rickharrison.com Artificial Language Lab


Excerpts from Lancelot Hogben's book describing his language. Hogben's rational focus on syntax and semantics made him a major influence on future generations of language designers. Anyone wanting to read the whole book should try to purchase a copy from Internet sites where used books can be found, such as abebooks.com



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LANCELOT HOGBEN was born at Southsea in 1895. He became a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1912. By profession he is a biologist; and has been a professor at universities in South Africa, the United States, London and Aberdeen. He has travelled far afield on four continents, having visited Japan and Hawaii. He is the author of a monumental work of popularization, Science for the Citizen, and of several volumes of essays on educational topics, notably Dangerous Thoughts. He is married to Enid Charles, the well-known population statistician, and has four children.




Since Interglossa is an isolating (analytical) language, learning Interglossa involves learning merely: (a) its etymolgy, i.e. mnemonic association of each vocable to an internationally current root (Chapter XI); (b) its semantics, i.e. analysis of the meaningful content of the vocables; (c) its word-order; (d) its phonetics and typography. Some preliminary, and at this stage very tentative, remarks about phonetics and typography, together with a fuller discussion of the word-order pattern, are the topic of what follows:

(a) Phonetics

The vowel symbols have the following values: a as in father ; e or ae as in fête ; i as in élite ; o as in open ; and u as in rule : y is equivalent to i. With the following exceptions, consonant symbols have their characteristic values in accordance with those of the international phonetic symbols:

c, ch and q have the value k
ph has the value f
th has the value t
Initial x is z, otherwise ks.

In the following initial consonant combinations the first element is silent: ct-, gn-, mn-, pn-, ps-, pt. Thus ps- in pseudo is equivalent to s, as in Anglo-American. The h in the combination rh is also silent. These rules admit of no inconsistencies. The inconvenience of having a few anomalies which go into a dozen lines of print is far less than the disadvantage which would result from mutilating roots beyond visual recognition. Non-Aryan-speaking people who find difficulty with compound consonants and closed syllables (as in blinding or trumpet) will find that some pigeon-holes of the semantic schema offer alternatives of the Yo-ko-ha-ma or To-ky-o type (cf. itinero travel, nesia island). All polysyllables end with a vowel. Unless the last two syllables are both vowels (-io, -ia, etc.), the stress is on the penultimate one, e.g. billEta, permIto. If the word ends with two vowels, the stress is on the antipenultimate one, e.g. nEsia and orientAtio.

(b) Word-material

With a few exceptions the vocables of Interglossa are based on unmutilated roots of words which now belong to the vocabulary of all countries where modern technology and hygience have penetrated. The meaning ascribed to any one of them does not necessarily tally with the one given in a Latin or a Greek lexicon. It is the meaning suggested by the internationally current words in which it occurs. Less than a dozen are abbreviations. The origin of the abbreviated ones comes in the text to assist the beginner to memorize them.

Partly for the reason stated in the last paragraph, and partly because of the principle of word-economy inherent in its design, Interglossa has a peculiarity which distinguishes it from other constructed languages and from many natural ones. Because they are explicit in the sense defined above, particles are relatively long words, while nouns and verbs, relieved of their former flexional accretions, are relatively short ones.1

1 In natural languages, which are not highly inflected, prepositional and conjunctive particles, denoting relations for which clear reasoning prescribes clear-cut fields of reference, are peculiarly liable to semantic erosion; and the same is true, perhaps even more true, of the flexional appendages to which grammatical paradigms ascribe their functions. This is an inescapable limitation of Basic, or of any other form of simplified, English consonant with accepted standards. As an analytical language, Basic English has to exploit the use of such particles to the utmost. Hence the words on which it relies so much for sharpness of logical definition are the words most prone to idiomatic use. Peano's Interlingua suffers from a further defect. Though an isolating language, it derives its battery of directives from Latin, a language somewhat poor in its native outfit of such vocables. A constructed language of the isolating type should be especially richly equipped with directives; and its design should discourage degradation of meaning through overwork of words belonging to this class. Possibly one of several reasons for the degradation of meaning mentioned above as a universal feature of natural languages is that conjunctive and prepositional particles are usually short words. Because they are short, like flexions, we easily slur them in speech. Hence we are apt to rely on context to do their work; and by doing so, become careless about their use. If there is a grain of truth in this supposition, the moral is clear. Such words should stand out boldly in the sentence-matrix. Each should be a challenge to the choice of the speaker and to the attention of the audience. Thus the feature mentioned above is beneficial. A long word with rich associations in a domain of exact discourse, as has (119) postulo for the if of the rejected condition, fulfils the desideratum stated. A short word, like the equivalent se of Esperanto, does not do so. It has no associations of this sort. Down with Auxilingua!

(c) Parts of Speech

In all this there is nothing new to the Chinese nor to the Malay speech-community. There is scarcely anything new to anyone who speaks the Anglo-American language. A classification of parts of speech relevant to an isolating language will not follow the categories appropriate to the flexional system of the Aryan group. It will reflect the function of individual vocables in the sentence-landscape. From that point of view we can classify the vocables of Interglossa as follows:

   (a) Pseudonyms (11). Four of these (mi, tu, na, mu) are pure pronoun-equivalents divested of any flexions. The remaining seven are of wider range vis-à-vis the practice of Aryan languages. They function both as pronouns and as equivalents for nouns or for corresponding adjectives. This will offer no difficulty to Scandinavians (see p. 82), nor to English-speaking people who customarily refer to a he-goat, and do not hesitate to answer the question: is it a he or a she?

   (b) Interrogative, Imperative, Negative and Comparative Particles (6), two of which allow for question, request or command without deviation from the invariant word-pattern. Such particles are common to many languages, and we can find many corresponding periphrases in the Aryan group (e.g. French n'est-ce pas? and Swedish eller hur?)

   (c) Substantives 1 (396). These are names for concrete things or classes of concrete things. As is increasingly true of Anglo-American (queen mother, water power, trade cycle), any one of them can replace an adjectival word-form.

   (d) Verboids (20). These are names of processes and states. Like many so-called English verbs, any one verboid may replace a finite verb form, the corresponding abstract noun, and the appropriate epithet, i.e. adjective (cf. we love, the love of God, a love story). This class is small. Needless to say, all verboids are invariant, but this need not surprise an Anglo- American. Our own verb must is as inflexible as a Chinese verb-equivalent.

   (e) Articles (29). These are general words and numerals which have the function of predicating plurality or otherwise in relation to noun-equivalents, all of which are invariant like sheep.

   (f) Amplifiers (417). The largest single class of words are abstractions, any one of which can take the place of a noun, adjective or corresponding adverb. They form natural combinations with operative verboids analogous to such Basic constructions as make clean your hearts, get wise to this, make trouble for them, give attention to me. The corresponding English word may be: (a) a directive (preposition) such as up in he went up the hill = he ascended the hill; (b) an adjectival complement, such as clean in make clean (= purify) your hearts; (c) an abstract noun, such as trouble in make trouble for others = pester or interfere with others. The student of Basic will be familiar with this class, and will not ask why some of them are equally appropriate as substitutes for abstract nouns, adverbial particles, prepositions or adjectives.

The increasing use of the rhetorical present is common to many Aryan languages, when the context or an accompanying adverb suffices to date the occurrence; and a considerable class of English verbs such as hurt, shut, put, have no past flexion. So there should be no inherent difficulty connected with an idiom in which appropriate adverb-equivalents replace the entire flexional system of the verb. As adverb-equivalents, abstract words which are also amplifiers do: (a) all the work of the verb flexions classified as tense, aspect or mood; (b) all the work of modal auxiliaries. There are seventeen amplifiers which do the work of Anglo-American auxiliaries (verboid qualifiers) and as such come before the verboid.

Interglossa has no special class of prepositions. The equivalent for a preposition is an amplifier which can also do the work of an adjective, adverb and, sometimes also, of an abstract noun. The justification for the large-scale word-economy which makes this possible will come up for later discussion. A separate chapter (Chapter VI) deals with those amplifiers which can do the work of link-words (conjunctions) or preposition-equivalents if they have the appropriate (p. 109) locus in the sentence-matrix.

(d) Word-order

Word-order circumscribes the essential syntax of an isolating language such as Interglossa. The following English sentence will provide a pattern to prepare the way for what follows, and to clarify the terms used, viz., verboid, verboid qualifier, amplifier, and substantive cluster. Items (3), (4), (5), together make up the verboid cluster: "The retiring president of the society will make clear to us his reasons for resignation."

The parts are:

(1) Subject substantive cluster : The retiring president
(2) Substantive cluster qualifying the subject : of the society
(3) Verboid qualifier : will
(4) Key verboid : make
(5) Amplifier : clear
(6) Indirect Object substantive cluster : to us
(7) Direct Object substantive cluster : his reasons
(8) Substantive cluster qualifying the direct object : for resignation

This paradigm illustrates Anglo-American word-order in an affirmative simple statement or principal clause. It also reproduces the essential pattern of Interglossa in any sentence or clause. The word-order of Interglossa does not change in questions, requests, commands and relative clauses. For adequate instruction concerning its word-order we have therefore to be more explicit about class (b) in the preceding section, and to say something about the relative clause.

In spoken English we often express interrogation, without change of word-order, by tone of voice or by tacking on eh? In some languages the use of an interrogative particle (e.g. Finnish ko) is the ordinary method of indicating interrogation, in writing as well as speech. The English modal auxiliaries do (do you think so?) or will (will you give me some more?) respectively, have the same function in a question or in a request. In the same way, initial interrogative or imperative particles of Interglossa indicate that whay follows is a question, request, or command, without change of the INVARIABLE word-pattern. This fixed pattern is equally characteristic of subordinate clauses and simple sentences, whether affirmative, interrogative or imperative.

The beginner has to get accustomed to the trick of preserving the word-order of an equivalent simple sentence in a relative clause. This will offer no difficulty to anyone who is familiar with colloquial Anglo-American. There is a single relative pronoun su for the subject. Like the English that it can stand for person or thing, singular or plural:

U domi; su pre gene gravito; habe mega palaeo
The house that fell down was very old

Un anthropi; su pre dicte re; non habe bio
The man who said so is dead

The relative pronoun su cannot be the object of the verb, nor can it follow a preposition-equivalent. When the relative pronoun is not the subject, no equivalent takes its place. We proceed precisely as in conversational English:

Un anthropi; mi pre vise; non habe bio
The man I saw is dead

Un anthropi; na pre dicte de; non habe bio
The man we were talking about is dead

A general formula for all types of sentence or clause is as follows:

(1) Vocative cluster (if present) followed by a colon, e.g.: Na parenta in urani: = Our father (which art) in heaven Pan proletari de geo: = Workers of the world

(2) Interrogative particle or imperative particle or link-word (if present).

(3) Subject cluster.

(4) Verboid cluster.

(5) Direct and Indirect Object clusters with accompanying qualifying clusters.

The rule of precedence with reference to the Direct and Indirect or Instrumental Object clusters is that the shorter of the two (with due regard to accompanying qualifying clusters) comes first, e.g.:

Fe pre dicte a mi mega longo historio
She told (to) me a very long story

Mi date credito de bibli pan amico-pe de mi
I am lending the book to all (of) my friends

The formula given above takes no stock of the internal pattern of the clusters specified, or of qualifying expressions. The rule for phrases which qualify a substantive, whether themselves substantive clusters begining with a preposition or clusters equivalent to a participial phrase, is the same as in Anglo-American. Unlike single words which do so, each follows the substantive it qualifies, e.g.:

U palaeo gyna in horta
The old woman in the garden

U gyna, mega tem apo auto anthropi
A woman, separated a long while from her husband


Text specimens:

(from article 6 of The Atlantic Charter): Post fino Necro de nazi Oppresso, Mu esthe espero de Vise u Paco; Su date posso pan Natio de no-viro Eco in mu Terra limito; plus Su stimule assuro de pan Homini in pan Loco duro habe bio minus Phobo minus No-pluto.

After the final destruction of Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.

Here is Hogbens translation of the beginning of the Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States in America (a.k.a. the Declaration of Independence):

Tem u Rheo de homini Accido; Mono Demo posso esthe necesso de Fracto de plu politica Copula inter Auto syn plu hetero Demo. Harmono plu Nomo de Cosmi plus de Theo, Mu gene lyso plus gene occasio de plu iso Privilegio de plu residuo Natio de Geo. Un homo Chron, Mu debito dicte baso de Lyso harmono u congruo Revero pro plu Credo de Homini.

Na esthe credo; plu para Nomo habe phanero Verito. Chron u Proto, pan Homini habe iso. U Theo date a singulo Homini plu no-verso Privilegio, cleisto de Bio, cleisto de Libero, cleisto de tentato gene hedo. Plu Homini acte societo plu Crati tendo un Immuno de plu iso Privilegio; plus pan Crati debito gene archo e Volo de Demo. Postulo u Crati non acte harmono plu para Tendo; u Demo debito acte per Privilegio allo de Muto allo de Necro Re. Post Re, Mu debito acte societo u neo Crati harmono plu para Nomo syn plu geno de Archo; su pheno date offero de Immuno plus de Hedo syn maxima Fortuno.

Harmono u Sapio de pre Accido, u Sopho acte inhibito u Muto de Crati, mega tem ge revero, causo plu no-gravo plus no-duro Baso. Tem Mu poto acte tolero vice acte necro plu societo Organa; su non habe alieno; plu Homini duro esthe algo. Anti Re, Mu permito balle, plus Mu debito balle, apo Mu u Crati; plus Mu debito acte societo plu neo Geno de Immuno; chron u longo Serio de Oppresso syn Clepto tendo mono Sequo date digito u Viro de Helo. Minus Protesto, plu para Coloni pre acte tolero major de satio Tem. Na nu necesso gene u neo geno de Crati.