Thursday, October 9, 2014

Boosterism for Esperanto

It might have happened.
The Albuquerque Evening Citizen gave over about a column and a half of its October 9, 1906 edition to an article on Esperanto by Silas E. Snyder. Snyder worked in both journalism and advertising; his article was connected with his role in promoting the Jamestown Exposition, the 1907 World’s Fair.[1] While Esperanto doesn’t immediately spring to mind when I think of the World’s Fair, maybe it should, since Esperanto played a role in the 1900 World’s Fair and the 1915 World’s Fair (although that hadn’t been the intention of the Esperanto movement).

Mr. Snyder slipped into his piece on Esperanto that “the Esperantists of the world” were invited to “meet in international congress at the Jamestown exposition,” just as a few years later Sinclair Lewis would seek to convince the Esperanto movement to hold their meeting in conjunction with the World’s Fair in San Francisco. I would lay a solid bet that when committees are organizing these things, they no longer give any thought about coordinating the Universala Kongreso with the World’s Fair.

The piece is too long to quote in full (and I see little reason to quote Mr. Snyder’s description of the language, which takes up about a quarter of the article). The scan at the Chronicling America site is partly obscured, but Mr. Snyder managed to place this same article in the November 1906 Oregon Teachers’ Monthly, which also corrects a typesetting error (without being free of them).
An Artificial Speech Which is Receiving Attention of Nearly All Nations.
Grammar Simple, Root Words but Few
While Vocabulary Is Almost Without Limit.

By Silas E. Snyder
Special Correspondence.[2]
Norfolk, Va. Oct. 9.—Do you know Esperanto?

If not you probably will some day for it is the instrument with which scientists propose to batter down the barriers of nationals that all men may speak one tongue and be brothers.[3]

It is worth while to give Esperanto serious consideration before it is absolutely forced upon us[4] for it is not fad; but a practical linguistic structure erected according to scientific principles and upon the true, fundamental laws of grammar.[5] It must not be confounded with “Volapuk” which never was practicable and which passed into a deserved oblivion after a brief existence as a fad.

Freshmen entering college this fall may find Esperanto included in the curriculum, before thy matriculate as seniors,[6] and if this be realized,[7] the language will be taught in the primary grades of the public schools as is now being done in Switzerland. In American colleges there are already more than fifty Esperanto clubs made up of students and member of the faculty, while all educational societies and journals are devoting thought and space to it. In Europe hundreds of thousands of people speak, write and read it and at the Esperanto congress held at Boulogne-sur-Mer[8] three thousands persons representing fifteen countries attended.

Even Japan has taken it up and its Esperanto association has undertaken a propaganda under the direction of a committee composed of three editors, professors from imperial universities and high schools, and the secretary of the Japan Foreign Trade association, with the result that a grammar in Japanese characters is ready for the press.

By special order the officers of the French army are studying the new language and it is proposed that every government officer of the French nation whether of the army, navy, diplomatic service or other branch shall be able to read, write and speak in Esperanto, as the government sees in it the international medium of official intercourse which is soon to become universal.[9]

In Spain the army has adopted it and at Valence[10] a regular school is kept for instruction of military officers, while at Geneva, in Switzerland, thousand of the population speak Esperanto and delight in it.

Bohemia has sent an Esperanto section to the Earl’s Court exhibition in London that has attracted great attention in England and the English press is devoting columns of space to its discussion and no word is said except in favor of it as the greatest medium yet discovered for the promotion of the world’s fraternity.

At this rate we may soon look for an Esperanto literature, for in Geneva, they are singing songs and acting dramas in the new tongue[11] and an Esperanto publication tells its devotees weekly, of the news of the world and the progress of the language, while Freemasons, Christian Endeavorers and other societies of world wide scope advocate its study for use in the international congresses and correspondence.
I want to break here and not that I don’t think much of Mr. Snyder as a writer. That last paragraph slams a lot of stuff together. In any case, he’s given us a nice summary of how Esperanto was doing in 1906. Not yet twenty, but with slow growth since its 1887 introduction, Esperanto certainly looked like it was hitting a tipping point, where it was becoming so popular and useful that further growth was inevitable. At this point, Mr. Snyder has drawn you in with all this information about Esperanto. As I noted before, at the time his main job was promoting the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. Here’s the pitch:
It is, therefore, not to thought of that a great educational exposition like that to be held of the shores of Hampton Roads near the city of Norfolk, Va., in 1907 in celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown should overlook the development and propagation of this wonderful language, and, to the end that Esperanto may be officially introduced to the American people the department of congresses and special events have invited the Esperantists of the world to meet in international congress at the Jamestown exposition. They will also be invited to make an exhibit and will be given a special day and permission to draw up a program to suit themselves. If the very bands play in strange tongue on that day you’ll know it’s Esperanto.[12]
It’s funny to think that in the early twentieth century, the World’s Fair tried to ride on Esperanto’s coattails. It was so popular (as I noted recently, the New York group wrote its bylaws to exclude curiosity seekers) that its triumph seemed inevitable (though this progress would be halted by the Ido schism). The Esperanto movement, had by this point, already settled on Cambridge, England as the site for the 1907 Universala Kongreso; Mr. Snyder’s suggestion might never have even been considered.

I’m going to quote two more sentences before I say farewell to Mr. Snyder, this time taking my text direction from the Albuquerque Evening Citizen.
The study of the creation of Esperanto is extremely interesting. After the failure of Volapuk, Zamenhof, a Russian servant, took up the study of a universal language and writing under the name of Esperanto developed the artificial tongue which has made him famous.
The emphasis is mine. While one early Esperantist stated unequivocally and incorrectly that Zamenhof was a Roman Catholic (let me stress here, not correct), here we have Dr. Zamenhof described as a “servant.” The Oregon Teachers’ Monthly confirmed my suspicion that this was a error on the part of the Evening Citizen. The word Mr. Snyder intended was “savant.”
The remainder of the article is largely a description of Esperanto, taken for the most part from an earlier article in the Atlanta Constitution by J. L. Borgerhoff, a professor of Romance languages at Western Reserve University.[13]

Without the 1907 Universala Kongreso, there probably wasn’t an Esperanto presence at the Jamestown Exposition. But Esperanto hadn’t lost its chance for an introduction to the United States, since that had actually already happened. The first national group, the American Esperanto Association had formed in March 1905. Mr. Snyder notes that there are “more than fifty Esperanto clubs” at American colleges, though The Scrap Book in a bit of editorializing around a reprint of Professor Borgerhoff’s letter notes that
In June 1905, there was only a handful of Esperantists in America. One year later there were fifty clubs, mostly in colleges.
Esperanto’s rise in the United States would continue for a few more years, never quite gaining as much reach as it did in Europe. When it fell, it seems to have fallen further in the United States. The predictions of 1906 did not come to pass.

Mr. Snyder went on to become more deeply involved in newspapers, becoming the editor of the Newport News Times Herald after the Jamestown Exposition was over. He edited American Cinematographer from 1921–1922, and again from 1927–1929.[14] He also co-wrote the booklet Can Anything Good Come Out of Hollywood? which despite a title that sounds like it’s setting you up for a slam (“certainly not!”) is actually a promotional brochure.

  1. Wikipedia notes that the fair was a financial failure.  ↩
  2. That is, Mr. Snyder was a freelancer, and more so, an ad man.  ↩
  3. “Brothers”? Just the men? Are these scientists all sexist? Oh, wait, it’s 1906. Most of them are.  ↩
  4. Mein Kampf was still nineteen years in the future. In it, Hitler claimed that Esperanto would be a tool of Jewish world domination. The Esperanto movement has never argued that Esperanto should be made compulsory.  ↩
  5. I like Esperanto, but this sentence is designed to make linguists smirk. Zamenhof didn’t use any scientific principles, and it he hit upon “the true, fundamental laws of grammar” (if such things exist), then he did so wholly by accident.  ↩
  6. May, but probably not.  ↩
  7. It wasn’t, of course.  ↩
  8. French geography was clearly not a strong suit among the compositors of the Albuquerque Evening Citizen. Among the various typographical errors in the original document, this is written as “Boulogne-Sur-Ker.”  ↩
  9. The Albuquerque Evening Citizen particularly garbled this paragraph. I’ve taken the corrected text from the Oregon Teachers’ Monthly.  ↩
  10. While there are six towns in France with the name, this seems to be an error for Valencia. The same word is used in both texts.  ↩
  11. Or, had been. Geneva had just been the location of the second Universala Kongreso, hence the songs and dramas.  ↩
  12. Both sources have “you’ll know its Esperanto.” Yeah, even the magazine for teachers. Ouch.  ↩
  13. We can add Professor Borgerhoff to the list of early twentieth-century academics who promoted Esperanto.  ↩
  14. According to Wikepedia.  ↩

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