Metoula, or MeTouLa, was a general teach-yourself method for language learning, developed 1854-6, named after its founders, Charles Toussaint and Gustav Langenscheidt. As a correspondence and book-based system, it lasted well into the twentieth century. The didactic process also involved a new system of phonetics, in use until its replacement by the IPA. The process is based on the idea of using literal translations, and reading and speaking, rather than the learning and application of grammar structures; essential elements were interlinear translation between languages, phonetic transcription, and a commitment to frequent repetition. Added to this the process was from foreign language to known language, via phonetic transcription, rather than from the known to the unknown.


Aimed at adults competent in High German who wanted to learn languages for everyday conversation, the Metoula method by the first decade of the twentieth century involved the use of voice recordings. The first course, including a collection of 36 printed learning letters, was French, which between 1856 and 1881 ran to thirty editions. From 1912 MeTouLa also published phrasebooks, aimed at travellers, and thematically arranged, with a grammar, index, pronunciation guide and map of the foreign country.




L SprThe common practice for English phrasebooks for soldiers to be developed, sometimes naively, from travellers’ phrasebooks is often contrasted with what may be thought of as German competence in creating phrasebooks specifically for the purpose of facilitating the management of incursion into hostile territory. Less thought of is how German soldiers were equipped for conversations with people speaking the languages of compliant people or their allies, the several languages of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Turkish, Arabic, Flemish, and so on.


This MeTouLa volume helped Grenadier Reicherts in his dealings in Hungarian; acquired on 12 July 1916 it begins with Hungarian pronunciation and grammar, a list of useful words in Hungarian and images of coins, before moving on to vocabulary and phrases (German to Hungarian) in fields such as medicine, shopping, food, clothes, entertainment, but not military activities; and finishes with a hefty section advertising the extent and virtues of the MeTouLa publications, including a list of languages the sprachführern were available in (including Böhmisch – Czech – Ewe and Haussa). In this friendly environment Grenadier Reicherts would have been able to ask what time it was (p162), pay 10 heller to send a letter weighing no more than 20 grammes (p123), and complain that the fire had gone out (p87). And ask ‘where does that route go, where are they going?’, which might have applications in areas of tension. How many Central Powers soldiers carried phrasebooks for the dozens of friendly languages? And did many develop to encompass both relaxed and campaigning situations?







Metoula langs

Note also ‘Amerikanisch’ as well as ‘Englisch’. Hmm.





Firstly, many thanks to all those speakers who contributed to the conference; we have had some great feedback (there have been 750 visits to the website in the three weeks since), and to those who came and discussed, took notes, asked searching questions, and pushed the project forwards.


The conference broadened the scope of subjects brought into the field of study:

Corpus study, of the language of genocide, and discourse study of particular words, notably ‘culture/kultur’, ‘propaganda’, ‘inexpressible’.

Prisoner of war camps and internment camps as a locus of both language learning and language study.

Political choice of specific languages as an expression and a generative field of identity.

Language and internationalism, particularly Esperanto and the international mind.

Linguistic pointers to the effects of war and the cultural processing of the experience.

Multilingual environments, particularly involving large numbers of languages.

Interpreting in the field through military infrastructure.

Alternatives to speech; reticence, silence, signals.

We hope to pursue some of these further in the blog, which is as always open to guest contributions.


Linking to a regular connection the project has with Wales and Welsh, we show here a couple of pages from the Ruhleben internment camp magazine from October 1915. It looks as though Mr Davies in Bar. 21 (Barrack?) should have been in demand – ‘Cymru am byth’ is the standard (‘Wales forever’). He might have been able to help with a few spellings in English too. But a few observations on the culture of languages at the camp, including the location of Billingsgate for the cockney (London) accent (Billingsgate was the historic London fish-market, now located in Docklands, but previously on the Thames a few hundred metres west of the Tower of London).

Ruhleben Oct15 22

Ruhleben Oct15 23


Link to an article by Gwendal Piégais, that follows on from his paper at the conference: giving some information about the context of creation of the Russian bases in France and Macedonia.




Esperanto and a polyglot phrasebook

First, from Javier Alcalde, a bibliography of Esperanto:

Selected bibliography on Esperanto and the First World War:


About the history of international auxiliary languages


Eco, Umberto (1995). The Search for the Perfect Language. The making of Europe. Blackwell. (available in a number of languages, including Italian, French, German, Japanese, Esperanto)

Gordin, Michael D. (2015). Scientific Babel. How science was done before and after global English. University of Chicago Press.


Okrent, Arika (2009.) In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language. Spiegel & Grau.


About the Esperanto movement
Foster, Peter G. (1982). The Esperanto movement. Berlin: Mouton/De Gruyter.


Garvía, Roberto (2015). Esperanto and Its Rivals. The struggle for an international language. University of Pennsylvania Press.


Lins, Ulrich (2016). Dangerous language — Esperanto under Hitler and Stalin. Vol I. Palgrave. (also available in Japanese, German, Italian, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Korean, Esperanto)


Lins, U. (2017). Dangerous language — Esperanto & the decline of Stalinism. Vol II. Palgrave. (available in Japanese, German, Italian, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Korean, Esperanto)


Schor, Esther (2016). Bridge of Words. Esperanto and the dream of a universal language. Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt.


About Esperanto literature

Sutton, Geoffrey H. (2008). Concise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto. New York: Mondial.

Gubbins, Paul (ed.) (2012). Star in a Night Sky: An Anthology of Esperanto Literature. London: Francis Boutle Publishers.
Minnaja, Carlo; Silfer, Giorgio (2015). Historio de la esperanta literaturo. La Chaux – de – Fonds, Switzerland: Kooperativo de Literatura Foiro.


About the First World War

Alcalde, Javier & José Salguero (ed.) (2018). Antaŭ unu jarcento. La granda milito kaj Esperanto. Paris: SAT-EFK.

Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. Plansprachen und der Erste Weltkrieg. 40 digitalized books. All available at:

Related journal: Language Problems and Language Planning. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Comments & suggestions:



From Stefan Bannò we have some pages from the polyglot phrasebook prepared by Alexander Amersdorffer and Willhelm Doegen.

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 18.12.10Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 18.12.02Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 18.11.50


We add here the title page and preface to the phrasebook


and for comparison, a page from F Wolfson’s Deutsch-Französischer Kriegs-Dolmetscher  published the following year.


What specifically is the purpose of the phrasebook? Explicitly ‘so dass jedermann die zur Verständigung ausreichenden kurzen Sätze selbst bilden kann’ (so that anyone can form the short sentences that are sufficient for understanding). This is a Kriegs-Dolmetscher, a war interpreter, which makes no reference to Doegen’s work as a philologist with Phonographische Kommission, whose recordings, according to , date from 29 December 1915. This book is as belligerent a preparation for invasion as Wolfson’s, and its being published in Berlin rather than Leipzig, centre of publishing in Germany at the time, and in 1915, might indicate its being nearer the seat of authority. Simon Constantine (1) includes it with others ‘which anticipated an impending invasion of [British] territory’; this would be because it provides orders for an occupying force to communicate with locals, and gives these in English. As it gives these also in Italian, this book would also be aimed at Austro-Hungarian troops operating within Italian territory.


A further note is the inconsistency in Amersdorffer and Doegen’s phrasebook, the absolutely natural English of ‘I don’t want any noise in the house’, compared to the continual misunderstanding of the ‘in case’ construction: here it is used to mean ‘if’, rather than ‘if it should happen that’. Hmm, difficult to explain: ‘I will take an umbrella if it rains’ implies two events in the same time-frame; ‘I will take an umbrella in case it rains’ implies two time-frames, taking an umbrella first, and the hypothetical rain later. So, ‘You will be punished, in case you make any signals to the English troops’ means ‘You will be punished to prevent you making any signals to the English troops’. Some of the pronunciation is wayward too – ‘hosstitsch’ for ‘hostage’, ‘attäckss’ for ‘attacks’, and ‘kamm bäck hia ätt’ for ‘come back here at’. The implicit invasion would have struggled if the first approaches had sounded like ‘ das änni uwann sspihk dschäminn?’ Maybe the Phonographische Kommission helped, later on.


(1) Simon Constantine (2013) ‘If an inhabitant attacks, wound, or kills a soldier, the whole village will be destroyed’: Communication and Rehearsal in Soldiers’ Phrasebooks 1914-18, Journal of War & Culture Studies, 6:2, 154-168, DOI: 10.1179/1752627213Z.00000000014




Conference 2018, Day 2 (a)

Briefly, some photographs from Day 2 of the conference.


Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 07.15.46


Marguerite Helmers opens the conference, analysing reticence in the texts of nurses at the Front, Olive Dent, Kate Finzi and an anonymous, and shocking, diary of a nurse retreating with British forces at the start of the war.




Gwendal Piégais on interpreting and translating Russian for the substantial numbers of Russian soldiers serving alongside the French, in a range of locations.




Stefano Bannò on the work of Willhelm Doegen, creating the Königlich-preussiche Phonographische Kommission collection of Italian voices (later known as the Berliner Lautarchiv).




Alison Fell on the cultural tensions between locals and Belgian refugees in Yorkshire, raising the identity issues surrounding the use of the word ‘refugee’.


Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 07.14.58


Julian Walker on veteran’s silence, exploring the ways this concept might be approached.




Javier Alcalde presenting on Esperanto during the war, an appropriately internationalist and optimistic subject to bring the conference to a conclusion.





Conference 2018, Day 1

‘The exact use of words seems to me to be the most important thing in the world. We are, in the end, governed so much more by words than by deeds’. Words from Between St Dennis and St George: A Sketch of Three Civilisations (1915) by Ford Madox Ford (then Hueffer), quoted by Lucinda Borkett-Jones in her paper on Ford’s examination of ‘Kultur’ against ‘culture’, challenge the Languages and the First World War project. The period of the conflict, in all its cultural and geographical locations, has left us images, objects, scars, lasting political problems – many apparently with no hope of resolution, boundaries, nations made and unmade; we choose to examine how people were governed by words.


Today we have explored Achiel Van Walleghem’s carefully placed irony, T E Lawrence’s self-punishment through obscenity, the self-making of identity in Australian retention of war-slang, and the fluidities of language in the East Africa campaign, where language and affiliation in hostilities did not always coincide; and much more. Thoughts and concerns begin to connect: the basis of the constitution of nation-states, changing from religion to language during the nineteenth century, and made overt at the end of the war – how do they differ where religion is ritual mediated through language? What did people understand by the word ‘race’? How, if at all, should accent be transcribed – indeed can it ever be transcribed without the disparaging projection of social class or racism? Why is new slang never as good as old slang? Why irony as the outstanding voice of the war – why not outrage, or pity? How do we recognise commodification in the voice of the guidebook?


It has been an exhilarating day; thank you to all who spoke, listened and shared. More on Wednesday.


Meic Birtwistle on Welsh war-songs


Fiona Houston on propaganda


Cristina Ilea Rogojina on the war’s influence on the language of Romanian literature


Anne Sansom on the languages of the 144 micro-nations that were involved in the East Africa Campaign.


Lucinda Borkett-Jones on Ford Madox Ford.




Two German-French phrasebooks


If after Monday’s blog you were hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the absence here of phrases such as ‘if you lie, you will be shot’, prepare for disappointment. It is hard to tell the exact date of these, though the Haasmann is generally dated 1915, and the Sulzberger is dated by some as as early as 1900, though the appearance of ‘tanks’ on p26 argues a post-1916 revision; there are aeroplanes too, not in the French military before 1909.




Haasmann has no such useful list of weaponry, and is perhaps the less belligerent of the two, asking in an engaging way on page 26 for clothes to be repaired. Sulzberger may be deceptively agreeable on the first page, but then takes on a harsh tone pp4,5

1 3

2,3 4,5


‘Wir sind sehr friedlich / Nous sommes très paisibles’ (we are very peaceful) says Haasmann (p22) – but this is when they are billeted – and asks ingenuously ‘Sind die Einwohner feindlich / Les habitants sont-ils hostiles?’ (are the locals hostile?) (p4). Sulzberger asks the same – ‘les habitants sont-ils pacifiques?’ It is noticeable that in both texts this question is asked after a very definite threat: for Haasmann ‘Wenn Sie weggehen, schiessse ich / Si vous vous sauvez, je tire’ (if you run away I will shoot); and Sulzberger ‘Wenn Sie lügen warden Sie erschossen / Si vous mentez, vous serez fusilé’ (if you lie you will be shot).


And yet, Haasmann page 7 brings ‘tell the truth or you will be shot’, page 10 brings ‘you are staying here as a hostage’, page 14 brings ‘if you lie you will be shot’, and page 20 ‘if the locals hide rations, the village will have to pay a ten thousand franc fine’. Both texts carry the voice of an occupier: empty your pockets, your bag; a curfew; house that people shoot from will be burnt, and their inhabitants shot.

6,7 14,15

Haasmann’s Germans get a quarter of a pound of vegetables daily, Sulzberger’s only 100 grammes, which cannot have been good for peace of mind.

20,21 22,23

A nice bit of etymology; when we said ‘budge over’ at school we never imagined we were using a word taken from French. ‘Rühren Sie sich nicht von der Stelle / Ne bougez pas de là’ says Haasmann; in English ‘don’t budge’.








Sabre-rattling in another tongue

Among the linguistic legends of the First World War is the story of the German phrasebook supposedly prepared prior to the conflict, which provided the soldiers with a model of callous belligerence. It was taken as a perfect piece of evidence to support the accusation that Germany had planned a ruthless invasion policy, applicable to Britain as well as France. Newspaper editors in Australia, as in the rest of the British empire, were amazed at such outrageously meticulous planning of an affront to the law of nations. The Observer in Adelaide, for example, stated on 20 February 1915 that ‘Phrasebooks published in Germany show that the war was contemplated by the Kaiser long before its declaration. Similar books have been found in the knapsacks of German dead and wounded, in preparation for the invasion of England. They show that should the Teutons ever reach Great Britain the country and its people would be devastated with frightfulness similar to that meted out to Belgium. The questions and answers, and other printed instructions and phrases deal largely with matters pertaining to booty, plunder, death, and incendiarism.’ Practically identical wording was used by a number of papers reporting the story at the time, taking it from sources in the London press; in terms of propaganda, it was perfect – despite the recent Christmas truces, the Germans were clearly not to be trusted at all, had both a master plan and detailed tactics, and would if given the chance carry them out.


Punch cartoonist Charles Graves took the subject further with the publication by The Echo & Evening Chronicle of The Hun’s Handbook (1915), which produced the actual phrasebook, credited with the title Törnister Wörterbuch Englisch, (‘English dictionary for the knapsack’), found on the person of a lightly wounded German prisoner, named Virskouski, with the corroboration of a companion book for French, also found in the possession of a captured German soldier. ‘Though we find no intrinsic evidence that the Wörterbuch was actually the production of the German War Staff’ reads the editorial, ‘its publication does set up a strong presumption that it was authorised for the use of a German expeditionary force destined for the invasion of England.’ Graves used a classic British weapon, satire, to hit back at such presumption, contrasting British simplicity with the inappropriately officious Uhlan reading from his phrasebook or the bespectacled Fritz scrabbling to find the correct question under the startled gaze of the lady’s outfitter.

2,7,2 Huns Handbook

All good fun, except that the legend continues; in 2013 Vendémiaire published a handsome transcription of Deutsch-Französischer Soldaten Sprachführer, the work of Lt-Col F Schulzberger, printed in Leipzig in several editions during the war. The Echo & Evening Chronicle must have thought the Törnister Wörterbuch Englisch a publisher’s dream in 1915; the choice of title in 2013 – Si vous mentez vous serez fusillé! Manuel de conversation à l’usage du soldat allemand, (If you lie you will be shot) cannot but add to the legend.

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 06.05.53

The counterpart to the legend is the idea that British published phrasebooks were keen to stick to the fairplay aspect of British warfare, heavily influenced by phrasebooks intended for genteel foreign travel: having one’s boots cleaned please, asking politely the way to the post office, and paying a reasonable price for horses’ fodder. A recently found English-French phrasebook paints a potentially more uncomfortable picture, not as ruthless as hostage-taking or burning farms, but not as nice as might be expected. Furthermore it is an HMSO publication, crown copyright and carrying the royal crest.

GBphr cover



GBphr 17

The first page of phrases goes straight to the mark – bear in mind this is an English-French phrasebook, not English-German: ‘Take care: take the shortest road, and if you lead me wrong you will be shot’. Later on we see ‘Listen and tell me the truth, or I will take you with me’. The mayor is to be fetched, followed by the, possibly exasperated, ‘Is there anyone here who speaks English?’

GBphr 19

This is possibly hostile country ‘Can you vouch for the guide?’, and the choice of phrases in this military phrasebook are clearly for the use of troops in the field rather than looking for recreation. And while ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are remembered, and shopping is carried out with faultless manners, there is no holding back on orders – ‘go slowly’, ‘come here’, ‘hold your tongue’.

GBphr 21

GBphr 25

GBphr 24

And if there was presumption in the Wörterbuch, what exactly is the imagined scenario here?

GBphr train