Much love to Nicolas Sarkozy for showing off his language-geek credentials at a Parisian environmental conference. A less astute world leader might’ve taken the easy way out by namechecking Esperanto in an attempt to describe a United Nations draft treaty as difficult to parse. But Sarkozy dug much deeper into the linguistic crates, citing the planned language Volapük instead.
The question now is whether Sarkozy’s gambit will inspire his executive peers to make similar references in the future. Our fondest hope at the moment is that speechwriters the world over are poring over the history of planned languages, and figuring out ways to fit the Esperanto also-rans into their bosses’ remarks. The tongue which we’d most like to hear receive a shout-out is Spelin, which briefly rivaled Volapük as the language of the future. The New York Times covered the competition back in 1888, when it was widely believed that a universal language was inevitable:
Within the past few months several new candidates for popular preference have appeared, the inventors of which and their friends are waging a lively little warfare in behalf of their bantlings, only the echoes of which have as yet been heard in this country. The most important of these contemporaneous rivals thus far encountered by Volapük, is called Spelin. It is the work of Prof. George Bauer, a native of Croatia, a Province of Austria, and Processor of Mathematics in the Realschule of Agram. He is an old Volapükist—in fact, was one of the first to acquire the new language, and frankly confesses that but for the preliminary work of Prof. Schleyer he would never have thought of building Spelin. It is a superstructure, based on the same principles as Volapük, but more logically and philosophically carried out…
An examination of Spelin by one even slightly versed in Volapük will show that it is a natural step toward the evolution of a universal language as easy as it is progressive. The alphabet contains two letters less than Volapük, and there is a decided diminution in the matter of inflection. Spelin certainly does express an idea more briefly and with less montony of termination than Volapük.
Everything you need to teach yourself the basics of Spelin is contained within Prof. Bauer’s original pamphlet on the tongue. We’re not entirely sure why Spelin didn’t make it big, but perhaps the official ant mascot (above) played a role in its failure. It’s tough to convince people to switch languages by selling them on the idea of becoming faceless drones.