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Tag: 1900

Eco: The International Auxiliary Languages

Couturat & Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle, 1903

Louis Couturat (1868-1914) & Léopold Leau (1868-1943), Histoire de la langue universelle, Hachette, Paris, 1903, held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and 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. 

“The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed a revolution in transport and communications. In 1903 Couturat and Leau noted that it was now possible to voyage around the world in just forty days; exactly one half of the fateful limit set by Jules Verne just thirty years before.

Now the telephone and the wireless knitted Europe together and as communication became faster, economic relations increased. The major European nations had acquired colonies even in the far-flung antipodes, and so the European market could extend to cover the entire earth.

For these and other reasons, governments felt as never before the need for international forums where they might meet to resolve an infinite series of common problems, and our authors cite the Brussels convention on sugar production and international accord on white-slave trade.

As for scientific research, there were supranational bodies such as the Bureau des poides et  mesures (sixteen states) or the International Geodesic Association (eighteen states), while in 1900 the International Association of Scientific Academies was founded.

Couturat and Leau wrote that such a growing of scientific information needed to be organized “sous peine de revenir à la tour de Babel.”

What could the remedy be? Couturat and Leau dismissed the idea of choosing a living language as an international medium as utopian, and found difficulties in returning to a dead language like Latin.

Besides, Latin displays too many homonyms (liber means both “book” and “free”), its flexions create equivocations (avi might represent the dative and ablative of avis or the nominative plural of avus), it makes it difficult to distinguish between nouns and verbs (amor means both love and I am loved), it lacks a definite article and its syntax is largely irregular . . . The obvious solution seemed to be the invention of an artificial language, formed on the model of natural ones, but which might seem neutral to all its users.

The criteria for this language should be above all a simple and rational grammar (as extolled by the a priori languages, but with a closer analogy with existing tongues), and a lexicon whose terms recalled as closely as possible words in the natural languages.

In this sense, an international auxiliary language (henceforth IAL) would no longer be a priori but a posteriori; it would emerge from a comparison with and a balanced synthesis of naturally existing languages.

Couturat and Leau were realistic enough to understand that it was impossible to arrive at a preconceived scientific formula to judge which of the a posteriori IAL projects was the best and most flexible. It would have been the same as deciding on allegedly objective grounds whether Portuguese was superior to Spanish as a language for poetry or for commercial exchange.

They realized that, furthermore, an IAL project would not succeed unless an international body adopted and promoted it. Success, in other words, could only follow from a display of international political will.

What Couturat and Leau were facing in 1903, however, was a new Babel of international languages invented in the course of the nineteenth century; as a matter of fact they record and analyze 38 projects–and more of them are considered in their further book, Les nouvelles langues internationales, published in 1907.

The followers of each project had tried, with greater or lesser cohesive power, to realize an international forum. But what authority had the competence to adjudicate between them?

In 1901 Couturat and Leau had founded a Delégation pour l’adoption d’une langue auxiliaire internationale, which aimed at resolving the problem by delegating a decision to the international Association of Scientific Academies.

Evidently Couturat and Leau were writing in an epoch when it still seemed realistic to believe that an international body such as this would be capable of coming to a fair and ecumenical conclusion and imposing it on every nation.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 317-9.

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.

Eco: Magic Names & Kabbalistic Hebrew, 3


Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852-1913), John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Elizabeth I, purchased from Mr. Henry S. Wellcome circa 1900-36 as Accession Number 47369i, courtesy of Wellcome Library. The painting portrays Dr. John Dee conjuring for Queen Elizabeth I at Dr. Dee’s home in Mortlake. On the Queen’s left are her adviser William Cecil and Sir Walter Raleigh. Dr. Dee’s notorious scryer, Edward Kelley, is seated behind Dr. Dee, wearing a skullcap that conceals his cropped ears. This work caused a stir when an x-ray scan of the painting revealed that Dr. Dee originally stood in a magical circle comprised of human skulls. The skulls were presumably removed by the artist at the request of the original buyer. An extensive collection of works by Dr. Dee is available on the Esoteric Archives site. 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. 

“John Dee–not only magus and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, but profound érudit and sharp politician as well–summoned angels of dubious celestial provenance by invoking names like Zizop, Zchis, Esiasch, Od and Iaod, provoking the admiring comment, “He seemeth to read as Hebrew is read” (cf. A True and Faithful Relation of 1659).

There exists, however, a curious passage in the Arabic Hermetic treatise, known in the Middle Ages through a Latin translation, called the Picatrix (III, I, 2: cf. Pingree 1986), in which the Hebrew and Chaldean idioms are associated with the saturnine spirit, and, hence with melancholy.

Saturn, on the one hand, was the sign of the knowledge of deep and secret things and of eloquence. On the other, however, it carried a set of negative connotations inherited from Judaic law, and was associated with black cloths, obscure streams, deep wells and lonely spots, as well as with metals like lead, iron and all that is black and fetid, with thick-leafed plants and, among animals, with “camelos nigros, porcos, simias, ursos, canes et gatos [sic]” (“black camels, pigs, moneys, bears, dogs and cats”).

This is a very interesting passage; if the saturnine spirit, much in vogue during the Renaissance, was associated with sacred languages, it was also associated with things, places and animals whose common property was their aura of black magic.

Thus, in a period in which Europe was becoming receptive to new sciences that would eventually alter the known face of the universe, royal palaces and the elegant villas in the Tuscan hills around Florence were humming with the faint burr of Semitic-sounding incantations–often on the lips of the scientists themselves–manifesting the fervid determination to win a mastery of both the natural and the supernatural worlds.

Naturally, things could not long remain in such a simple state. Enthusiasm for kabbalist mysticism fostered the emergence of a Hebrew hermeneutics that could hardly fail to influence the subsequent development of Semitic philology.

From the De verbo mirifico and the De arte kabbalistica by Reuchelin, to the De harmonia mundi of Francesco Giorgi or the Opus de arcanis catholicae veritatis by Galatinus, all the way to the monumental Kabbala denudata by Knorr von Rosenroth (passing through the works of Jesuit authors whose fervor at the thought of new discoveries allowed them to overcome their scruples at handling such suspect material), there crystallized traditions for reading Hebrew texts.

This is a story filled with exciting exegetical adventures, numerological fabulizing, mixtures of Pythagoreanism, Neoplatonism and kabbalism. Little of it has any bearing on the search for a perfect language. Yet the perfect language was already there: it was the Hebrew of the kabbalists, a language that revealed by concealing, obscuring and allegorizing.

To return to the linguistic model outlined in our first chapter, the kabbalists were fascinated by an expression-substance–the Hebrew texts–of which they sought to retrieve the expression-form (the grammar), always remaining rather confused apropos of the corresponding content-form.

In reality, their search aimed at rediscovering, by combining new expression-substances, a content-continuum as yet unknown, formless, though seemingly dense with possibility. Although the Christian kabbalists continually discovered new methods of segmenting an infinite continuum of content, its nature continued to elude them.

In principle, expression and content ought to be conformal, but the expression-form appeared as the iconic image of something shrouded in mystery, thus leaving the process of interpretation totally adrift (cf. Eco 1990).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 124-6.

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.

Footnote 48, An Amulet

“Through 231 gates everything goes forth. It is found therefore, that every creature and every speech [language] goes forth out of one name” (2:5). Does this mean that the alphabet, in its sequence, constitutes a mystical name? Of such a conception of the alphabet, Franz Dornseiff (Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie, 2d ed. [Leipzig, 1925], 69-80) collected abundant testimonies from the Greek and Latin sources; cf. also A. Dieterich, ABC—Denkmäler, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 56 (1900): 77-105.

In the Wiener Jahres hefte 32 (1940): 79-84, Joseph Keil published an important Hebrew-Greek amulet that contains, with an obviously magical intention, the Hebrew alphabet in Greek transcription in the so-called at-bash order. In this order the alphabet is written in two rows boustrophedon and two letters are vertically connected in pairs.

The amulet should be dated between the second and fourth centuries, but certainly no later. (I was able to identify clearly, though with some effort, the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 28:58, which was in one of the three lines that neither Keil nor Ludwig Blau—to whom he showed the amulet in 1926—was able to decipher.

It is only natural that the view that the alphabet constitutes “One name, to wit the name of 22 letters” should have passed into the early Kabbalah, as is attested by the Commentary on the Prayer Book, composed about 1260, by the (anonymous?) commentator Sefer ha-Manhig on the Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer, Ms. British Museum, Mar-goliouth 743, fol. 96b.”

–Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 1987, pp. 24-35.

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