20th century / Humanities

Alice Vanderbilt Morris: Interlingua and the case for a Global Language

By Verity Heir

The need for interlanguage

As the world became increasingly more international in the twentieth century, with the rise of technology and more transportation options, there became a demand for a common language so that nations could communicate effectively without the use of translators. To solve this linguistic conundrum, individuals such as Alice Vanderbilt Morris sought to find a solution, pursuing studies into the ‘international auxiliary language’; creating a new language, Interlingua to act as a mediator language between two different cultures.

The studies of international auxiliary languages, or IALs, could be argued as the forerunners to the emergence of a global language. However, it is important to note that Vanderbilt Morris was not the first to create an international auxiliary language. Many individuals dating back to the 1800s published ideas and cultivated their own different versions of the ‘interlanguage’, an intermediate language to serve as a means of mutual communication between two languages. The first widespread example of an international auxiliary language was Esperanto, which was created by Dr Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof in 1870s. Esperanto, like other IALs, is an artificial language, and Zamenhof cultivated its roots from Romance languages (i.e. Latin based languages such as Spanish, French and Italian). Its purpose was to be a second language, with simple pronunciation and grammar, so that speakers could learn the language and be understood easily.

Although many attempted to create universal languages that were neutral in meaning and could allow communication worldwide, Vanderbilt Morris was a great driving force behind the studies into IALs. Vanderbilt Morris contributed to the development of Interlingua, but also the made great contributions to the linguistic field by founding the International Auxiliary Language Association to aid studies into IALs.

A brief biography

Alice Vanderbilt Morris (nee Vanderbilt Shepard) was born on 7th December 1874 to a wealthy family of the Dutch Vanderbilt lineage. During her formative years she suffered an accident which resulted in scoliosis and ill health. Due to being regularly incapacitated, she developed keen academic interests and pursued the most extensive linguistic research for the time. However, it was after a trip to a clinic for treatment that she became aware of Esperanto, after finding a brochure detailing auxiliary languages.

In a heavily male dominated arena such as linguistics, it is striking that Vanderbilt Morris was a key contributor to the field, and the study of auxiliary languages. She was educated at Radcliffe College, Harvard University, where she undertook most of her linguistic studies, but her main recognition came from an honorary doctorate she was awarded for her unique work in international auxiliary languages.

The beginning of the IALA and Interlingua

Vanderbilt Morris, with the help of her husband David Hennen Morris, founded the International Auxiliary Language Association (or IALA, which ran from 1924-51) to encourage the study of IALs. The organisation carried the mission statement that “promote widespread study, discussion and publicity of all questions involved in the establishment of an auxiliary language, together with research and experiment that may hasten such establishment in an intelligent manner and on stable foundations.”

The IALA did not initially intend to cultivate its own language, instead aiming to identify the most efficient auxiliary language for communication across different languages, and encourage interest and study into it. However, Interlingua was created as a more efficient language as the IALA decided that none of the other auxiliary languages were suitable.

As a consequence, Interlingua was rigorously developed between the years of 1937 to 1951 by the IALA. Similar many other IALs, Interlingua was created with its own unique set of characteristics to make it more accessible and proficient as an interlanguage.  Akin to Esperanto, its vocabulary is mainly based on Romance languages, however Interlingua could be argued to be more of simplified Romance language, a subject-verb-object syntactic word order, and much of the vocabulary and alphabet derived from Latin roots.

Vanderbilt Morris invested herself extensively both the bringing Interlingua and the IALA to prominence. She provided the foundation for the organisation and Interlingua by editing the IALA’s Foundations of Language series in the 1930s and co-authored the 1945 General Report of the IALA. Furthermore, she continued as the Honorary Secretary of the IALA until her death on 15th August 1950. Six months after her death, the Interlingua-English Dictionary was published, leaving her legacy posthumously.

The move towards a global language

Overall, Vanderbilt Morris’ work towards creating a standardised language has contributed to establishing a mediator language for the present day. Although the case for the international auxiliary language and Interlingua ultimately failed, the ideals of a regularised vocabulary, grammar and syntax are being transferred and cultivating into a new interlanguage, Global English. English has become the global language due to colonisation and trading across the Asia and Africa over many centuries, and has rapidly become the lingua franca due to the invention of mobile phones and the internet whereby English is the default language. Therefore the English language is rapidly becoming simplified so that it could be learnt and used for communication across nations, not dissimilar to Vanderbilt Morris’ dream for Interlingua.

Although these artificial languages have not come to populace, Vanderbilt Morris has made a strong contribution to the case for a universal language; moving towards a universal auxiliary language, and better connected world.

References

Esterhill, F (2000). Interlingua Institute: A History. New York: Interlingua Institute. 3 – 4.

Faulk, J (1999). Women, Language and Linguistics: Three American Stories from the First Half of the Twentieth Century. London: Routledge. 61.

Janton, P (1993). Esperanto, Language, Literature and Community:. 3rd ed. Albany: State University of New York Press. 42.

Kachru, B (1990). The Alchemy of English: The Spread, Functions, and Models of Non-Native Englishes. USA: Illini Books. 132

 

3 thoughts on “Alice Vanderbilt Morris: Interlingua and the case for a Global Language

  1. Thank you for these thoughts on Planned Languages. The Esperanto community at Facebook is growing by about 100 members per week. There are already 13.500 members (although we suspect hundreds of thousands of older Esperanto speakers seek alternative means of communication other than Facebook). Many members often comment, they COULD NOT acquire similar quality friendships in every country of the world, so quickly, via any one larger language (English, French, Spanish, Russian, German, Chinese, etc.)

  2. The demolition industry is in good faith” and in the sunroom then there is a online marketing consultant of products. Visit the business factor of Neubauer’s preparation and cleanup. Yes they are reliable since contractor some providers don’t offer quality service.

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