Interlingua in my fiction

Auxiliary languages have been around for almost 150 years. In an era where people in general got very little formal education, it was an appealing idea to create a easy-to-learn language that could be used to overcome the Tower of Babel problem, i.e. making it possible for people to acquire a neutral method for cross-border communication. The first such language was the elegant but unusable Volapük and number two became the most famous one: Esperanto, created by a physician. It is a clunky but functioning language that has acquired quite some reputation for being THE auxiliary language, probably thanks to its proponents’ idealistic ambitions during the first decades of the XXth century. During the following decades, several more were designed created, some by professional linguists.

In 2002 I was seriously bored for various reasons, so I decided to do something out of the ordinary: learn a new language. With the help of internet I read about auxiliary languages and found out about Interlingua. It was a beautiful Romance language, created by a multinational team of linguists in the United States in the 1940s at the request of a wealthy American patron who financed the venture. However, Interlingua has never been particularly successful; its adherents number a few thousand and it is fairly unknown to the general public. I think the reason is simple: it arrived too late — the need for auxiliary languages had disappeared with the advent of the modern school systems of the XXth century. When children spend 8-15 years in school instead of three, there is time enough to learn one or two foreign languages properly.

Anyhow, after a few months I had acquired a decent proficiency and started using Interlingua in contacts with other language nerds. I realized that it could be useful, too, in my writing projects. It looks and sounds like a mix of Latin and Italian, has a simple, mostly Germanic grammar, and most of the vocabulary is understandable for anyone knowing English. So I could use it as a substitute for Latin — it has the right archaic flavor while it is easy to learn, speak, write and read (which Latin isn’t).

In my novel Spiran and staven (S&S; The Sceptre and the Quarterstaff) I use the same type of linguistic device as Tolkien did in his Middle-earth texts. He let the common Westron be represented by English and its archaic relative Rohirric by Anglo-Saxon, i.e. ancient English. In Vidonia and Dire-weald, the locations for the adventures of my novel, people use several languages. The common Termali is represented by Swedish. There is also a language called Azuli, which has the same status as Latin in Renaissance and Baroque Europe. I cannot use Latin, because I don’t master it, but I decided that Interlingua could play that particular role. It resembles Latin sufficiently while it is manageable by me, the author. For instance, a phrase like Que sapientia dona luce al mundo (“May wisdom give light to the world”) is easy for me to compose and it is not nonsense to an educated Swedish (or foreign) reader.

I also used Interlingua as the trade creole for the colonists on the continent of Lemuria in the role-playing-game world Krister Sundelin and I wrote together. Most of the colonists had Spanish or Portuguese as native languages, so it was plausible that the new cross-national creole would have a Romance base.

I spent four years dealing with Interlingua, coincidentally the years during which I wrote S&S. For instance, I wrote a lot of popular science articles in Interlingua magazines and translated a short-story by sir Arthur Conan Doyle (link >>>). In 2006, life got problematic in the private sphere so there was no longer time for that hobby. But what I have learned won’t go away. I still have occasional contacts with interlinguists. Yesterday I exchanged some emails with a Dane in that language — the first time in some years that I used it actively — and I realized that I still wrote it more or less fluently. So that’s how I got the inspiration for today’s blog post.

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