Sunday, September 7, 2014

Esperanto Blamed for Death of Volapük

Didn't the Volapük speakers
have a hand in all this?
There’s general belief is that the failure of Volapük was caused by the rise of Esperanto, even though the dates don’t really match up. Yes, Esperanto was created seven years after Volapük, but when the last Volapük congress occurred in 1889, the movement was already full of strife. Admittedly, the defection of the Nuremberg Volapük Society (which became the Nuremberg Esperanto Society) probably hurt. Still, with the first Esperanto congress sixteen years away, the Nurembergers were taking a chance.[1]

When the corpse of Volapük[2] is examined, everyone always wants to know what Esperanto had to do with it. We were nowhere near it! Yet a piece that appeared in the Marshalltown, Iowa Evening Times-Republican, on September 7, 1911, asserted that Esperanto was responsible for the failure of Volapük.[3]

Their grasp of history is shaky in more ways than one.
A few years ago Volapuk was the order of the day, and we are only reminded of its erstwhile fame by reading an account in a Paris contemporary of the death of its founder.[4] He was an ecclesiastic named Schleyer, and his method was to constitute a universal language by borrowing freely from the Roman and German tongues. The proposal received a great deal of attention from serious writers, and it goes without saying that it came in for a lot of ridicule. The effort might have succeeded had it not been for Esperanto. The old priest watched the rise and decline of his proposal, and he lived to see its fall. The thought that must suggest itself to all who give the matter consideration is: Why should there be a new language? Why not teach boys to write Latin as a universal language? An effort in this direction is being made in Germany.
If you read the footnote I put into the quoted text, you might be scratching your head. If you haven’t read it, I’ll clear things up: this article appeared about eleven months before Schleyer died. He was still around, thought the Volapük movement certainly wasn’t what it had been.

Esperanto seems to have begun to take off once the Volapük movement failed, but while the Esperantists were able (to some degree) to seize an opportunity, Volapük wasn’t pushed, it fell on its own. Maybe, if when Dr. Zamenhof had examined the work of Father Schleyer, he decided to put the lingvo internacia aside permanently, there might be more Volapük speakers in the world today. But I still doubt there would be as many as there are Esperantists.

  1. The first issue of their magazine, La Esperantisto, was dated September 1, 1889.  ↩
  2. Volapük isn’t actually dead; there are still speakers, and even an unbroken series of leaders.  ↩
  3. This same article appeareed in the Lafayette Advertiser on September 15.  ↩
  4. On August 16, 1912.  ↩

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