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"Mode of Transmitting and Recording Telegraphic Despatches." Patent no. 9031, filed by George Boucher, 1878

 

Patent no. 9031. Filing year 1878.

"Mode of Transmitting, Receiving and Recording Telegraphic Despatches," George Boucher.

Some inventions are more than they seem. This code, devised by Georges Boucher de Boucherville, was not just a means of improving communication by telegraph but also, as Boucherville saw it, the gateway to a universal language.

Though trained as a lawyer, Boucherville had wide-ranging interests. He wrote essays on economics under a pseudonym, and is best known for his adventure novel set in Louisiana, Une de perdue, deux de trouvées, published anonymously in serial form between 1849 and 1851. It is considered one of the most successful Canadian novels of its day and spawned a sequel set in Lower Canada in 1837, which cast the actions of the Patriotes -- the rebels led by Louis-Joseph Papineau in the Lower Canada rebellion -- in a heroic light.

It was a subject Boucherville knew a great deal about. In his youth, Boucherville was a follower of Papineau and, in 1837, signed the manifesto of the paramilitary organization la Société des Fils de la Liberté. Later that year the rebellion was suppressed and Boucherville took refuge for several years in the United States. In 1846 he returned to Lower Canada and set up a law practice. He assisted in legal reforms in Lower Canada and eventually became clerk of the Legislative Council at Québec, an office he retained until his retirement in 1889.

In his later years, Boucherville seems to have abandoned his nationalist views. In fact, his energy was focused on the opposite goal -- that of creating a universal language that would eliminate national and ethnic divisions. In addition to having no roots in Latin or any other historic language, each syllable and word in Boucherville's language corresponded to a number, and could undergo mathematical operations. "All the different operations that numbers are made to undergo, apply equally to the words of the numerical language," he wrote [translation]. Published in 1889, his Dictionnaire du langage des nombres is a full dictionary of his invented tongue with translations in English and French.

The basis of his patent (explained in an introduction to his dictionary) is that the words and sentences of his language could be reduced for telegraphy using certain mathematical operations. The benefits of this were increased secrecy and reduced cost (since telegraph operators charged by the word).

Language invention was a popular intellectual exercise in the late 19th century, and Boucherville's "language of numbers" may be the most sophisticated example by a Canadian. Such constructed universal languages have never seen widespread adoption, although the most successful, Esperanto -- first published in book form by L.L. Zamenhoff in 1887, two years before Boucherville's book -- is thought to be spoken by around 1.6 million people today.

References

Boucherville, Georges Boucher de. Dictionnaire du langage des nombres (Cesges de Damis). Québec: Atelier Typographique C. Darveau, 1889.

Lemelin, André. "Boucherville, Georges de." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=40105&query=boucherville
(accessed October 18, 2005).

Morton, Desmond. A Military History of Canada: From Champlain to Kosovo. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1999.

"Esperanto." Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto
(accessed October 22, 2005).

"Universal Language." Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_language
(accessed October 22, 2005).