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Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Wednesday 17 October 2012 at 16:52

Arika Okrent explores the rise and fall of Volapük – a universal language created in the late 19th century by a German priest called Johann Schleyer. Johann Schleyer was a German priest whose irrational passion for umlauts may have been his undoing. During one sleepless night in 1879, he felt a Divine presence telling him to create a universal language. The result was Volapük. It was designed to be easy to learn, with a system of simple roots derived from European languages, and regular affixes which attached to the roots to make new words. Volapük was the first invented language to gain widespread success. By the end of the 1880s there were more than 200 Volapük societies and clubs around the world and 25 Volapük journals. Over 1500 diplomas in Volapük had been awarded. In 1889, when the third international Volapük congress was held in Paris, the proceedings were entirely in Volapük. Everyone had at least heard of it. President Grover Cleveland’s wife even named her dog Volapük. Though Schleyer was German, a large part of the Volapük vocabulary was based on English. “Volapük” was a compound formed from two roots, vol (from “world”) and pük (from “speak”). However, it [...]