Published in 1880 by Father Johann Martin Schleyer, Volapük is the effective grandfather of the modern conlang movement, the first such language to encounter widespread interest and success. At the height of its popularity, it claimed some 283 Volapük clubs, 316 textbooks, and 25-35 periodicals. In 1889 it seemed it would conquer the entire world, so much so that the vice-president of the Philological Society of London declared that the question of an international language no longer needed to be discussed, as Volapük was already universally adopted. It was a linguistic sampo, certain to promote peace and brotherhood in our time, the universally understood herald of a new era unlike any before. But the following year it became clear that the movement, torn apart by internal bickering, was quickly coming to a halt. Nowadays, almost no one has ever heard of Volapük -- except for a few Esperantists, and mostly just by the acid expression "That's Volapük to me" (= "That's Greek to me").
ALPHABET AND PRONUNCIATION
Based more or less on German, the Volapük alphabet is strictly phonetic:
The letters are pronounced as in German, except that the letters v and y are the same as the English, h is the German ch, c is sometimes ch as in church, others s as in pleasure, and j is sh as in ship. The letter r was at first avoided, usually being substituted by l.
The Volapük lexicon is based largely on English (bed, dog, god, if, lip, pen, skin, tip), but because of Schleyer's preference for monosyllabic words and his aversion of r and certain consonant groups, the majority of the English is transformed beyond recognition: animal becomes nim, speak becomes pük, rose becomes lol, friend becomes flen, and so on. Compound words are frequent, in which the first element is usually in the genitive case (eg., Volapük, from vol "world"). There's no limit to the number of elements in a compound word, and it's possible (though not common) to create monsters like löpikalarevidasekretel and klonalitakipafablüdacifalöpasekretan.
Volapük nouns all have the following declension:
Adjectives end in -ik (eg., gudik "good"), adverbs in -i or -o (eg., gudiko "well").
The pronouns are ob (I), ol (thou), om (he), of (she), os (it), obs (us), ols (you), and oms, ofs (they).
The Volapük verb conjugation is one of the most complicated ever devised, consisting of innumerable affixes for expressing every tense and mood imaginable. Some of them are:
Altogether there's some 505,440 separate verb forms, more than even Schleyer himself could keep track of. Certain verbs are so complex that he would italicize the root to help the reader find his way through the tangle of affixes.
The numbers are: bal (1), tel (2), kil (3), fol (4), lul (5), mäl (6), vel (7), jöl (8), zül (9), bals (10), balsebal (11), tum (100), mil (1000).
Volapük, for all its success, was doomed to extinction for two main reasons: (1) the language had too many objectionable elements -- from its grotesque, foreign appearance to its perplexingly complex verb system -- which gave rise to all manner of dissent within the movement; (2) its very success, which tempted other would-be language designers to nudge it aside with their own, more appealing projects. It was, as it were, the sacrificial lamb of the conlang movement, needed to clear the way for the other great constructed languages.
O Fat obas, kel binol in süls, paisaludomöz nem ola! Kömomöd monargän ola! Jenomöz vil olik, äs in sül, i su tal! Bodi obsik vädeliki givolös obes adelo! E pardolös obes debis obsik, äs id obs aipardobs debeles obas. E no obis nindukolös in tentadi; sod aidalivolös obis de bad. Jenosöd!
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