About the Department of Planned Languages


Lingvo internacia – later called Esperanto – the project of the Polish eye-doctor Dr. L. L. Zamenhof presented in 1887 in a thin brochure, has in the course of time developed into a fully-fledged language, and is used today by some millions of people. There are more than a hundred international Esperanto organisations, of which the biggest is Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association), with its headquarters in Rotterdam. A central event is the annual World Congress (already held four times in Vienna: 1924, 1936, 1970 and 1992).

Esperanto and other planned languages are also of scientific relevance: interlinguistic writings which opposed the prejudices against planned languages were milestones in the development of linguistics. They overthrew old positions and enabled new questions to be asked, which then led to applied linguistics among other things. (Hugo Schuchardt: Auf Anlass des Volapüks. Berlin 1888)

Closely connected with planned languages is the development of terminologies. Eugen Wüster (1898-1977), the founder of terminology as a science, noticed that establishing terminological norms occurs according to laws similar to the development of a planned language. The Department of Planned Languages has in its possession the estate of planned language writings by Eugen Wüster.

Planned languages

Planned languages are an important facet of human creativity. They are the object of study of that branch of science that has since the first half of the 20th century been called interlinguistics.

After some minor initiatives in the Middle Ages the first worked-out planned languages were created in the 16th century. They were meant to be instruments of logical thinking. A series of outstanding personalities in the intellectual life of Europe took on the challenge of the problem, among them Francis Bacon, Jan A. Komensky (Comenius), René Descartes and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

From the middle of the 19th century a new type of planned language appeared, described at first as “auxiliary world languages”. As a consequence of the growth of international relations the pragmatic aspect was now in the foreground. The problem of international understanding became ever more urgent. The creators of world auxiliary languages wanted to indicate a way out of the problem and so they emphasised practical use. The requisites were ease of learning and pronunciation, internationality and naturalness.

Language planning

None of the so-called languages of higher culture are exempt from planned interventions. Some examples:

  • Terminological work is the pre-condition of international transfer of knowledge in economics, science, and technology. In many areas the work of terminology commissions even has influence on everyday language.
  • The editors of Duden not only standardise the correct written form of the German language, but sanction or reject through their decisions other areas of language use as well.
  • Without the targeted interventions of the Académie Française today’s French would certainly have a different look.
  • The Rhaeto-Romanic language used in the Swiss canton Graubünden had, until the 1980’s, no standard language, it consisted of several dialects with their own literature. From 1980 a new standard language was projected at the University of Zurich, and it has gained acceptance in teaching and in official circles.
Between this type of planned intervention in a language and the setting up of a planned language there is no difference in principle, only in degree.

last update 10/3/2013