A Project to Reform Novial


The international auxiliary language Novial was published by Prof. Otto Jespersen of Copenhagen in the spring of 1928, in his book An International Language. Jespersen consciously based the language for the most part on the earlier system Ido, formulated by the Delegation for the adoption of an international auxiliary language (Paris, 1907) of which he had been a member. He was also influenced by the language Occidental by Edgar de Wahl (1922), which is more naturalistic than Ido in the sense that it strives for much closer conformity with the linguistic material common to the West European languages, particularly those of the Romance group, for which it sacrifices a certain amount of simplicity, autonomy, and economy in word material.

After studying the problem of a planned international language for some time, I have come to the following general conclusions as to the form such a language should ideally take:

(1) In order that the language be successful in the long term, the form of the language needs to attain the highest possible level of stability. For this reason it is necessary that the basic structure of the language and the basic principles governing its construction be as safe from criticism as is possible, that is, that they be as definitive as possible.

(2) It is clear that it is possible to construct a language at any point on the spectrum having at one end a high level of schematicity/autonomy, and at the other a high level of naturalness, i.e. conformity with ethnic languages. While it is not clear whether any one point on that spectrum is definitive for the construction of international languages, it is clear that the more successful languages will be those which achieve a good and generally acceptable balance between the two extremes of schematicity and naturalness.

(3) In order that it be accessible to a wide audience, that it be as comprehensible as possible at first sight, and finally that it does not conflict too harshly with the speech habits primarily of the speakers of its source languages, it is desirable that the language should not diverge in any point from what is in actual use in its source languages, more than is necessary to secure those simplifications which it is natural and desirable to make in a planned language.

(4) In order to achieve the greatest possible facility for the greatest number of those at whom the language is in the first instance aimed, there needs to be a trade-off between those who have at any stage already started learning the language in detail, and those who come across it for the first time. The language should not be made unnecessarily or unmanageably difficult for either group at the expense of the other. It is therefore essential and a necessary condition of the construction of the language that no artificial element be introduced which cannot be completely justified as a simplification of the system as a whole. On the other hand, it is desirable that every simplification be introduced which has already been made in one or more of the source languages, or which is in general agreement with the structure and nature of those languages.

In view of the above considerations, I have come to the conclusion that Novial is the best basis for the development of the eventual definitive form of IL. That is, it provides the most solid and unshakeable foundation of any system of planned language so far proposed. It is my conviction that the best way to proceed is to restart discussion of the original form of Novial, the structure of which was presented in An International Language (1928), the vocabulary in the Novial Lexike (1930). I am therefore taking this as the starting point for the project.

Novial has not enjoyed an active movement since 1939. It would be possible to relaunch the language as it stood in 1928/30, or perhaps as in 1934 or 1939. But in order to give a modern movement for the language its own authenticity and confidence, it is desirable to go over the language one more time, in order to be completely satisfied that there is nothing that can obviously be done better than in the original version.

As my own investigation of Novial continues, the results will be made available at this site. Any constructive criticism on any point examined will of course be welcome at any time. The results will be presented in the following pages:

The reader is asked to refer particularly to the original exposition in An International Language for further information, until such time as autonomous grammatical and lexical material can be produced for the current project.

James Chandler
Exeter, 4th February 1998

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