In the last third of the 18th century, perceived flaws in existing languages called forth a spate of proposals for artificial ones free from flaws—and the very profusion of existing languages, like antiquated social structures and inconsistent systems of weights and measures, cried out for rationalization. To answer this call, several authors proposed a "pasigraphy," from the Greek terms for "universal" and "writing"—a set of rational, universal symbols each person could read in his or her own language. Consider the artificial language proposed by György Kalmár in his Praecepta grammatica atque specimina linguae philosophicae sive universalis, ad omnevitae genus adcommodatae . The fact that Kalmár thought it necessary to publish his proposal in Latin, German, and Italian editions in the space of just two
years testified to the need, as he saw it, for a universal mode of communication. Clearly, his native Hungarian would not suffice; nor, he thought, would other existing languages. All were crippled by grammatical irregularities and orthographic confusion. For his new language, Kalmár constructed both a general, rational grammar and a new set of 400 primitive characters. Kalmár's familiarity with Hungarian as well as other languages helped him to construct a general language capable of accommodating "the details, and even the anomalies, of all existing languages."
Two more examples, taken from opposing camps in the political turmoil of the 1790s, illustrate further the broad appeal of the rationalization of grammar and the invention of a language all nations might share. In 1795 Jean Delormel presented to the National Convention in Paris his project for a new and universal language. Shortly thereafter Joseph de Maimieux, a nobleman who had fled to Germany and no friend of the Convention, published his own pasigraphy. Both Delormel and de Maimieux intended their schemes to further the objectives of rationalization and universal communication; both drew inspiration and justification from the esprit géometrique .
Delormel recognized that "extraordinary epochs" offer the opportunity, impossible in normal circumstances, to realize "interesting projects." He presented his own proposal during just such an epoch, at a moment ripe for disseminating "the principles of equality." Delormel's proposal included a binomial classification of substantives by genera and species. In tune with the call for rationalization, Delormel coupled the taxonomy with a system for the regular formation of derivative words; no longer would language need to submit to the tyranny and caprice of usage. As a reviewer of Delormel's scheme commented in 1797, "changes on words are to be rung with all the regularity of a multiplication-table." Such comments doubtless
pleased Delormel, who considered the analogy to numeration to be a prime reason for the simplicity of his scheme.
His system prescribed ten vowels, according to the spirit of the day, and twice that number of consonants. The thicket of synonyms was cleared away, replaced by seven degrees of comparison. Delormel measured the advantages to be gained: where ordinary dictionaries contained 30,000 words, he claimed that one-tenth that number would suffice in his project. More than that, he proclaimed that his new language would promote the "central unity" of the Republic and, by uniting savants of different nations, would spur the progress of science. "Enlightenment brings together men of all sorts, and this language, by facilitating communication, will propagate enlightenment."
Joseph de Maimieux also billed his pasigraphy as offering all the advantages of a rational scheme of knowledge expressed in a universal form. And, he claimed, an enthusiastic audience awaited. One exuberant disciple would later honor the all-encompassing nature of de Maimieux's scheme by dubbing him a second Leibniz. De Maimieux likened pasigraphy to numerals in arithmetic, lines of music, and "characters of chemistry" — "equally intelligible from Petersburg to Malta, Madrid to Peru, London and Paris to Philadelphia or the isle de Bourbon." He devised twelve characters, some of which were mirror images of one another; twelve grammatical rules universally applicable and permitting no exceptions; and three sets of tables. These sets of tables corresponded to the three species of pasigraphic words: those of three, four, or five characters respectively. Words of three characters constituted what de Maimieux called the Indicule . In the Indicule , the first character specified the relevant column (out of twelve columns); the second specified the tranche (six for each column); and the third, the line (one of six) within a given tranche . The Indicule , together with the Petit
Nomenclateur (for words of four characters) and the Grand Nomenclateur (for words of five characters), made up the second part of the Maimieux's pasigraphy. Each page of the tables contained scores of French words, arrayed according to de Maimieux's outline of knowledge.
He claimed much for this scheme. Unlike the "alphabetic chaos" of standard dictionaries, "the pasigraphic order is a natural order." Every word in the system could express "thought, state, action, or passion by means of a progressive analytic development, but without any analytic appareil ." The twelve grammatical rules governed declension, modification, conjugation, and enunciation, and, de Maimieux puffed, yielded up great logical and grammatical riches. The tables of the Indicule, Petit Nomenclateur , and Grand Nomenclateur also provided a mappemonde intellectuel of visual, analytic, and mnemonic convenience.
Although the printer might have complained about having to cast a new font of type (which might never be used again), de Maimieux was fortified by enthusiasm. The relative complexity of concepts would be evident at a glance, measured by the number of characters used in a given word; nature and knowledge could be surveyed with ease from an armchair. De Maimieux proclaimed his lowered expectations, at least by comparison to those held by Wilkins and others in the creation of universal characters in the late 17th century. De Maimieux aimed, not at a representation of truth, but at a handy chart to facilitate communication across linguistic boundaries.
The coordinates in this mappemonde covered varied lexical terrain. Column 9 of the Indicule concerned simple aspects of "science, grammaire, calcul." At the 6th tranche , line 1, de Maimieux put "Plus, au plus, de plus"; four lines down he placed "Beaucoup, bien, très, fort." Cadre 6, column 6 of the Petit Nomenclateur listed civil acts, including privilège, procès-verbal , and confronter ; more lively were the inhabitants of cadre 3, column 6, tranche 4: "Rhinoceros, girafe, onagre, zèbre, buffle, cerf, daim, rène, chamois, gazelle,
grisbock, chevreuil, cabri, vigogne, musc, élan, original." In the Grand Nomenclateur de Maimieux mapped out more complex concepts, with columns for such diverse categories as Dieu, etre, esprit; astres, signes, élémens; insouciance; actes religieux; meubles; arts chymiques . He paid tribute to the reigning confusion of measures and money by supplying an additional four-page alphabetic, multilingual list of available units.
De Maimieux thus borrowed from the encyclopedic spirit of the age, reckoned with the profusion of measures and tongues, marshaled concepts of universal grammar, and hammered his system into a numerical matrix. By analogy to latitude and longitude, de Maimieux's characters could lead a reader straight to the location of the idea in the "topographic map of the domain of thought." De Maimieux followed this with a Carte générale pasigraphique in 1808. Containing some 8,000 words, the tableau of 1808 was nearly as complete as the original version, but multiplied pasigraphic confusion by its incompatibility with its predecessor.
Both de Maimieux and his defenders resorted to mathematical terms in describing the merits of his pasigraphies. De Maimieux saw his system as "a sort of general glossomètre which will give the measure of the richness of each language [and] rectify the inexactitudes of translations, in applying to languages a common scale." One of his disciples went so far as to describe algebra as "that pasigraphy of quantities."
De Maimieux's pasigraphy is a multidimensional variant on proposals in the 17th and 18th centuries for numerical dictionaries—polyglot dictionaries with numbered entries. All these proposals built upon what was seen as the universal intelligibility of Arabic numerals. As Robert Boyle had written in the mid-17th century,
"Since our arithmetical characters are understood by all the nations of Europe the same way, though every several people express that comprehension with its own particular language I conceive no impossibility that opposes the doing that in words, that we see already done in numbers." The idea that mathematical concepts, especially the concepts of number and their representation by Arabic numerals, were universally comprehensible, held persistent appeal to those who aimed at universal, rational languages. In 1801, for example, Zalkind Hourwitz proposed a Polygraphie that relied on the assignment of a number to each word in a basic polyglot dictionary. The same number thus served to designate words with the same meaning in several languages. As the subtitle of his book indicates, Hourwitz intended polygraphy to facilitate the art of communication across national boundaries. Not long afterward Jacques de Cambry did likewise, explicitly invoking the blessings of numeracy in his Manuel interprète de correspondance, on Vocabulaires polyglottes alphabétiques et numériques en tableaux . His mappemonde encompassed not merely Francophones, but also speakers and writers of Italian, Spanish, German, English, Dutch, and the ever-vexing "Celto-breton."