Would Universal Language Aid Universal Brotherhood?
The Path, October, 1894
Note: The following article is composed by one S. Kademal. Only the note that follows is from the pen of Mr. Judge.
One language for all men would greatly help their progress to brotherhood; but diversity of language is an obstacle in the path. The T.S. ought therefore to have a common medium of intercommunication, able to stand of its own strength side by side with mother speech, supplementing but not supplanting it. It ought, moreover, to be of speedy acquirement; for life is short and we have many other things to learn.
Such a medium exists in the invention of John Martin Schleyer. It is as universal and as well established as is mathematical, chemical, or musical notation.
Why not adopt English or some other natural language? Consider the difficulties. Natural language, evolved out of fusion and confusion, still retains a mass of irregularities and idioms which, though they charm the philologist, distress the student and exhaust his time and energy. The majority of beginners drop a foreign language on encountering the irregular verb. The gem of English scintillates many a ray, but not for foreigners; they find our language as difficult as we find theirs. Translation is often neglected, and at best is slow and imperfect. Unfathomed literatures bear many a gem unseen. Would you hide from the major portion of humanity the jewels that sparkle on the brow of Truth? You have only to refract them through a natural idiom.
Why not, then, adopt this invented language? There is no reason why not. Consider the advantages: a common speech in international conventions, correspondents in all parts of the world, increased literature for students, increased clientage for authors, wider dissemination of doctrine. In less than a year after its adoption, the Theosophical world would be solidified. Babel would cease. Workers would reorganize and complete the path to the sky.
Is it not a kind of outlandish jargon? By no means. It is not English, you know; but its every sound is found in our language except that of dotted u, which is quickly acquired by the practice of saying “ye” with the mouth adjusted for saying “you.”
Is it difficult? On the contrary, it is ridiculously easy. It has no artificial genders, no irregularities of any kind. There is but one declension and but one conjugation.
Is it serviceable? Very. It can express any thought; for it is extremely flexible. Nouns, for instance, have tense forms when capable of tense meanings.
How long will it take to learn it? That depends. The question resembles: How long will a shoe wear? Premising the intellectual activity of a Theosophist, it will require no more than five seconds to learn declension, five minutes to learn conjugation, five hours to learn the whole grammar; and after five days’ practice one can speak and correspond.
What is it called? Volapuk, which means World-Speech.
S. KADEMAL, Boston.
NOTE:—With the merits of Volapuk we have but little to do, and not knowing it cannot criticise its structure or use for present business purposes. The article above is interesting as raising the question whether a language universal which was manufactured would aid universal brotherhood; and another one, would any language aid it? As it is seemingly clear that violations of universal brotherhood grow out of the character and not the language of the violators, it would seem to follow that no new language would prevent the violation. We see that peoples who have one language are at war with each other and kill one another. The American revolution arose among and against those who all had English as their one language and at that time very well understood by the revolutionists. Now if they had Volapuk it would not have been different. The war and strife and blood grew out of regulations having their foundation in character, for the ideas of the English caused those governmental regulations that set the fathers on fire; yet both sides used English as their universal tongue. Evidently it was character, idea, rule, regulation, and the like that made the occasion for conduct opposed to brotherhood, on whichever side you put the on us of the violation. Races like the Chinese have a common mode of writing which people of vastly different tongues can read universally, but they are and have been plunged in war; would any other common language have made the slightest difference? I think not. While it is true that a universal language would be a good thing, still it is also true that the average level of intelligence is low and that the highly-cultivated person is far above the average. The universal tongue would have to be limited to the low level of the mediocre average so as to be understood by all, or else the cultured ones would have to deal in another set of terms to express their higher ideas; this would be tantamount to a newer language than the first, and so on ad infinitum. When, however, the race is entirely raised up to a right level of morals, conduct, character, aspiration, and ideal, then we will be ready with profit to have the universal tongue. The confusion of tongues grew out of change of nature due to evolutionary differences in races, and each made its own language, based fundamentally on national character. Meanwhile it would seem that Volapuk will be confined to a limited circle of the human family.
The universal method of writing used in the occult lodges forms no ground for the argument in the article by Mr. Kademal, because the use of that language is preceded by a change of conduct, ideal, and character. This universal method actually exists today and in several forms, while it is probably true also that a still older system was used in the very ancient records to some of which H.P.B. had access; but still and again the characters of those who used that form were noble, high, world-dominating, and not such as the average of this century.