Friday, June 6, 2014

A Candidate for the Universal Language in 1889

How many planets in
your federation?
Esperanto speakers are pretty used to hearing that English is the de facto international language.  This is the sort of thing that is true until it isn't. Just as it's risky to assume that everyone speaks English now anyway, I was once assured in Spain that all Americans speak Spanish. I missed that memo.

English is pretty widely spoken, luckily for me, thanks to good old American pop culture. Certainly, it would be great for everyone to learn Esperanto, but who's going to turn out all those great Esperanto movies and pop songs? I have the sneaking suspicion that if someone did make a movie in Esperanto, it would be some earnest part film and not an adventure blockbuster. And while I like Esperanto rock, none of its performers are going to go global on the scale of American pop music artists.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a general consensus that the world needed an international language to deal with the new global world. Everyone agreed that English or French or German just wouldn't do. There was an awareness that using any national language would put one group of speakers added vantage over everyone else. That kind of seemed unfair. On June 6, 1889, the Barton County Democrat, running a piece from the New York Herald, noted that
It takes no prophetic vision to discern that the adoption of a universal language will be one of the forerunners of the federation of man into which all Nations will ultimately merge.
Two years after Esperanto was launched, so it's still fairly unknown. They must be promoting Volapük, right?
Even now the need of such a language is acutely felt, and has given birth to such anomalies as Volapuk and its imitations. But Volapuk can never supply the need. A language can not be deliberately invented; it must grow and develop as part of the heritage of a nation, strengthening with its strength and embalming all its glories and traditions.
So, no Volapük.

It should be some solace to Esperanto speakers that these claims are nothing new. The item concludes
And as the United States is the land of the future, the land of promise the older nations, the meeting ground of all races wherein they shall be fused into a higher and nobler civilization, it becomes a vast center for the diffusion and perpetuation of the language which it speaks. 
Even back in 1899, during the height of the belief that the world needed a universal language, someone was already predicting that English would do just what it did.
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