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Tag: Bauer

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.

On the Fish-Apkallu

Fish Apkallu

“Lamaštu amulets:

The fish-apkallū on Lamaštu amulet 2 (and 4?), exactly like the ūmu-apkallū on Lamaštu amulets 3 and 61, has his left hand on the bed of the sick man. The right hand is slightly damaged, but probably greeting.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings. It is difficult to tell whether they hold their hands in a prayerful position or hold something indistinct. 

Wrong hand:

Occasionally apkallū are attested holding the bucket in their right hand: AfO 28 57f. 30 (above IIiI/6), Lamaštu amulet 5 (?), Calmeyer Reliefbronzen 66 H:8 (bird-apkallū).

Unidentified object:

One of the apkallū on CANES 773 holds in his right hand an unidentified feather-like object.


The identification of the fish-apkallū of ritual I/IiI with the “fish-garbed” man goes back to Smith JRAS 1926 709 (based on comparison with the Kleinplastik from Ur); identification of one of them with Oannes has been proposed since the early days of Assyriology (Kolbe Reliefprogramme 26, Zimmern KAT 535ff., ZA 35 151ff.) but was proved only after the names of the sages in Berossos’ Babyloniaka were recognized in cuneiform (van Dijk UVB 18 46ff.).

Occasionally the apkallū is mistakenly identified with the fish-man / kulullû (see below, VII.C.9), a completely different figure. U4 – a n (Oannes) and Adapa, a human sage living approximately at the same time, are probably two different figures (Borger JNES 33186, Picchioni Adapa 97ff.).

A "fish-man" / kulullû is depicted at left, and a fish-apkallū at right.  Wiggermann distinguishes these two entities.

A “fish-man” / kulullû is depicted at left, and a fish-apkallū at right.
Wiggermann distinguishes these two entities.

The texts clearly indicate that the fish-apkallū are not fish-garbed priests, but mythological figures, man and fish; they are bīnūt apsî, “creatures of apsû“, in ritual I/IIi, purād tāmtiša ina nāri ibbanú, “carp of the sea…who were grown in the river” in text IIiI.B.8 (cf. also Cagni Erra, I 162), and Berossos clearly describes them as a mixture of fish and man (cf. S. Mayer Burstein SANE I/5 13, 19).

Their names lack the determinative DINGIR, they are no gods, and the horns on the head of the fish (on palace reliefs, not on seals, cf. Kleinplastik 89, FuB 10 35) probably developed from its gills.

Berossos calls them “hemidaimones” (Jacoby FGrH 400).

Fish-Apkallū depicted on a cistern. The fish iconography is unmistakable, as are the banduddu buckets in their left hands. Objects in their right hands are indistinct, but the traditional gestures of warding or blessing seem clear.

Fish-Apkallū depicted on a cistern. The fish iconography is unmistakable, as are the banduddu buckets in their left hands. Objects in their right hands are indistinct, but the traditional gestures of warding or blessing seem clear. The objects in their right hands may be the “angular objects” mentioned in the table by Wiggermann at the top of the page. 


In the third millennium a b g al is the name of a profession: see MSL 12 10:15, ZA 72 174 11 v 3, Bauer AWL 125 i 4 (NUN.ME.KA X ME/GANA2f, cf. also Barton MBI 2 iv 2), Ukg. 6 ii 30′, iii 4 (NUN.ME.KA X ME/GANA2f.) UET 8 33:15 and for the same profession in the divine world: TCL 15 10:98 (dA b g a l) cf. 85.

In OB sum. incantations a b g a l apparently refers to a mythological sage at the court of Enki: VAS 17 13:5 (together with Enkum, Ninkum, and the seven children of Apsû), 16:11, 32:21, HSAO 262:56, PBS I/2 123:9 IIIISET 1 217 Ni 4176:12, OrNS 44 68, cf. ASKT 12 Obv. 11ff.

The “seven apkallū of Eridu“, at least in AnSt 30 78 (SB) identified with the seven antediluvian sages (Anenlilda is among them), are rooted in the third millenium (TCS 3 25:139, cf. Benito “Enki and Ninmah” and “Enki and the World Order” 91:105, and for later attestations JCS 21 11 25+a, Maqlû II 124, V 110 = AfO 21 77, VII 49, VIII 38).

The names of the seven antediluvian sages are certainly not as old as the names of the antediluvian kings: they seem to be derived partly from the titles of literary works (Hallo JAOS 83 175f.), and partly from the names of the antediluvian kings.

The element en-me-(e n) (and a m – m e, a m – i etc.) = e m e n (me —en) (cf. Finkelstein JCS 17 42, Wilcke Lugalbanda 41), “lord”, in the names of the kings has been reinterpreted as “the lord (e n) who makes good (d u 10 – g a)/ perfects (g a l a m) / refines (b ùl u g -g á) the regulations (m e)”.

Although the resulting names are good Sumerian (Lambert JCS 16 74), the consistent difference is telling. The Sumerian of the linguistically rather simple bilingual incantation to the fish-apkallū in bīt mēseri (III.B.8) could well be of MB date, and the Kassite seals with representations of the fish-apkallū prove that at this time the later views existed at least partially.

These undatable later views connect the named carp apkallū with canonized literature (Lambert JCS 16 59ff., Hallo JAOS 83 175f., van Dijk-Mayer BaMB 2 no 90) and have possibly been developed concomittantly.

Literature on the apkallū types :

Below text III.B.8, 9, 10, 11; Borger JNES 33 183ff., Foster OrNS 43 344ff., Komoróczy ActAntHung 21 135ff., 142ff., S. Mayer Burstein SANE 1/5 13ff., Kawami Iran 10 146ff., van Dijk UVB 18 43ff., all with many references to previous literature.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 76-7.

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