Novial [nov-, new + IAL, International Auxiliary Language] is a constructed language devised by Professor Otto Jespersen, a Danish linguist who had previously been involved in the Ido movement. He devised Novial to be an international auxiliary language (IAL), which would facilitate international communication and friendship, without displacing anyone's native language.
It features a vocabulary based largely on the Germanic and Romance languages, and a grammar heavily influenced by English.
The first introduction of Novial was in Jespersen's book An International Language in 1928, with an update in his dictionary, Novial Lexike, published two years later. Further modifications were proposed in the 1930s, but with Jespersen's death in 1943, it became dormant, although in the 1990s, with the revival of interest in artificial language brought on by the Internet, many people rediscovered Novial.
An International Language
Novial was first described in Jespersen’s book An International Language (1928). Part One of the book discusses the need for an IAL, the disadvantages of ethnic languages for that purpose and common objections to constructed IALs. He also provides a critical overview of the history of constructed IALs with sections devoted to Volapük, Esperanto, Idiom Neutral, Ido, Latino sine Flexione and Occidental (Interlingue). The author makes it clear that he draws on a wealth of earlier work on the problem of a constructed IAL, not only the aforementioned IALs.
Part Two of An International Language describes Novial in detail. Alternative possible solutions for problems in the phonology, orthography, grammar and word-stock are considered. The choices made are explained by comparison with ethnic languages and previously constructed IALs.
Personal pronouns, subject and object
The personal pronouns are:
- me – I, me
- nus – we, us
- vu – you (one person)
- vus – you (more than one person)
- lo – he, him
- los – they, them (all male)
- la – she, her
- las – they, them (all female)
- le – he or she, him or her
- les – they, them
- lu – it
- lus – they, them (all sexless objects)
The impersonal pronoun ”one, they, you” is on.
The standard word order is, as in English, subject-verb-object, so the object need not be marked to distinguish it from the subject:
- me observa vu – I observe you
- vu observa me – you observe me
The accusative (direct object) is therefore generally identical to the nominative (subject).
An optional accusative ending -m (-em after a consonant) is available but is rarely used. The preposition em is equivalent to this ending.
The personal possessive adjectives are formed from the pronouns by adding -n or after a consonant -en. This is in fact the genitive (possessive) of the pronoun so men means both my and mine (of me):
- lu es men hunde – it is my dog
- lu es men – it is mine
- men – my, mine
- nusen – our, ours
- vun – your, yours
- vusen – your, yours (more than one person)
- lon – his
- losen – their, theirs (all male)
- lan – her, hers
- lasen – their, theirs (all female)
- len – his or her, his or hers
- lesen – their, theirs
- lun – its
- lusen – their, theirs (all sexless objects)
Possession may also be expressed with the pronoun de: de me, de vu etc.
Verb forms never change with person or number. Most verb tenses, moods and voices are expressed with auxiliary verbs preceding the root form of the main verb. The auxiliaries follow the same word order as the English equivalent.
- Infinitive: protekte – to protect
- Present: me protekte – I protect
- Simple past: me did protekte (= me protekted) – I protected
- Past perfect: me ha protekte – I have protected
- Pluperfect: me had protekte – I had protected
- Future: me sal protekte – I shall protect
- Future perfect: me sal ha protekte – I shall have protected
- Future in the past: me saled protekte – I was going to protect
- Conditional: me vud protekte – I would protect
- Conditional perfect: me vud ha protekte – I would have protected
- First imperative: let nus protekte! – Let us protect!
- Second imperative: protekte! – protect!
- Third imperative: let lo protekte! – let him protect!
- Present active participle: protektent – protecting
- Past passive participle: protektet – protected
Novial clearly distinguishes the passive of becoming and the passive of being. In English the forms are often the same, using the auxiliary verb to be followed by the past participle. However, the passive of becoming is also often expessed with the verb to get which is used in the examples below.
In Novial the passive voice of becoming is formed with the auxiliary bli followed by the root verb form.
- Infinitive: bli protekte – to get protected (come under protection)
- Present: me bli protekte – I get protected
- Simple past: me blid protekte – I got protected
- Past perfect: me ha bli protekte – I have got protected
- Pluperfect: me had bli protekte – I had got protected
- Future: me sal bli protekte – I shall get protected
- Future perfect: me sal ha bli protekte – I shall have got protected
- Future in the past: me saled bli protekte – I was going to get protected
- Conditional: me vud bli protekte – I would get protected
- Conditional perfect: me vud ha bli protekte – I would have got protected
- First imperative: let nus bli protekte! – let us get protected!
- Second imperative: bli protekte! – get protected!
- Third imperative: let lo bli protekte! – let him get protected!
The passive voice of being is formed with the auxiliary es followed by the past passive participle.
- Infinitive: es protektet – to be protected (be under protection)
- Present: me es protektet – I am protected
- Simple past: me did es protektet (= me esed protektet) – I was protected
- Past perfect: me ha es protektet – I have been protected
- Pluperfect: me had es protektet – I had been protected
- Future: me sal es protektet – I shall be protected
- Future perfect: me sal ha es protektet – I shall have been protected
- Future in the past: me saled es protektet – I shall be protected
- Conditional: me vud es protektet – I would be protected
- Conditional perfect: me vud ha es protektet – I would have been protected
- First imperative: let nus es protektet! – Let us be protected!
- Second imperative: es protektet! – be protected!
- Third imperative: let lo es protektet! – let him be protected!
The definite article is li which is invariant. It is used as in English.
There is no indefinite article.
The plural noun is formed by adding –s to the singular (-es after a consonant).
The accusative case is generally identical to the nominative but can optionally be marked with the ending -m (pl. -sem) (-em after a consonant; pl. -esem) or with the preposition em.
The genitive is formed with the preposition de or with the ending -n (-en after a consonant). The plural of this case is -sen (-esen after a consonant).
Other cases are formed with prepositions preceding the root form.
All adjectives end in -i which may be dropped if easy to pronounce. Adjectives generally precede the noun qualified but optionally may follow the noun. Adjectives do not agree with the noun qualified.
An adjective is converted to a corresponding adverb by adding -m after the -i ending of the adjective.
While Novial is not very popular relative to its famous predecessor, Esperanto, it has a small group of enthusiasts. Several efforts to revise Novial have emerged. One such project is Novial '98; see below.
Novial compared to Esperanto and Ido
Jespersen was a professional linguist, unlike Esperanto's creator. He disliked the arbitrary and artificial character that he found in Esperanto and Ido. Additionally, he objected to those languages' Latin-like systems of inflection, which he found needlessly complex. He sought to make Novial at once euphonious and regular while also preserving useful structures from natural languages.
- Syntax is largely a matter of word order, as in English and modern Scandinavian languages. There is no obligatory accusative marker as in Esperanto.
- A genitive or possessive case is available, based on Jespersen's observation that many modern languages have lost complex noun inflections yet retain a possessive form.
- Auxiliary particles express most verb tenses. An inflectional ending is available as a shorthand for the simple past tense.
The most striking difference between Novial and Esperanto/Ido concerns noun endings. Jespersen rejected a single vowel to terminate all nouns (-o in Esperanto/Ido), finding it unnatural and potentially confusing. Instead, Novial nouns may end in -o, -a, -e, or -um. These endings may be taken to indicate natural gender according to the custom in Romance languages. Of course there is no grammatical gender or requirement for adjectives to agree with nouns.
Sample Text (The Lord's Prayer)
- Nusen Patro kel es in siele,
- mey vun nome bli sanktifika,
- mey vun regno veni,
- mey vun volio eventa sur tere kom in siele.
- Dona a nus disidi li omnidiali pane,
- e pardona a nus nusen ofensos
- kom anke nus pardona a nusen ofensantes,
- e non dukte nus en li tento
- ma fika nus liberi fro li malum.
- Novial Wikipedia
- An International Language: Prof. Otto Jespersen's 1928 book which introduced Novial.
- Novial Lexike: Novial to English, French and German dictionary.
- Novial Wiki Book: A Novial course for beginners.
- Novial Discussion Group: Novial discussion group at Yahoo!
- A summary of 1928 Novial
- A summary of the 1930 version
- Novial '98: "an ongoing project to revive and improve...Novial" in order to modernize it and release it for contemporary use
- Novial Mailing Lists: Two mailing lists on Novial and derived languages.