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Esperanto and Volapuk

ENGLISH is a living language, constantly growing and changing, evolving over thousands of years and reflecting in its rich diversity the many and varied sources which have shaped its vigour and versatility.

The sheer strength and beauty of the language lies in its variety, yet an unending stream of busybodies seek to discard English in favour of a fixed, immutable, universal tongue.

Most people will have heard of Esperanto, a "language" invented in 1887 by Dr Ludwik Zamenhof and comprising French, English and German elements grafted on to Latin roots.

But how about Volapuk, devised by Bishop Johann Schleyer of Germany in 1880? Or Tutonish, invented by someone called Elias Moore?

Other Frankenstein monsters of the linguistic world included Idiom Neutral, Ido, Isotype, Occidental, Interlingua and Novial.

Even a literary luminary such as George Bernard Shaw tended to get a swarm of bees in his intellectual bonnet. Shaw, mercifully, avoided the temptation of inventing a new language, but he could not tolerate the sheer irrationality of English spelling.

His answer was to add 14 more letters to the alphabet - and to this end he willed a substantial portion of his estate.

Shaw's motivation was economy. His trustee was instructed to establish how much time and labour was wasted throughout the world because of the 26- letter alphabet, and to calculate the resulting loss of income in British and American currency.

Shaw highlighted the inconsistencies of conventional spelling by claiming that "ghoti" should be pronounced "fish" - the "gh" as in "fish", the "o" as in "women" and the "ti" as in "ration".

Fortunately, GBS (no great lover of conformity in other things) did not succeed in foisting a rigid spelling order on the language which he used so well.

He should be better remembered for his acerbic wit, which he displayed to telling effect when interviewed on his 90th birthday. The reporter expressed confidence that he would interview him again in 10 years time.

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