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Interlingua (Interlingua)
Spoken in: Finland, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, and others
Region: Primarily Scandinavia, and North America
Total speakers: First language: none known

Second language: about 1500

Ranking: Not ranked
Genetic classification: Artificial


Official status
Official language of: none
Regulated by: Union Mundial pro Interlingua
Language codes
ISO 639-1ia
ISO 639-2ina
See also: LanguageList of languages

The international auxiliary language Interlingua is a constructed language based on the Romance languages. It was first published in 1951 by the International Auxiliary Language Association, based on words common to French, Italian, Spanish/Portuguese, and English. There is also a simplistic grammar, which is hindered by a vaguely defined pronunciation. It is sometimes called Interlingua de(l) IALA to distinguish it from the other languages which have taken this name.

This article describes the international auxiliary language created by the IALA. For other usages of the term interlingua, see Interlingua (disambiguation).



The expansive movements of science, technology, trade, arts, etc. combined with the historical dominance of the Greek and Latin languages have resulted in a large overlap of vocabulary among contemporary languages. Interlingua is designed to be a combination of this pre-existing vocabulary with a minimalist grammar, created in hopes that people exposed to the control languages would find it readily understandable. It was designed for passive understanding without much training. For this reason, it was seen as important to retain the traditional spelling and irregular morphology of the source vocabulary, but it was not felt necessary to standardize the pronunciation of these words, or to have a systematic method of word derivation (as in Esperanto, Ido, or Novial).


The early years

The very first person who might be credited with Interlingua is Alice Morris. During an extended hospital stay in the early 1920s, she developed the first draft of Interlingua. Although it is very unlike the version in use today, it was the first to develop the principles that would later guide the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA).

Eventually, her work came to the attention of a Doctor Frederick Gardner Cottrell and his International Research Council (IRC), a non-profit organization with many committees and research groups dedicated to the subject of international languages. Among these committees were linguistic scholars, language teachers, and translators.

Alice Morris did not have the ability to make her Interlingua a full and realized langauge. However, the people of the IRC, and its sister orgnaizations in Britain, France, and Italy, could. In 1924 she founded the IALA as a non-profit organization in the United States. Although contributions came from such prestigious groups as the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation, most of the organization's daily bread came from Mr. and Mrs. Morris.


In the IALA's early years, the group concerned itself with three tasks: finding other organizations around the world with similar goals; building a library of books about languages and interlinguistics; and comparing extant international languages, including Esperanto, Esperanto II, Ido, Latino Sine Flexione, Novial, and Occidental. The latter goal was often the most interesting, with dedicated proponents of each of the languages debating over the defining features and goals of their representative language. However, with a "concession rule" that required participants to make a certain number of concessions, the debates were forestalled from changing from heated to explosive.

During the Second International Interlanguage Congress in Geneva in 1931, the IALA began to break new ground, as its conference was attended (and its efforts legitimized) by eminent linguists who were not members of the IALA.

1933 was a major year for the IALA. First, Professor Herbert H. Shenton of Syracuse University founded a intense study about the problems that had been encountered in interlanguages when used in international conferences. Later, Doctor Edward L. Thorndike published a paper about the relative learning speeds of "natural" and "modular" constructed languages. Although neither was a member of the IALA, both were major influences on its work from then on.

In 1937, the first steps towards the finalization of Interlingua were made, when a committee 24 linguists from 19 universities around the world published Some Criteria for an International Language and Commentary (English title). However, the intended biannual meeting of the committee was cut short by the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

Development of a new language

From the beginning, the IALA had not set out to create its own language, but rather to identify which international language already extant would be the best suited to the task, and how best to promote it. However, after ten years of research, more and more members of the IALA came to the conclusion that none of the extant interlanguages were up to the task. By 1937, the decision to create a new language had been arrived at, a decision that surprised the world's interlanguage community.

Although much of the debates had been to that point evenly balanced over the decision to use naturalistic (e.g., Novial and Occidental) or systematic (e.g., Esperanto and Ido) words, during the war years, those supporting a naturalistic interlanguage won out. The first support was Dr. Thorndike's paper; the second was the concession by those supporting systematic languages that thousands of words were already extant in many (or even a majority) of the European languages. Their argument was that systematic derivation of words was a Procrustes's bed, forcing the learner to unlearn and re-memorize a new derivation scheme when there was already a usable corpus of vocabulary. This finally convinced those who supported systematic languages, and the IALA from that point assumed the position that a naturalistic language would be best.

After the war, work resumed. In 1945, Doctor Alexander Gode took the position as the director of the IALA, attempting to re-establish contact with those who had not been able to communicate with the IALA for years. In that same year, Alexander Gode also published his General Report (English title). The same year, the IALA presented the three drafts for Interlingua -- one (referred to as 'original') based on Alice Morris's original work; "Model E," inspired heavily by Occidental; and one, "Model K," inspired heavily by Ido.

In 1946, Parian Andr Martinet became the head of the IALA's research devision. A year later, the IALA presented four drafts:

  • Model C (author unknown) was a refination of the aforementioned Model E.
  • Model K (by Alice Morris) was virtually unchanged from the 1945 draft, being a version of Ido that had its "obvious defects" removed.
  • Model M (by Andr Martinet) was similar to Model C, although it was more contemporary; verbs ended in a vowel and -r, and the grammar was taken from the modern living European languages.
  • Model P (by Alexander Gode) was inspired by Latino Sine Flexione, in that it had grammatical gender, verbs that ended in -re, and a past tense formed with -ba.

C and K were the "schematic" proposals, while M and P were the "naturalistic" proposals. The IALA sent the four models to over 3,000 linguists and teachers, along with papers documenting the debates in the IALA for and against each model, asking those in the field what they thought.

The results were surprising. Model K was completely rejected by those surveyed as a whole, and Model C had very few supporters. Among the two remaining models, Model M had more supporters than Model P, although it was not a complete victory. Taking national biases into account (for example, the French who were polled disproportionately favored Model M), the last phase of Interlingua's development began.


After the retirement of Andr Martinet in 1948, Gode was left to finish the task of Interlingua's development. His task was to combine the elements of Model M and Model P, while taking the flaws seen in both by the polled community and repairing them with elements of Model C as necessary, while simultaneously developing a vocabulary. During the three years of work that this took, in 1950, Alice Morris passed on; she would not see her dream realized.

The vocabulary and verb conjugations of Interlingua were initially published in 1951. Alexander Gode, director of IALA during its later years, was one of the prime movers in this effort. In 1951, the IALA published the finalized grammar, a 27,000-word dictionary (Interlingua to English only), and an introductory book entitled Interlingua a Prime Vista ("Interlingua at First Sight").

For the next quarter century, Interlingua was used for summaries of articles by several scientific and especially medical journals. Science News Service, the publisher at the time of Science Newsletter, published a monthly column in Interlingua from the early fifties until Gode's death in 1970.

Interlingua today

Today, the direction of Interlingua is controlled by the UMI, run by Secretary-General Piet Cleij. Periodicals and books are produced by the Societate American pro Interlingua (SAI), controlled by Dr. Stanley Mulaik.

Currently, Panorama In Interlingua is the primary Interlingua periodical. It is a small 36-page newsletter published four times a year, covering news, science, and editorials. Interlingua has also seen a small resurgance thanks to the Internet, with the number of speakers jumping tenfold in the short years since the UMI founded a website with gratis information on Interlingua.


The IALA set up a control group of five widely-known languages with much shared vocabulary, grouped into four units: French, Italian, Spanish/Portuguese, and English. A word is eligible for Interlingua if it occurs with similar meanings in three of these four units. (Spanish and Portuguese are regarded together as one unit, although in recent years, there has been an increased push to make Spanish and Portuguese separate units.) Secondary controls (originally German and Russian) have varied over the years. Grammatical words, required to operate the language, are taken from Latin if the regular procedure fails.

The form of the international words is based on the historical or hypothetical form from which the national forms evolved. The derivational series is also examined. Though French oeil, Italian occhio, Spanish ojo and Portuguese olho ("eye") are quite different, they all came from a historical form oculus, and international derivatives like ocular and oculista determine the form oculo to be used in Interlingua.

There is no explicit derivational morphology in Interlingua. Since all words are borrowed directly on a case-by-case basis, rather than derived internally, each word has to be learned separately. While this causes difficulties when speaking, it improves reading recognition and learning speed for those already exposed to one of the control languages.

Interlingua as now used tends to have less Classical Latin vocabulary than the IALA's original version, replaced in part by southern Romance vocabulary. For example emer ("to buy") has been mostly replaced by comprar, sed ("but") with ma or mais and nimis ("too") with troppo. However, other classical Latin words, such as "pro" ("for"), "contra" ("against"), "post" ("after") and "ergo" ("therefore") are retained because they are seen as more internationally understandable than their Romance counterparts.


The pronunciation is based on Romance or ecclesiastical Latin. For the most part, the consonants are like English, while the vowels are like Spanish or Italian. Notable exceptions are as follows:

  • C and G are hard before a, o, or u, and soft before e or i.
  • CH can be either the ch-sound, or it can be used to signal a hard C before e or i. In a very few words (choc, chenille, chef, chimpanze, chocolate, and cheque), CH has the sh sound.
  • J is the 'zh' as in French, not the 'h' as in Spanish, the 'dzh' as in English, or the 'y' as in German.
  • Q is the hard C sound, but as with most control languages, it is almost exclusively found before a U. The u of qu is silent before e or i.
  • PH is sometimes used for the sound f in words of Greek origin.
  • In PN and PS, the P is usually silent, as in most but not all of the control languages.
  • in RH, SH, and TH, the H is silent; these two-letter combinations are pronounced as a normal r, s, or t.
  • T can be the ts sound in certain word endings (-tia, -tie, -tio, -tion), except when stressed or directly preceeded by an S. (This rule has been largely dropped from modern Interlingua.)

Stress is irregular, though it usually falls on the vowel before the last consonant of a word.


The grammar of Interlingua was simplified by discarding grammatical features absent in at least one of the control languages; for example, verbs do not inflect for person except in the verb esser, as English only conjugates for person in the verb "to be." A minimal inflectional morphology is set forth, though there are four irregular verbs: esser, to be; facer, to do or make; haber, to have; and vader, to go. Irregular past participles ("double-stem" verbs) from a an early model of Interlingua are sometimes found in early texts.

There is no adjectival agreement, and the definite article is always le. Nouns have no grammatical gender and are pluralised by adding -(h)(e)s. Many adverbs are derived from adjectives by adding -(a)mente. Pronouns have nominative, accusative/oblique, and genitive cases.


Verbs are conjugated as given on the table below. The only verb with a subjunctive form is esser "to be", with subjunctive sia. Esser is also the only verb which may optionally be inflected for person, with present abbreviation es, plural present son, first-person singular present so, first-person plural somos, and past fue. (In modern Interlingua, with the exception of es, most of these optional forms have been dropped) The future is stressed on the final vowel; the conditional, on the final e.

Conjugation:-ar ('crear', to create)-er ('vider', to see)-ir ('audir', to hear)
Present participlecreantevidenteaudiente
Past participlecreateviditeaudite

* It is not clear if the conditional can be used as both subjunctive and conditional.


In the 'person' column, sg = singular, pl = plural. The third-person reflexive pronoun is se; in other persons use the oblique form.

& oblique
1 sgiomemi, mie
2 sgtutetu, tue
1 plnosnostre
2 plvosvostre
3 sg masc.illelesu, sue
3 sg fem.illala
3 sg neut.illolo
3 pl masc.illesleslor, lore
3 pl fem.illaslas
3 pl neut.illoslos


Interlingua may be the second-most spoken international auxiliary language (IAL) after Esperanto, although the estimated number of speakers overlaps with that of Ido. It is, however, claimed to be the most widely understood IAL by virtue of its naturalistic (as opposed to systematic) grammar and vocabulary, allowing those familiar with one of the primary control languages to read and understand it at first sight.

Estimates of the number of speakers vary wildly, from as few as 50 to as many as 10,000. The majority of conservative estimates, however, place the number of active users of Interlingua at between 1,000 and 1,500. There are no known native speakers.

Interlingua has some enthusiastic supporters in North and South America, Europe (particularly Scandinavia) and Russia. There are some Interlingua web pages, and several periodicals, including Panorama in Interlingua from the Union Mundial pro Interlingua (the UMI) and the magazines of the national societies allied with it. There are several active mailing lists, and Interlingua is also in use in certain Usenet newsgroups, particularly in the europa hierarchy. In recent years, samples of Interlingua have also been seen in music and anim.

Every two years, the UMI organizes an international conference in a different European country, which is usually attended by about 50 people. In the year between, the Scandinavian Interlingua societies co-organize a conference in Sweden.

Criticisms of Interlingua

As any project of such scope, Interlingua has had some heated discussion over it. Some common criticisms (and their common responses) are noted below.

  • Some say that Interlingua is too Romantic in its grammar and vocabulary, and is not fair towards Germanic languages. Its defenders notes that the Romantic languages, being based on Latin, have the advantage in the linguistic impact of the old Roman Empire, which is still seen today in that a Romantic language is spoken on five out of seven continents; the only Germanic languages with an international scope are English (which is already a primary language) and German (which is already a secondary language). (In fact, there is debate in the Interlingua community as to expanding the language's sources to other languages; see Creation de nove parolas in Interlingua ( (in Interlingua) for an overview of the debate.)
  • Others note that Interlingua, being European in nature, is primarially of use to Europeans. Interlingua supporters point out that Esperanto, despite being based on slavic, germanic, and romance languages, has some of its strongest communities in China and Japan, where the local languages are totally unrelated to the Indo-European languages. A second defense is that grammars and vocabulary lists are already available for Interlingua in two dozen languages. (See color argument.)
  • Finally, there is the fact that with the failure of the UMI to promote Interlingua to any notable degree, there is little to no chance of the Interlingua community ever retaining its former size; thus, Esperanto should be used instead. There is no good response to this argument.


Interlingua sample: the widely-translated Lord's Prayer (which is also available as an MP3 file (

Nostre Patre, qui es in le celos,
que tu nomine sia sanctificate;
que tu regno veni;
que tu voluntate sia facite
super le terra como etiam in le celo.
Da nos hodie nostre pan quotidian,
e pardona a nos nostre debitas
como nos pardona a nostre debitores,
e non duce nos in tentation,
sed libera nos de malo.

See also

Template:InterWiki Template:Wikibookspar


  • Gode, Alexander, et al. Interlingua-English. ISBN 0804401888.
  • Kyson, Harleigh. La historia antenatal de Interlingua. [1] ( (In interlingua.) Accessed 28 May 2005.
  • Pei, Marco. One Language for the World and How To Achieve It. Devin-Adair, New York; 1958.

External links

de:Interlingua (Plansprache) eo:Interlingvao es:Interlingua fr:Interlingua gl:Interlingua he:אינטרלינגואה ia:Interlingua it:Interlingua ja:インターリングア la:Interlingua nl:Interlingua no:Interlingua pl:Interlingua ro:Interlingua fi:Interlingua sv:Interlingua


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