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A Hand-book Of Volapuk by Andrew Drummond

russ's picture

After reading this review of the novel A Hand-book Of Volapuk by Andrew Drummond, I would love to read the book (in my copious spare time...) Sounds bizarre and fun and clever! With Volapuk and Esperanto and even Sherlock Holmes, what's not to like?
A Hand-book Of Volapuk concerns the efforts of Mr Gemmel Justice, a fervent campaigner for Volapuk, and the many trials he faces - largely at the hands of his arch enemy Mr Bosman, the chain-smoking champion of Esperanto.

By odd coincidence I read the review around the same time that I read the interview with Tomaso Alexander in the current issue of Kontakto (2006:3), in which Tomaso speaks about learning Volapuk. Clearly Volapuk is poised for a surge in popularity.

by russ


just read the book -- it's quite good!

Ted Alper's picture

Unreliable narrators, madhouses, one semi-historical ghostly character, and some real lessons in Volapük. It's *very* readable, I didn't want to put it down and enjoyed it all the way, though I had a few small aesthetic quibbles here and there.

As it happens, I glanced at the original "Handbook of Volapük" from the 19th century [author: Charles E. Sprague] when I visited the NYC public library last April and I think many of the lessons -- though twisted for literary purposes -- re-appeared in the novel. Volapük is actually a better language than I thought on first impression, though Esperanto is definitely simpler.

(and there's at least one minor typo in the Esperanto -- which, perhaps, may be intentional as it is being transcribed by the Volapük-supporting narrator)

July 8, 2009 by Ted Alper, 8 years 5 weeks ago

good book indeed!

russ's picture

In fact I also read it (like 1.5 years ago) and never followed up this blog entry. A very fun surprising historical/literary/linguistic romp indeed! I enjoyed it a lot.

July 8, 2009 by russ, 8 years 5 weeks ago

That does sound like fun.

Haruo Ros's picture

That does sound like fun. Amazon (US) doesn't carry it, but they have links to several booksellers that do: page on the title. Amusing that the used copies tend to be a few bucks more expensive than the new ones.


Venu al Seatlo por NOREK kaj festu kun ni!

August 30, 2006 by Haruo Ros, 10 years 50 weeks ago

I just purchased a copy via

Haruo Ros's picture

I just purchased a copy via from pando books, for £10.44 including shipping. (Quite a deal, considering the list price is £9.99 and Amazon's sale price is £6.94! Mine was only £3.50!) And it should arrive in time for NOREK...


PS: In searching for the title at Amazon, "A Hand-book of Volapük" returned zero hits; they list it simply as "Volapuk (Paperback)", no umlaut either. What's more, pace the Scotsman, on the cover at any rate "Handbook" is not hyphenated.

Venu al Seatlo por NOREK kaj festu kun ni!

August 30, 2006 by Haruo Ros, 10 years 50 weeks ago


kavaliro's picture

I think possibly I'd like to read that book. It certainly sounds entertaining.
I've just read that a verb in Volapük can have 500,000 forms! That's pure craziness. The author says Esperanto is a hodgepodge of grammar and vocabulary!? Heh.

Mi pensas, ke eble mi volus legi tion libron. Certe sxajnas amuza.
Mi jxus legis, ke verbo en Volapuko eblas havi kvincent mil diversecoj! Tio tute frenezas. La auxturo diras, ke esperanto estas sortimentacxo de gramatiko kaj vort-provizo!? Amuza.

August 29, 2006 by kavaliro, 10 years 50 weeks ago

Volapük as Esperanto straw man

Pechjo's picture

I wonder if Esperantists would be okay with English speakers coming up with a term like "Esperant" to mean a human being with his/her head in the sand. No doubt we would be highly offended. We think nothing, however, of using the Esperanto word "volapukajxo" to mean gobblygook. How charming.

Whenever I read comments about Volapük by Esperantists they invariably mention "500,000 verb forms!" Yes, it is theoretically possible to conjugate a Volapük verb in that many ways, but let's be realistic: of the dozens of possible Esperanto verb forms how many are in actual use?

Volapük is complex, yes, but not complicated. I personally like the fact that there is a non gender-specific third person conjugation for verbs in all tenses and moods. It may not be simple but it sure is elegant.

So perhaps we can stop using Volapük as a straw man for a constructed language we love to hate, keeping in mind that, while utterly vanquished by Esperanto in the conlang sweepstakes, Volapük has not gone quietly into that good night. At least not yet.

Peter Schogol
Lexington, KY

February 7, 2009 by Pechjo, 8 years 27 weeks ago

500,000 verb forms

Ailanto's picture

Volapük is highly agglutinative! Even the personal pronoun is appended to the verb root. There are 10 personal pronouns, so that inflates the number by a factor of 10. It's not really fair to compare to other languages without considering things like this. Also appended or prepended are bits for tense, aspect, voice, person, number and sex (I wish people would stop saying gender when they mean sex), some of which are optional. Multiply all those together and it's easy to come up with a big scary number.

On the other hand, Wikipedia claims 1,584. Ah, I see. Somebody says in the discussion page that 500,000 is for the original Volapük, 1,584 for the revised version (de Jong, 1930).

This thread reminded me of an amusing article that I bumped into a few years ago: Pük, Memory (Why I Learned a Universal Language No One Speaks)...

No wonder the language died out, Gardner says. Who would want to call "Our Father" fat obas? Who would want to speak something called Volapük? I could think of at least two people: me and my friend Herb. For years he and I had spoken our own language, an idiom made up of old jokes and references to things we did when we were children. Volapük was just what we needed: If we spoke it, we could be sure that absolutely no one would understand us. For a few months we mouthed O fat obasto one another at parties, expressing—and, no doubt, confirming—our distance from everyone else. In secret, of course, we wanted to be understood. One night I told Herb, "If I met a woman who knew Volapük, I'd marry her on the spot."

A dark-haired woman turned around. "Oh my god," she said. "You know Volapük?"

The article also mentions this exercise from Klas Linderfelt's Volapük, published in Milwaukee in 1888...

Translate the following into Volapük:
1. The scholars are in the garden and have the man's dogs.
2. His bosom-friend is a good man, but he has certainly not invented the gunpowder.
3. Egypt, as Herodotus said, was the country of the Egyptians.
4. O mother, the men are bad! They have knives and books also.

Knives AND books??? OH NOES!!!

August 10, 2009 by Ailanto, 8 years 1 week ago

Indeed, most people's

russ's picture

Indeed, most people's conception of Volapük is based only on hearsay; few have actually looked at the language.

Still, the language is overall not as well designed as Esperanto. E.g. the larger number of vowel sounds, including 2 that are hard for many people; Schleyer's too-rigid control over the language - similar to what kill Loglan; too-simplified and mono-syllabified basic germanic roots (vol=world, pük=speak) that are not as quickly recognizable as the Esperanto germanic and romance roots; etc). Nonetheless, I wouldn't mind learning a bit more of Volapük, if I can find a way to rationalize spending my time on it. :)

February 17, 2009 by russ, 8 years 25 weeks ago

Contact us / Kontaktu Nin

Contact Us / Kontaktu Nin:

Landa Kongreso * 2017 June 30 - July 3 * Annual Congress

EO Esperanto: La Landa Kongreso 2017 okazos en Raleigh, Nord-Karolino, Usono, 2017 ekde la 30-a de junio ĝis la 3-a de julio, 2017.
Por aliĝi, vidu: Aliĝilo

EN English: The Annual US Esperanto Congress 2017 will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, Jun 30 - July 3, 2017.
To sign up, see: Registration

NASK * 2017 jul 4 - 13 * Summer Courses

EO Esperanto: La bonega kursaro NASK - Nord-Amerika Somera Kursaro okazos de la 4-a de Julio ĝis la 7-a de Julio ĉe Raleigh, Norda Karolino, ĉe la Universitato William Peace. Por vidi pli da detaloj aŭ aliĝi, klaketu ligilon NASK.

EN English: The excellent North American Esperanto Summer Courses (NASK), will be happening from July 4 to 13th, at William Peace University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. To see more details or sign up, click on NASK.


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