History of Interlingua
The history of Interlingua comprises the formation of the language itself as well as its community of speakers.
Ultimate credit for Interlingua must go to the American heiress Alice Vanderbilt Morris (1874–1950), who became interested in linguistics and the international auxiliary language movement in the early 1920s. In 1924, Morris and her husband, Dave Hennen Morris, established the non-profit International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA) in New York City. Their aim was to place the study of IALs on a scientific basis.
Investigations of the auxiliary language problem were in progress at the International Research Council, the American Council on Education, the American Council of Learned Societies, the British, French, Italian, and American Associations for the advancement of science, and other groups of specialists. Morris created IALA as a continuation of this work. She developed the research program of IALA in consultation with Edward Sapir, William Edward Collinson, and Otto Jespersen.
International Auxiliary Language Association
The IALA became a major supporter of mainstream American linguistics, funding, for example, Sapir's cross-linguistic semantic studies of totality (1930) and grading phenomena (1944). Morris herself edited Sapir and Morris Swadesh's 1932 cross-linguistic study of ending-point phenomena, and Collinson's 1937 study of indication. Although the Morrises and their family provided most of IALA's funding, it also received support from such prestigious groups as the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
In its early years, IALA concerned itself with three tasks: finding other organizations around the world with similar goals; building a library of books about languages and interlinguistics; and comparing extant IALs, including Esperanto, Esperanto II, Ido, Peano’s Interlingua (Latino sine flexione), Novial, and Interlingue (Occidental). In pursuit of the last goal, it conducted parallel studies of these languages, with comparative studies of national languages, under the direction of scholars at American and European universities. It also arranged conferences with proponents of these IALs, debating features and goals of their representative languages. With a "concession rule" that required participants to make a certain number of concessions, early debates at IALA sometimes grew from heated to explosive.
At the Second International Interlanguage Congress, held in Geneva in 1931, IALA began to break new ground. Its conference was attended by recognized linguists, 27 of whom signed a testimonial of support for IALA's research program. An additional eight added their signatures at the third congress, convened in Rome in 1933.
Also in 1933, Professor Herbert N. Shenton of Syracuse University organized an intensive study of the problems encountered with interlanguages when used in international conferences. Later that same year, Dr. Edward L. Thorndike published a paper about the relative learning speeds of "natural" and "modular" constructed languages. Both Shenton and Thorndike were major influences on IALA's work from then on.
In 1937, the first steps towards the finalization of Interlingua were taken when a committee of 24 eminent linguists from 19 universities published Some Criteria for an International Language and Commentary. However, the outbreak of World War II in 1939 cut short the intended biannual meetings of the committee.
Development of a new language
Originally, the association had not set out to create its own language. Its goal was to identify which auxiliary language already available was best suited for international communication, and how to promote it most effectively. However, after ten years of research, more and more members of IALA concluded that none of the existing interlanguages were up to the task. By 1937, the members had made the decision to create a new language, to the surprise of the world's interlanguage community.
To that point, much of the debate had been equivocal on the decision to use naturalistic (e.g., Novial and Occidental) or systematic (e.g., Esperanto and Ido) words. During the war years, proponents of a naturalistic interlanguage won out. The first support was Dr. Thorndike's paper; the second was a concession by proponents of the systematic languages that thousands of words were already present in many – or even a majority – of the European languages. Their argument was that systematic derivation of words was a Procrustean bed, forcing the learner to unlearn and re-memorize a new derivation scheme when a usable vocabulary was already available. This finally convinced supporters of the systematic languages, and IALA from that point assumed the position that a naturalistic language would be best.
At the outbreak of World War II, IALA's research activities were moved from Liverpool to New York, where E. Clark Stillman established a new research staff. Stillman, with the assistance of Dr. Alexander Gode, developed a prototyping technique – an objective methodology for selecting and standardizing vocabulary based on a comparison of control languages.
In 1943 Stillman left for war work and Gode became Acting Director of Research. In 1945, IALA published a General Report – largely Morris's work – which presented three models for IALA's language:
- Model P was a naturalistic model that made no attempt to regularize the prototyped vocabulary.
- Model E was lightly schematicized along the lines of Occidental.
- Model K was moderately schematicized along the lines of Ido (i.e., somewhat less schematicized than Esperanto).
From 1946 to 1948, the renowned French linguist André Martinet was Director of Research. During this period IALA continued to develop models and conducted polling to determine the optimal form of the final language. An initial survey gauged reactions to the three models of 1945. In 1946, IALA sent an extensive survey to more than 3,000 language teachers and related professionals on three continents.
The four models
Four models were canvassed: Model P and K, plus two new models similar to Model E of 1945.
|Model P||highly naturalistic||Jo habe nascite, o dea cum le oculos azure, de parentes barbare, inter le bone et virtuose Cimmerios|
|Model M||moderately naturalistic||Io have nascit, o dea con le ocules azur, de parentes barbar, inter le bon e virtuos Cimmerios|
|Model C||slightly schematic||Yo ha nascet, o deessa con le ocules azur, de parentes barbar, inter le bon e virtuose Cimerios|
|Model K||moderately schematic||Yo naskeba, o dea kon le okuli azure, de parenti barbare, inter le bone e virtuose Kimerii|
|(modern Interlingua)||Io ha nascite, o dea con le oculos azur, de parentes barbar, inter le bon e virtuose Cimmerios|
|(English)||'I was born, O goddess with the blue eyes, of barbarian relations, among the good and virtuous Cimmerians'|
Model P was unchanged from 1945; Model M was relatively modern in comparison to more classical P. Model K was slightly modified in the direction of Ido.
The vote total ended up as follows: P 26.6%, M 37.5%, C 20%, and K 15%. The results of the survey were striking. The two more schematic models, C and K, were rejected – K overwhelmingly. Of the two naturalistic models, M attracted somewhat more support than P. Taking national biases into account (for example, the French who were polled disproportionately favored Model M), IALA decided on a compromise between models M and P, with certain elements of C.
When Martinet took up a position at Columbia University in 1948, Gode took on the last phase of Interlingua's development. His task was to combine elements of Model M and Model P; take the flaws seen in both by the polled community and repair them with elements of Model C as needed; and simultaneously develop a vocabulary.
The vocabulary and verb conjugations of Interlingua were first presented in 1951, when IALA published the finalized Interlingua Grammar and the 27,000-word Interlingua-English Dictionary (IED). In 1954, IALA published an introductory manual entitled Interlingua a Prime Vista ("Interlingua at First Sight").
Success, decline, and resurgence
An early practical application of Interlingua was the scientific newsletter Spectroscopia Molecular, published from 1952 to 1980. In 1954 Interlingua was used at the Second World Cardiological Congress, in Washington DC, for both written summaries and oral interpretation. Within a few years, it found similar use at nine further medical congresses. Between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, some thirty scientific and especially medical journals provided article summaries in Interlingua. Science Service, the publisher of Science Newsletter at the time, published a monthly column in Interlingua from the early 1950s until Gode's death in 1970. In 1967, the powerful International Organization for Standardization, which normalizes terminology, voted almost unanimously to adopt Interlingua as the basis for its dictionaries.
The IALA closed its doors in 1953 but was not formally dissolved until 1956 or later. Its role in promoting Interlingua was largely taken on by Science Service, which hired Gode as head of its newly formed Interlingua Division. Hugh E. Blair, Gode's close friend and colleague, became his assistant. A successor organization, the Interlingua Institute, was founded in 1970 to promote Interlingua in the US and Canada. The new institute supported the work of other linguistic organizations, made considerable scholarly contributions and produced Interlingua precis for scholarly and medical publications. One of its largest achievements was two immense volumes on phytopathology produced by the American Phytopathological Society in 1976 and 1977.
The Interlingua Institute was adrift for a while after the deaths of Blair in 1967 and Gode in 1970. According to Esterhill, however, publishing slowed only briefly in the late 1960s and revived soon afterward, at about the time of the 1971 second edition of the IED. Flourishing interest in Europe may have counterbalanced the struggles taking place in America.
Interlingua had attracted many former adherents of other international-language projects, notably Occidental and Ido. The former Occidentalist Ric Berger founded The Union Mundial pro Interlingua (UMI) in 1955, and by the late 1950s, interest in Interlingua in Europe had already begun to overtake that in North America. Media coverage at the time, for example, was apparently heaviest in Northern and Eastern Europe. Frequent European coverage has continued to date, joined by media attention in South America in the early 1990s.
Beginning in the 1980s UMI has held international conferences every two years (typical attendance at the earlier meetings was 50 to 100) and launched a publishing programme that eventually produced over 100 volumes. Other Interlingua-language works were published by university presses in Sweden and Italy, and in the 1990s, Brazil and Switzerland. Several Scandinavian schools undertook projects that used Interlingua as a means of teaching the international scientific and intellectual vocabulary.
In 2000, the Interlingua Institute was dissolved amid funding disputes with the UMI; the American Interlingua Society, established the following year, succeeded the institute and responded to new interest emerging in Mexico.
Behind the Iron Curtain
Interlingua was spoken and promoted in the Soviet empire, in spite of persecution and efforts to suppress information about the language. In East Germany, government officials confiscated the letters and magazines that the UMI sent to Walter Raédler, the Interlingua representative there. In Czechoslovakia, Július Tomin received threatening letters after his first article on Interlingua was published. Despite continuing persecution, he went on to become the Czech Interlingua representative, teach Interlingua in the school system, and author a long series of published articles and books.
- See also: Community of Interlingua
Today, interest in Interlingua has expanded from the scientific community to the general public. Individuals, governments, and private companies use Interlingua for learning and instruction, travel, online publishing, and communication across language barriers. Interlingua is promoted internationally by the Union Mundial pro Interlingua (president: Barbara Rubinstein, Sweden; secretary-general: Petyo Angelov, Bulgaria). Periodicals and books are produced by many national organizations, such as the Societate American pro Interlingua (president: Stanley A. Mulaik), the Svenska Sällskapet för Interlingua (secretary: Ingvar Stenström), and the Brazilian Union for Interlingua (president: Gilson Passos).
Currently, Panorama In Interlingua is the most prominent of several Interlingua periodicals. It is a 28-page magazine published bimonthly that covers current events, science, editorials, and Interlingua. Thanks to the Internet, Interlingua has seen a resurgence over the last decade, with the number of speakers jumping tenfold by some estimates.
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