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Nine Things You Never Even Thought to Ask About Volapük

Articles in this series have been contributed by a wide range of scholars, linguistic experts, unashamed enthusiasts, fashion-victims and lifestyle-gurus. Recent participants in Celebrity Clay-Pigeon Shoot and The Stornoway Gazette 2018 Croft-Swap, plus people who claim to have shaken hands with runners-up in The X-Factor and Love Island, have signed up to share their thoughts with us over the coming months!!!

No.1     The rise of Volapük...

In Vienna, in the winter of 1886-87, 2,500 students attended classes. By 1889:

  • 210,000 people had attended classes, throughout Europe and the USA; also in Syria.
  • 283 Volapük societies existed throughout the world; also in Belgium.
  • 35 periodicals were published, at least one of which was devoted entirely to humour.
  • in that year, a bibliography was compiled of books on or in Volapük: it contained no fewer than 316 entries, in 13 different languages.
  • At the 1889 Paris Congress of the Volapük movement, an entire city hotel was taken over by the delegates and speakers. Even the waiters, cooks, bell-boys and maids spoke Volapük. It was a resounding success, and signalled a triumphant future.

Contributed by the Reverend Fowler Babington Blogg, Rector of Great Mongeham, Deal.

No.2     A Rose by any other name.

In Volapük, every effort is made to use an English, German, or - if pushed very hard indeed - a French word as the basis for the new vocabulary.
We have therefore simple Volapük words such as dog, kat, man, pen.

However, the letter 'S' is reserved to denote the plural, as with many English or French nouns - 'dogs', 'cats', 'trees'. For that reason, a singular noun cannot end in an 'S' in Volapük, because it just gets complicated beyond belief. So the word for a 'rose', for example, common to English, German and French, has to be altered - you might suppose it to be rot or ror.
Unfortunately, the letter 'R' is frowned upon in our Universal Language, being unsuitable - according to inclination, province, or untutored prejudice - for the peoples of China and Japan. Where the letter 'R' appears, it is often substituted by the letter 'L'.
Thus 'rose' becomes lol. And 'roses' lols.

'Cat', by the way, is rather rude. The kat might well have cat on the mat, but it is certainly impolite to remark on it, the letter 'C' being pronounced in Volapük as 'sh' or 'ch'. Mat, in case you were not aware of it, is the word for 'marriage'.

There are other letters in Volapük which have a life of their own, but let someone else deal with those.

Contributed by Ross W. Jackson (Lol V. Caxön), Scottish Cats Protection League.

No.3 Some Astonishing Arithmetic.

Any given verb in Volapük has a large number of possible forms and meanings.
There are:

  • 10 persons - I, you, he, she, it, one - in the singular; and we, you, they (masculine), they (feminine) in the plural;
  • 6 tenses - present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect, future, future perfect;
  • 2 voices - active or passive;
  • 10 moods - participle, infinitive, imperative, optative, jussive, potential, conditional, conjunctive, interrogative, reflexive.

In theory, therefore, any one verb-root could have up to 1,200 variations.

This allows the phrase 'I order the ladies to have been loved by a certain time' to be expressed simply as Pulöfofs-öz!, from the verb löf - to love. The prefix 'u' denotes the future perfect, 'ofs' denotes the plural feminine, and the suffix 'öz' denotes the jussive form of the imperative. An initial 'p' makes the whole thing passive.

Similarly, a noun may grow certain prefixes and suffixes, allowing a basic root-word to take on many different shades of meaning. It is a simple matter to arrive at 70 or 80 variations of such a root. Thus, the word for 'a criminal' in Volapük is klimel. With the application of prefixes and suffixes, we may quickly list the following variations in quality of that simple word:

  • klimel, a criminal or felon,
  • smaklimel, petty-criminal, (small-)
  • leklimel, villain, (large-)
  • gleklimel, master-criminal, (great-)
  • klimelil, ruffian, (-little)
  • smaklimelil, ne'er-do-well, (small-little)
  • luklimel, thug, (bad-)
  • luklimelil, delinquent, (bad-little)
  • luleklimel, convict, (bad, big-)
  • lugleklimel, jail-bird, (bad, great-)
  • legleklimel, outlaw, (large, great-)
  • lusmaklimelil, wretch, (bad, small -little)

Concise, and yet smugly satisfying.

Contributed by Professor Charles Cordiner, Emeritus Professor of Phrenology at the University of Fraserburgh.

No.4.     Obedience.

The Imperative is the commanding-form of a verb: 'lie down !', 'turn over !' or 'beg !'. But it is less well-known, even among students of any Universal Language, that there are three forms of the Imperative:

  • The Imperative - expressive of command, advice or request.
  • The Optative - expressing a desire or wish.
  • The Jussive - expressing a direct order, or strong advice.
Thus: 'Be sure to have that mask on before I return !' - expresses the Imperative;
'Please pay some attention to my feelings !' - which is the Optative;
and 'Get back on that couch !' - expresses the Jussive.

In Volapük, the various forms of the Imperative are expressed by different suffixes, following the person-ending of a verb.

  • The ending of the simple Imperative is -öd :
  • Kömolöd! Come ! (to one person.)
  • Kömolsöd! Come ! (to more than one person.)
  • Lit binomöd ! Let there be light !
  • The courteous or softened form of the Optative ends a verb in -ös :
  • Kömolös! Please come ! (to one person.)
  • Kömolsös! Please come ! (to more than one person.)
  • Lit binomös ! I request that there be light !
  • and the Jussive, the harsh form, ends in -öz :
  • Kömolöz! Come (or else) ! (to one person.)
  • Kömolsöz! Come (defy me if you dare) ! (to more than one person.)
  • Lits binomöz ! Lights !

Contributed by Putania Vishnetsky, acclaimed director of the films 'Mistress of the Night', 'Blind Devotion' and the Winner of the 2004 Basildon Bond Prize, 'Obey Without Question'.

No.5.     Texting in Volapük.

Any number of root words may be combined in Volapük to create a pleasing confection.

This is easily done.
Take, for example:
Vol - world, and Pük - speech: Volapük - world-speech, the universal language. The a joins the root-words together.
Volapükatidel: Volapük, and tidel - teacher: teacher of Volapuk
Jivolapukatidel: Ji - she, so: female teacher of Volapük

Yagadog: yag - to hunt, dog - dog: hunting dog
Similarly, jiyagadog.
Dogahel - hair of the dog.
How about jiyadadogatidel - the trainer of a hunting bitch?
Or jiyagadogatideladom - the house of the trainer of a hunting bitch?
Jiyagadogatidelamateladünan - the servant of the husband of the trainer of a hunting bitch

Haggis cook-book: glenbefulikajipastomakakukabuk (grain-filled sheep's stomach cookery book)

'To text' - the word mob means a proposal, and fon means a fountain, so we must rely on other root-words: telefon, vöd (word), sedön (to send) and polön (to carry). Vödatelefon springs immediately to mind, but certain trademark considerations prevent us from using it as part of our new word. The concise polikatelefonavödasedön seems to do the trick.
Sadly, the younger set of Volapük speakers have adopted the German word 'der Handy' to come up with the word namel, and the crude verb namelön has resulted. It should be stressed that every new Volapük root-word must be fully approved by the Academy of Volapük (Volapükakadem) in Baden-Baden, and since namelön has not received any such approval, it may not be used. Proposals for new words may, of course, be texted - mobs kanoms papolikatelefonavödasedön - to the Academy.

Contributed by Eck Ogg, of Wick.

No.6.     War, Imperialism, and Fraternal Greetings.

The world shudders daily under the threat of Imperialist war-mongering in the Middle East, Far East and Africa. Desperate acts of war and oppression perpetrated by the American xenophobes are answered by equally desperate acts of terror by disoriented sects, deluded by the quasi-religious doctrines of the petty-bourgeoisie. The profiteering post-Revisionist liquidationists of Moscow, the geriatric running-dog Stalinist mandarins of Beijing, the incurable oil-thirsty psychopaths of Washington and Downing Street - for all their rhetoric, they are united in their increasingly frenzied quest to halt the historical decline in the Rate of Profit.

But their attempts to maintain profit-levels by destroying the means of production will only succeed when they have defeated the working-class in their own countries. To prevent such a cataclysmic outcome, the working-class needs - more than ever before - to unite across boundaries and frontiers, united in one cause and by one common language!

The cause is the final overthrow of Capitalist Imperialism, and the long-overdue sweeping of the Augean Stables of Moscow and Beijing.

The language is Volapük, the Speech of the World. With Volapük, there will no longer be any misunderstanding, brother will fight alongside brother, sister alongside sister! The massed ranks of the working-class will at last sweep aside the crumbling ruins of Imperialist Civilisation, and usher in the true Human Era!

Long live Volapük! Long live the working-class! Long live the revolution!
Lifomös lonediko Volapük! Lifomös lonediko vobelaklad! Lifomös lonediko volut!

Contributed by Dr Enrico Mantovani of Padua University.

No.7     HARGL PUNX TWYM: less-than-Universal languages.

Jean-Francois Sudre envisaged Solresol in 1827. He proposed seven simple sounds, each corresponding to one of the 7 notes of the musical scale (do re mi fa sol la ti).
There would be

  • 7 words of 1 syllable
  • 49 words of 2 syllables
  • 336 words of 3 syllables
  • 2268 words of 4 syllables
  • 9072 words of 5 syllables

The great advantage of Solresol was that it could be 'spoken' by words, but equally well by any musical instrument, by the seven colours of the rainbow, by bells or horns, flags, rockets. It could be a sign-language or a finger-language. Communication could even be facilitated by smells or tastes. Since his work was first published posthumously in 1866, he died disappointed.

Mr Bollack (author of Bolak or Blue Language, 1899) drew up a list of all the pronounceable monosyllabic words containing 5 letters or more; then he arbitrarily assigned a meaning to each of these new "words". Thus: PNABS meant "abdication", KRELV mean "ablation", MROLM meant "abundant".
This language, Bollack's as it were, did not catch on.

In 1915, Professor Baumann of Munich proposed 'WEDE' (Weltdeutsch - 'World-German'), for use in a German-dominated post-war world. He had to wait some time.

Contributed by Brother Andrew McKelvie, Secretary, Scottish Union of Boot-Closers.

No.8     Iz Juz and Livs.

The alphabet of Volapük contains twenty-seven letters:
a ä b c d e f g h i j k l m n o ö p r s t u ü v x y and z.
You will see that the letters Q and W have been omitted and three new ones (ä, ö, ü) introduced from another source, which is the German alphabet.

In learning to pronounce Volapük, the first difficulty is to avoid sounding the vowels a e i o u like their English names A E I O U.

The Volapük syllables: pa pe pi po pu
are not to be read as: pay pea pie po(t) pew
but like the English syllables: pa(h) pay pea po(le) poo

The new vowel ä is to be pronounced quite simply as the short 'e' in 'get', or 'wet'. The vowel ö is pronounced as the vowel in 'word' or 'sir'. Have a care not to rhyme 'word' with 'turd', or 'sir' with 'cur', however much your Republican feelings may drive you. And the vowel ü is pronounced as in the Scottish 'who' or 'rude' or 'food'.

Of the consonants, the only ones likely to cause difficulty are C, G, J and Z.

  • C is to be pronounced as either 'ch' or 'j'
  • G is only ever to be pronounced as in 'Got', and never as in 'George'.
  • J is deceptive. It is always pronounced 'sh', as in 'shoe'.
  • Finally, Z is to be pronounced as 'ts', as in 'lots', 'boats', and not as in 'zoetrope' or 'haze'.

May I leave you with this rather amusing and risqué ditty?

"Ter wos a yöng dem of Möntros,
ön hus jus ter nävör vär bos;
For vänävör ji bänt or,
Hör korsac höd te flor,
And jöt of te vyü tu hör tos."

Contributed by Charles E. Sprague,
Member of the Academy of Volapük, President of the American Institute of Accounts.

No.9     Moods - not enough of them.

Students of language will be familiar with many of the moods of most European languages - the imperative (command), the interrogative (question), the conditional (if...then...), the potential (possible), and so forth.

Volapük provides an elegant solution to the problem of expressing "mood" in language, by applying suffixes to the forms of the verb.

For modern living, however, this is by far not enough. What linguistic "moods" do we have, for example, for comedy, for tragedy, for uncertainty, for the telling of truth, or of lies, for the reporting of Government statements and delivery of religious sermons? None!

Let us therefore have the FACETIVE mood, any one of a dozen forms for comic delivery - dead-pan, camp, satirical, music-hall, dry, accidental, and so forth.
Let us develop the EQUIVOCATIVE mood, suited largely to adolescent boys, the ignorant, the uncommitted, the hesitant, the agnostic, the weak-willed, allowing also for the scientific "uncertainty principle" .
Let us have the DECEPTIVE mood - ranging from a 'white lie', or economy with the facts, through prevarication, the avoidance of a straight answer, all the way to bare-faced lies and Ministerial denials.
By contrast, a VERACIOUS mood is also required, to graduate such statements as may be presented as the truth - once again, from the "truth" that is known by the speaker to be untrue, through the "truth" of whose falsehood the speaker is unaware, all the way to the sheer and absolute truth - which doubtless finds it impossible to speak its own name.
We demand an EVIDENTIAL mood, allowing us to determine whether a report or a story has been seen directly by the teller, or the teller had heard it on the phone, or read it in a book, or seen it on TV; or to indicate that the story had simply been reported to the teller by another party, or passed third-hand, without verification, or via 'Chinese Whispers'.
And the EPIGRAMMATIC mood, suitable for actors, memorial-masons, Haiku-poets, spin-doctors.
Finally, let us at least give way to the DEPRESSIVE mood, allowing us to express more exactly in our words the glorious grey multiplicity of shades of unhappiness, despondency, sadness, self-loathing, doubt, hopelessness, self-destructiveness and agony engendered by the long long nights of winter.

Contributed by Bjorn Tøfring, Stockholm Institute of Neo-Linguistics.


(buy 9, get one extra free...)     Eats Shoots and Leaves.

The great conundrum: what does 'eats shoots and leaves' really mean? In Volapük, there is no room at all for dubiety:

  • Eats - assuming this to mean 'it eats' - fidom;
  • Shoots - 'it shoots' - jutom;
  • Leaves - 'it leaves' - letom.

    Thus, fidom jutom e letom.

    Or, alternatively:

  • Shoots - meaning a sprout, a young plant - plotis;
  • Leaves - meaning the plural of leaf - bledis.

Thus, fidom plotis e bledis.

Or, alternatively:

fidom plotis e letom.

No room for dubiety, mis-apprehension, fevered imagination, or books anent mis-placed commas, and apostrophe's.


Contributed by Joseph 'Joe' King, Nocturnal Security Executive, McVities Biscuits.