Friday, September 26, 2014

Professors Battle over Esperanto and Ido

Me? Create Ido? Be serious!
In 1910, George Macloskie, a professor of biology, made some remarks about Ido to the Washington Herald. More than a month later, Louis Couturat, a professor of mathematics and one of the leading proponents of Ido, responded.

We have the sequel. The earlier part is lost, alas. Louis Couturat wrote a letter to the Washington Herald, which they published on September 26, 1910. In it, he refers to an article that appeared in the August 15th edition. Unfortunately, the scanned copy at the Chronicling America web site is missing three pages. Undoubtably, the interview to which Couturat and Macloskie refer was on one of those pages. (The interview has been found! See the bottom of the post for more details.) The remaining pages have plenty about Esperanto; at the time, the sixth Universala Kongreso was taking place in Washington, D.C. and the D.C. papers gave it a lot of coverage. It would be nice to know what Macloskie said about Ido (beyond attributing its creation to Couturat), but that’s not likely to happen.

My assumption is that Couturat was not the creator of Ido; I’ll accept his denial as honest.[1] But nevertheless, some of the statements he makes don’t exactly serve to clarify matters.
Dr. Louis Couturat Enters a Firm Denial.
Editor The Washington Herald

Since Prof. Macloskie, in your issue of August 15,[2] qualifies me as the “author of Ido,” I beg your courtesy to insert the following rectification:

I am not the author of Ido. Ido (otherwise the international language of the delegation) is the result of the labors and decisions of the international committee of twelve scientists[3] specially elected to select the best international language.

It decided unanimously to adopt Esperanto in principle, but conditioned on several improvements; and this improved Esperanto is called Ido, because the author of Esperanto himself refused to recognize it.

The most eminent Esperantists, however, voted for these decisions. The committee examined and discussed impartially all projects for an auxiliary language; it recited also many proposals for reform from the most competent Esperantists, and judgment was render in accordance with all the documents.

The reforms adopted were demanded unanimously by many, and especially by Prof. Macloskie himself (see Harper’s Weekly, July 7, 1906); so one cannot understand why he approves Esperanto, which preserves these defects as untouchable, and disapproves Ido, which has amended them precisely according to his desire.[4]

Ido has been adopted and is being propagated by the “Union of the Friends of the International Language,” which has as presidents Prof. Ostwald, of Leipzig (Nobel prize man in chemistry); Prof. Pfaundler, member of the Academy of Vienna, and Prof. Jespersen, the famous linguist of Copenhagen. Every competent and impartial man acknowledges it great and evident superiority to Esperanto, not only on account of its brevity, but also because of its clearness, precision, and flexibility.

It is the only language suitable for science (see International Language and Science, Constable, 1910). It is untrue “that it has no inflections;” it has only the necessary ones; it suppresses the accusative, and the agreement of the adjective, like the modern languages and the most involved[5] (English). Will any one assert that the English is less clear than the German, which has many useless inflections? Ido has, more than Esperanto, the qualities of Latin, and because of that its adversaries reproach it with being a Latinized Esperanto.

All this ought to secure the sympathy of Prof. Macloskie. In any event, it will secure the sympathy of the majority of those speaking English, who will never accept a language with supersigns, and who have always abominated the supersigns of Esperanto.

Secretary of the Academy of the Union, Paris.
Before I move on to the notes that Professor Macloskie made for the Herald, there are some things to say about Couturat’s statements. For example, he notes that:
I am not the author of Ido. Ido (otherwise the international language of the delegation) is the result of the labors and decisions of the international committee of twelve scientists specially elected to select the best international language
Is he claiming that Ido was the work of the committee? But their job was just “to select the best international language,” not to create one. But then who, if not Professor Couturat, created Ido?[6] And why the secrecy over who created Ido. During the course of a century, no one has has ever given an account of the creation of Ido. Unfortunately, that probably vanished when De Beaufront destroyed many of his papers shortly before his death.

Couturat’s claim that Macloskie himself argued for the changes is somewhat disingenuous, as Macloskie’s proposed changes were far more minor than those proposed for Ido. As for the “Union of the Friends of the International Language” (in Ido the “Uniono di la Amiki di la Linguo Internaciona”) is of course just the governing body of the Ido movement. Couturat’s statement is equivalent to noting that Esperanto is propagated by the Universal Esperanto Association.

Is Ido really the “only language suitable for science”? In the years since this exchange was published in the Herald, English has become the only language used for science, though in the past many other languages were deemed “suitable.” I suspect that the early successes in organic chemistry from Germany were more due to support for the sciences, rather than any special applicability of German to the study of chemistry.

Onward to Professor Macloskie’s rejoinder.
(Note by Prof. G. Macloskie.)

The simple explanation of my nonoccurrence with my friend Prof. Couturat was that I regarded the medicine as worse than the disease. I knew that an opposition language would do a great deal of harm, even while I was confident that it could not succeed. The facts which I stated to the interviewer of The Herald, that Ido has produced very little literature and that it has gathered no international congress such as that which recently gathered for Esperanto in your beautiful city of Washington, are, in my judgment, proof that it is like some interesting species of plants, not dormant, but decadent.[7] I now think that Ido is very faulty for having too many changes, and often changes for the worse.

It is crowded with unfamiliar word forms and has rejected Zamenhof’s correlative pronominal forms, which are not easy, but, in my judgment, are very helpful in a part that is troublesome in all languages; and in its place it gives a heterogeneous mass of fragments which can be mustered only by an effort of memory. It does retain some inflections of nouns and adjectives, but the adjectival inflections are dummies, being never inflected, and consequently of scarcely any significance, though presenting a false resemblance to the splendid inflection system of Latin.

The inflections of the nouns in Ido are worse than none, for they always succeed in causing the adjective to disagree with its noun when you pluralize the noun; and thus they produce nausea, if you are a Latinist.

I wish to congratulate my friend Pro. Couturat on the fact that, probably in response to his criticisms, Esperanto has now reformed the worst of its suprasignate deformities. Verax’s Dictionary of Esperanto (Encylopaedia Vartareto) has abolished the suprasignate guttural h, which nobody but a Russian[8] or a Gael could pronounce, and gives a sweet simple k to lead off such words as chemistry[9] and chorus[10] in the Esperanto; and this is done under circumstances which indicate the approval of Dr. Zamenhof, the distinguished author of the dear language. Zamenhof is quite right in opposing the numerous absurd proposals of change that have been haunting his dreams.

But he has also shown, by approving of some changes, that he is not the nonpossumus pope[11] of Esperantoland[12] which some are disposed to call him. And if my friend Couturat would just come back to the fold[13] how much good he might do, with his shining abilities and his irrepressible criticisms, and how happy we should all be in the enjoyment of the only language which has been able to gather congresses and to publish books which are being circulated among all the nations.[14]

Professor Emeritus of Biology, Princeton University.
I have certainly noticed that many reform suggestions for Esperanto (the same is true of reform suggestions for English) end up being clunky; they look great on paper and not so great in practice. I suspect that the verb endings in Ido are more difficult to distinguish in speech than the verb endings in Esperanto. I concur with Macloskie that the regular forms of the correlatives in Esperanto end up being more helpful than the more natural forms in Ido.

In the end, Macloskie’s prediction in his first paragraph proved true enough. The tension between Esperanto and Ido was instrumental in rejecting proposals that Esperanto become a standard for international communication (or from the point of view of the Idists, the stubbornness of the Esperantists in rejecting the needed changes to make a viable international language). Certainly, history shows that neither Esperanto nor Ido (nor any of the subsequently offered languages) became a standard.

As a latecomer, and with its goal of convincing Esperantists[15] to come over to the Ido movement, Ido probably crippled itself from the start. For a while, in the main Facebook Esperanto group, there was a series of people who joined to try to convince the Esperanto speakers that they should drop Esperanto and learn a different constructed language—often the creation of the poster—instead. Admittedly, many Volapük speakers jumped to the Esperanto movement,[16] but the Esperanto movement does not seem to have made an effort to poach them.[17] Disaffected Esperantists are probably only going to become disaffected members of their next language enthusiasm.

There were plenty more battles in the press between the Esperantists and the Idists.

Update: It has been pointed out to me that the Herald misprinted the date of the article by George Macloskie. It appeared (right next to a big picture of Dr. Zamenhof) on August 16, 1910. My thanks to Daniel Stotz for pointing this out to me.

  1. But Louis De Beaufront is a whole different story. His denials weren’t so credible.  ↩

  2. On a page not available.  ↩

  3. These are identified in the 1923 work by Luther H. Dyer, The Problem of an International Auxiliary Language and Its Solution in Ido. From the title, it’s clear that Mr. Dyer is an advocate of Ido, and in his preface regrets the frequency with which he must reference Esperanto. In any case, the twelve members of the committee were:
    • Prof. Dr. Louis Couturat;
    • Prof. Dr. L. Leau (Univ. of Paris);
    • Prof. Otto Jespersen (Univ. of Copenhagen), Philologist;
    • Prof. Dr. Baudouin de Courtenay (Univ. of St, Petersburg), Philologist;
    • Mr. P. D. Hugon (London); Linguist, (representing Mr. W. T. Stead);
    • Dr. E. Boirac (Rector of the Univ. of Dijon), Linguist and President of the Espist ‘Lingva Komitato’;
    • M. Gaston Moch (Paris); Linguist (acted as deputy and voting representative for Rector Boirac in the sessions at which he was unable to be present. M. Moch was Secretary of the Espist ‘Centra Oficejo’ and a member of the ‘Lingva Komitato’;
    • Prof. Dr. Förster (Ex-Director of the Observatory in Berlin), Prof. Förster was elected an Honorary President, but was able to take part in only a few sessions;
    • Prof. Dr. W. Ostwald (Emeritus Prof. of Leipzig Univ.); Philologist and Nobel Prize-Winner for Chemistry;
    • Prof. Dr. G. Peano (Univ. of Turin); Mathematician and author of ‘Latina sen flexiono’, later known as ‘Interlingua’;
    • Abbey Dimmet (Professor of living languages in Paris); representative of Mr. G. Harvey, Editor N. A. Review, New York;
    • Dr. Paul Rodet Paris); representative of Professor (of medicine). Ch. Bouchard, a member of the Academy of Sciences in Paris;
    • Mr. G. Rados, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

  4. Macloskie’s reform suggestions in the July 7, 1906 Harper’s Weekly consist simply of dropping the supersigned letters, replacing ĉ with ch, ŝ with sh, ĵ with zh, merging ĥ with k, and getting rid of the letter combination kv. The changes in Ido went far beyond these, of course.  ↩

  5. Perhaps the world “evolved” is meant here.  ↩

  6. His friend Beaufront.  ↩

  7. Professor Macloskie’s particular speciality as a biologist was in botany.  ↩

  8. I.e. Zamenhof.  ↩

  9. While kemio is acceptable and more commonly used, ĥemio is still correct.  ↩

  10. Koro, but again, also ĥoro.  ↩

  11. Non possumus is Latin for “we cannot.”  ↩

  12. The Non Possumus Pope of Esperantoland would make a great title!  ↩

  13. That is, leave the Ido movement and return to the Esperanto movement. Didn’t happen.  ↩
  14. Professor Macloskie seems to have forgotten that the same was true of Volapük, which held congresses and published books in many nations (maybe not all, but in 1910, there were plenty of countries in which Esperanto books probably had never been seen).  ↩

  15. in 1922, Luther Dyer is saying, “Every Espist is looked upon as a possible adherent to Ido, if he can be reached later through an exposition of the relative merits of the two rival languages.”  ↩

  16. Though it is not clear if any of them made a particular mark. The typical story told of prominent early Esperanto speakers is that they hadn’t learnt an international language before learning Esperanto.  ↩

  17. Even with large defections, the fall of Volapük does not seem to be due to the rise of Esperanto.  ↩

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  1. It seems to me that the members of the delegation were 14. I think you have 2 different ones in the 11th position.

  2. What? The verb endings in Ido are exactly the same as in Esperanto.

    1. Wikipedia says otherwise. Most of them are the same. On difference is that Ido has three forms of the infinitive -ar, -ir, -or, while Esperanto just has -i. (The page on Ido proposes for Esperanto infinitive forms of -anti, -inti, and onti, which I have never seen. Rather, the -ant- -int- and -ont- affixes are used to create participle forms.) Further, Ido has -ez as the imperative, while Esperanto has -u.

      Not exactly the same, though there is a large amount of overlap.


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