Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Place where Ido Began

This gives a hint
It’s pretty commonly known that the committee that proposed Ido as “the” international language met in Paris in October 1907.[1] The committee, as Esperantists note, was pretty much self-selected, and no one had made any sort of promise to abide by their decisions. If the major academic journals of the world and the diplomatic corps had said that within a year of the decision, they would switch over to whatever language the committee chose, we’d all know that language right now.[2]

None of the histories of the incident that I’ve seen (both from the Idoist and Esperantist sides) seem to mention just where the conference happened, other than Paris, and Paris is a big place.[3] But an article that appeared in the Daily Arizona Silver Belt on November 8, 1907 may give a hint. At the same time, the article makes a claim that probably wasn’t true. And other portions of it are somewhat mistaken.
Though the article doesn’t mention the word, its real subject is Ido, except that in November 1907, Ido was being viewed by its creators as just a reform and continuation of Esperanto, and not a separate language.[4] Though the article claims that Esperanto received “a semi-official commendation,” it was “Reformed Esperanto,” or Ido, that actually got the nod.
College de France Commends New Language in a Semi-Official Way

PARIS, November 7.—The College de France has just given a semi-official commendation to Esperanto as an international language at a general congress held in the amphitheater of the college.

Professor Bouchard, a member of the Institute of France and of the Academy of Sciences, proposed a study of the various international languages and the adoption of the best.

The congress, representing 310 learned societies, selected Esperanto, owing to its relative perfection and extensive use, while making reserves as to modifications of certain minor details.
It probably wasn’t the Collège de France commending Esperanto, rather the academics (probably Professor Bouchard himself, a professor of medicine) managed to arrange to use the College’s facilities for meetings. The association of the Collège with the meeting strongly suggests that it was held there in the 5th arrondissement. None of the members of the delegations seem to have been associated with the Collège de France, but perhaps adequate facilities were not available at the Sourbonne.

It does, however, seem to take the away from the claim made by the Esperantists that the Delegation was a complete set-up job, as noted on the Wikipedia page about the delegation.
The “Delegation” was a one-man enterprise, without meetings or a definitive set of rules. The one clear rule, that authors of language projects have no right to participate, was broken.
The second part, that languages had to be presented by those who were not their creators, is mentioned frequently in Esperanto sources, but not sources written by Idists. It does seem that it was communicated to Zamenhof that he would have to be represented by de Beaufront, but the Delegation doesn’t seem to be the work of de Beaufront (and Couturat and Leau), but this article claims that Bouchard was the initiator.

Bouchard was an Esperantists, and stayed within the movement, and an American Esperantist of 1956 notes that he published a polyglot pharmacological handbook in 1911, which included Esperanto, but not Ido.[5] Further, while there are Wikipedia pages for Charles Bouchard in English, French, and Esperanto, the Ido Wikipedia does not have a page for him.

I have not gone through the list of the “310 learned societies,” but I have glanced at it. The major academic societies stayed far away from this one, despite the concentration of academic power (including a Nobel laureate) on the committee. The rejoinder from the Esperanto movement was that no one actually had to take heed of the decision of the Delegation. That’s exactly what happened.

I’ve read piece by supporters of Ido who still claim that things would have been different if the Esperantists (especially Zamenhof) wouldn’t had been so stubborn. They wouldn’t have been that much different, other than a break in the continuity of Esperanto starting at 1907. Acceding to the Delegation probably would have killed the Esperanto movement, instead of just hurting it a lot.

If the Delegation had high-powered support, the refusal of the Esperanto movement to go along wouldn’t have mattered. If by November 1908, Nature and Science were publishing in the language of the Delegation, Heroldo de Esperanto would have had to have come along. None of that happened. In the long run, weakening the Esperanto movement probably didn’t have any long term effects either. If the Delegation had said that Esperanto was sufficient, and still no one listened, we’d be where we are today anyway.

Update: I have since found other sources that confirm that the Delegation met at the Collège de France. Louis Couturat was on the faculty.

  1. That is, if you know about the history of artificial languages.  ↩
  2. In that alternative universe, this blog post is in that language.  ↩
  3. I know it is. I’ve seen it, or rather, big chunks of it, leaving big chunks that I have never seen, many of which I will never see. There are whole cities smaller than the portions of New York City I have seen, despite that the only borough I have not been in is Staten Island.  ↩
  4. I know that Ido itself has undergone some reforms, and so it is probably further from Esperanto now that it was in 1907.  ↩
  5. From Google Books, in snipped view, alas.  ↩

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