Handbook of Volapük

Menad bal pük bal!

Not quite what you think. Yes, Charles E. Sprague’s 1888 Handbook of Volapük is available online, and there are other resources on Volapük available online:


But what I'm talking about here is a recent novel—yes, a novel!—published in 2006: A Handbook of Volapük by Andrew Drummond.

See also the amazon.com entry, but more importantly, Andy Drummond has his own web site with a section on the novel:


The full title:

A Hand-Book of Volapük and an Elementary Manual of its Grammar and Vocabulary, Prepared from the Gathered Papers of Gemmell Hunter Ibidem Justice; Together with an Account of Events Relating to the Annual General Meeting of 1891 of the Edinburgh Society for the Propagation of a Universal Language.

Edited for the First Time by Dr. Charles Cordiner,
Emeritus Professor of Phrenology at Fraserburgh University.
Partisans of Volapük, Esperanto, and rival international language projects battle it out in late 19th century Europe. A whodunit of historic proportions.

There are links to other pages, including an extract, reviews, and a web guide to materials on Volapük:


See also this review:

"Universal Languages" by Hannah Adcock

I've never seen this book, let alone read it, but I'll be on the lookout. Might be a good book for a reading club.


Newts & the international language

In my junior year of high school 40 years ago I had an eccentric English teacher who bypassed the standard curriculum and taught what he wanted to teach. So he taught a novel we never heard of, called War with the Newts (1936), by Czech author Karel Čapek, creator of the concept and our word "robot" (in the play R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots, 1921). This novel is a terrific dark satire of the end of the world, mocking the news, the fads, trends, politics, culture, and everyday life of society blindly following its trivial pursuits and myopic perspectives as civilization teeters on the brink of destruction, a theme that ought to resonate today as it did in the 1930s. Book Two of this novel, an excerpt of which is now on my site, is written with running footnotes from page to page, such that the main narrative is constantly being broken up by footnotes that run for pages at a time, a technique which highlights both the fragmented experience of modern life and the futile attempts of the average person to come to terms with it.

The novel centers around the discovery of a hitherto unknown, intelligent species of salamander—the newts—that is then incorporated into human civilization and penetrates every aspect of culture, eventually perpetrating an apocalyptic crisis (which occurred also in R.U.R.).

Well, by the time I had read this, I had already taught myself Esperanto a couple of years earlier, and in this same school year I translated Sandor Szathmari's short story "Vincenzo" from Esperanto into English as a project for the same English class. (I got an "A".)

Among many many other social and cultural trends, Čapek satirized one trend that had surfaced in popular culture—the quest for a universal language, along with the habit of constantly inventing new ones. Naturally, I noted his references to Esperanto, Basic English, and the language problem. I photocopied the relevant section of Book Two many years ago and am now making it available on the web:

War with the Newts (Excerpt on the Language Problem) by Karel Čapek

"Fascism has awakened a sleeping world to the realities
of the irrational, mystical character structure
of the people of the world."

— Wilhelm Reich


Socia Teorio ("Social Theory") de Sarah Manguso

Jen kurioza poemo de Sarah Manguso (el poemlibro La Kapitano Surteriĝas ĉe Paradizo), kiun mi hazarde trovis ĉe blogo Promene de Esperantisto-filozofo Dirk Bindmann, originale anglalingva poemo sed jen tradukita Esperanten. Anglaparolantoj eble trovos la originalan interesa, kaj Esperantistoj kiuj ne komprenas la anglan lernos ion novan pri aktivado en Usona poezio, kion mi mem ne konas. La bloganto laj tradukinto Dirk Bindmann notis la verson pri mortpuno al lingvokreantoj, sed interesas min "socia teorio" — unu el miaj precipaj priokupoj — kiel temo de poemo.

* * *

Here is a curious poem by Sarah Manguso (from her book The Captain Lands in Paradise), translated from English into Esperanto, that I chanced upon on the blog of an Esperanto-speaking philosopher. English-speakers may find the original of interest, and Esperanto-speakers who don't know English will learn something about what goes on in American poetry that I didn't know. The blogger and translator Dirk Bindmann noted the line about the death penalty for the creation of new languages, but I'm interested in "social theory" — one of my principal preoccupations — as the subject of a poem.