, presentia) and itate (felisitate, sinseritate), as well as the use of adverbs without the ending im before adjectival words (tot nudi, tal-nomat, extrem fasil, bon konstruktet, cp. mal-format).

All prefixes and suffixes, as well as the grammatical endings, have been inserted in alphabetic order.

It has been imperative to economize space in this dictionary; consequently translations are only given where it seemed absolutely necessary. Not every possible derivative has been indicated; those that are placed after | are formed with perfect regularity according to the rules of Novial; others, demanded by the example of national languages, have been placed after ||. Brevity being essential, this book presupposes benevolence and also a certain amount of intelligence in the reader. The following examples show how the laconic indications of the dictionary are to be interpreted by English, French, and German users:

desembre December.
hiene hyena.
barikade barricade | barikada barricade vb.
akompana accompany.
abrikote apricot | abrikotiere apricot-tree.
heroi | heroe or heroo hero | heroa heroine | heroisme heroism.
profan or profani profane adj. | profana profane vb. | profanatione profanation.
karaktere character | karakterisa characterize | karakterisiv characteristic || karakteristike characteristic (mathematics = index of logarithm).

Herr R. Zeidler, of Nordrach (Baden), has read through the manuscript and has communicated to me numerous important observations; the same has been done for parts of the book by Mr. H. D. Akerman, of London, and M. J. Barral, of Berre-des-Alpes: to all these three gentlemen I return my cordial thanks for their valuable assistance, as well as to Mr. N. Haislund, of Copenhagen, who has helped me in reading the proofs; though for any mistakes that many be found in the book I must myself bear the full responsibility. Finally, I must express my respectful gratitude to the Rask-Ørsted-Fond, of Copenhagen, for the generous subvention which has made it possible to issue the book at a very cheap price.

O. J.

Back to Novial-Informatione

Back to main Novial Lexike page

This page hosted by Yellow Internet.