Constructed languages YouTuber Conlang Critic recently made a video about Ido.
The (mostly superficial) commentary is filled with misconceptions — and even misinformation — about the language. Regrettably, such ignorance and prejudice are quite common towards Ido. For that reason, I feel compelled to share the following reply, which I originally published in small comments in the video’s comment section. At the same time, in the reply I share my own point of view on the problem of an international (and not universal) language.
The Letter X
The reason why x was adopted was to combine the sounds kz and ks (and the French and Polish gz, although missing in Esperanto AFAIK) into a single letter that can be freely pronounced in either of the three ways. That way, ekzameno and ksilofono are spelt exameno and xilofono in Ido, and can keep the original pronunciation or be pronounced “eksameno” and “kzilofono” or “egzameno” and “gzilofono”. It is a simplification, since notably French (sorry for mentioning French, I know some Esperantists are allergic to it but it’s my native tongue) pronounces these xs like gz, and apparently English simply pronounces them like z. It’s also more appropriate in a historical sense, since the word ekzameno comes from Latin exāmen, in which the x is pronounced like ks, not kz, in Classical Latin. This wide range of possibilities on how to pronounce the letter x shows that Esperanto’s orthography (and thus imposed pronunciation) is very Russocentric — that’s not even Polish in nature, since the word for ekzameno in Polish is… egzamin! Such a non-international trait is contrary to Ido’s core principle: “The best international language is that which offers the greatest easiness to the greatest number of people.” Letting everyone pronounce x in the way they do in their natural language (as long as it doesn’t sound completely different, e.g. like sh) is easier to learn and apply than imposing the pronunciation from a single language.
The Accusative Case
You said “the accusative case is indicated through word order (but it can be marked if you want to)”. That is a common misconception about Ido. There is a clear rule about that: the accusative case is marked (with -n) only when the direct object comes before the subject. That way, we can equally say L’arboron me hakas, L’arboron hakas me, Hakas l’arboron me, Me hakas l’arboro, Me l’arboro hakas or Hakas me l’arboro. This is useful when people (e.g. I, who am a French speaker) don’t always use the S-V-O order in their mother tongue. Also, it is useful for sentences built with relative pronouns, for instance La filmo, quan me spektas, esas tre populara (The movie that I watch is very popular).
Although the -n is usually not applied to copular verbs, it can be useful in Ido when confusion may arise: Quon divenas aquo pos varmigo? Vaporo (What does water become after it is heated? Steam) differs from Quo divenas aquo pos varmigo? Glacio (What becomes water after it is heated? Ice).
The “Vu” & “Tu” Dichotomy
For the formal (vu) and intimate (tu) distinction, you have to understand that, in order to approach the “greatest easiness to the greatest number of people”, Ido adopted the system introduced by Idiom Neutral (a radical reform of Volapuk). In that system, the vocabulary is based on the common denominator of the six most important European languages in the early 20th century: German, English, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish. However, there are two major distinctions between Idiom Neutral’s system and Ido’s improvement. First, Idiom Neutral also included Latin, which Ido got rid of because it is not a living language. Instead, Latin is used only when all of the six languages disagree between each other, and Latin comes as an a posteriori neutral ground — an example of that is the replacement of Esperanto’s neutral a priori correlatives with words based on Latin. Second, not all six source languages are equal, since in order to best follow the principle of “greatest easiness to the greatest number of people”, Ido also took the number of native speakers (in Europe) of each language into consideration. That way, it made German much more important than Spanish.
Taking that into account, the tu/vu dichotomy is found in German (du/Sie), French (tu/vous), Italian (tu/lei), Russian (ty/vy) and Spanish (tú/usted). Thus getting rid of tu would be very Anglocentric.
The tu/vu dichotomy is very cultural, so saying that a pronoun system is better than another without any objective basis is, to me, like saying that one culture is better than another. That is very interculturally inappropriate. The dichotomy is so important in some French subcultures, for instance, that as a medical student, I can get penalized if I don’t use the right pronoun with people. For instance, using vous with a younger person and tu with an older person can truly destroy the therapeutic relation with the patient. It could also destroy my interprofessional relations in the future. Outside of French culture, here’s another example: when I suggested to get rid of vu in an Ido group on Facebook, I was greeted with verbal violence from a Japanese Idist. You don’t play with that sort of thing.
I am one of those who (strongly) think that the problem is not the language but the people who use it. When you exchange with someone from another culture and language, you should not expect a single language to be the perfect “cultural middleman”. One must also learn about the other’s culture, and most importantly, be receptive. When meeting an English speaker in Ido, I would tend to use vu. On the other hand, when I meet a Swede, I would tend to directly use tu. Finally, with a French speaker I would always start with vu, then maybe ask after a while if tu is preferable. If I meet someone whose customs are unknown to me, I don’t worry: I use vu, since that is what my own culture is used to, and I expect the other to be accepting and politely correct me if I am wrong. What some see as useless ballast in Ido, I see it as cultural flexibility: the tu/vu dichotomy helps Ido be as little a cultural middleman as possible between two (European) nations. In other words, it maximizes direct communication. However, this flexibility must be welcomed without pedantry from both parties.
If I were a native English speaker like you, and since you seem uncomfortable with the idea of adapting to the other language’s tu/vu custom, I suggest you to always start with vu when interacting in Ido, then switch to tu if you notice the addressee feels offended or uncomfortable.
If you are interested in the topic of cultural adaptation, I suggest you to read about Young Yung Kim’s integrative communication theory.
The Diphtong EU
You said, “why drop /ai/ and keep /eu/?” This question is indeed relevant in Ido, since the early Idists took this difficulty in consideration when adopting nevrologio, plevro, anevrismo, etc. Since Ido often bases its pronunciation on Russian (and German), v was preferred to u (plus it is found in French and sometimes even Italian). That is also why we have volfo instead of wolfo for “wolf”. In comparison, Esperanto has neŭrologio, pleŭro, aneŭrismo, etc. That trait, however, was not adopted in words like eufonio because of the consonant cluster that vf would cause.
I would also like to point out that in Ido, the three key practical elements are: easy to learn, easy to use, easy to understand. That is why Ido’s pronunciation is not that strict. You can generally pronounce the letter i as /i/ or /ɪ/ or even /j/, as long as you can be understood. The only thing that matters is that you place the tonic accent correctly. That is why we have words like boikoto. Meanwhile, Esperanto seems to suggest that there should be a difference between bojkoti and boikoti when in practice there is none. So much for “one letter, one sound”!
Taking that into consideration, I think that someone who is not familiar with the diphthong /eu/ can definitely pronounce the word feudo as /fˈeudo/ with or without the u as a consonant. With the correct accentuation, the pronunciation is barely different and mutual understanding is fully preserved.
Also, we have to take into consideration that words like Europa, Paris, Québec, København, etc., are considered foreign words in Ido, and keep their original spelling (using the extended Latin alphabet, of course) and pronunciation as closely as possible. The use of Latin (in e.g. Japonia, Suedia, etc.) is simply a neutral convention.
The Digraph QU
For the digraph QU, the early founders of Ido applied the same principle as with X (which I detailed in an earlier comment). According to the Grammaire complète de la Langue Internationale (L. de Beaufront, 1908, p. 7), qu is the combination of two pronunciations: kw and kv. That way, by using qu instead of kw or kv, Ido neutrally relies on etymology — aquo, for instance, comes from the Latin aqua — and leaves the freedom to the speaker to say either “akwo” or “akvo”. Same spelling, two possible pronunciations, yet the language stays easy to learn, use and understand. In comparison, Esperanto’s Russocentric pronunciation imposes akvo, which is far from international and neutral.
You said that qu was adopted “so that words from Romance languages can still be spelled the same way”. Yet here’s an interesting tidbit: the spelling of bisquito (the word for “cookie”) can come from no other language but Russian (бискви́т), a Slavic language. Otherwise, we would have “biskuito” not unlike the word cirkuito. The text above and my previous comments explain why that is the case.
The Sound /dʒ/ & the Letter R
You said Ido lacks /dʒ/ and “the rhotic is a flap instead of a trill”. Both claims are wrong.
First, Ido does have a letter with the /dʒ/ sound. That’s one of the two possible pronunciations for j (the other being the French /ʒ/). Check the Grammaire complète de la Langue Internationale (L. de Beaufront, 1908, p. 7) or the Kompleta Gramatiko di la Linguo Internationa (L. de Beaufront, 1924, p. 13) or even the Internacia Lernolibro por Esperantistoj (Heinz Jacob, 1934, p. 4). Esperanto’s two distinct letters ĝ and ĵ were generally merged into the single j, in order to simplify things. Furthermore, the word for “to add” is adjuntar and the word for “budget” is budjeto. How does that represent a lack of /dʒ/ to you?
I am surprized — and I would even dare say amazed — by your claim about the rhotic. Are you telling me that you based your opinion on a small portion of an English Wikipedia page that does not rely on sources? There is no difference between Esperanto’s r and Ido’s r. Even the Internacia Lernolibro por Esperantistoj makes no mention of such a change in its comparisons. In the Kompleta Gramatiko (p. 14), you can read:
“r = Italian r. If some will pronounce it with a uvular pronunciation, this will not have in Ido a worse effect than in the French language, for which almost all northerners pronounce that letter with a uvular.”
The most telling document is the Grammaire complète (written in French), which does not even precise how to pronounce r.
Oh, and Max Talmey’s Exhaustive Text Book of the International Language of the Delegation (1919) goes as far as writing the following paragraph (p. 19):
“4. C is pronounced always like ts in wits, tsar, G always like g in go, and S always like the s in son. J is pronounced like the French j. [GP: Notice that although the English j was initially the official one, and French j the “tolerated” pronunciation, it came to become the opposite with a decision of the Academy. Max Talmey seems to have preferred omitting the English pronunciation. Most English-language grammar books do the same.] X may be pronounced either like ks, as in excuse, or like gz, as in example. [GP: Again, this incomplete explanation lacks the tolerated Russian kz.] Y is pronounced always like the y in young or like the German j. All other consonants are pronounced like the same English consonants.”
The last sentence suggests that r is pronounced like the English r!
Finally, the Complete Manual of the Auxiliary Language Ido (1919, p. 1) says that the r “is trilled or clearly pronounced”.
How does this mean “the rhotic is a flap instead of a trill” to you?
In reality, what really matters is that r doesn’t sound like another letter. Just be clear. To me, this freedom can only be a simplification, since more than once have I heard French Esperantists who speak with a “horrible” French accent… Or English speakers who just fail miserably at imitating Spanish. Why should there be a single “right” accent anyway? Mutual understanding is what matters above all. Again, that goes with Ido’s core principles of “easy to learn, easy to use, easy to understand” (Dictionnaire International-Français, L. de Beaufront, L. Couturat & O. Jespersen, 1908, p. V).
Please check your sources and do a deeper research in the future.
You said Ido is “still extremely Eurocentric”. Why do you criticize Ido for not being what it doesn’t strive to be? To me, it would be like criticizing Ithkuil for not being an auxiliary language. Or Klingon for being too difficult to learn.
The Délégation pour l’Adoption d’une Langue Auxiliaire Internationale (Delegation for the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language) adopted the following declaration in 1907 (translated to English in the Complete Manual of the Auxiliary Language Ido, 1919, p. X):
“DECLARATION OF PROGRAMME OF DELEGATION.
“1. To select and promote the use of an auxiliary international language destined not to replace the national languages in their everyday use, but to serve as a means of communication between people speaking different languages.
“2. In order to fulfil usefully its intended purpose, an international auxiliary language ought to satisfy the following conditions: (a) It must meet the requirements of ordinary social life, and also those of commerce, science, and philosophy. (b) It must be easily acquired by people having an ordinary elementary education, and especially by the people of European civilization. (c) It must not be one of the national languages.”
Now, your “ranking” of favorite auxiliary languages seems to overlook the fact that international auxiliary languages don’t necessarily have the same goals — and thus the same criteria. Pretty much all of them agree for 1 and 2c; however, Ido is unapologetically Eurocentric with 2b, and could you please explain me how Toki Pona is superior to Ido in regard to 2a?
Ido was one of the first auxiliary languages designed with scientific use in mind. You can read more about that in the book Scientific Babel by Michael Gordin (2015). Notably, many scientists complained that the Fundamento forced them to use the very Latin hidrargo instead of the international “merkurio”. For that reason, even the very early Ido dictionaries (1908) contained words such as acetileno, akromata, akumulatoro, akustiko, albumino, atomo, chankro, glikozo and of course… merkuryo (now merkurio).
Now, where is Toki Pona’s periodic table? What is “glucose” in Toki Pona?
How can you conceive Toki Pona as being a better auxiliary language than Ido if it cannot even compete with the level of versatility that Ido had in 1908? The truth is, Toki Pona was not designed to replace English in scientific literature. Ido was, even from the beginning.
Finally, as a side note, Ido’s “Eurocentric” system did not block words with non-European origin from entering the language. The word for Esperanto’s ĉu is ka(d), which according to the Ido-English Dictionary (Luther H. Dyer, 1924, p. 157) comes from… Sanskrit. Many European words also come from Arabic (e.g. adobo, alkaldo, alkemio, algebro, algoritmo, alkoholo, almanako, amalgamo, ambro, admiralo, arobo, asasino, azimuto, azuro, baldakino, baobabo, bergamoto, kafeo, kalibro, karafo, karato, cheko, divano, shako, jirafo, gitaro, hazardo, hashisho, limono, limonado, magazino, matraco, mumio, moskeo, nenufaro, oranjo, siropo, sukro, zero), Nahuatl (e.g. avokado, axolotlo, chokolado, koyoto, oceloto, tomato), Quechua (e.g. kokao, kokaino, lamao, pumao, quinino, vikuno), Eskimo-Aleut (e.g. anorako, igluo, kayako), Arawakan (e.g. kaimano, kanoo, hamako, iguano, savano, tabako), Tupi-Guaraní (e.g. kayeno, jaguaro, manioko, petunio, tapiokao, tapiro, tukano), Aymara (e.g. alpako), Cariban (e.g. kanibalo), Cherokee (e.g. sequoyo), Taino (e.g. patato), Sanskrit (e.g. Aryana, atolo, kandio, shakalo, junglo, mandarino, pantero, puncho), Hebrew (e.g. abako, amen, Babel, kerubo, edeno, jubileo, manao, mesio, pasko, farizeo, sabato, amonito, makadamo, sodomio), Japanese (e.g. soyo), Turkic (e.g. kazako, kalpak, turkezo, yogurto), etc. The fact Ido is based on European languages does not mean the origin of these words restrict themselves to European borders.
All in all, I do not see how an international auxiliary language could be easy to learn, easy to use and easy to understand without being at least a bit Eurocentric in design. Take Chinese for instance. Arbitrarily incorporating more Chinese words into Ido would be pointless, since Chinese itself is mutually unintelligible, it’s strongly tonal (which Ido is not) and it doesn’t use the English alphabet (which Ido uses). An Ido word based solely on (Mandarin) Chinese would probably not even be recognizable to a Chinese person. Ido would thus fare no better than Volapük — which Schleyer deformed especially to make the etymology harder to recognize. In the end, Schleyer’s clever system (that even lacked r to be easy for the Chinese!) rather made Europeans crave Esperanto’s vocabulary and grammar and ended up with… Idiom Neutral and Volapük Nulik.
Criticism & Perfectibility
If you want to read lots of criticism about Ido (and Esperanto) and reform proposals of Ido, I invite you to read the magazine Progreso, in publication since 1908, that explains very well (in thousands of pages from diverse authors) how today’s Ido came to be. Ido, like the blueprint of a lightbulb, is not set in stone, and is continuously perfectible. If you are interested in changing anything about Ido, I invite you to learn the language and expose the dramatic flaws of our language in an argumentative essay (written in Ido, of course). That would be much more effective than pointing out details, like in a bulleted list, in an English-language video…
I encourage any fellow Idist to please correct me on anything wrong — wrong facts, typos, etc. — that I might have unconsciously written in this blog post. I will correct it accordingly. I also want this information to be spread as justly as possible, so I license this article under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0).