Elias Molee is an interesting but somewhat neglected figure in the field of Conlangs. This is a shame since his work and insights have much to offer a language creator.
Molee was born to Norwegian parents and raised near Milwaukee. His neighbourhood containted many children that only spoke their own, non-English languages. He recalls that the children managed to fuse this mix into a workable means of inter-communication. This suggest some interesting potential experiments, but probably not any that you could get past the ethics committee! There was a relatively recent experiment on similar lines, allowing a community of robots to develop a language.
One of Molee’s early projects was to create a unique language for America to adopt. One wonders if this might have eventually incorporated the spelling reforms of Webster and the alphabet of Franklin. How different our history might have been if American spoke a language different to the rest of the world. In this book Molee seems to be reaching a little too far in places, but one can see him discovering some of the solid foundations upon which he built his later works. Like all his works, this is worth a read if you are interested in constructed languages.
The project with which he persisted with for several decades changed name several times, but is now commonly known as Tutonish.
The late nineteenth century saw the creation of a number of constructed languages. Most were intended to be universal, international languages, often heavily bases on romance and classical roots. Instead, Molee intended to create a zonal language based on a single linguistic group of languages. This group happened to be one that was more widely dispersed than other language groups, so he expected it to be globally useful as a trade language. Tutonish, as the name may suggest, was based on the Germanic grounp of languages and therefore drew from English, German, Dutch, Yiddish and the Scandinavian languages.
This may be the reason why Molee is so neglected these days, phrases such as “German unity” and “bringing German races together” having received something of a taint since Molee’s day. Molee’s work has nothing to do with Nazism nor racism. If you read Molee your will see his reasons for concentrating on the Germanic group of languages were logical and practical. Any evil intent assumed is just from our own flawed and biased modern hindsight.
Many of Molee’s principles and ideas are worth noting by any would-be language creator. One is that grammar should be as simple as possible. Of his possible choices Molee opted for English grammar as the simplest. As we know, English grammar is not perfect, so he suggests a number of means to simplify and regularize it. These form a good basis for any conlang.
Since English had provided the word order Molee felt the other languages should supply the vocabulary. Many of the words are Low German or Dutch, with some Scandinavian derivations apparent. My personal opinion is that he veered a little too far in this direction. Many words he selected have simpler and more widely recognizable English alternatives. Some of the Latin and Greek-derived words he avoids are nowadays widely used, particularly in the fields of science and technology. Molee’s spelling system is intended to be phonetic but he admits it could have been more so, the choice instead being made for keeping words more recognizable to native speakers of Germanic languages.
Molee advocates that a student or speaker should not be unnecessarily taxed by a language. He suggests that traditional English spelling and grammar puts pupils several years behind their equivalent leaning German. Tutonish is designed to create new words from compounds. This gives the student that encounters a new word a reasonable chance to deduce its meaning, and a better chance of remembering the word once it is learnt. Many of the problems with English come from the long established practice of importing foreign words rather than compounding existing words for new names. Hence we have a multiplicity of different terms for similar things, a redundancy of affixes and inconsistent phonology.
Molee’s books include a number of his other ideas. One is the idea of abolishing capital letters for general text, which he applies to his books. Another is using a single letter as shorthand for frequently learned words. He uses this system in both English and Tutonish passages, although the meaning of some letters changes with language.
One of the ironies of writing about conlangs is you often need a good command and understanding of English to explain what is intended or how something is working. Molee tend to take a different approach, although his technical command of English is high. His books start in English but he gradually increases the use and frequency of Tutonish as you progress. The similar word order of both languages facilitates this. The intention seems to be that by the time you reach the end of the book you will be reasonably fluent in Tutonish. Unfortunately this makes it very difficult to dip into the later stages of the book and read a passage about how a particular word is used. There are a number of simple terms in Tutonish that I do not yet know since I have not had time to translate the passages. Tutonish is too scarcely known for there to be an internet auto-translate!
Tutonish has been unfairly criticized for not being intended to be a universal language like many of its contemporaries. Reading Molee’s actual words his approach and justification seems logical and reasonable. In one of the Tutonish sections of a book he notes that the design principles of Tutonish could also be applied to create a language from Latin and romance languages. Possibly he imagined that one-day these two languages might merge once they had spent a few generations as the mother tongue of the two linguistic groups. Similarly eurasia and the orient might have developed their own zonal languages, and eventually the handful of zonal languages would become a whole.
Molee’s books are available on-line and worth reading, even if your conlang is not Germanic.