Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An Early Esperantist in California

The first of many letters to the editor
Clearly the letters column of the Los Angeles Herald in the early years of the twentieth century was the Internet comment thread of its day. The Herald’s pages contained many letters by or responding to a Los Angeles resident named Val Stone. Alas, despite his prominence in the pages of the Herald (and not just in the letters column), he seemed difficult to find anywhere else. I did find a Valentine Stone living in Los Angeles in 1910, but he didn’t seem to be the right person, as he was only 16.

A 1906 article in the Herald describes him as “a prominent educator.” But after looking through many of the 133 references to Val Stone in the Herald (including one letter by a “Mrs. Val Stone,”), I have no clear picture of who Mr. Stone was. In his many letters to the Herald, he held forth on a number of subjects: appropriate punishment of criminals, dog registration, women’s rights (he was for them), Teddy Roosevelt (didn’t like him), and in what seems to be his first letter, Esperanto.

Stone’s first letter to the Herald also brings up another problem. In the book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, Nicholson Baker points out that libraries have purged their copies of old newspapers upon acquiring microfilm copies, but when these microfilms contain unreadable sections, there’s no original to turn back to. In looking through the Chronicling America archives, I have seen papers where articles have been clipped out, images obscured by debris on the pages (flakes from the edge), and folded paper that covers the text.

Stone’s letter in the July 29, 1906 Herald suffers from the last of these defects, so in transcribing it, I’ve had to make some guesses about the original text.
First Teacher of New Language on the Coast Points Out a Few

LOS ANGELES, July 25. (Editor Herald): In the interests of Esperanto pure and undefiled I feel I cannot but take notice of certain errors contained in Esperanto lessons printed in a Los Angeles paper. Some of them are doubtless printers’ errors; others I fear are the inevitable consequence of inexperience and haste on the part of a teacher new (as we all are) to a new subject.

For instance, a list of “diphthongs” is given. Now there are in fact no diphthongs in Esperanto. The “j” in such combinations as “oj,” “aj,” “uj” is a consonant; and so the “u” in “au” and “eu.” As for the “xy” and “uy” as shown in the lessons, there is no such thing in Esperanto, which language has no “y” at all. To state that “j” is pronounced like the “j” in “hallelujah” or “y” in “boy” is to make confusion words confound, as in one of these cases the the example is a consonant and in the other it is a vowel. It has been laid down most distinctly by the Esperantist authorities that “j” is always a consonant. That the “u” (“u” with the concave accent) is also a consonant (and invariably so) will be better understood when I explain that its name in the alphabet is “wo” (English spelling); and except that it is much more restricted in use, not being employed initially, it is the equivalent of our “w.”

Now as to the correct pronunciation of these combined letter which, as I have explained, are not double vowels, but a combination of vowel and consonant. “Eu” (“u” with the concave accent) is given in the less as las like “ew” in “dew.” This is manifestly wrong. The dominant vowel sound in this combination should be the “ey” as in “they,” clipped off short at the end with the “w” sound, sometimes, for convenience represented by “oo” (very short), thus, ey-oo.

Again, they give the sound of “uj” (printed erroneously “uy”) as like “wee” in “sweet.” Quite wrong. the correct sound is “oo-y” (English spelling) just the sound of our double “oo” clipped off lightly and quickly with the sound of the consonant “y.”

Having been the introducer of Esperanto on the Pacific coast and having personally initiated more than one hundred people into the study of this marvelous invention, I naturally feel something like a hen guarding her chickens when I see any danger of misdirection in its study or tendency to confuse or mislead my proteges or pupils. Finally, having in view the base possibility that any of these quoted aberrations may be intentional, I stand for the principle laid down by Dr. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, and the boards of committees acting with him, that no change, whether a real improvement or not, will be authorized or adopted until such proposed change has been officially pass upon and approved by at least two nationalities.
So, who was he? A 1907 article in the Herald describes him as a prominent local Esperantist, along with Professor James Main Dixon (whom I was able to determine was at the University of Southern California, and held Esperanto classes there). So I had the picture of Val Stone in my head: someone in his 30s or 40s, perhaps an instructor at USC or the California State Normal School, Los Angeles Branch (the predecessor of UCLA). I was wrong.

In 1910, in one of his many letters to the Los Angeles Herald, Mr. Stone offers his address for anyone who would like Esperanto instructional materials. Mr. Stone lived at 719 Yale St., Los Angeles, California. A quick of Google Street View shows a building far younger than that. Our “prominent educator,” Professor Val Stone, is a 16-year-old bookkeeper, living with his parents. When he wrote the letter about Esperanto in 1908, he was about 15 years old. In 1906, twelve, maybe thirteen.

The creation of “Mrs. Val Stone” seems to be an error on the part of the compositors at the Herald. Two such letters appeared, one of which is a response to a letter criticizing Mr. Stone’s views on women’s suffrage; perhaps the editors decided that anyone so supportive of women’s rights must be a woman. We can clear Val Stone from any suspicion of being a pre-Internet sock puppet. (Although he did claim twenty years of activism when he was still in his teens.)

I actually doubt that Mr. Stone was the first to each Esperanto on the West Coast. Certainly Professor Dixon of USC was teaching the language early on. Mr. Stone died in 1954.
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