Ro (artificial language)

Ro is an a priori constructed language created by Rev. Edward Powell Foster beginning in 1904.


In Ro, words are constructed using a category system. For example, all words starting with "bofo-" signify colors; the word for red is "bofoc", and yellow is "bofof". Foster did not simply try to design a better language in general, but to optimize his language for one design criterion: recognizability of unknown words. Foster wrote about Ro:

Ro did not begin with attempting to rival or supplant any other language whatever, either natural or artificial, nor was it suggested by any of them.
Unexpectedly came the thought: "How strange it is that there is nothing in the appearance of a written or printed word that gives the slightest hint of its meaning. Why should a word not be a picture? A new word, never seen before would then, like a painting seen for the first time, convey at least some of the meaning to the eye."[1]

After working on the language for about two years, Foster published the first booklet about Ro in 1906. The publication of Ro periodicals was supported by several American sponsors, especially from the Marietta, Ohio area, including Melvil Dewey,[2] inventor of the Dewey Decimal Classification (another attempt to categorize human knowledge), Vice President Charles G. Dawes,[2] George White,[2] who mentioned Ro in the Congressional Record, and Alice Vanderbilt Morris of IALA.[2] Several more books about Ro by Foster and his wife appeared over the years, as late as 1932.

A common criticism of Ro is that it can be difficult to hear the difference between two words; usually one consonant makes the word different in meaning, but still similar enough that the intended meaning often cannot be guessed from context. This characteristic is common among philosophical languages, which are characterized by vocabulary developed taxonomically, independently of natural languages. A posteriori languages, such as Esperanto and Interlingua, are more popular than the a priori type, perhaps partly because their familiar vocabulary makes them easy to learn and recognize. Conversely, a priori languages are seen as being more neutral because there are so many languages and root words used in different languages may be completely different.

Solresol was an earlier classificatory language that by using a smaller symbol set achieved easier distinctness. There have been a few more recent attempts to design a language along similar lines, such as Ygyde and the Japanese-made Babm, but most subsequent constructed language makers have avoided this taxonomic or hierarchic design for the reasons mentioned above.


  1. ^ Dictionary of Ro: The World Language, page 3, Rev. Edward Powell Foster, ROIA, Waverly, West Virginia, 1928.
  2. ^ a b c d Dictionary of Ro, page 6

External links

  • Article on Ro by Rick Harrison at
  • Discussion and criticism of Ro by Andrew Nowicki
  • Ro forum on Yahoo Groups
  • Dictionary of Ro on
  • Dictionary of Ro, the World Language on Google Book Search
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