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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/168

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

succeeded in becoming more than printed theories. But two have ever been spoken and written by any number of people.

The first of these was Volapük, of which the author was Johann Martin Schleyer, born in Baden, Germany; a Roman Catholic curé, of a village near Constance, in Switzerland, where he published in 1880, a "Grammatik der Universalsprache für alle Erdbewohner." A few years ago he was still alive in Constance, having survived his language. His admirers credited him with a knowledge of eighty-three tongues. Volapük found an active propagator in Dr. August Kerchhoffs, professor of modern languages in L'école des hautes études commerciales of Paris. Beginning about 1886, it spread rapidly through France, and thence to the great cities of Europe and America. In 1889 there were 283 Volapükist societies scattered over the globe; its adherents were estimated at about a million; the number of published books on Volapük amounted to 316, of which 182 appeared in 1888 alone, and which were written in twenty-five languages. There were some twenty-five journals devoted to its propaganda, of which seven were published in Volapük alone. Three international congresses were held, the last one in 1889, in which the proceedings were in Volapük, and the language seemed to have become an established fact. But the same year saw the beginning of its decline, which was far more rapid than its rise. To-day Volapük is among the dead languages, possessing but a handful of faithful adherents.

The rapid rise and spread of Volapük, from 1886 to 1890, and its subsequent decline and ultimate extinction, demonstrate that the desire for an international language was universal, and that Volapük, in part, fulfilled the requirements. A study of that language clearly reveals the causes of its success, as well as of its failure. The grammar was simple and regular in construction, except in the multiplicity of its verb inflections. The letters had each but one sound; the words were absolutely phonetic; but the language had two fatal defects, the complexities just referred to in the conjugation of the verb, and the fact that the words were not formed on already existing international roots. Most of the root-words used were to be found in the Teutonic languages alone. All of them were mutilated beyond recognition; sometimes according to some phonetic rule, oftentimes according to a wooden arbitrary outline. Many of the words were actually "made up" meaningless sounds constructed according to a mechanical scheme of the author's. At best, Volapük looked unfamiliar, was inharmonious, ugly and uncouth in appearance and sound, and failed in the primary needs of an international tongue, except in the fact of possessing a grammar far more simple than any of the "natural" languages. As a matter of curious interest, and to illustrate some of the salient characteristics of the language, the Paternoster is given in Volapük, as follows: