October 26th, 2012

Lancelot Hogben

It turns out Lancelot Hogben was as impressive as his name promises.

I started reading about him after I found a copy of his 1938 book “Science for the Citizen”, illustrated by J.F. Horrabin. You can find this book on archive.org, but it doesn’t match the beauty of the printed version, in which text and diagrams melt into yellowed paper. It’s like a holy text. The attention to detail in the writing makes for educational luxury; it’s an educational text that actually has a soul and a sense of purpose.

From the Hogben’s introduction:

In the Victorian age big men of science like Faraday, T. H. Huxley, and Tyndall did not think it beneath their dignity to write about simple truths with the conviction that they could instruct their audiences. There were giants in those days. The new fashion is to select from the periphery of mathematicized hypotheses some half-assimilated speculation as a preface to homilies and apologetics crude enough to induce a cold sweat in a really sophisticated theologian who knows his job. With a few notable exceptions such as Simple Science by Andrade and Huxley and two volumes on British and American men of science by J. G. Crowther, this is a fair description of the state into which the writing of popular science has fallen hi contemporary Britain. The clue to the state of mind which produces these
weak-kneed and clownish apologetics is contempt for the common man. The key to the eloquent literature which the pen of Faraday and Huxley produced is their firm faith in the educability of mankind.

Apart from being a legendary zoologist, a writer, political activist and lecturer, Hogben was also a linguist. He invented Interglossa, an international language (‘a draft of an auxiliary for a democratic world order’).

Inimical to all traditional grammar, Hogben is certainly one of the most radical of all the interlinguists. He begins from the proposition that an international language is primarily of interest to scientists, and especially those from the East, who need an easy means of access to the conquests of Western science. All projects prior to his, which were always based on one or more European languages, were aimed solely at Western scholars. But of course the structure of the “Aryan” languages (that is, the Indo-Germanic and the Finno-Ugric languages) is not at all natural for a Japanese, a Chinese, or an African. In order to benefit these, an international language should be of the isolating, rather than the agglutinative, type, in contrast to all the previous attempts at universal languages.

More of that article here.


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