A Dictionary of Volapük

In 1879 in Baden, Germany, Father Johann Martin Schleyer created a universal language at the behest of God, speaking to Schleyer in a dream. He called this new language Volapük or “World Speak.” Volapük was a simple language meant to give Catholic readers from different linguistic backgrounds an easier time reading aloud from the Bible.

The Last Pictures (The Dictionary of Volapük), 2012
48 × 60 in.

Within ten years nearly one million people were conversing in the language. Volapük-specific publications were widely available, textbooks about the language were published in twenty-five languages, and Volapük societies proliferated across Europe. Yet Volapük’s popularity as a universal language was eclipsed by the rise of Esperanto in the early twentieth century. Esperanto expressions began mocking Volapük; in Esperanto “that sounds like Greek to me” became “that sounds like Volapük to me,” and “Volapukaĵo” became a synonym for nonsense.