Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Monoglott — A Language of One?

"More" but not "much"
I have previously written about some early Nebraska Esperanto speakers, as I stumbled on articles about a mother and daughter who were both Esperantists, and there was an active community of Esperanto speakers in Nebraska in the early twentieth century. But that doesn’t mean that everybody in Nebraska was a fan of Esperanto.

D. C. John seems to have written quite a few letters to the editor of the Omaha Daily Bee in the mid 1910s. He wrote on a number of subjects, but in a pair of letters published on August 17 and 27, 1915, proposed a competitor to Esperanto. I’m not exactly sure about the identity of D. C. John. One letter does refer to D. C. John as a male, and describes him as “the learned doctor,” so the letter writer might have known more than we do. Further, D. C. John’s wife later became the head of the Douglas County Woman’s Christian Temperance Union chapter.[1] D. C. John seems to have stopped writing letters to the editor about the same time that his wife became busier with the WCTU. D. C. John seems to have been involved in the Anti-Saloon League. Most of the articles I’ve found on the Johns are about the temperance movement.

D. C. John’s interest in this matter seems to have been sparked by an August 2, 1915 letter by Charles P. Lang promoting Esperanto. Mr. Lang had done this before. On April 22, 1915, he cited the war bulletins that were being in Esperanto. Mr. Lang’s August 2nd letter brought forth an amplification from D. C. Corios, a native of Yucatan, living in Omaha on the 6th. And then, finally, D. C. John weighed in on August 11, 1915.

Given that there eleven letters in this correspondence, most of this tale has to be told by summary, instead of direct quotation (plus, there really isn’t any reason for repeating Mr. Lang or Mr. Corios’s promotion of Esperanto).[2] Ms. John[3] does note that
Mr. Corios is not the first man to be discommoded by lack of language, when traveling, nor will he be the last. Nothing makes a man feel more lonesome and helpless in a crowd than to be unable to ask or answer a question.
But while sympathetic to this, D. C. John is not a fan of Esperanto.
The world owes Mr. Zameneff[4] a debt of gratitude for his ingenious attempt to supply this long felt need, but it is yet in a crude state and possesses some fundamental defects which greatly hinder its usefulness.
  1. It does not have a sufficient vocabulary.
  2. It does not have moods and tenses enough to express action or being with accuracy.
  3. It is too Slavic in contraction to be acceptable to the literary nations of the world.
  4. It is made up of too many languages, requiring one to be quite a linguist or slavishly dependent on a lexicon.
It would make this article too long to give illustrations.
D. C. John has a solution in hand. I suspect the text here is a little garbled.
These defects may all be avoided by taking as the foundation Monoglott, an ancient language which which all the literary nations are more or less familiar. Of 3,000 words selected form the Latin lexicon, 2,000 have been worked their way into England[5] in some form or another. Nerly the same number can be found in German, and even more in French and Spanish, lineal descendants of ancient Latin. Taking this ancient language and grammar, as far as possible, would make the acquirement of the new language quite easy, because two-thirds of the vocabulary would be already understood, and all national jealousy would be avoided.

I am now trying to prepare a Monoglott grammar free from all superfluities and yet containing all things necessary to perspicuity. I would be glad to converse with anyone interested in the subject.
What I talk this to mean is that D. C. John was proposing a neo-Latin constructed linage, since it would Latin, not “Monoglott” with which “all the literary nations are more or less familiar.” The language is subsequently in the Bee termed “Monoglot” (with only on t), but I’m keeping the double-t spelling (because I like it).

In the August 17 edition, Charles P. Lang responds to D. C. John, offering rebuttals to the objections offered in the August 11 letter.
The scholarly and complimentary recognition of D. C. John of Esperanto and his devotion to the universal interests of the world in giving humanity neutral auxiliary language is most laudable. However, we are glad to answer the questions the learned doctor proposes, and which he claims as defects of the Zamenhof[6] system, which has passed every test for twenty-eight years, and is directed by a lingual academy composed of 100 of the eminent etymologists[7] of the world, representing all the progressive nations.
While I have said that for any proposed international language a reasonable objection might be made, in this case, Lang is able to show that D. C. John’s objections aren’t reasonable ones. In the midst of all this, came a August 21 letter, signed “Esperantisto,” which sought to underscore the amount of literature already available in Esperanto.

Mr. Corios returned to the discussion on August 23, noting
I also have noticed in a late issue of The Bee a letter by Mr. Johns advocating “Monoglot” as a medium of international communication.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about “Monoglot” and for that reason will not attempt to discourage the idea. But, I wish to state that I have great doubts about its practicability. Mr. Johns states “Monoglot” is derived largely from Latin and in my opinion Latin is too complicated. The principal purpose of an international language is for the use of the non linguist. The linguist can soon acquire any tongue. It seems to me that a language derived form Latin must of a necessity entail considerable difficult grammar, which alone would make it impracticable among the poor and uneducated.
On August 27, 1915, we get D. C. John’s last letter on the subject of Monoglot.
When I wrote of an Improvement on Esperanto, I had no idea of stir rug up such a discussion as followed. I have read carefully all the criticisms and still believe that all I said in that communication is correct. It is an indisputable fact that languages are not made, they grow. The English language has been growing for centuries and is still far from perfection. Long after my improvements, some one will improve them, and so on indefinitely. It is no fault of the Slavic language that few of the great literary nations understand it, but it does disqualify it to be become a common vehicle of thought among those nations. English, German, French or Spanish would serve better, because more generally understood.

In Monoglot I have prepared a lexicon of 3,000 words, 2,000 of which are found in some form in English, French, Spanish and German. Every intelligent reader will recognize these words without reference to a lexicon. This cannot be done when the words are taken from half a dozen different languages.

I wish I could have space to give illustrations, but I know the space given is limited. Mr. Corios think the Latin language is too complicated for general use. So it is, and I propose to use only its vocabulary, not its grammar. I eliminate its elaborate inflections, technical uses of moods and tenses, and grammatical gender. I seek to use words familiar to most people and constructions as simple as they can possibly be. Esperanto has not rid itself fully of all useless appendages. Why should all nouns end in o and all adjectives in a?

Esperanto, furthermore, does not have a complete system of moods and tenses. The consequence is its imperative mood is immensely overworked.

Current Esperanto uses too many words. “Li bruligis al si la manon;“ here al and la are superfluous. It would be far better thus: “Li bruligis sian manon.“

I cannot show the infelicities of the verb system without a paradigm, for which I have not space. If I had, I could easily show there is a “more excellent way.”

This is becoming a hackneyed subject, and I expect The Bee to shut down on it very soon. If anyone wants any further information on Monoglot, I shall be glad to talk with him.
It’s amusing that D. C. John says that "languages are not made, they grow,” and then goes on to discuss his language invention, Monoglot. It’s a shame that he spent so much time discussing what he saw as Esperanto’s comparative flaws, because we know tantalizingly little about Monoglot. He doesn’t seem to have shared his thoughts with anyone; no more letters, no books or pamphlets that I could find.

His sense of Esperanto is a little flawed. His “Li bruligis al si la manon“ is permissible Esperanto, but you could also say "Li bruligis sian manon.” They’re both okay. I suspect most contemporary Esperanto speakers would choose the shorter sentence, despite that the first is drawn from examples set down by Zamenhof. He did his reading; that’s clear.

He didn’t seem to have done the writing to let us all know what the particulars were of Monoglott. There’s probably a vast number of constructed languages which, whether or not their authors completed them, have been utterly lost. Monoglott seems to be among this number.

  1. Perhaps she knew Alice Howard.  ↩
  2. It’s certainly Mr. Corios, as he signed another letter with his first name, Diego.  ↩
  3. Assuming, again.  ↩
  4. D. C. John’s error for “Zamenhof.”  ↩
  5. Error for English?  ↩
  6. Good thing someone can spell “Zamenhof.”  ↩
  7. The Bee writes “etomologists,” and this is a very bad description of the Esperanto Language Academy, which is instead filled with skilled Esperanto speakers.  ↩

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