Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ido and Esperanto Congress

Not an Ido speaker to be found.
On August 14, 1910, the Washington Herald had several articles on Esperanto, and perhaps to balance all that off, also included one on Ido. Their placement of the article couldn’t have been worse. It occupies almost the entire remainder of the three columns beneath a set photos of prominent members of Esperanto congress, Gabriel Chavet, Dr. H. W. Yemors, Edwin C. Reed, Dr. Ivy Kellerman Reed, and Captain Josefo Perogordo. Not an Idoist in the bunch.

Oddly enough, though the article makes the claim that Ido is makes improvements to Esperanto, the article starts by talking about what a success Esperanto was at fostering communication between people of differing native languages. But despite the “wonderful progress” of Esperanto, the writer of the article, Lindsay S.Perkins, decided to devote a chunk of the article to Ido.

Perkins was not a journalist by profession, but was a Special Examiner in the Pension Office (though a later record shows a Lindsay S. Perkins working as translator for the Department of Justice. He had previously worked in the Department of the Interior. He had a couple of poems published in the Washington Times, and from other references seems to have been trained in German and Russian. He was also a booster of the idea of a permanent world’s exhibition in D.C.

The largest portion of the article is the Gettysburg Address in English, Esperanto, and Ido. I’ve included this, but instead following the article and giving them sequentially, I’ve broken them out and set them into a table, to show them side-by-side.

Revised version of Zamenhof’s Work is Shorter than Original—Lincoln’s Address in Three Tongues.
The Esperanto Congress, which opens this week at Washington, calls general attention to the wonderful progress made by this new international language. Nearly forty different nations will be represented by delegates speaking different tongues, and yet capable of conversing with each other on the common ground of Esperanto.

The Japanese can chat with the Swede; the Frenchman presents a resolution, which is seconded by a Russian; Americans make objections or amendments which are seconded by slant-eyed Chinese;[1] a Turk gives his reasons for dissent, and he is persuaded by an Italian to take another view of the matter. It is an antithesis of Babel, a linguist clearing-house for humanity, and a philological free masonry for the world. Its possibilities are as yet unknown, but the already world-wide interest aroused betokens an eventful future of the “Lingvo Internacia,” which is only about twenty years old.[2]

Many have been the attempts to form a universal language. “Pasilingua” and “Volapuk” are prominent examples of ambitious attempts in that direction. The latter, the invention of Dr. Martin Schleyer, was fairly “laughed out of court” for its crudities. No pure invention of a language could succeed; it must be a complication from many languages, culling the best form each and dropping the difficult and useless forms. No existing language could be taken as a whole, as each is loaded with its own objectionable features.

“Three Genders on Face.”
The plague of gender permeates that otherwise admirable language, German, which is so susceptible of charming expression and tender sentiment. But the German, linguistically, is compelled to struggle through life with three genders on his face—his nose feminine, his mouth masculine, and his eyes neuter.[3]

We all know how Heine’s lovely thought and Goethe’s sublime conceptions would suffer under any other arrangement, but downright business does not require such cumbersome constructions, and German as a universal “lingo” won’t do; neither will French, whose formidable array of silent letters, intricate pronunciation, and gender complications are against it. Italian, and especially Spanish, is better, but their grammatical construction is too much like Latin, and they are bristling with grammatical and idiomatic difficulties. English and Russian each have their strong points and also their weak ones.

English has no impersonal pronoun,[4] and Russian no subjunctive mood, although the latter tongue is capable of some of the nicest distinctions of the time and character of an action, but as a unseal tongue it is not to be thought of. It was a Russian, Dr. Zamenhof, how compiled Esperanto, and it must be said of him, in justice, that he borrows less from his native tongue than almost any other. He takes from it the word “vi,” which means “you” in the polite sense; also “nepre,” which signifies “absolutely,” the Russian original being “nepremenno.” Why didn’t he make it “abso?”[5]

He apparently sought to give his ligvo an Italian sound and appearance, and perhaps with good judgement, for there is no tongue spoken that is more musical than Italian and none so well adapted to the use of the singer.

Use in Schools.
It was inevitable hat there should arise some opposition to Esperanto and that attempts should be made to improve upon it. John Barrett, director of the Bureau of American Republics,[6] enthusiastically declared that Esperanto should be introduced into the public schools of America, but Prof. Otto Jespersen, an eminent linguist, says Esperanto needs improvement. His conclusions and those of others have found vent in a revision of Zamehof’s “Lingvo Internacia,” which they call Ido (pronounced Eedo) or “Linguo Internciona di la Delegitaro.”[7]

One of the objections to Esperanto is the terminal “j,” denoting the plural number, which gives the printed page a rather rough and formidable appearance. This letter, which is the latest one to be adopted into the English language and may be the first to disappear,[8] like a wisdom tooth, is used but sparingly in Ido, and never at the end of a word. All accented letters are done away with, word-building is made regular, and as many grammatical rules as possible are done away with.

It is claimed that Ido is easier beyond comparison than any European language, and is learned by reading. When you can read it you can write it, and when you can write it you can speak it. Specimens of the two languages will be given further on, and doubles many refers can understand most of the selections without previous study. In the following selections the “c” is pronounce as “ts,” the “j” as “i,” and the vowels have the broad Italian sound.

Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address is taken to show the comparison between the three languages, the English original being as follows: [I have sent all three to the end.]

It seems almost like a sacrilege to use such exalted language for the purposes of linguistically comparison,[9] but here follows the translation of the above by Mr. B. F. Schubert, of the board of review, Pension Office,[10] Washington, holder of diplomas of the American and British Associations: [at the end]

Next follows the revised Esperanto, or Ido version, by Mr. W. J. Phoebus, of Brooklyn, N. Y. It will be observed that Ido is the shortest of the three, having 248 words of 275 of Esperanto and 267 of English. The word “hike” for “here” looks grotesque in such a connection, and it does seem that the Idoists could have found a better word. Let us hope for some good work on that and other lines at Washington.

English Esperanto Ido
Lincoln’s Great Address.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
As Esperantists Read It

Antaŭ kvar dudekoj da jaroj kaj sep niaj praavoj kreis sur tiu ĉi kontinento novan nacion, naskitan en libereco kaj dediĉitan al la propozicio, ke ĉiuj homoj estas kreitiaj egaluloj. Nune ni estas okupataj pri interŝtata militado, provante ĉu tiu nacio, aŭ iu ajn nacio tiel naskita kaj tiel dediĉita povas longe daŭri.

Ni remkontiĝas sur vasta batalkampo de tiu milito. Ni estas konvenintaj por dediĉi parton de ĝi kiel eternal ripozejon de tiuj, kiuj tie ĉi oferis sian vivon, por ke tiu nacio povas vivadi. Estas do tute dece kaj konvene, ke ni faru tion ĉi. Sed en plua senco ni ne povas dediĉi, ni ne povas oferi, ni ne povas sanktigi tiun ĉi teron. La kuraĝaj viroj, kaj mortintaj, kaj vivantaj, kiuj sur tiu ĉi terpeco batalis, jam sankitigis ĝin laŭ grado multe pli alta, ol per kia ajn nia penado ni povas pliigi aŭ malpliigi.

La mondo nemulte rimarkos, nek longe memoros, kion ni tie ĉi diras, sed ĝi neniam povas forgesi, kion ili tie faris.

Prefere estas, ke ni, la vivantaj estas dediĉitaj al la nepluenumitaj labooro, kiun ili ĝis certo grado tiel noble jam faris.

Estas pli bone, ke ni tie ĉi dediĉu, ke la mortintoj ne ne estu mortintaj vane, ke la nacio povu, per helpo de Dio, havi novan naskiĝon de libereco, kaj ke la regado de la populo, per la populo, kaj por la populo, ne elpereu el la mondo.
The Ido Version

Ante quar dudeki e sep yari, nia avi genitis sur ica kontentento nuva naciono, konceptita en libereso, e dedikit al la prinipo, ke omna homi esas kreita egala. Nun ni esas implikita en granda milito interna, purvonta kad ica naciono, od irga naciono tale koncepita e tale dedikita, povas longe durar.

Ni konvenis sur granda kombat-agro di ta milito. Ni venas por dedkar parto di to agro quale final ripozeyo a ti qui hike donis lia vivi, por ke ca naciono povez vivar. Esas tute ecant e justa, ke ni facez to. Sed en plu larja senco, ni ne povas didikar, no ne povas konsakrar, ni ne povas santigar ta sulo. La bravi, vivant e mortinta, qui luktis hire, konsakris ol tre super nia povo di adjuntar o deprenar. La mondo nemulte rimarkos nek longe memoros quon ni dicas hike, sed ol ne povos oblivyar quon li facis hike.

Esas plu juste ni, vivanti, que devas hikie dedikesar al la nefinita verko, quan ti, qui hike kombatis, tante noble avancis til nun. Estas plu justa ni, qui devas dedikesar hike a la granta tasko, qua restas avan ni; por ke de ta honoroza mortinata ni prenez augmentita devoteso a la skopo por qua li donis la lasta pen-mezuro de devoteso; ke ni hike ferme rezolvez, ke ta mortinti ne esos vane mortinta, ke ta naciono, sub Deo, havos renasko de libereso, e ke la guvernadao de l’populo da l’populo e por la populo ne perisos sur la tero.
I have (somewhat) quietly corrected some errors in the Esperanto, and I hope I haven’t introduced any. With the Ido, all I could do was to transcribe it as accurately as I could, since although I can make sense of Ido, I don’t know the vocabulary.

The section of the pros and cons of various languages was interesting, because it hits on the real problem of the concept of an international language: it’s easy to come up with a set of criteria that look reasonable on their face, but which exclude from consideration not only every language, but every conceivable language. Perkins notes that each existing language is “loaded with its own objectionable features.” I would extend that to any possible language. The quest for a generally agreed-upon international language has to go along with perpetual motion and the Fountain of Youth. I would submit the following as an axiom:
For any possible candidate for an international language a reasonable objection can be made.
Perkins seems to be, while not opposed to the idea of an international language, aware but dismissive of all the contenders. He’s done his reading. One of the problems that Volapük had was all those damn umlauts (which Schleyer loved).

Given Perkins’s objection to the Ido word “hike” (undoubtably pronounced “hee-kay”), I’m going to guess that he was neither a Esperanto speaker nor an Ido speaker. I have no problem with “hike,” as there will inevitably be words that look like words in another language, but are wholly unrelated. What I don’t care for in Ido are those verb forms ending in -ar or -ez. A French speaker created this language; you can tell.

And while Perkins notes difficulties raised by gender, I know from learning a few languages with grammatical gender that speakers of those languages don’t even think about it that way. Yes, it’s “la barbe,” but no one thinks that beards are feminine. (For a cruder example, it’s le con (female genitalia, masculine word) and la bitte (male genitalia, feminine word).[11]). Still, I certainly consider gender an unnecessary component for a language. The question is: how much can you simplify the construction of a language?

Mr. Perkins’s word count is irrelevant. Okay, the original is 267 words, the Esperanto grows to 275, and the Ido shrinks to 248.[12] So? Imagine a language in which all modifiers were affixed to the words they modified, and that subjects were affixed to their verbs (even if they weren’t pronouns). Instead of “The green car moves” you’d have something like “movethecargreen.” I’ve taken a four-word sentence and dropped it down to just one word! Or I could suggest the following:
moveitselfthecargreen = the green car moves
moveyouthecargreen = you move the green car

and so forth
Brevity may not be a benefit.

And for all his views on the benefits of Ido, I remain unimpressed. This is the largest piece of Ido I've ever looked at, and I had to look at it fairly carefully in order to have any hope of transcribing it accurately. While I understand the objections that some people have made about Esperanto, I do not see that Ido actually improves on it in any way. It might be "changed Esperanto," but in introducing its own little quirks, it's really not "improved."

Finally, he seems to have misunderstood the purpose of the Esperanto Congress when he says, “Let us hope for some good work on that and other lines at Washington.” The “lines” being the adoption of forms more pleasing to the eyes of English speakers than “hike.” But the Esperanto Congress members most emphatically had no say over Ido vocabulary, and by their own agreement of five years previous were not going to be changing their language.

  1. Ah, the casual racism of the early twentieth-century. Is that wholly gone? I hope so.  ↩
  2. Esperanto had been published twenty-three years prior, but it didn’t sound a day over nineteen.  ↩
  3. Although grammatical gender really shouldn’t be confused with natural gender.  ↩
  4. One may use “one” as an impersonal pronoun in English.  ↩
  5. Because in form, abso would be a noun in Esperanto. Abs/ is not a root in Esperanto. Google Translate gives независимо as the Cyrillic characters  ↩
  6. Now Organization of American States.  ↩
  7. The “International Language of the Delegation,” referring to the 1907 gathering of delegates from various organizations where Ido was introduced.  ↩
  8. I’m not spelling my name with an I.  ↩
  9. I’m assuming this was the only text the writer, sensitive of the “sacrilege” of the “exalted language,” could actually get in all three languages.  ↩
  10. Or, in other words, Perkins turned to an Esperantist coworker, as he, too, worked at the Pension Office.  ↩
  11. There’s another of those accidental similarities with unrelated meanings. Bitte, a one-syllable crude word for “penis” in French, or a two-syllable expression for “please” in German.  ↩
  12. I haven’t counted these independently. I’m relaying on Mr. Perkins for this. The English looks longer.  ↩

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  1. Thanks for posting this. Very interesting. Unfortunately, some errors have crept into the Esperanto translation (or were never corrected from the original?): "Antaŭ ivar dudekoj da jaroj kaj sep niaj praavoj kris sur tiu ĉi kontinento..." Second word should be "kvar" & 10th should be "kreis". The second-last word in the 1st paragraph should be "longe", not "lange".
    Paragraph 2: "Ni estas konvenintaj por dediĉi...": I think it should be "estas kunvenintaj" (or, more simply "kunvenis"); "konveni" is an Esperanto word, but it means to conform (to rules or morals). "Sen en plua senco...": "Sen" should be "Sed". Last sentence: "... ol per ka ajn nia penadoni povas pliigi aŭ malpliigi": "ka" should be "kia"; "penadoni" should be 2 words: "penado ni".
    Paragraph 3: "La mundo" should be "La mondo".
    There could very well be more, but maybe you should consult

  2. Dankon sinjoro redaktoro!

    Seriously, thank you. It can be a real pain transcribing Esperanto from their early newspapers.

    You caught three places where the Herald made an error and I simply transcribed it (I caught several others). Three other mistakes are my poor proofreading of my own typing. Autocorrect is, of course, a hindrance, and though I turn if off in my word processing program, it sometimes takes over in the browser.

    As for quibbles over what words S-ro Schubert should have used, here I have to go for his intent (no misspellings), but if he uses a phrase that isn't what we would agree with, I have to go with what he wrote.

    I looked at the translation at Wikipedia and determined that it was sufficiently divergent that I would be better off retyping the Herald's version, fixing as many errors as I could catch, and not trying to to incorporate any new ones.

    The original text used the h-sytem, except in those places where the compositor mistook it for an n, as in "gnis," or we would say, "ĝis." Some words were split were they didn't belong, others were slammed together (as you saw).

    I suspect the Ido is just as bad, but I don't have the background to correct the Ido.

    Thanks again, and I hope you're enjoying the blog!

  3. Yes, I am enjoying the blog a lot, thanks. I always look forward to your new posts.

  4. For whatever it's worth...

    I just ran all three versions of the Gettysburg Address from your post (text only, labels/column-headings excluded) through a basic word-counting utility (wc - , as I'm a Linux user), and found the following results:

    Ido : 248 words (exactly correct)
    Esperanto : 238 words (not 275 -- way off)
    English : 271 words (not 267 -- almost correct)

    I find two things interesting in these numbers.

    Firstly, the count for Ido was dead on, but the others weren't as carefully calculated. And secondly, that the count for the Esperanto version was the only one so badly off the mark.

    In my experience, Ido proponents are often prone to claim that Ido is more "efficient" or at least more succinct and concise than Esperanto*. Consequently, such a large error when the other two word-counts were either correct or very close to correct, to the extent of making the Esperanto version appear as the longest, rather than the shortest text, smacks suspiciously of actual bias.

    - - - - - -
    *) Although somewhat off topic, it's also worth noting that many detractors of Esperanto, especially those who posit English as the naturally preferable choice for an international language (or at any rate that English is logically and linguistically superior to Esperanto for that role) can be relied on to make a similar argument that Esperanto is too inefficient (possibly archaic) and that it simply requires too much time and too much space to express oneself effectively and appropriately in our modern, fast-paced world.

    Make of it what you will...

    Bernardo Verda


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