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Tag: 1887

Eco: Esperanto


L.L. Zamenhof (1859-1917), creator of the IAL Esperanto. This photo from the Congressional Book of the 4th World Esperanto Congress in Dresden, 1908. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

Esperanto was first proposed in 1887 in a book, written in Russian and published in Warsaw at the Kelter Press, entitled The International Language. Preface and Complete Manual (for Russians). The author’s name was Dr. Ledger Ludwik Zamenhof; yet he wrote the book under the pseudonym Dr. Esperanto (Dr. Hopeful), and this was soon adopted as the name of his language.

Zamenhof, born in 1859, had been fascinated with the idea of an international language since adolescence. When his uncle Josef asked him what was the non-Hebrew name he had, according to custom, chosen for his contacts with Gentiles, the seventeen year old Zamenhof replied that he had chosen Ludwik because he had found a reference to Lodwick (also spelled Lodowick) in a work by Comenius (letter of 31 March 1876; see Lamberti 1990: 49).

Zamenhof’s origins and personality helped shape both his conception of the new language and its eventual success. Born of a Jewish family in Bialystok, an area of Polish Lithuania then part of the Tsarist empire, Zamenhof passed his childhood in a crucible of races and languages continually shaken by nationalist ferment and lasting waves of anti-Semitism.

The experience of oppression, followed by the persecution of intellectuals, especially Jewish, at the hands of the Tsarist government, ensured that Zamenhof’s particular fascination with international languages would become mixed with a desire for peace between peoples.

Besides, although Zamenhof felt solidarity towards his fellow Jews and forecast their return to Palestine, his form of secular religiosity prevented him from fully supporting Zionist ideas; instead of thinking of the end of the Diaspora as a return to Hebrew, Zamenhof hoped that all the Jews could be, one day, reunited in an entirely new language.

In the same years in which, starting in the Slavic-speaking lands, Esperanto began its spread throughout Europe–while philanthropists, linguists and learned societies followed its progress with interest, devoting international conferences to the phenomenon–Zamenhof had also published an anonymous pamphlet, which extolled a doctrine of international brotherhood, homaranism.

Some of his followers successfully insisted on keeping the Esperanto movement independent of ideological commitments, arguing that if Esperanto were to succeed, it would do so only by attracting to its cause men and women of different religious, political and philosophical opinions.

They even sought to avoid any public reference to Zamenhof’s own Jewish origins, given that–it must be remembered–just at that historical moment there was growing up the theory of a great “Jewish conspiracy.”

Even so, despite the movement’s insistence on its absolute neutrality, the philanthropic impulse and the non-confessional religious spirit that animated it could not fail to influence the followers of the new language–or samideani, that is, participating in the same ideal.

In the years immediately following its emergence, moreover, the language and its supporters were almost banned by the Tsarist government, congenitally suspicious towards idealism of any sort, especially after Esperanto had had the fortune / misfortune to obtain the passionate support of Tolstoy, whose brand of humanist pacifism the government regarded as a dangerous form of revolutionary ideology.

Even the Nazis followed suit, persecuting Esperanto speakers in the various lands under their occupation (cf. Lins 1988). Persecution, however, only reinforces an idea: the majority of international languages represented themselves as nothing more than instruments of practical utility; Esperanto, by contrast, came increasingly to gather in its folds those religious and pacifist tensions which had been characteristics of many quests for a perfect language, at least until the end of the seventeenth century.

Esperanto came to enjoy the support and sympathy of many illustrious figures–linguists such as Baudoin de Courtenay and Otto Jespersen, scientists such as Peano, or philosophers such as Russell. Rudolf Carnap‘s comments are particularly revealing; in his Autobiography (in Schilpp 1963: 70) he described feeling moved by a sense of solidarity when he found himself able to converse with people of other countries in a common tongue.

He noted the quality of this living language which managed to unify a surprising degree of flexibility in its means of expression with a great structural simplicity. Simplest perhaps was the lapidary formulation of Antoine Meillet: “Toute discussion théoretique est vaine: l’Esperanto fonctionne” (Meillet 1918: 268).

Today the existence of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio in all of the principal cities of the world still testifies to the success of Zamenhof’s invention. Over one hundred periodicals are currently published in Esperanto, there is an original production of poetry and narrative, and most of the world literature has been translated into this language, from the Bible to the tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

Like Volapük, however, especially in the first decades, the Esperanto movement was nearly torn apart by battles raging over proposed lexical and grammatical reforms. In 1907, Couturat, as the founder and secretary of the Delégation pour l’adoption d’une langue auxiliaire internationale, attempted what Zamenhof considered a coup de main: he judged Esperanto to be the best IAL, but only in its approved version, that is, only in the version that had been reformed by the French Esperanto enthusiast, Louis De Beaufront, and renamed Ido.

The majority of the movement resisted the proposed modifications, according to a principle stated by Zamenhof: Esperanto might accept enrichments and lexical improvements, but it must always remain firmly attached to what we might call the “hard core” as set down by its founder in Fundamento de Esperanto (1905).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 324-6.

Eco: The Mixed Systems


Johann Martin Schleyer (1831-1912), a drawing of the creator of Volapük by Theodor Mayerhofer (1855-1941) in Sigmund Spielmann, Volapük- Almanach für 1888, Leipzig. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

Volapük was perhaps the first auxiliary language to become a matter of international concern. It was invented in 1879 by Johann Martin Schleyer, a German Catholic priest who envisioned it as an instrument to foster unity and brotherhood among peoples.

As soon as it was made public, the language spread, expanding throughout south Germany and France, where it was promoted by Auguste Kerkhoffs. From here it extended rapidly throughout the whole world.

By 1889 there were 283 Volapükist clubs, in Europe, America and Australia, which organized courses, gave diplomas and published journals. Such was the momentum that Schleyer soon began to lose control over his own project, so that, ironically, at the very moment in which he was being celebrated as the father of Volapük, he saw his language subjected to “heretical” modifications which further simplified, restructured and rearranged it.

Such seems to be the fate of artificial languages: the “word” remains pure only if it does not spread; if it spreads, it becomes the property of the community of its proselytes, and (since the best is the enemy of the good) the result is “Babelization.”

So it happened to Volapük: after a few short years of mushroom growth, the movement collapsed, continuing in an almost underground existence. From its seeds, however, a plethora of new projects were born, like the Idiom Neutral, the Langue Universelle of Menet (1886), De Max’s Bopal (1887), the Spelin of Bauer (1886), Fieweger’s Dil (1887), Dormoy’s Balta (1893), and the Veltparl of von Arnim (1896).

Volapük was an example of a “mixed system,” which, according to Couturat and Leau, followed the lines sketched out by Jacob von Grimm. It resembles an a posteriori language in the sense that it used as its model English, as the most widely spread of all languages spoken by civilized peoples (though, in fact, Schleyer filled his lexicon with terms more closely resembling his native German).

It possessed a 28 letter alphabet in which each letter had a unique sound, and the accent always fell on the final syllable. Anxious that his should be a truly international language, Schleyer had eliminated the sound r from his lexicon on the grounds that it was not pronounceable by the Chinese–failing to realize that for the speakers of many oriental languages the difficulty is not so much pronouncing r as distinguishing it from l.

Besides, the model language was English, but in a sort of phonetic spelling. Thus the word for “room” was modeled on English chamber and spelled cem. The suppression of letters like the r sometimes introduced notable deformations into many of the radicals incorporated from the natural languages.

The word for “mountain,” based on the German Berg, with the r eliminated, becomes bel, while “fire” becomes fil. One of the advantages of a posteriori language is that its words can recall the known terms of a natural language: but bel for a speaker of a Romance language would probably evoke the notion of beautiful (bello), while not evoking the notion of mountain for a German speaker.

To these radicals were added endings and other derivations. In this respect, Volapük followed an a priori criterion of rationality and transparency. Its grammar is based upon a declensional system (“house:” dom, doma, dome, domi, etc.).

Feminine is derived directly from masculine through an invariable rule, adjectives are all formed with the suffix –ik (if gud is the substantive “goodness,” gudik will be the adjective “good”), comparatives were formed by the suffix –um, and so on.

Given the integers from 1 to 9, by adding an s, units of ten could be denoted (bal = 1, bals = 10, etc.). All words that evoke the idea of time (like today, yesterday, next year) were prefixed with del-; all words with the suffix –av denoted a science (if stel = “star,” then stelav = “astronomy”).

Unfortunately, these a priori criteria are used with a degree of arbitrariness: for instance, considering that the prefix lu– always indicates something inferior and the term vat means “water;” there is no reason for using luvat for “urine” rather than for “dirty water.” Why is flitaf (which literally means “flying animal”) used for “fly” and not for “bird” or “bee?”

Couturat and Leau noted that, in common with other mixed systems, Volapük, without claiming to be a philosophical language, still tried to analyze notions according to a philosophical method.

The result was that Volapük suffered from all the inconveniences of the a priori languages while gaining none of their logical advantages. It was not a priori in that it drew its radicals from natural languages, yet it was not a posteriori, in so far as it subjected these radicals to systematic deformations (due to an a priori decision), thus making the original words unrecognizable.

As a result, losing all resemblance to any natural language, it becomes difficult for all speakers, irrespective of their original tongue. Couturat and Leau observe that mixed languages, by following compositional criteria, form conceptual agglutinations which, in their awkwardness and their primitiveness, bear a resemblance to pidgin languages.

In pidgin English, for example, the distinction between a paddle wheeler and a propeller-driven steam boat is expressed as outside-walkee-can-see and inside-walkee-no-can-see.

Likewise, in Volapük the term for “jeweler” is nobastonacan, which is formed from “stone” + “merchandise” + “nobility.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 319-21.

Eco: The Last Flowering of Philosophic Languages, 2

Giovan Giuseppe Matraja, Genigrafia italiana, 1831

Giovanni Giuseppe Matraja, Genigrafia italiana, 1831. Original held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a glorious eBook format posted by the Hathitrust and GoogleBooks among others. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

Vismes was not the only one to fall foul of this seemingly elementary snare. In 1831 Father Giovan Giuseppe Matraja published his Genigrafia italiana, which is nothing other than a polygraphy with five (Italian) dictionaries, one for nouns, one for verbs, one for adjectives, one for interjections and one for adverbs.

Since the five dictionaries account for only 15,000 terms, Matraja adds another dictionary that lists 6,000 synonyms. His method managed to be both haphazard and laborious: Matraja divided his terms into a series of numbered classes each containing 26 terms, each marked by an alphabetical letter: thus A1 means “hatchet,” A2 means “hermit,” A1000 means “encrustation,” A360 means “sand-digger,” etc.

Even though he had served as a missionary in South America, Matraja was still convinced that all cultures used the same system of notions. He believed that western languages (all of which he seemed to imagine were derived from Latin grammar) might perfectly well serve as the basis for another language, because, by a special natural gift, all peoples used the same syntactic structures when speaking–especially American Indians.

In fact, he included a genigraphical translation of the Lord’s Prayer comparing it with versions in twelve other languages including Nahuatl, Chilean and Quechua.

In 1827 François Soudre invented the Solresol (Langue musicale universelle, 1866). Soudre was also persuaded that the seven notes of the musical scale composed an alphabet comprehensible by all the peoples of the world, because the notes are written in the same way in all languages, and could be sung, recorded on staves, represented with special stenographic signs, figured in Arabic numerals, shown with the seven colors of the spectrum, and even indicated by the touch of the fingers of the right and left hands–thus making their representation comprehensible even for the deaf, dumb and blind.

It was not necessary that these notes be based on a logical classification of ideas. A single note expresses terms such as “yes” (musical si, or B) and “no” (do, or C); two notes express pronouns (“mine” = redo, “yours” = remi); three notes express everyday words like “time” (doredo) or “day” (doremi).

The initial notes refer to an encyclopedic class. Yet Soudre also wished to express opposites by musical inversion (a nice anticipation of a twelve-tone music procedure): thus, if the idea of “God” was naturally expressed by the major chord built upon the tonic, domisol, the idea of “Satan” would have to be the inversion, solmido.

Of course, this practice makes nonsense of the rule that the first letter in a three-note term refers to an encyclopedic class: the initial do refers to the physical and moral qualities, but the initial sol refers back to arts and sciences (and to associate them with Satan would be an excess of bigotry).

Besides the obvious difficulties inherent in any a priori language, the musical language of Soudre added the additional hurdle of requiring a good ear. We seem in some way to be returning to the seventeenth century myth of the language of birds, this time with less glossolalic grace, however, and a good deal more pure classificatory pedantry.

Couturat and Leau (1903: 37) awarded to the Solresol the encomium of being “the most artificial and most impracticable of all the a priori languages.” Even its number system is inaccessible; it is based on a hexadecimal system which, despite its claims to universality, still manages to indulge in the French quirk of eliminating names for 70 and 90.

Yet Soudre labored for forty-five years to perfect his system, obtaining in the meantime testimonials from the Institut de France, from musicians such as Cherubini, from Victor Hugo, Lamartine and Alexander von Humboldt; he was received by Napoleon III; he was awarded 10,000 francs at the Exposition Universale in Paris in 1855 and the gold medal at the London Exposition of 1862.

Let us neglect for the sake of brevity the Système de langue universelle of Grosselin (1836), the Langue universelle et analytique of Vidal (1844), the Cours complet de langue universelle by Letellier (1832-55), the Blaia Zimandal of Meriggi (1884), the projects of so distinguished a philosopher as Renouvier (1885), the Lingualumina of Dyer (1875), the Langue internationale étymologique of Reimann (1877), the Langue naturelle of Maldant (1887), the Spokil of Dr. Nicolas (1900), the Zahlensprache of Hilbe (1901), the Völkerverkehrsprache of Dietrich (1902), and the Perio of Talundberg (1904).

We will content ourselves with a brief account of the Projet d’une langue universelle of Sotos Ochando (1855). Its theoretical foundations are comparatively well reasoned and motivated; its logical structure could not be of a greater simplicity and regularity; the project proposes–as usual–to establish a perfect correspondence between the order of things signified and the alphabetical order of the words that express them.

Unfortunately–here we go again–the arrangement is empirical: A refers to inorganic material things, B to the liberal arts, C to the mechanical arts, D to political society, E to living bodies, and so forth.

With the addition of the morphological rules, one generates, to use the mineral kingdom as an example, the words Ababa for oxygen, Ababe for hydrogen, Ababi for nitrogen, Ababo for sulphur.

If we consider that the numbers from one to ten are siba, sibe, sibi, sibo, sibu, sibra, sibre, sibri, sibro, and sibru (pity the poor school children having to memorize their multiplication tables), it is evident that words with analogous meanings are all going to sound the same.

This makes the discrimination of concepts almost impossible, even if the formation of names follows a criterion similar to that of chemistry, and the letters stand for the components of the concept.

The author may claim that, using his system, anyone can learn over six million words in less than an hour; yet as Couturat and Leau remark (1903: 69), learning a system that can generate six million words in an hour is not the same as memorizing, recognizing, six million meanings.

The list could be continued, yet towards the end of the nineteenth century, news of the invention of a priori languages was becoming less a matter for scientific communications and more one for reports on eccentric fellows–from Les fous littéraires by Brunet in 1880 to Les fous littéraires by Blavier in 1982.

By now, the invention of a priori languages, other than being the special province of visionaries of all lands, had become a game (see Bausani 1970 and his language Markuska) or a literary exercise (see Yaguello 1984 and Giovannoli 1990 for the imaginary languages of science fiction).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 305-8.

Izre’el: Listing the Fragments

Previous Studies and the Present Study

“The scholarly world first became aware of the myth of Adapa and the South Wind when its largest fragment was discovered among the scholarly tablets of the El-Amarna archive in 1887 (Harper 1891; Scheil 1891; cf. Zimmern 1892; Sayce 1892; Izre’el 1997: 1-13, 43-50).

A fragment of the myth (now known as Fragment D) had, in fact, already been published before that time by one of the pioneers of Mesopotamian studies, George Smith (Smith 1876:125-6).

Smith, however, did not have at his disposal enough data to identify this fragment as part of the myth to which it belonged and attributed it to the Ea narrative (for which see Cagni 1969, 1977). While discussing the Berossus account of Oannes, Smith stated that “it is a curious fact the legend of Oannes, which must have been one of the Babylonian stories of the Creation, has not yet been discovered” (Smith 1876: 306).

Sayce, who said he had copied this fragment, “related to an otherwise unknown individual named Adapa,” “many years ago,” was able to attribute this fragment to the Adapa myth only after the discovery of the Amarna fragment (Sayce 1892; cf. Sayce in Morgan 1893: 183-4; Bezold 1894a: 114 n. 1, 1894b: 405 n. 1; Strong 1894; 1895).

We now have at our disposal six fragments of the myth. The largest and most important fragment is the one discovered at Amarna (“Fragment B”) and thus dated to the 14th century BCE (see further pp. 47-9).

Five other fragments (A, A1, C, D, and E) were part of the Ashurbanipal library and are representative of this myth as it was known in Assyria about seven centuries later. Only two of the extant fragments (A and A1) are variants of the same text. Fragments C and D come from different sections of the text.

Fragment E represents another recension of the myth, which also seems to be similar to the known versions.

K 15072, British Museum. Another extremely sparse entry for this Akkadian cuneiform tablet, provenance Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik.<br />

K 15072, British Museum. Another extremely sparse entry for this Akkadian cuneiform tablet, provenance Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik.

The following is a list of the extant fragments edited in this volume, with their museum numbers and main previous editions.

  • Fragment A: MLC 1296 (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York);
  • Scheil 1898: 124-33;
  • Clay 1922: 39-41, pls IV, VI (cf. Clay 1923: 10-11);
  • Picchioni 1981: 112-5, 127-31 (figure 1), tav. 1.
  • Fragment A1: K 15072 (British Museum, London).
  • Parallel to the last extant section Fragment A. Schramm 1974;
  • Picchioni 1981: 114-5, 131, tav. IV-V.
  • Fragment B: VAT 348 (Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin);
  • Winkler and Abel 1889-90: 240;
  • Schroeder 1915: #194;
  • Harper 1894: 418-25;
  • Jensen 1900: 94-9, with comments on pp. 411-3;
  • Knudtzon 1915: 964-9 (= EA 356);
  • Picchioni 1981: 114-21, 131-6, 162-3 (figures 2-3 = Schroeder 1915: #194, tav. II-III;
  • Izre’el 1997: 43-50, copy (= Schroeder 1915: #194 with collations = pp. 177, 179 below), photographs.
  • Fragment C: K 8743 (British Museum, London). Expanded parallel to part of Fragment B.
  • Langdon 1915: pl. IV, #3, and p. 42 n. 2;
  • Thompson 1930: pl. 31;
  • Jensen 1900: xvii-xviii;
  • Picchioni 1981: 120-1, 136-7, 164 (figure 4), tav. IV-V.
  • Photograph also in Böhl 1959: Taf. 12.
  • Fragment D: K 8214 (British Museum, London). Virtual parallel to the end of Fragment B with additions.
  • Strong 1894;
  • Furlani 1929: 132;
  • Picchioni 1981: 122-3, 137-41, 165 (figure 5), tav. VI.
  • Photograph also in Böhl 1959: Taf. 12.
  • Fragment E: K 9994 (British Museum, London). A small fragment probably representing a different recension of the myth.
  • Von Soden 1976: 429-30;
  • Picchioni 1981: 95-6, tav. IV-V.

A cuneiform copy is published here for the first time, courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

The notation “Fragment E” is introduced here.

In addition to these fragments, one may note a possible title to the myth. The catalogue of literary texts Rm 618 (Bezold 1889-99: 4.1627) lists a title of a work on Adapa (line 3):

Adapa into heaven ( . . . )

Picchioni (1981: 87 n. 244) suggested that this might be an incipit of the first verse of the myth; Talon (1990: 44, 54) agrees (see further Hallo 1963: 176; cf. Lambert 1962: 73-4).

It is difficult to see how this line could have been the opening verse of any of the versions known to us, since both Fragment A and Fragment B seem to have opened differently (cf., for Fragment B, p. 108, and, for a literary analysis of Fragment A, pp. 112-3).

It may perhaps be suggested that this was a title rather than an incipit (thus also Röllig 1987: 50), because we know that Adapa’s ascent to heaven is also referred to elsewhere (p. 4).

British Museum K 10147. Notes on this fragment are sparse. It was sourced at Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik, and marked Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC).<br />

British Museum K 10147. Notes on this fragment are sparse. It was sourced at Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik, and marked Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC).

Von Soden, while suggesting the attribution of K 9994 (= Fragment E) to this myth (cf. also Borger 1975: 62, following Lambert), also made some observations concerning K 10147, saying that although the attribution of this fragment to the myth is doubtful, it may have formed part of the beginning of the text, before the extant Fragment A (von Soden 1976: 431; already Bezold 1894b: 405 n. 1).

This and other small fragments mentioning Adapa or relating to this figure have been collected by Picchioni (1981).”

(Ed. note: Links on this page are far from perfect. I have done my best to at least show a direction if you are seeking a specific citation or a particular work. Many of the cited works are not on the web. If you want them, you will have to complete your citations and then request them through an interlibrary loan at a physical library. If you have updated links to citations or to complete works, or images of the fragments themselves, please share them with me through the comments feature below. It would be a selfless contribution to scholarship if you could scan them and upload them to the internet. I will integrate them into this page. Please remember to mention if you would like to be credited.)

Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 5-7.

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