Johann Schleyer on a harp given to him as a 50th birthday present by his colleagues at Sionsharfe, a magazine devoted mainly to Catholic poetry, which Schleyer edited and in which he first published on Volapük in 1879 –
Johann Schleyer was a German priest whose irrational passion for umlauts may have been his undoing.
The German alphabet consists of 26 characters plus 3 umlauts: ä, ö and ü. Umlauts are used as independent characters in the German language.
During one sleepless night in 1879, he felt a Divine presence telling him to create a universal language.
The result was Volapük. It was designed to be easy to learn, with a system of simple roots derived from European languages, and regular affixes which attached to the roots to make new words.
Volapük was the first invented language to gain widespread success.
By the end of the 1880s there were more than 200 Volapük societies and clubs around the world and 25 Volapük journals.
Over 1500 diplomas in Volapük had been awarded. In 1889, when the third international Volapük congress was held in Paris, the proceedings were entirely in Volapük.
Everyone had at least heard of it. President Grover Cleveland’s wife even named her dog Volapük.
Though Schleyer was German, a large part of the Volapük vocabulary was based on English.
“Volapük” was a compound formed from two roots, vol (from “world”) and pük (from “speak”).
However, it was often hard to spot the source of a Volapük word because of the way Schleyer had set up the sound system of the language.
“Paper” was pöp, “beer” bil, “proof” blöf and “love” löf. He had rational reasons for most of the phonological choices he made. For simplicity, he tried to limit all word roots to one syllable.
He avoided the ‘r’ sound, “for the sake of children and old people, also for some Asiatic nations.” The umlauts, however, were there for löf.