by Henry Sweet


From the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Note: The only changes here are in  fonts, paragraph breaks, and in a few related matters of punctuation.


Volapk [is] the first artificial language to attain any measure of practical success. First published in 1880, it was the work of J. M. Schleyer (b. 1839), a south-German priest. Volapk is not, like the earliest attempts of the kind, an a priori language, but is based mainly on English, the rest of the vocabulary being made up from Latin and the Romance languages. The borrowed words are reduced to a monosyllabic form and are often altered in a very arbitrary manner. Thus the name Volapk itself is made up of the two English words, world and speak, the first in the genitive, the three vowels, a, e, i, being used to express the three cases, genitive, dative and accusative respectively; the nominative is expressed by the bare root, and i is added to form the plural.


The grammar of Volapk is therefore partly borrowed, like the vocabulary, partly original. Adjectives end in -ik. The persons of the verb are indicated by adding the pronouns ob " I," ol " thou," om " he," &c., plural obs " we," &c.; the tenses and the passive are indicated by prefixes, the moods by suffixes following the person-endings, many other inflections being used as well, so that the Volapk verb boasts of no less than 505,440 different forms.


Although founded on English, Volapk is mainly German in structure. It gets rid of the German word-order and the irregularities of German grammar, but it is often impossible to understand a Volapk text without thinking in German. The following is a specimen of the language:

Lofob kemenis valik vola lolik, patiko etis pekulivol, kels kon-fidoms Vola Volapke, as bale medas gletikun netasfetana.

" I love all my fellow-creatures of the whole world, especially those cultivated (ones) who believe in Volapk as (being) one of the greatest means of nation-binding."

Here konfid governs the dative just as its German equivalent does, and "cultivated " is used in the sense of the German gebildeten.


The history of Volapk has an interest greater than that of the language itself. It has proved:

(1) that people in general are ready to adopt an artificial language, and

(2) that an artificial language is easier to learn than any national language, and supplies an efficient means of communication between those who have no other language in common.


Volapk had no special philological merits to recommend it; yet, after a few years' incubation in south Germany, it spread, first to France (about 1885) and then in a few years over the whole civilized world, so that in 1889, when the third Volapk congress met at Paris, there were 283 Volapk societies all over the world, and the total number of Volapk students was estimated at over a million. At this congress everyone even the waiters spoke Volapk, and the permanent triumph of the language seemed certain.


But the year of its zenith was the beginning of a decline even more rapid than its rise. It fell to pieces through dissensions in its own camp, the first cause of which was the opposition of the inventor to those of his disciples who aimed at making the language mainly an instrument of commercial correspondence, and advocated the greatest possible simplification of grammar and vocabulary. The divergence of views between the inventor and his colleagues became more and more marked; and after the third congress the breach between M. Schleyer and the Volapk Academy (founded at the second congress in 1887) became a definite one: the director of the Academy proposed a totally new scheme of grammar, and other members proposed others, although one of the objects of the foundation of the Academy was the preservation of the integrity of the language. A new director, M. Rosenberger of St Petersburg, was elected in 1893; and from this moment the Academy dissociated itself from Volapk and began to construct a new international language, Idiom Neutral.



This page is presented as part of the Acadon Project.