Sunday, 3 July 2011

Francois Sudre: Father of Solresol

The search for a universal language began in earnest in the 18th Century.
With Latin in decline and the rise of truly global empires it became the goal of many linguists to develop a new language that could be embraced by every nation in the world, allowing for communication and cooperation on an unprecedented scale.
Initially many looked for an 'Adamic' or 'Edenic' language based on the idea that humanity had shared a universal language until the attempt to build the Tower of Babel and that it would be possible to rediscover the innate language shared by the first people who lived in the Garden of Eden.
Children were raised in silence in the hope that they would begin to speak with a language that emerged from within rather than being taught a language they were immersed in from birth. These experiments, unsurprisingly, failed.
Others worked on the idea of a 'Universal Language', creating a single linguistic system that could be embraced by people of any nation.
The most famous of these is Esperanto but others such as Ido, Interlingua and Volapuk (created by Johann Schleyer after God appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to create a universal language) also attempted to bridge the linguistic divide between nations.
For Francois Sudre all of these languages were found wanting.
They were either too similar to existing languages to be accepted without resentment or too limited in their ability to truly communicate for him to acknowledge that they were truly universal.
He had determined what was truly a universal language and was used globally in a constant enough fashion to become a new language that everyone could embrace.
By 1827 Sudre had developed a language based around the patterns of music.
He had created Solresol.
Solresol has seven syllables based on the Western musical scale: do re mi fa so la si.
Words are constructed from these sounds which are grouped together according to common use and related words share initial syllables; for example, 'doremi' means 'day', 'dorefa' is 'week', 'doreso' 'month', and 'doredo' the concept of 'time' itself.
Opposites are indicated simply by reversing a word, so 'fala' is 'good', and 'lafa' is 'bad'.
Sudre felt that a language based on a system with no ties to a particular nation or political system would be easier for all nations to accept without having to concern themselves over cultural differences or dominance.
There was also no need to concern yourself with issues of pronunciation.
His other sticking point with other created languages stemmed from the fact that he saw them as fatally limited in how they would communicate. Linguists would develop speech and script and believed that to be sufficient.
Sudre disagreed. He assigned the musical notes he used as the base of his language with corresponding colours, symbols and hand gestures.
Solresol could be communicated through speech, script, music and colour.
This meant it was more useful to the deaf and blind than other constructed languages which Sudre felt would give it an edge in being accepted as a truly international language.
Initially all seemed positive. Sudre won prizes for Solresol at exhibitions in Paris and London and the French army showed a great deal of interest in a language that could be carried across the battlefield simply with different coloured flags.
Sudre himself died in 1862 but in 1866 his book on the subject 'Langue Musicale Universelle' was published to some acclaim.
The author Victor Hugo was an advocate but Sudre's dream would be dealt a fatal blow by the French Government in 1880 when they banned the teaching of sign language of any kind to deaf and mute children.
They believed that the teaching of sign language was a barrier to teaching these children to learn to talk and, incredibly, the ban remained in place until 1991.
For Sudre it was too late. With its application for the linguistically disenfranchised removed Solresol fell behind Esperanto as the universal language of choice.
The emergence of the internet has seen a small revival in the use of Solresol but a simple Google search will reveal any article written on Sudre's creation is, like the one that you are reading now, in English...