Sunday, September 14, 2014

Esperanto First Appears in the US Press

The first!
I’m always reluctant to cite an article from Der Deutsche Correspondent, the German-langauge newspaper published in Baltimore, Maryland from 1848 until 1918. My German is weak and and I find fraktur[1] difficult to read. But how could I resist the first article to appear in the United States about Esperanto?

It took quite a while for knowledge of Esperanto to filter out of Poland. Dr. Zamenhof could have found a more neglected place than Warsaw from which to publish his pamphlet, but it would have required some work. The slow growth was helpful for Esperanto, compared to the rapid rise and fall of Volapük, which by the time anyone had heard of Esperanto, was already going through its period of reformist schisms. Unlike Esperanto during the Ido conflict, Volapük didn’t fare all that well after the schisms.

But all that was in the future on September 17, 1887, when Der Deutsche Correspondent wrote about Esperanto for the first time, possibly scooping every other newspaper in the United States.
—Jetzt hat sogar “Volapük” einen Konkurrenten gefunden. Ein Dr. Esperanto (höchst wahrscheinlich ein Pseudonym) hat eine neue internationale Sprache erfunden und verspricht, wie der “Kuryer Warszawski” mittheist, in Bälde in polnischer Sprache eine Broschüre herauszugeben, welche eine vollständigen Kursus der neuen Weltsprache enthalten soll. Der Erfinder versichert, daß man in Laufe von höchstens eine Stunde hinter das Geheimniß dieser Sprache kommen und später and der Hand dieses Leitfadens ganz selbstständig es sowohl dahin bringen könne, Andere hinreichend zu verstehen, wie sich selbst darin verständlich zu machen; ferner behauptet der Autor, das Jeder, auch wenn er keine Ahnung von der Sprache habe, dennoch im Stande sein würde sie zu verstehen mit Hülfe eines sogenannten Wörterbuchs, welches nur aus einer einzigen Tafel bestehen soll, trotzdem aber den ganzen Vorrath der in dieser Sprache zu verwenden den Wörter enthalte. Dr. Esperanto schlägt, um seine Erfindung zu erproben, eine Art allgemeiner Abstimmung vor.
And a translation:
—Now even “Volapük” has found a competitor. A Dr. Esperanto (most likely a pseudonym) has invented a new international language and promises, as the “Kuryer Warszawski”[2] reports, to issue in the near future a booklet in Polish, which will contain a full course of the new world language. The inventor assures that after a course of an hour with this guide in hand, you will have the secret of this language, enough to understand other and to make yourself understood. Further, the author claims that anyone, even if he had no idea of the language would be able to understand it with the help of a so-called dictionary, which will consist of only a single table, but from which the whole stock of the language can be made. Dr. Esperanto proposes to test his invention by a kind of public vote.
For a few words, I had to guess the translation from the context and then look the German for what I thought the word should mean. Konkurrenten in the first line gave me a lot of trouble. Then I typed “rival” into Google Translate and found that the incomprehensible symbol was a capital K. I had been guessing C or G. As I keep staring at this stuff, it becomes ever so slightly more clear. I’m sure there were people who were quite discomforted when German dropped fraktur. I am blaming any typos in the German on Der Deutsche Correspondent.

The idea that there would be some sort of public vote comes up frequently. Many of the early articles claim that Zamenhof was seeking some sort of public vote on the issue, after the circulation and discussion of a variety of international language proposals. The New York Times in its first article on Esperanto (a decade later), made reference to this. When the Times wrote about this, they were taking it as certain (in 1897) that English would be the world’s language.

At this point, however, the brochure wasn’t a future prospect, but had been issued fifty days prior. News about Esperanto got out slowly. By the time an English-language American newspaper was writing about Esperanto, the Nurnburg Esperanto Society had risen out of the ashes of the city’s Volapük group. Still Esperanto had a long way to go before it reached the size that Volpük had in 1887.

  1. Fraktur is one of the names for the highly ornate typefaces derived from letterforms such as textura, the spiky type of letters that many newspapers use to set their names in. In the Renaissance, the humanist scribes dubbed it “Gothic” because they didn’t like it, and so therefore it had to be German. They were looking at 12th century Italian manuscripts. The handwriting style they adored was actually Carolingian minuscule, which came out of Germany. They thought it was Roman.

    The Nazis switched over to Roman type because they thought that Fraktur was Jewish. It wasn’t.  ↩
  2. Warsaw Courier.  ↩

You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at
This blog runs solely on ego! Follow this blog! Comment on this post! Let me know that you want to read more of it!


  1. Thanks for the article. Quite interesting. Having read through it twice, I'm still only guessing from the blog's title that "Der Deutsche Correspondent" is a US publication. How about a footnote, with a sentence or two on this publication, and where it appeared.

    1. My apologies. I had previously noted that the newspaper was out of Baltimore, Maryland. By a slip on my part, I forgot to include that information here. I've updated the post.

  2. Didn't Zamenhof originally (in the "Unua Libro") propose a campaign to get people to agree to learn the language if the total number of people making the same commitment reached 10 million? Surely that's what the "vote" story is about.
    BTW I'm fairly comfortable with the old-school German font if you want help in future -- you can track me down on the "English language articles re Esperanto" group.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...