Will Interlingua Smash the Language Barrier? (Sep, 1955)

Wow, the spell checker did not like this one.

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Will Interlingua Smash the Language Barrier?

This universal language would destroy our modern Tower of Babel, a bottleneck for men seeking world peace.

By O. O. Binder

SCIENTIA salta le barrieras de lingua. Puzzling words? But look them over a moment—don’t they seem familiar, as if you almost knew the meaning? Well, you do! If you know Spanish, French or any Romance language, you will have little trouble reading it at first glance.

But assume you’re the typical non-linguist who knows only English, outside of gesundeit, parlez-vous, and some choice swear-words in Kurdu you got from a sailor. Look that phrase over again.

Scientia—obviously science. Salta will trouble you unless you know the Spanish or French root sauter—to leap. Le barrieras—a noun with the French “the” becomes—the barriers. De— French “of.” Lingua—language.

Now it reads—Science leaps the barriers of language.

This is a sentence in Interlingua, the new universal language that is sweeping the scientific world and holds promise of catching on as a world language where all prior tries failed. Enthusiastic scientists in most of the western world— Europe, North and South America—are now using it, plus groups in Israel, Japan, Formosa, Australia and India. Fifteen international science journals are now published regularly in Interlingua.

Will Interlingua finally smash the Language Barrier? Will it penetrate the Babel Curtain that has plagued humanity far longer and more unhappily than the Iron Curtain? Will our grandchildren learn Interlingua and be unable to understand English, German, Russian, Siamese—any tongue of today?

It can happen—and should. Or at least, besides local languages, there should be one universal speech known to all, as a secondary tongue.

The human race today is still a “bunch of foreigners” to one another. Too many peace-promoting ideas are lost internationally when kicked around between dissimilar grammars, obscured in a semantic fog. In world trade, businessmen must either learn half a dozen languages themselves or hire an expensive staff of translators.

Our modern Tower of Babel is a bottleneck for human minds seeking common ground. Language groups may be as geographically close as across a river, yet as far off as the moon in mutual understanding. Hardly anyone can question the obvious benefits of one language, spoken by all the billions on our planet, so that anything said by anyone, anywhere, would be immediately understood by everybody, everywhere.

But finding an acceptable world language is not easy. It has been tried before, some 300 times!

Since the 1600’s at least, thinking minds have tried to formulate a single language suitable to all. Many such languages were laboriously worked out—Solresol, Lingualumina, Spokil, Volapuk, Ido, Occidental—only to become as dead as Sanskrit. Esperanto, launched in 1887, achieved the most success and still has adherents in every corner of the globe. But it has seemingly reached a stalemate, gaining little headway.

Why did all such artificial languages fall by the wayside?

This was the question the Interlingua founders asked themselves. Shrewdly, they sensed that language is a personal thing with every people. And by tradition, our native tongue becomes a Sacred Cow that, despite its most glaring faults, we hang onto stubbornly. A new streamlined language may be better but seems foreign, to be mistrusted.

For this reason, human nature being what it is, an even worse solution than invented languages was the suggestion to make the best existing language universal. Ah, but which is “best?” English is highly expressive—but with vile grammar and wild pronunciation. German is thorough, precise—but sounds hideous. Spanish is melodious—but lacks a wide range of subtle meanings. And so on. All current languages have faults. None is perfect.

But more significantly, any choice would run head-on into national pride. Choosing French, for instance, would delight 50 million Frenchmen but insult 2,000 million others on Earth, for ignoring their own “beautiful” and “superior” tongue. A mass language strike would almost certainly result, if any one language were declared official and rammed down people’s throats willy-nilly.

What is the answer?

The Interlingua pioneers found theirs in a striking historical fact about human speech. All the Romance and Teutonic languages of Europe today stem from a previous mother tongue—Latin. This, in turn, was an offshoot of an Indo-European tongue of antiquity that covered India, Persia, Greece and the Russias. All this embraces a gigantic mass of humans in one language form, including half of Asia, all of Europe, the entire Americas, North and South —well over half the world.

This ready-made basic tongue of the majority of mankind inspired Italian Professor G. Peano, in 1903, to lay the groundwork for Interlingua. Knowing it senseless to revive the dead parent tongue, he ingeniously boiled down all its mod- ern derivatives to a speech structure of the most common morphemes — root meanings — that were on the “tip of the tongue” of some 1,500 million Occidentals.

However, Professor Peano did not single-handedly perfect Interlingua to what it is today. That long, hard job was carried on by many devoted disciples. In 1924, Interlingua got its real start when a far-sighted conference of linguists, seeking an international language, chose Peano’s basic concept. The International Auxiliary Language Association was formed to promote research and development on Interlingua. In 1953, the I ALA asked Science Service —a non-profit organization famed for promoting science in the best public interests—to carry on with Interlingua. This is now being done from offices at 80 East 11th Street, New York City, under the able leadership of Alexander Gode, Ph.D., Chief of the Interlingua Division of Science Service. Incidentally, you may write to Dr. Gode at that address for a free information kit on Interlingua.

In an illuminating interview, Dr. Gode stated that Interlingua is not being promoted as a possible world language. They believe it can serve as such some day, but will not attempt to force it down the world’s gullet unless it is wanted. He believes that its phenomenal success in the science world points to its eventual progress into other fields.

Why? Because it is a natural language, not a manufactured one. It has existed in basic form all along and has only been tailored to serve a practical purpose. And that far from being rigidly set, Interlingua is a living, growing language, constantly being changed and improved, following only a few necessary basic rules.

For example, pronunciation of any word, old or new, is always according to the majority of Romance-Teutonic speakers, or the Standard Average European. The special “th” sound, which occurs tongue-twistingly in English only, is therefore not accepted since it is a minority form.

Their dictionary of some 27,000 words need not be expanded, Dr. Gode says, for it forms the basis of Interlingua, from which all other added words can be easily derived by their simple system of word formation. Any new word can be proposed for adoption from outside sources, at any time.

And the grammar!

Kids will cheer if Interlingua is ever taught in schools. No confusing genders, no com- . plex case endings, no weird spellings, no fiendish exceptions to the rule. All fossil language customs are barred, notably the thee-thou anachronism which relates back to the days of nobility and peasants, a concept defunct today.

A simplified grammar of just five pages gives all the basic elements of Interlingua. Kids won’t cheer any louder than adults over that.

But here is perhaps the real stroke of genius in Interlingua. It does use “unnecessary” speech customs in certain instances —like retaining different case forms for “I, me, mine” and the other personal pronouns. Why? Because that universal custom has been around for so many centuries it is second-nature with us all. It is actually easier for us to use such mixed pronouns. Think how uncomfortable we would be, saying: “Give it to I!”

Just what is Interlingua?

At first glance it looks like Spanish or French or Italian. Or like a mixture of the three. Such Romance groups can read Interlingua almost at a glance, only thinking it “funny Spanish” or “dialect French.” But it is also easy for an American or German to read at a second glance. Their eye soon meets roots that are English or German or international already.

he articulo definite es “le” in omne casos. Translation: “The definite article is ‘the’ in all cases.”

he plural del substantivos se termina in “s” o “es”. “The plurals of nouns (substantives) terminate in ‘s’ or ‘es’ “. Really half-English, isn’t it? And actually a lot easier to assimilate than Chaucerian English. Take a glance at this.

Energia es necessari pro toto que oc-curre in le mundo. Hodie carbon, petroleo, aqua, e ligno nos da le grosso del fortia motor, he calor e le lumine del sol—octo minutas distante de nos in tempore de viage del radiation—es cosa vital.

How many basic words do you know at first glance? No less than 15, perhaps 20. Try to guess at the meanings of other less familiar words. As an experiment, work out a rough translation, then compare it to this one.

“Energy is necessary for everything that happens in the world. Today coal, oil, water and wood give us our gross power. The heat and light of the sun—eight minutes away from us as measured by radiation’s travel time—is a matter of life.”

You can judge for yourself how simply and smoothly Interlingua gets its message across. The betting is good that it may be the foundation for an evolving, living all-languages-in-one that may smash the Language Barrier some day.

No, a world language will not insure a future Utopia of human brotherhood. The sagacious Interlinguists, spearheaded by Dr. Gode, claim no exalted virtues other than having something of practical benefit in human communication. But as practical things have a habit of doing, Interlingua may spread all by itself.

Dr. Gode said, very wisely I think, that Interlingua cannot solve all world problems, only some. But that at least a world language would eliminate the tangle of multiple tongues which hinders the development of a more peaceful and homogenous human society.

A universal language, whether it be Interlingua or some other, can certainly help mankind toward the goal of becoming one big, happy family if every soul on earth instantly understood this phrase, for instance. . .

Salutationes ab un humano a omne cohumanos in omne partes del mundo!

You may not need the translation by now— “Greetings from one human being to all my fellowmen around the world!”

———————————— Le Discurso De Gettysburg Presentate al Dedication del Cemeterio National de Gettysburg, le 19 de Novembre 1863 per Abraham Lincoln Octanta e septe annos retro nostre patres creava in iste continente un nove nation, concipite in libertate e dedicate al proposition que omne homines es create equal.

Nunc nos es implicate in un grande guerra civil a fin de probar si ille nation—o qualcunque nation—assi concipite e assi dedicate pote longe durar. Nos es congregate in un grande campo de battalia de ille guerra. Nos ha venite pro dedicar un portion de ille campo como ultime sito de reposo pro illes qui dava lor vita a fin que iste nation poteva viver. II es integremente juste e appropriate que nos face isto.

Sed in un senso plus vaste nos non pote dedicar, nos non pote consecrar, nos non pote sanctificar iste terra. Le homines valorose, vive e morte, qui hie luctava, ha consecrate lo multo ultra nostre povre potentia de adder o detraher. Le mundo va a pena notar e non longe memorar lo que nos hie dice, sed illo non pote unquam oblidar lo que illes ha hie facite. II incumbe, plus tosto, a nos, le vivos, esser dedicate hie al labor non-terminate que illes qui hie luctava ha si nobilemente avantiate. II plus tosto incumbe a nos esser dedicate hie al grande labor que remane ante nos—que ab iste honorate mortos nos prende major devotion a ille causa pro le qual illes dava le ultime plen mesura de devotion—que nos hie solemnemente resolve que iste mortos non va haber date lor vita in van, que iste nation, sub Deo, va haber un nove nascentia de libertate, e que le governamento del populo—per le populo e pro le populo— non va disparer del terra.

  1. Bill Chapman says: May 8, 200811:37 pm

    What an interesting article. Interlingua has been almost entirely displaced by its predecessor Esperanto as the international language.

    It is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states. Take a look at www.esperanto.net
    Take away the question mark. Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years.

    Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo , which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. In the past tear I have had guided tours of Berlin and Milan in the planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. I recommend it, not just as an ideal but as a very practical way to overcome language barriers.

  2. Klopfer says: May 9, 20082:51 am

    “All the Romance and Teutonic languages of Europe today stem from a previous mother tongue—Latin.” Just wrong, Germanic languages come from a common predecessor of Latin. I thought that this was already known in 1955.

  3. StanFlouride says: May 9, 200811:41 am

    LOL @ Charlie, I’ll bet it did!

  4. Brian Barker says: May 9, 20081:22 pm

    The founder of Interlingua intended that this “language” be written, not spoken.
    So how would that work, as an intermediary language at the United Nations for example?
    LOL big time.
    Eight British MP’s have nominated Esperanto for the Nobel Peace Prize 2008.
    How’s that for seriousness?
    If you want to see Esperanto as a living language, don’t let bias get in your way.
    Please check http://video.google.com…

  5. Harry says: May 10, 20087:35 am

    What they need is a movie in Interlingua, starring William Shatner perhaps?

  6. Firebrand38 says: May 10, 20087:58 am

    For the uninitiated, Harry is referring to the 1965 movie “Incubus” featuring dialogue in Esperanto
    and currently available on DVD. http://www.imdb.com/tit…

  7. JMyint says: May 11, 20086:58 am

    The problem with these created languages is their dependence on romance language conventions. The strict structures of these languages make them clumsy for non-europeans to learn.

  8. Germaniac says: May 12, 20087:41 pm

    Hold on, back up.

    So according to this article, the difference between Interlingua and every other attempt at making a new international language is that the aforementioned is natural, thus alive, and therefore superior. A nice claim, but as Brian Barker pointed out, Esperanto has achieved the same status. Furthermore, Interlingua is no less stagnant than Spanish, French, Italtian, Portuguese or Romanian, and to compile a new language dispite already existant exemplars purely for political reasons is superfluous.

    Creating another offspring of Latin is not going to save the world. JMyint is right – it cannot be said enough that Latin words alone are insufficient for a language which everyone could understand at first glance. It doesn’t matter how much of the world’s languages are romance or indo-european, or how much of the earth’s population speaks chinese; constructing a plenary conjunction of all (or even only a majority of) human languages is a futile cause. Or perhaps I am just too pessimistic. There is much to debate on this, and not much time. In any case, please allow me to correct the research.

    8.1. Quote: “German is thorough, precise—but sounds hideous.”
    I understand the point, but isn’t ‘hideous’ … kind of …cruel?
    Let me defend: High German has an immense variety of sounds. Some claim it sounds like one is “coughing up phlegm” —but actually this gutteral ‘ch sound’, the velar fricative [x], occurs infrequently in German and much more often in for example Dutch (which with the language is often confused), Hebrew or Arabic. The ‘ch’ in German is more often pronounced as the soft palatal fricative [ç]. Contrary to popular belief, ‘Alleman’ can actually be quite soft and melodic.

    In any case: however a language might like to sound to anyone, it is commonly kind to pay attention to accuracy. Gesundheit, German for ‘health’, is spelled with an h.
    (Quote: “outside of gesundeit”)

    8.2. Quote: “The special “th” sound, which occurs tongue-twistingly in English only…”
    ‘th’ to mean the dental fricative [θ] is used not only in English, but among others also in Icelandic, Welsh, Albanian and Greek.

    Oh, and speaking of hiring an expensive staff of translators, are you trying to put us out of work? And what about all of those poor students studying culture? How will their futures look when all language and culture identity has been cohered to some latin mish-mosh and the anthropologists just stand around shrugging their shoulders? And how do you think Ivan the heavyweight Russian boxer will feel when you tell him his impressively aggressive speech will have to be re-written with playful, colorful latino lingua? And how do you tell Aaron who just wrote his heart-wrenching story of a life in opression in his expressive hebrew that he must now write something that sounds like a vatican serman?

    And since that is all obviously rubbish, can we all please stop inventing new versions of latin, and just let people have their own cultures, because a multifarious world is a beautiful thing?

    Oh, and please, can we leave German alone? It has the most precise grammar in the whole world, and once you’ve achieved THAT, it doesn’t even matter how it sounds anymore. But really, it’s beautiful. And this article is biased and I am a freak and tired of writing. So Cheerio.

  9. Charlie says: May 12, 20087:56 pm

    Germaniac: Thanks for writing such a thoughtful, detailed response. I love it when new users get involved. Please don’t take this as being in anyway a criticism, but did you realize that this article was published over 50 years ago?

  10. Germaniac says: May 13, 20086:30 am


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