Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Esperanto: A Last and Desperate Attempt for Volapuk?

Newspaper clipping on Esperanto, San Francisco Call
"That well-worn fad"
In 1897, The San Francisco Call ran a short article on Esperanto, just about ten years after that language was introduced. The item describes Esperanto as "an improved form of Volapuk." It's funny to see that ideas for international language were already being derided as a "well-worn fad" in 1897.

Although this is one of the earliest articles in the American press on Esperanto, it disagrees with a slightly earlier piece that continued to run in newspapers later. The other piece, originally from the New York World, correctly identified Esperanto as a rival to Volapuk, although it does place Zamenhof in Warsaw, although he was living in Grodno in 1897.

I've transcribed the piece below, including that it spelled Zamenhof two ways; S at the beginning and one or two f's at the end. Ironically, Zamenhof hadn't heard of Volapuk until after he was nearly done with Esperanto. He looked into it and decided that his own creation was a better idea (as countless others with ideas for international languages have done).
The supporters of that well-worn fad, an international language, have determined to make a last and desperate attempt to persuade an unsympathetic world to listen to the claims of Volapuk. Mr. Samenhof, the Russian linguist, who started an improved form of Volapuk in a language of his own invention, called Esperanto, has hit upon a happy plan of a congress of intellects to settle the question. Circular letters are being sent from the headquarters of the Volapuk committee to all the principal newspapers of the world asking for an opinion from the vast army of many tongued readers in the form of an essay on the question of an international language. All these essays are to be carefully considered and finally, without exception, printed and published in book form. But that is not the end of this novel convention by post. Every one who has written on the subject will be asked to vote on the principal solutions for the creation of an international language. And after that? Those who need further information had better apply to Mr. Samenoff, Grodno, Russia.
I'm not sure if a vote was ever taken. Of course, even if it had, it wasn't binding on anyone. Nor do I know if the book was ever produced.

The San Francisco Call would go on to produce articles that were much more sympathetic to Esperanto. Their first time covering the language, however, they saw it as "a last and desperate attempt."

Update: The original news item appeared in the San Francisco Call on August 29, 1897. At the time I wrote this post, I had not yet hit upon the idea of publishing a blog post on (or at least near) the anniversary of the event or article.
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  1. When was the „slightly earlier piece“ published? I have found the same news in Praeco Latinus (a Latin language periodical published in Philadelphia) Vol. III Iun. 1897 Nr. 9 p. 1, where the orthography of proper names matches, but the details are different – Zamenhof himself is sending out the circulars here; also, this is June, not August, so the source is somewhere else to be found (the author, editor of the periodical, Arcadius Avellanus was keeping upwith European press, so it may be a non-American source). The tone of the message is fitting for a first mention of Zamenhof in Praeco Latinus.

    Quanto desiderio zeloque linguæ universæ Europæi teneantur indicium novissimum est cœptum L. |Samenhof|, Grodno, in Russia. Vir enim iste encyclicis disseminatis cunctos peritos urget, ut, quum conciliabulum cogi nequeat, singuli, quorum interest, ei tractatum quacumque lingua submittant suas quisque partes defendentes. Ex his tomos ternos concinnabit uno centussi vendendos. Simul etiam albulas (Anglis /a blank/) emittet iis qui postulaverint, quibus iidem suffragabuntur utrum l. Lñam, Volapük, Esperanto, an quamcunque aliam, vivam aut mortuam, universam habere velint. Quæcunque lingua sic suffragiis aliam superaverit, universa decreta erit. Plus scire cupientes, mittant 10 libellas viro docto, ut fasciculum recipiant. Nos non suffragamur, sed commendamus Russis id quod antea: vidl., ut adoptent systema Tusculanum, discant Latine loqui et scribere, linguas peregrinas eliminent, et cogant suo exemplo suos vicinos l. Lñam universam adoptare.

    (centussis = dollar, libella = cent, l. Lña = lingua Latina, vidl. = videlicet)

    It would be interesting to see if the vote indeed took place.

    1. The New York World ran an article "Volapük Has a Rival" in late 1895, which was much reprinted; I need to get to one of the reprints, since it seems unlikely that I'll find the original date (the site Chronicling America lacks the last three months of 1895 for the Evening World).

      The Call did note that it was the "headquarters of the Volapuk committee" that was sending out the information; this was probably the Nuremberg Esperanto Society, which two years later had been the Nuremberg Volapük Society.

      As for keeping up with the European press, the Deutsches Correspondent clearly got its first information on Esperanto (in 1887!) direct from the Warsaw Courier.


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