Suppose a congress to be assembled composed of eminent philologists and linguists, representing the following ten languages :

English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Dutch, Danish-Norwegian, Swedish, and Russian.

The assemblage thus convened, representing as it would, all the most important Indo-Germanic Languages, might well assume to act for the entire family in the formation of a common language. If some languages in the same family are omitted, it is because those languages, though of equal importance with some of those named in the foregoing list, do not harmonize with the ten languages to the same extent that the ten do with each other. The affinity though it exists, is not so apparent. This is particularly the case with the modern Greek.

Those who use this language, might, in addition to it, be induced to adopt another, with such changes as they should choose to make. And so of those using the other unrepresented languages.

In regard to the other families, they would, at first, be spectators merely, of one of the most important movements of the century.

After a common Indo-Germanic language should have been formed, each of the other families could, should it think proper to do so, form a common language of its own ; after which, the thirteen or more families could send representatives to a congress, and frame what might truly be called a world-language.

All this being premised, I will now, for the benefit of the general reader, proceed to make clear the fact that the ten languages named do all belong to the Aryan or Indo-Germanic family.

We will begin with the following simple diagram from Max Müller’s “Biography of Words, and the Home of the Aryas.” Thus :

The lines running north and west represent the peoples who swarmed out in that direction from their Aryan home somewhere in Asia. The lines below represent other dispersions.

Next, let us extend this diagram so as to show the ten languages which would be represented in the congress ; thus :

Finally, in order to show all the groups, not only those that terminate in the ten languages, but associated groups as well, and to show at the same time the associated languages at the end of each group, I have constructed a complete family tree of the Indo-Germanic family of languages ; thus:

The congress having assembled, the first step in the formation of a new language would be, the establishing of primitive or root words, upon which derivatives could be formed.

Where are we to go for these words? Where else than to the very languages already in common use by the ten peoples represented in the congress? The congress would represent not only the ten languages but the ten peoples using those languages; and simple justice to their constituents would require that the members should see to it that a language is not built up over the heads of the people, in disregard of their own words already in common use.

In the first place there is a large body of words, each of which has not only a like meaning, but nearly the same sound in every one of the ten languages, and this is manifestly the first place to go to for root words.

There are over two thousand words of this character in common use, every one homophonic in all of the ten languages.

When these words shall have been exhausted, the next source of supply would be those words which would similarly run through nine of the ten languages ; then those which would run through eight ; then seven ; and so on down. Should this course be pursued, long before reaching the limit of a single language, the sources of supply for root words would be practically inexhaustible ; since every list of words thus obtained would be larger than any previous one. The number of such words which would be found in a majority of these languages, could be counted by the tens of thousands.

This must be looked upon as nothing less than evidence of a desire on the part of these peoples to come together as nearly as possible in their modes of expression. They have been constantly reaching out toward each other, and adopting each other’s words. That the words, many of them, are merely borrowed, makes the evidence so much the stronger. Why should they borrow words from other languages, except that they want a language in common with the people whose words they borrow? They were not obliged to borrow these words. They could easily manufacture from their own languages, words to express the meaning desired.


English French Spanish Portu­guese Italian German Dutch Danish-Norwe­gian Swedish Russian
Mother mère madre madre madre mutter moeder moder raoder mat’
Coffee café café café caffè kaffee koffie kaffe kaffe kofe
Sugar sucre azucar assucar zucchero zucker suiker sukker socker sakhar
Tea thé te cha thee thee te te tchai
Cigar cigare cigarro cigarro sigaro cigarre sigaar cigar cigarr sigara
School école escuela escola scuola schule school skole skola shkola
Salt sel sal sal sale salz zout salt salt sol’
Wine vin vino vinho vino wein wijn vin vin vino
Fruit fruit fruto fruto frutto frucht vrucht frugt frukt frukt
Metal métal metal metal metallo metall metaal metal metall metall
Family famille familia familia famiglia familie familie familie familj familia
Matter matière materia materia materia materie materie materie materia materia
Music musique musica musica musica musik muziek musik musik muzyka
Nation nation nacion nação nazione nation natie nation nation natzia
Religion religion religion religião religione religion religie religion religion religia
Rice riz arroz arroz riso reis rijst ris ris ris
Anecdote anecdote anécdota anecdota aneddoto anekdote anekdote anekdote anekdot anekdot
Alcohol alcool alcohol alcohol alcool alkohol alcohol alkohol alkohol alkogol’
Bible bible biblia biblia bibbia bibel bijbel bibel bibel biblia
To form former formar formar formare formen vormen forme forma formirovat’
To dance danser danzar dançar danzare tanzen dansen danse dansa tantzovat’
To march marcher marchar marchar marciare marschiren marcheeren marschere marschera marshirovat’
To practise practiquer practicar praticar praticare prakticiren praktizeeren praktisere praktisera praktikovat’
To regulate régler regular regular regolare regeln regelen regulere reglera regulirovat’
Central central central central centrale central centraal central central tzentral'nyi
Circular circulaire circular circular circolare circular circulair cirkulære cirkulär tzirkulyar
Three trois tres tres tre drei drie tre tre tri
Six six seis seis sei sechs zes sex sex shest’
January Janvier Enero Janeiro Gennaio Januar Januari Januar Januari Yanvar’
October octobre Octubre Outubro Ottobre October October Oktober Oktober Oktyabr’

The people having thus made an effort to come together in the mode of expressing their ideas, it is incumbent on their linguists to bring them together. This can be done by giving them a common language, based upon the principle above explained, and it can be done in no other way.

When you can give them, in a new language, words which they have been accustomed to all their lives, would it not be the height of folly to offer them words entirely new, or which not more than one in ten of those interested can understand ?   Yet this was precisely what was done when the Volapük was presented to the public of Europe and of this country.

The foregoing list was prepared without any reference to that language. A comparison of these words with the corres­ponding words of the Volapük will illustrate that system, and disclose some of its peculiarities, and will at the same time furnish some suggestions for the construction of a common Indo-Germanic language.

The list consists of 21 nouns, 5 verbs, 2 adjectives, and 2 numerals.

We will commence with the verbs:

In the Volapük, the infinitive ends invariably in “ön;” which is added to the root word: This ending is purely arbitrary. No one of the ten languages has it. Two of them have “en” and two have “ar.” The others differ from these and from each other. Why Schleyer adopted “ön” for the infinitive it is difficult to understand, unless it was to show his independence of existing languages. But he could not afford to be independent of them. The fundamental principle of a new language must be, dependence upon existing languages.

The suffix “ön” is to be added to the root word. That, then, must first be obtained. Before getting the verb for “to form,” the Volapükist must have the noun for “form.” His word is “fom.” This is sufficiently simple, but why was the “r” omitted? We have the syllable “form” in 9 of the 10 languages, and “vorm” in the other, while “fom” occurs in no one of them. The root word should have been “form,” and the infinitive ending should have been “en” or “ar.” But “ar” is preferable, because it has an analogy in “er” in French, and in “are” in Italian. Instead of “fomön,” therefore, the verb should have been “formar.” This would be recognized at once by a Spaniard or a Portuguese, would sound sufficiently well to the Italian, and not very badly to the Frenchman.

By a similar process, we get for the verb “to dance,” “dansar,” instead of the Volapük “danüdön, ”for to march, “marshar,” instead of “malekön,” for “to practise,” “praktisar,” or “praktizar,” instead of “plagön,” and “reglar,” or “regular,” instead of “nomön,” as the equivalent of the German “regeln.”

In this last case, Schleyer first constructed a root word from the Latin “norma,” “rule,” striking out the “r” as he did in the word “form,” and taking the syllable “nom” for the root word. Then from this he formed the verb “nomön,” “to regulate.” Thus he goes to a foreign language and gets a mutilated root word, instead of taking a syllable which is common to all the principal European languages. Is it strange that his language had to fail ?

The Volapük adjective ending, “ik,” is not objectionable, being homophonic with the adjective endings in some of the other languages. But there is no intimation that it was adopted for that reason.

In the case of the numerals, the homophonic principle was disregarded entirely. “Three” is “kil;” six is mäl. Certain syllables were taken for the numerals 1 to 9, thus: 1 bal, 2 tel, 3 kil, 4 fol, 5 lul, 6 mäl, 7 vel, 8 jöl, and 9 zül. Then to bal 1, was added s, making bals, 10, 20 would be “tels,” 30 “kils,” 40 “fols,” etc. These were combined for the higher numbers. Thus 40 being “fols” and 3 being “kil,” 43 is “folsekil.” This is scientific, certainly. But is it any more scientific than “forty-three” in English, or “quaranta tre” in Italian? Any new system of numerals would differ from the systems of some of the other languages. But is that any reason why it should have nothing in common with any of them ?

We come now to the nouns:

Of the 21 nouns in this list, the Volapük roots of 9, viz: “mot” for mother ; “kaf” for coffee, “jul” for school—j having the sound of sh—“sal” for salt ; “vin” for wine ; “metal” for metal ; “famül” for family ; “rel” for religion; and “bib” for bible, are unobjectionable, except that by analogy, if “rel” is taken for religion, “kaf” for coffee, and “bib” for bible, then “met” should have been taken for metal, and “fam” for family.

But here, as in the case of the adjective endings, it is to be noticed that the homophonic character of these syllables is not given as a reason for taking them. The author of the Volapük is careful not to acknowledge any dependence upon existing languages. On the contrary, he expressly declares his inde­pen­dence of them. In a note to the Volapük grammar we have this singular announcement :

“It is not necessary to remark that the root words of the Volapük have nothing in common with the roots, properly speaking, of the languages from which they are borrowed.”

Going back to the nouns in the list :

In “jueg,” for sugar, the j having the sound of sh, the syllable would have been strictly scientific if the “e” had been omitted. Why it was inserted it is difficult to say, since it does not occur in that position in any one of the ten languages.

The same remark may be made with double force in regard to “tied” for tea ; there being here two superfluous letters.

In the word for cigar, the “ziga” is perfectly intelligible, though c or s would have been much better than z. But why was the “d” added, making the word “zigad?”

In “flug” for fruit, there is some excuse for the “l,” owing to the difficulty experienced in some parts of Europe in pronouncing the letter “r.” But what excuse is there for closing the syllable with the letter “g?” It is equally inexcusable to substitute the same final letter for the word music, making it “musig.”

For the word nation, which has “nat” in seven languages, the Volapük has “net.”

The Volapük for “matter” is “stöfin.” This might do for a definition, but it cannot be called a root word, since but one of its letters is contained in the word “matter.” In this word the syllable “mat” runs through every one of the ten languages, in precisely the same form. Nothing can be plainer, therefore, than that the root word for “matter” should have been “mat.”

We now come to some words which were manufactured from the Volapük itself :

The word for rice is “leüd.” “Le” is a prefix and “üd” a suffix in the Volapük. Each has several meanings. I have sought in vain to find a meaning which could be translated by the word “rice,” nor is any light thrown upon it in the Volapük dictionary.

“Anecdote” is “konam.” This word is involved in almost equal obscurity. It is divided thus : “kon-am.” “Am” is a suffix, marking action ; as, “fom am” formation, from “fom,” form; and “finam” achievement, from “fin,” end. “Kon” is a story. So we may guess that “konam” means a story with a point to it. This is, also, “konot.”

Alcohol is “letikälin.” This word is not easily analyzed. “Tikäl” means “spirit, intelligence,” and cannot be a constituent part of this word, unless the word “spirit” be used in a double sense.

In the names of the months we find a little relief. January is “balul,” from “bal,” 1, and “mul,” month ; and October is “balsul” from “bals,” 10, and “mul,” month.

In no one of the six words last mentioned, is there any homophonic analogy between the Volapük and any one of the ten languages.

The result of the entire analysis is, to bring us to the conclusion, that the author of the Volapük failed entirely to comprehend the true principle on which the root words of a common language should be constructed.

Before leaving the subject, we will illustrate it further by the example of a single word. We will take the word ”thread.“ It runs thus :

English, “thread;” Danish-Norwegian, “traad;” Swedish, “tråd;” Dutch, “draad.” French, “fil;” Italian, “filo;” Spanish, “hilo;” Portuguese, “fio.” German, “faden;” Russian, “nitka.” Now, here is a word with a like sound in four languages, and another word entirely different, but with a like sound in four other languages. Yet Professor Schleyer, ignoring these eight languages, and these eight peoples, took his root word from a single language. From the German “faden” he took “fad” as the root word for thread.

In order to have as short a word as possible, and one which would sound alike in as many languages as possible, the primitive or root word here should be “fil;” from the French “fil,” Latin, “filum.” From that as a root we have already many derivatives in English, thus ; filament, filaceous, filar, file, filiform, filiferous, fillet, etc.

The three languages which affiliate with the English on the word “thread,” have also several of these derivatives; so that the word “fil” would be more or less familiar to all of those four peoples, while it would be very familiar to the other four.

While “fad” as meaning “thread” might be recognized by a German, it would be a strange word to an Englishman or an American, to a Frenchman, a Spaniard, a Portuguese, an Italian, a Dutchman, a Dane or Norwegian, a Swede or a Russian.

Why did Prof. Schleyer go to any language for this root word? Why not take any syllable at random and call it thread? Because he thought it important to take something that somebody would recognize ; something which to some people would sound familiar. The same reason would make it important that it should be familiar to as many people as possible.

Upon the subject of a universal language Max Müller says:

“That such a language should ever come into practical use, or that the whole earth should in that manner ever be of one language and of one speech again, is hard to conceive. But that the problem itself admits of a solution, and of a perfect solution, cannot be doubted.” — [Science of Language, 2d Series, p. 54.

It is sufficiently manifest that the problem of a universal language is yet to be solved. And it is equally plain that the first step in that solution is the formation of a common Indo-Germanic language.

This can only be done by co-operation on the part of those who are using the Indo-Germanic languages. As co-operation by all the nations and peoples using these languages, is scarcely to be expected, and perhaps not at first to be desired, it is obvious the first Congress should be composed of delegates representing either the languages named, or about the like number of the languages of the most enlightened nations of the world. Probably the ten languages named comprise more homophonic words than any other ten.

That the most enlightened nations should be included is too plain for argument. Professor Whitney has pointed out, that as in everything else, so in language, civilization tends to unity. “Every center of civilization,” says he, “becomes also a center of integration; its influences make for unity of speech as of all other social institutions. Since culture has become incontestably the dominant power in human history, the unifying forces in language have also been stronger than the diversifying ; and with culture at its full height, and spread equally to every land and race, one universal language, like one universal community, is not an absurdity or theoretic impossibility, but only a Utopian or millennial dream.”

A universal language need not, however, wait for a universal community. Much has been done toward unifying the race since this statement was made ; and it is not too much to expect that ere long a universal language, instead of being a mere Utopian or millennial dream, will become a glorious realization.