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October 20th, 2012

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08:56 pm - Reactions to Awesomeness
Another synagogue experience.

I came into the synagogue just a bit before the sermon this week.  The Rabbi got up to speak, and begins his talk by asking "Does anyone here speak Solresol?  Even know what it is?"  I'm already on my feet; had to wave a bit and even speak up, since I was way in the back.  He describes Solresol, what it is, why it was invented it, the fact that it's hardly heard of now.  "Does anyone here speak Volapuk?" he asks (not Volapük, his pronunciation was bad).  Once again, I stand and wave.  He speaks about Volapük and it history, and finishes up asking "Does anyone here speak Láadan?" (more Ladán, but I knew what he meant.)  And sure enough, there's me again.  In describing Láadan, he remarks that its inventor (Suzette Hayden Elgin) has been known to grouse at her language's obscurity in the face of the popularity of the "hyper-male" Klingon language.  I don't say it out loud, only to the people near me: "I speak that too."  That's actually comparatively well-known (the language and the fact that I speak it, around my synagogue.)

The discussion of conlangs in the sermon was inspired by the fact that today's Torah reading included the Tower of Babel story, and he wanted to speak of that, and of the "Generation of Separation," the generation of people involved, who merited being dispersed by God all over the world.

Meanwhile, though, after the services, I'm getting approached by friends and strangers alike; "how do you know all those languages?"  I talk to some folks about them, even recount my line about how Volapük is the Laura Bridgman of auxiliary languages (maybe I'll explain that in a comment).  Even find myself telling someone, "Yes, I speak or at least know all of those.  I speak Welsh too, and others.  I can show you how to tie a Turks Head knot.  I invented an origami mezuzah.  Here [I was actually holding one!] is a bencher I've been working on.  I drew one of the fonts I used in it.  I can recognize another dozen or so common fonts on sight.  I really do all these things."  All in one person, and there was more I hadn't touched on.  There's so much depth in each of these topics, too, so much to know, so much to cover—and so much more that I know, personally, even in my sometimes cursory studies of these things, than most people. 

The weird part is how experiences like this make me feel.  I'm not sure I can explain it well, and not sure I should, here, even if I could.  It makes me feel... weird.  Maybe partly guilty or presumptuous: How do I deserve to be this awesome?  And if I know all this stuff, why am I not writing it down, teaching it, making something useful out of all of it?  And how much longer can I expect to stay this awesome?  (For that matter, is it really awesome?  Am I justified in feeling like it is?)  I was too wound up to stay after walking home; I turned around and went back outside to walk around for a while, maybe run into some other people from services (it happened).

All in all, an... experience, I guess.  I guess it's a strange thing for the other people to recount to co-workers... it's even weirder from the inside.  That's a whole different discussion, though.

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[User Picture]
Date:October 21st, 2012 01:32 am (UTC)

The Laura Bridgman of Auxlangs

So, here's my line about Volapük being the Laura Bridgman of auxlangs.

Who's Laura Bridgman, you ask? At least, I hope you're asking, because that's the point. At least need to look her up in Wikipedia or something. If I asked you who was the first blind-deaf person (or at least first American) to be taught to communicate, most people would answer Helen Keller. But she wasn't. Laura Bridgman predated her by something like fifty years. She did it first. She probably achieved some fame and recognition. But then Keller came along and effortlessly eclipsed her. There are various reasons why, and I don't know all of them. Bridgman was a high-strung, nervous person and didn't interview well, apparently. She was under a lot of stress from her very controlling teachers. And Keller was more than just a person with disabilities who rose above them: underneath it all, she really *was* something special, she really did have an uncommonly good mind (I read her autobiography; she had something going on.) And her story, with her single, devoted teacher, was more "romantic" too. Keller wasn't trying to outshine Bridgman. Even Anne Sullivan wasn't trying to outshine Bridgman's teachers. They just did, without even trying.

Volapük was the first International Auxiliary Language to make it big-time. It amassed a large number of followers, quite quickly. It even had *some* (but not enough) penetration into all social classes, not just the wealthy who had time to spend studying such things. They speak of the Volapük conference in which the very chambermaids of the hotels spoke Volapük.

A few decades later, along came Esperanto... and wiped it out. Sure, Volapük didn't vanish overnight, but mention international language to people, and most will at least have heard of Esperanto. Nobody outside the constructed language community ever talks about Volapük. True, this time there *was* a competition: two languages with the same goals competing for followers. But there was still the same effortless eclipsing, with Esperanto taking the world by storm (to the extent any auxlang ever has) and Volapük being brushed aside.

I won't go into the question of why here; there were various design differences between the two languages that apparently caused people to favor one over the other. The Rabbi in his talk spoke about how Schleyer (the inventor of Volapük) maintained rigid control over it and refused to consider any changes (he felt the language was divinely inspired), which led to splintering the Volapük community—exactly the opposite of the intended effect of "Menade bal, püki bal" (One language for one humanity). On the other hand, at some point Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, brought some suggestions and changes to the Esperanto community... and was voted down. Then again, that didn't stop Esperanto from spawning more splinter-conlangs than any other (it comes with the territory of being the biggest), most particularly Ido. And of course, the very existence of so many proposed auxiliary languages bespeaks the contradictory effect of trying to make everyone agree on anything.

(Interestingly, the Volapük Wikipedia is unusually large for the size of its speaker-base. Apparently there are one or two extremely dedicated and hard-working contributors.)

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