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Interlingua


INTRODUCTION

The history of Interlingua is one of the least interesting of its kind. Esperanto has its heady utopianism, its past struggle with Volapük, its epic story of betrayal by the Idists and the ferocious civil war that followed; the Idists have their bitterness and feeling of ignored legitimacy; even the Latino camp had its small moment of theatricality with its famous article, which smoothly and dramatically transformed itself from Latin to Latino. But the language project published by Clark Stillman and Alexander Gode for the International Auxiliary Language Association has no interesting story behind it. Essentially, IALA sought to create a scientifically based international language, since no compromise between the Esperantists and the various naturalist schools seemed imminent; after 1943 the new language was more or less ready, and in 1951 Gode published the first Interlingua dictionary. That's it. End of story.

All in all, Interlingua was probably the most successful of the naturalist language projects, mostly among scientific circles. Since Gode's death, though, support for the language has largely disappeared: the Netherland-based Union Mundial pro Interlingua, the occasional international Interlingua conferances, and a few periodicals (if they indeed still exist) are about all that remain for the several hundred Interlingua faithful. On the other hand, the language may have come to enjoy something of a renewed lease on life in cyberspace, taking the form of several websites and occasional sallies into Esperanto newsgroups. Is it worth this second wind? You be the judge.

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ALPHABET AND PRONUNCIATION

The Interlingua alphabet is classical Roman, and as such features no diacritical marks, though it would certainly be helpful to the learner if it had them, as its “continental” pronunciation is often irregular:

a Like a in English father, e.g., affabile, matino.
b Like b in English bat, e.g., belle, obseder.
c When followed by e, i or y, like ts in English bits (or, optionally, like c in English city), e.g., centro, acide, cylindro. When followed by a, o, u, or a consonant, like c in English can, e.g., caso, color, curso, chimia. Sometimes the digraph ch has the sound of sh in English ship, e.g., choc, chassar.
d Like d in English dog, e.g., deo, idiota.
e Like e in English get, e.g., extra, balena.
f Like f in English fan, e.g., facile, refutar.
g Like g in Garofalo, e.g., galeria, gitarra. When followed by e or i, sometimes like j in French Jacques, e.g., avantage, girafa. The combination gi, when followed by another vowel, sometimes also represents the sound of j in French Jacques, e.g., avantagiose (a-van-ta-zho-se).
h Like h in English home (or, optionally, silent), e.g., homine, alcohol. Silent after r and t, e.g., rhetor, thaumaturgia
i Like i in English machine, e.g., infante, asino. When unstressed before a vowel, like i in English onion or phobia (whichever is easier to say), e.g., medie, Anglia.
j Like j in French Jacques (or, optionally, like g in Geronimo or y in English yuppie), e.g., juvene, projectar.
l Like l in English loser, e.g., leon, aquila.
m Like m in English munchkin, e.g., mover, amor.
n Like n in English nice, e.g., nation, pionero.
o Like o in English pole, e.g., official, adorar.
p Like p in English pot, e.g., policia, imperio. The digraph ph has the sound f in English fan, e.g., physico, sophia.
q Like q in English quest, and only appears with u, e.g., quiete, aqua.
r Like r in Spanish señor, e.g., record, arabe.
s Like s in English sock, e.g., seducer, absolute. Between vowels, optionally, like s in English these, e.g., abstruse, accusativo.
t Like t in English top, e.g., telephono, accidente. Before vowels (unless preceded by s), the combination ti has the sound tsy (or, optionally, sy), e.g., action, guarantia.
u Like oo in English moon, e.g., ultimatum, industria. When unstressed before a vowel, like u in English persuade or superfluous (whichever is easier to say), e.g., puero, lingua.
v Like v in English vicious, e.g., valor, evitar.
w Like w in English web, e.g., west, wombat.
x Like x in English fix, e.g., xenon, explorar. Between vowels, optionally, like x in English examine, e.g., exaggerar, exaltate.
y When followed by a vowel, like y in English yuppie, e.g., yogurt, mayonnaise; otherwise like i in English machine, e.g., typo, mytho.
z Like z in English zipper, e.g., zebra, zelosia.

Unassimilated words (of which there are surprisingly many) retain the pronunciation and spelling of the original language (assuming the speaker can identify it and is familiar with its orthography and pronunciation), though they only keep their diacritical marks if those marks are important for pronunciation: defait, kümmel, chec (ʧek).

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ACCENT

Interlingua boasts of its freedom from diacritical marks, but at the same time imitates the capricious accents of the Romance languages. So while the accent falls on the penultimate syllable for most words, it often falls elsewhere (eg., cápite, córpore, sánguine), and the student has no means of finding it.

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DERIVATION

Peano's Interlingua (now Latino sine Flexione) at least had a more or less consistent method of etymological derivation, with which one could predict the form of most Latino words. But the method of Gode's Interlingua is a return to the "compromise pan-European" of Esperanto and Ido (in which the word derivation and orthography are compromises between the bigger European languages). Thus one finds words like besonio "need", the Italian form of the French besogneaux, bureau unchanged from the French, estranier from Italian straniero and French étranger, and so forth. To avoid gender-bending word arrangements like bona patro, Interlingua arbitrarily either neuters the final vowel with e (tote, Latin totus) or drops it altogether (bon, from bonus).

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ARTICLES

The definite article is le, and, as in Esperanto, is invariable, except for the contracted forms del (de + le) and al (a + le). The indefinite article is un.

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NOUNS

The plural ends in -s after vowels, -es after consonants. Final c in singular words becomes ch in the plural. Le melodia -- le melodias; un generation -- duo generationes; un artichoc -- duo artichoches.

As far as gender goes, although Interlingua inherited many of Latin's gender endings, there is no grammatical gender in Interlingua.

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PROPER NOUNS

Names normally written in the Roman alphabet are transcribed as literally as possible: Caesar, Shakespeare, Descartes, Dell'Abate, John, Giovanni, Fafa Floly, Europa, Asia, Peru, El Salvador, München, New York. Names written in non-Roman scripts are transcribed phonetically: Socrates, Pushkin, Pythagoras, Dniepr.

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ADJECTIVES/ADVERBS

Adjectives are invariable, and can appear both before and after the nouns they modify: stupide personas face le error de reguardar se como personas intelligente.

Adverbs are created from adjectives by adding -mente (or, after c, -amente): un impossibilitate physic -- physicamente impossibile; le littera es confuse -- le litera es scribite confusemente.

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COMPARATIVES

Comparatives are made along the following model:

Fafa es minus intelligente que Howard. Fafa is less intelligent than Howard.
Fafa es tanto intelligente como Howard. Fafa is as intelligent as Howard.
Fafa es plus intelligente que Howard. Fafa is more intelligent than Howard.
Fafa ha le minus blanc dentes ex omne. Fafa has the least white teeth of all.
Fafa ha le plus verde dentes ex omne. Fafa has the greenest teeth of all.

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PRONOUNS

PRONOUNS POSSESSIVES
Person Nom. Prep. Acc. Ref. Before
Noun
After
Noun
1st Singular io me me me mi mie
Plural nos nos nos nos nostre nostre
2nd Singular tu te te te tu tue
Plural vos vos vos vos vostre vostre
3rd Singular mas. ille ille le se su sue
fem. illa illa la se su sue
neut. illo, il illo, il lo se su sue
Plural mas. illes illes les se lor lore
fem. illas illas las se lor lore
neut. illos illos los se lor lore

It’s been claimed of Interlingua’s grammar that features absent from any of the “primary control languages” (English, French, Italian, and Spanish/Portuguese, with German and Russian as secondary references) were dropped. A good idea, but not entirely true — Interlingua’s prepositional pronouns, for example, are not present in English or French.

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VERBS

Verbs are conjugated as follows:

INTERLINGUA ENGLISH
tirare
tirate
tirante
tira
to pull (or shoot)
pulled
pulling
pull!
io tira
io tirava
io tirara
io tirarea
I pull
I pulled
I will pull
I would pull
io ha tirate
io habeva tirate
io habera tirate
io haberea tirate
I have pulled
I had pulled
I will have pulled
I would have pulled
io es tirate
io esseva tirate
io essera tirate
io esserea tirate
I am pulled
I was pulled
I will be pulled
I would be pulled
io ha essite tirate
io habeva essite tirate
io habera essite tirate
io haberea essite tirate
I have been pulled
I had been pulled
I will have been pulled
I would have been pulled

Exceptions:

  • The Present Participle. If the root ends in -i, it is changed to -ie- before adding -nte-: sentir "to feel", sentiente; finir "finish", finiente.

  • The Past Participle. If the root ends in -e, it is changed to -i- before adding -te-: saper "to know", sapite; scriber "to write", scribite.

  • The Present Tense. The verbs esser "to be", haber "to have", and vader "to go" in the present tense are reduced to the first syllable (es, ha, va). Esser has the additional conjugations sia and optional plural son.

  • The Future Tense. The accent falls on the final -a. The future can also be expressed by vader: io va scriber.

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NUMBERS

The numbers are: un, duo, tres, quatro, cinque, sex, septe, octo, nove, dece, dece-un, dece-duo, vinti, trenta, quaranta, cinquanta, sexanta, septanta, octanta, novanta, cento, mille.

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CONCLUSION

Interlingua's structured conjugation system is in some ways an improvement over the nebulous guidelines offered in Latino, but otherwise the whole language suffers -- more than any other I've seen -- from slavish over-imitation of the Romance languages: the pronouns have three separate cases (nominative, accusative, and prepositional), the possessives have two separate forms, depending on whether they appear before or after the words they modify, verbs have different conjugations depending on the last vowel of the stem, and many verbs have two stems. Peano's one innovation worthy of imitation -- his method of derivation -- is tossed aside for the haphazard method of compromise and fancy used in Esperanto and Ido. Even the business of how to terminate a word is made more complicated in Interlingua, which arbitrarily draws from this or that Romance tongue and takes this or that ending (or simply invents one) without any apparent regard for consistency.

Of course, all this may sound like so much scholarly nitpicking to the prospective learner. After all, the learner knows, a sentence like illa es un femina interessante “she is an interesting woman” is a lot more immediately recognizable than, say, Esperanto’s ŝi estas virino interesa. And indeed, anyone familiar with one or more Romance languages will probably be able to decipher simple sentences in Interlingua even without the benefit of prior study. The trouble starts when one is asked not to read a sentence in Interlingua, but to create one’s own. One might offer “she is a good woman”, but what’s the word for “good”? If interessante is any guide, then the word might be bone, but in fact the word is bon. The learner has no way of knowing this without recourse to a dictionary. Nor can he know that the word for “goodness” is not bonitude, but bonitate, the word for “blessedness” not beatitate, but beatitude. Unlike in schematic languages, Interlingua words often have to be learned by rote, with the net result being typical for any naturalistic constructed language: easy to read, nearly impossible to write or speak.

Don’t get me wrong — Interlingua, for all its faults, is still easier to learn than a real language. And as a record of common Romance roots, it may be a useful reference tool for other language builders. But between the mercurial derivation, variable but unmarked accent, multiple ways to pronounce certain letters (and multiple ways to pronounce some words), double consonants, teeming homonyms, and the byzantine pronoun and verb system, Interlingua has little to recommend itself as an auxiliary universal language. It is, in the end, the same grammatical hydra Peano gave the world earlier in the century, only this time most of the heads have grown back.

Of course, judging Gode's creation as a practical interlanguage might not be entirely fair, since Gode himself had only envisioned the language being passively used primarily by the scientific community, most of which Gode figured was already familiar with one or more Romance languages and would therefore find reading Interlingua relatively easy. (Which begs the question: If they all already know one or more Romance languages, why do they need Interlingua? Why not just speak those Romance languages?) It's the Interlingua enthusiasts who are really at fault here for trying to make Gode's Monet-like rendering of a language into a spoken tongue -- and ultimately the Esperantists. How? Gode is said to have referred to the Interlingua activists, somewhat contemptuously, as "Esperantists", an assessment that was probably more literally accurate than he meant: Scratch an Interlinguist, and most often one found an ex-Esperantist who, craving a world language but frustrated by the artificiality of Zamenhof's creation, defected to Ido, then to Occidental, then to Interlingua, and would continue to embrace ever more "natural" language schemes until one of the real Romance languages was simply re-invented and declared the new world language. So the next time you roll your eyes at the obnoxious evangelical posts by Interlinguists in the Esperanto newsgroups, just remember -- that missionary zeal probably owes a lot more to the poster's earlier Esperanto days than it properly does to Gode.

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SAMPLE TEXT

LE HISTORIA DE BABEL
  1. Ecce le terra esseva de un lingua e de plus de le mesme parola.

  2. E quando illos avantiava de le oriente, illos incontrava plana in le pais Shinar, e comenciava habitar super illo.

  3. E illos diceva un a su proximo: Veni, nos face briccas e coce los in le furno. E illos usava le briccas pro petras, e bitumine pro cemento.

  4. E illos diceva: Veni, nos construera pro nos citate e turre cuje summitate attingera a celo, e nos celebrara nostre nomine ante nos divider nos in omne terra.

  5. Ecce le Senior descendeva pro vider le citate e le turre quem le filios de Adam esseva construente,

  6. e ille diceva: Ecce, un es le populo, e es un lingua pro omnes; illos comenciava facer isto, e illos non cessara su projecto usque illos completara su labor.

  7. Veni dunque, nos descende, e ibi nos confundera lor lingua pro que omnes non comprende le parola de su proximo.

  8. E assi le Senior divideva los ex ille loco in omne terra, e illos cessava construer le citate.

  9. E pro isto on nominava illo Babel, proque ibi esseva confusite le lingua de omne terra; e de ibi le Senior dispergeva omnes super le facie de tote le region.

Genesis 11:1-9 traducite
ex le Vulgata per Fafa Floly

HISTORIA BABEL
  1. Erat autem terra labii unius, et sermonum eorundem.

  2. Cumque profiscerentur de oriente, invenerunt campum in terra Senaar, et habitaverunt in eo.

  3. Dixitque alter ad proximum suum: Venite, faciemus lateres, et coquamus eos igni. Habueruntque lateres pro saxis, et bitumen pro caemento;

  4. et dixerunt: Venite, faciamus nobis civitatem et turrim, cuius culmen pertingat ad caelum et celebremus nomen nostrum antequam dividamus in universas terras.

  5. Descendit autem Dominus ut videret civitatem et turrim, quam aedificabant filii Adam,

  6. et dixit: Ecce, unus est populus, et unum labium omnibus: coeperuntque hoc facere, nec desistent a cogitationibus suis, donec eas opere compleant.

  7. Venite igitur, descendamus, et confundamus ibi linguam eorum, ut non audiat unusquisque vocem proximi sui.

  8. Atque ita divisit eos Dominus ex illo loco in universas terras, et cessaverunt aedificare civitatem.

  9. Et idcirco vocatum est nomen eius Babel, quia ibi confusum est labium universae terrae: et inde dispersit eos Dominus super faciem cunctarum regionum.

Genesis 11:1-9 conversus ex
Latino vetulo ab Sancto Hieronymo




LE ÜBER-LINGUA

Brigitte partiva de su german lection firmemente determinate ne studiar le lingua. Post toto, del un parte, in le lingua de Goethe illa videva pro se nulle necessitate (le lectiones esseva imponeva a illa per su matre), del altere parte, illa sentiva se profundemente discordante con le german. Le lingua irritava la per su manco de logica. Le exemplo pro hodie exhauriva su patiencia: le preposition ohne (sin) prende le accusativo, le preposition mit (con) prende le dativo. Quare? Post toto, le duo prepositiones significa le positive et negative aspecto de le mesme relation, et dunque illos deberea relatar a le mesme caso. Illa objectava a su instructor, un juvene germano, qui deveniva embarassate et immediatemente sentiva se culpabile. Ille esseva sympathic, dulce viro qui trovava dolorose pertiner a nation que permitteva se esser governate per Hitler. Preste vider in su nation omne vitio, ille immediatemente credeva que es nulle acceptabile causa pro que le prepositiones mit et ohne deberea relatar a duo differente casos.

“Illo ne es logic, io sape, ma illo vere esseva acceptava dum le sekulos”, ille diceva, como si precante le juvene francese compatir a un lingua maledicte per le historia.

“Io gaude que vos confessa lo. Illo ne es logic. Ma un lingua debe esser logic”, diceva Brigitte.

Le juvene germano concordava: “Infortunatemente, manca a nos un Descartes. Illo es un nepardonabila lacuna in nostre historia. In le german ne es un tradition de ration et claritate, in illo es multe metaphysic nebula et wagneriano musica, et nos omnes sape qui esseva le plus grande admirator de Wagner: Hitler!”

Brigitte esseva interessate nec per Wagner nec per Hitler, et sequeva su proprie pensar: “Un lingua in que ne es logica es aprendibile a infante, proque infante ne pense. Ma illo ne es aprendibile a adulto. Ergo, pro me, le german ne convene como un lingua de mundial communication.”

“Vos absolutemente habe ration”, diceva le germano, et ille adjungeva in voce basse, “Al minus vos vide como absurde esseva le german effortio a mundial domination!”

Contente con illa ipse, Brigitte sedeva se in su auto et vadeva a Fauchon pro comprar bottilia de vino....

Selection ex Immortalitate per Milan Kundera
traducite ex le russe per Fafa Floly

ÜBER-ЯЗЫК

Брижит уходила с урока немецкого, твердо решив им не заниматься. С одной стороны, потому что в языке Гёте не видела для себя никакой надобности (к его изучению ее принудила мать), с другой — потому что ощущала с немецким глубокое несогласие. Этот язык раздражал ее своей нелогичностью. Сегодняшний пример переполнил чашу ее терпения: предлог ohne (без) управляет винительным падежом, предлог mit (с) — дательным. Почему? Ведь оба предлога означают позитивный и негативный аспект одного и того же отношения, поэтому должны были бы управлять одним и тем же падежом. Она сказала об этом учителю, молодому немцу, который смутился и фазу же почувствовал себя виноватым. То был симпатичный мягкий человек, страдающий от того, что он представитель народа, который позволил властвовать над собой Гитлеру. Готовый видеть в своем отечестве все пороки, он мгновенно согласился, что не существует никакого приемлемого основания, чтобы предлоги mit и ohne управляли двумя различными падежами.

— Нелогично, я знаю, но так уж принято в течение веков, — говорил он, словно просил молодую француженку смилостивиться над языком, проклятым историей.

— Я рада, что вы с этим согласны. Это нелогично. А язык должен быть логичным, — говорила Брижит. Молодой немец подпевал ей:

— К сожалению, у нас не было Декарта. Это непростительная брешь в нашей истории. В Германии нет традиции разума и ясности, в ней полно метафизического тумана и вагнеровской музыки, и мы все знаем, кто был величайшим поклонником Вагнера: Гитлер!

Брижит не интересовали ни Вагнер, ни Гитлер, и она следовала за своей мыслью:

— Языком, в котором нет логики, может овладеть ребенок, потому что ребенок не думает. Но им никогда не сможет овладеть взрослый иностранец, поэтому для меня немецкий не является языком мирового общения.

— Вы абсолютно правы, — сказал немец и тихо добавил: — По крайней мере, вы видите, насколько абсурдно было стремление немцев к мировому господству!

Довольная собой, Брижит села в машину и поехала к «Фашон» купить бутылку вина...

Отрывок из романа Бессмертие Милана Кундеры
Перевод с чешского Нины Шулъгиной




UN LINGUA PRO OMNE LOS GOVERNAR

Tres Anellos pro le elfes vivente sin dormir,
Septe pro le gnomos in le petrose salon,
Nove pro le homines condemnate morir,
Un pro le Nigre Domino sur le nigre thron',
Ubi jace le Umbras in le pais Mordoran.
Un Anello los governa, Un Anello los cape,
Un Anello in tenebra los voca et los rape,
Ubi jace le Umbras in le pais Mordoran.

Orchese verso per J.R.R. Tolkien
traducite per FafaFloly
ex le Esperanta traduction per William Auld
(cursive lineas ex le inscription sur le Unic Anello)

ONE TONGUE TO RULE THEM ALL

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on this dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.


Orkish verse by J.R.R. Tolkien
(lines in italics from the Ring inscription)


OTHER EXAMPLES

Click to enlarge the pictures

Laetitia Casta Afghan Refugee Bat Boy iPod

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WHERE CAN I LEARN INTERLINGUA?

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OTHER INTERLINGUA-RELATED LINKS

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