Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Esperanto News in German

It's lovely, though I find it tough to read
In the early twentieth century, there were several newspapers in a variety of languages other than English. The Chronicling America site at the Library of Congress has nearly as many German-language newspapers as ones in Spanish. The Baltimore newspaper Der Deutsche Correspondent published many articles on planned languages, and seem to be the first newspaper in the United States to mention Esperanto (in 1887, mere weeks after Esperanto was introduced).

Like many other newspapers, they reported on the various Esperanto congresses, often at length. I’ve skipped over those articles for two reasons:
  • My German is very weak. I studied it for a year, and really don’t use it.
  • Der Deutsche Correspondent was typeset in Fraktur, and it’s difficult for me to read.
However, their article on the 1910 Esperanto Congress (that’s Esperanto-Congreß for the Correspondent) was short enough that I could make my way through the entire thing. Their earlier enthusiasm for Esperanto seems to have waned, although they continued to write about Esperanto until 1912 (and stopped publication in 1918). I again used Google Translate as a help in transcription. It was particularly helpful in decoding Völker, which looked to me like “Bölfer,” which didn’t make any sense, and Welt seemed to fit the context, but the letters on the page.
In Washington wird zur Zeit der sechste Esperanto-Congreß abgehalten. Die neue vereinfachte „Weltsprache” hat bereits hunderttausende Anhänger. Sie hat auch bereits eine Esperanto-Literatur gezeitigt; aber viel weiter wie das jezt vergessene „Volapük” wird es aus „Esperanto” schwerlich bringen. Die neue Sprache ist ein künstliches Gebilde, eine Kunstsprache, und darum wird sie nicht die Sprache der Völker, nicht Volkssprache werden.
A translation, assisted by Google.
In Washington the time for the sixth Esperanto Congress to be held is coming. The new, simple “world language” already has hundreds of thousands of followers. There is already an Esperanto literature, but as with the already forgotten “Volapük,” it is difficult to bring out Esperanto. The new language is an artificial construct, an artificial language, and therefore it is not common speech, nor will it be.
Volapük had a much quicker rise than Esperanto. Esperanto was created eighteen years before the first Esperanto congress, while there were only nine years between the creation of Volapük and the last Volapük congress (1880 and 1889). By 1910, there had been twenty-three years of people learning, reading, and writing Esperanto. (And, although the Deutsche Correspondent described Volapük as “already forgotten” (jezt vergessene), while the movement may have been essentially dead, the name would reverberate for years. The writer of a humorous essay in the Washington Times claimed in 1922 that his telephone spoke “a sort of vest pocket Volapuk that I never can understand.” So Volapük wasn’t that forgotten in 1910.

The Deutsche Correspondent’s comment about ordinary people (die Volks) learning an artificial language is probably apt. For most people in the United States, even now, speaking only one language is probably no hinderance. When I was young, I was told in French classes that learning French would be a great benefit if I were ever to visit Paris. At that time, Paris seemed impossibly far away. I learned French anyway (for the reading, really), and I’ve been to Paris. You really can get around there in English, though try to use French there whenever I can.

Of course the problem for any planned language is to get to the level where there are network effects. How do you get enough people using the language so that people learn the language because it’s useful? But even if Esperanto were useful for travel, why would someone who has no interest (or perhaps hope) of foreign travel bother to learn it?

Then again, in the view that an international language would be a tool for travel (elites), global business (elites), and science (elites), maybe the Deutsche Correspondent’s objection is irrelevant. Nevertheless, they were probably right.
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