Novial (1928) by Otto Jespersen

(Chapter IV of `A Planned Auxiliary Language' by Henry Jacob, 1947)

1. History OTTO JESPERSEN (1860-1943), a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, for many years lecturer at London University, the University of Copenhagen and author of many works on linguistics, was one of the few professional linguists who took an early interest in the movement for a constructed artificial language. He wrote his first article on the question in 1904 for Englische Studien on the suitability of English as an international language. After having rejected Volapük as impossible and after studying the far superior Esperanto, Jespersen became closely associated with the Délégation pour l'adoption d'une langue auxiliare. He was a member of its permanent commission and was later elected president of the Ido Academy, a position he held from 1907 to 1910. For some time he remained an active member of that academy and wrote the History of Our Language (Ido). In 1918 he contributed the preface to the Ido-Deutsch dictionary by Feder and Schneeberger in which he formulated the maxim, `that international language is best which in every point offers the greatest facility to the greatest number,' which he modelled on Hutcheson's and Bentham's famous dictum, `That action is best which accomplishes the greatest happiness for the greatest number.' He enlarged upon that principle by saying that it does not mean , as some would have it, that we should take Chinese as our interlanguage, for the simple reason that it is known to the greatest number of men. The principle does not apply, as he made clear on several occasions, to an absolute number of people, but only to the number of those people who require communication with other nations. But the facility which he demands is not merely a superficial facility by which a printed message can be understood at first sight - that is something, but not everything. An auxiliary language, to be useful, must be easy not only for the reader, but also for the writer and the speaker. An irregularly formed word may be easy of comprehension to anyone who has it in his own language or knows it from another language with which he happens to be familiar, but at the same time, it may be very difficult to anybody else, much more difficult than a regular formation employing a suffix he has learnt once for all and which can be applied to a number of words. Jespersen thus aspires to the greatest possible regularity - admitting of some small exceptions, well motivated and easily remembered - saying that no constructed language is totally exempt from exceptions. He further demands simplicity in structure and economy in its derivative elements. What we already know is something easy, and because he wishes to create a language to be used by many different nations, it is essential to find words and forms already known to the greatest number of people. Elements which are already in part or wholly international should form the main basis of that language. This leads him to demand naturalness without ignoring the fact that not all forms appear equally natural to all nations. The language must be able to express clearly and with precision the thoughts of modern man.
After extensive experience in the field of international language, Jespersen published his own system in 1928 and called it the New International Auxiliary Language (Nov IAL = Novial). The former Ido journal Mondo (Stockholm), renamed Novialiste since 1934, served as the organ of linguistic discussion for the group of people who considered it a better system than others previously published.

Return to Contents Page

This page is hosted by Yellow Internet.