The popularity of artificial languages in the 1800s

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


Volapük was a hit! Volapük clubs started popping up throughout Europe. Large conventions were held first in Friedrichshafen in 1884, then Munich in 1887, and finally Paris in 1889. The first two conventions were held in German, but by the third conference, everyone was speaking in Volapük, even the waiters!

Kerckhoffs, who was an early friend and popularizer of the language, would subsequently sow the seeds for its destruction. Kerckhoffs was unhappy with some parts of the language and thought they could be improved. He came to hold the rank of Director of the Academy of Volapük, and felt he had rightfully earned enough influence to shape the future direction of the language. He proposed a number of reforms to Volapük which Schleyer rejected. This lead to a schism between the followers of Schleyer, the language’s creator, and the followers of Kerckhoffs.

The language fragmented, and in doing so, lost the very thing which made it unique: its universality. And thus the whole thing fell apart. People began to move on to newer, better “universal” languages like Esperanto, and the dream of a common language spoken by everyone was lost, or rather, it’s gradually becoming English by default.

But I think there’s a larger lesson to be learned here: any language is only as strong as its community, and there are constantly things that divide a community in two (or worse). There are several examples of this sort of thing in the history of programming language development: Perl 6, Python 2 vs Python 3, Paul Phillips forking the Scala compiler (having formerly been its primary author), and the Node.js fork IO.js.