by Rick Harrison
Ro was an a priori 'philosophical language,' meaning you can guess what category of meaning a word falls into merely by looking at the first letters. For example, bofoc means red, bofod means orange, and bofof means yellow. It was created by the Reverend Edward Powell Foster (1853-1937).
"Ro did not begin with attempting to rival or supplant any other language whatever, either natural or artificial, nor was it suggested by any of them," Foster wrote. "Unexpectedly came the thought: `How strange it is that there is nothing in the appearance of a written or printed word that gives the slightest hint of its meaning. Why should a word not be a picture? A new word, never seen before would then, like a painting seen for the first time, convey at least some of the meaning to the eye.'"
Foster reported being completely absorbed by the idea. "That was early in the year 1904. The thought had startling force. It was like the sudden lifting of a curtain to reveal a world that I had never dreamed was in existence. It filled me with amazement that people could rest content with words purely arbitrary and in themselves utterly meaningless, when they might be constructed scientifically and thus made self-interpreting. It seemed plain that a language of that description would easily more than double the capacity of mankind for the acquisition of knowledge. The vivid impression took instant and complete possession of me, and brought the quick resolution to tell to others what I had seen.
"After two years' study of the problem faint outlines of system emerged from chaos and in 1906 the first Ro publication, an 8-page leaflet with a few prospective Ro words, was printed.
"Soon my wife joined in the work with enthusiasm. She has a remarkable linguistic gift amounting almost to absolute genius in her ability to discriminate between closely allied synonyms and to select the word that exactly fits the place to be filled. She has now prepared an English-Ro dictionary of about 16,000 Ro words, and can turn any word that can be defined from any language into a self-interpreting Ro word. We expect to print her dictionary as soon as we can get the means to do so.
"...Ro adopts the alphabet that it finds ready-made, and approved by centuries of use, with the existing form of letters and order of sequence. They already symbolize elementary SOUNDS. Ro makes of them its ideograms. That is, Ro uses them as symbols of elementary IDEAS. Grammarians have already classified words into what they call 'Parts of Speech.' This is but another expression for ELEMENTS OF LANGUAGE. It is doubtful if any human being ever possessed a brain that was superior in intellectual power to that of Aristotle. He gives as the ten categories of human thought: Substance, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Place, Time, Position, Possession, Action, Passivity. Ro classifies words under categories like these, using consonants as symbols, for example, letting B stand for Substance or Existence, C for Quantity, D for Place, G for Quality, J for Relation, etc. One of the five vowels added to these initial consonants divides its general signification into five classes, headed by a two-letter syllable, consonant and vowel, and one of the 20 consonants (21 in fact) of the alphabet added to this, gives more than 2000 three-letter syllables, Consonant, Vowel, Consonant, which are the stemwords of Ro as a language.
"Besides this, Ro uses five vowels as initials, A to denote Pronouns, E for verb inflections, Tense, Mood, etc., I and O for Prepositions, opposite to each other in meaning, and U for Conjunctions. This gives 100 two-letter syllables, Vowel and Consonant, for the frequent Particles of speech that occur in almost every sentence.
"The other Parts of Speech, Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives and Adverbs, that compose the bulk of every Dictionary, Ro indicates by the final vowel of each word. The first vowel in Ro words belongs to the stem, and is unchangeable. The last vowel A indicates Concrete Nouns; if E, Verb; if I, Adverb; if O, Adjective; if U, Abstract Noun.
"If these classifications are correctly made, we shall have all the words of human language grouped according to their signification, exactly parallel with their alphabetic arrangement, and you can find the Ro word that you may wish to use, as readily as you can find a person in a city when you know the street on which he lives and the number of his house.
"I have now been 24 years at this task. If I have not succeeded in constructing a language that the world will adopt, I can only say that my conviction is clear that Ro is on the right track, and my conscience is clear that I have done the best I could."
The categories of Ro's vocabulary are presented here:
categories examples ---------- -------- a (pronouns) ab - I ba thing babnac - oxygen be forms of matter becaf - foam bi sky, weather bidlab - whirlwind bo "sense-affecting matter" bocet - flash bu geographical words Budval - United States ca quantity cafab - amount ce part cebac - piece ci comparative quantity cifod - huge co conjunctive quantity codef - attach cu whole cudi - totally da place dabag - position de space debab - line di clothing dirab - skirt do furnishings dodab - bed du building dubal - house e (verbs) eba - to be fa form facaq - structure fe aesthetics fepkac - baseball fi desireable things fibac - reward fo "words of logic" focap - disputation fu "words of geometry" fudad - triangle ga quality gabak - nature ge measurement gebrac - inch gi (length, expansion) gibel - elongate go "opposite gi" godod - little gu "opposite ci" guboc - unequal ha having hab - to have he getting hec - acquire hi want possession of hiv - to covet ho transfer property hob - give hu lose possession of hum - discard i (prepositions) in - in ja relation jabefu - reference je beginning jeb - begin ji middle jifob - central jo end jobed - conclude ju of orderliness jubuf - uniformity ka "verbs of force" kaf - throw ke locomotion kecev - walk ki "k plus i- prepositions" kidjeb - approach ko "opposite ki" kobec - retreat ku change kubed - alter la positive labic - actually le vegetable anatomy lecag - rhizome li life libo - alive lo "opposite li" lobod - dead lu plant names lugacan - watermelon ma "opposite to la" mabob - unreal me animal anatomy mebac - body mi voice, cry mibex - quack mo expressive act mokef - complain mu animal kingdom mugsaf - moth n (negative, opposite) nau - nothingness o "opposite to i" obo - backward pa instrument, tool paltaf - scissors pe receptacles pefal - bottle pi vehicles pibwad - wheelbarrow po food pojag - gravy pu waste matter pucag - garbage ra person radac - boy re "get ideas" rebec - think ri retain ideas ribec - remember ro tell, say rofad - vowel ru writing, print rucag - document sa "feelings in general" sabap - mood se personal feelings sedab - contentment si mutual feelings sibra - friend so moral, ethical, legal soled - deserve su superhuman Suva - God ta time tam - season te duration telob - sudden ti point of time tim - next to slow time, rest, stop tokeb - cease tu brief time tubot - temporary u (conjunctions) ud - and, ur - or, ut - that va volition, the will vadis - willingly ve prospective volition veber - plan vi "the will at work" videl - control vo collective will vobza - democracy vu mutual will vudife - offer w (interrogation) wabek - ask y (affirmation) yum - must za number zac - two, zakic - doubly ze collective number zedac - crowd zi re-, again zibec - repeat zo printed list zobac - catalog zu continuance zubolo - established
Specimen (the Paternoster): Abze radap av el in suda, ace rokab eco sugem, ace rajda ec kep, ace va eco, uz in suda asi in buba.
In Foster's own words...
Ro adopts as its alphabet the 26 letters a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z, in the order here given, and without accents or diacritical marks. This is the Latin alphabet, with 'w' added.
Of these letters, a e i o and u are vowels; the others, consonants.
The vowels are pronounced as in Italian or German, or in the English words far, they, pique, no, truth. They may be either long or short, but each vowel should make a distinct syllable, and they should never be mixed as in diphthongs or triphthongs.
The letters b, d, f, g (hard as in get, go,) h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s (sharp, as in see,) t, v, w, y and z, are pronounced as in English.
C is a simple sound as English sh, French ch, or German sch. Ch as in English 'church' is a double sound, and not used in Ro.
Dh is a single sound as in English 'the' but is very infrequent in Ro.
J is pronounced as in French, as 'z' in 'azure.' English 'J' is a double sound.
Q is like 'ng' in 'ringing.' It is a single sound.
X in English is 'ks' or 'gz.' Ro permits this sound for X, but prefers the Greek X, German CH or Celtic GH.
English 'long I' as 'Y' in 'MY' is 'AY' in Ro.
Ro uses 'th' as in English 'thick' but very seldom.
There is no rule of accent in Ro words other than the natural one of emphasizing the distinctive syllable. Thus: 'Ag wela RADac ur RAFac?' = 'Is it a boy or a girl?' 'Is he a boy or a man?' = 'Ad wela radAC ur radAL?'
In Ro the designation of case follows the example set by English. The Subject or Nominative case is indicated by its position before the verb, and the Accusative or Objective case by its position after the verb. The Possessive or Genitive case is denoted by an 'e' following the noun or pronoun, with or without an apostrophe preceding it as in the 's of the English possessive. Thus: Abe radap'e radat'e rukab. 'My father's brother's book.'
The Plural number is denoted by the final Z. This is taken from the English plural sign S which is usually pronounced like Z.
Ro's creator did an excellent job of publicizing his language, but there is little evidence that he persuaded anyone other than his wife to actually use it. Foster acknowledged the many people who assisted him: "One of those to whom Ro is indebted is William W. Mills, President of the First National Bank of Marietta, Ohio. For a number of years his generous cheque has come regularly each month, enabling the authors of Ro to devote their time to its construction... Vice-President Charles G. Dawes, unsolicited, contributed one hundred dollars to the support of Ro. Hon. George White, former Democratic national chairman, when a member of Congress, brought Ro before Congress and secured mention of it in the Congressional Record, and gave also financial aid. Mr. B. B. Putnam, treasurer of the Universal Language Society, Mrs. Dave H. Morris, of the International Auxiliary Language Association, and Dr. Melvil Dewey, whose name is known internationally thru his Decimal Classification for libraries, have all contributed both financially and sympathetically to the cause of Ro. The New York World Almanac has for several years made mention of Ro in its 'Languages of the World.' Leading journals and publications in the United States and in other countries have given notices to Ro, frequently with generous praise, and to more individuals than there is room to mention, Ro acknowledges with gratitude its indebtedness, and hopes to reciprocate in turn by its contribution to human progress and enlightenment."
Foster, Edward Powell (1853-1937)
Foster, Edward P.
Foster, Edward P.
Foster, Edward P.
Foster, Edward P.
Foster, Edward P.
Foster, Edward P.
Foster, Edward P.
periodicals edited by Foster:
by William Cullen Bryant
translated to Ro by the Reverend E. Foster
Id ad av, in siku ov Bikab, had
Ubyi en id ace zuto tobab
Asi ac em tobeb; ud uf ac cek
Asi lib, ut avit ace vodas,