Monday, December 1, 2014

Esperantists Say No to Moresnet

Where will the capital of Esperantio be then?
It’s one of those odd bits of Esperanto history, the time it looked like a small nation might form with Esperanto as an official language. It didn’t happen. You cannot travel to the Esperanto-speaking county of Moresnet, because it isn’t there (the territory is now Belgium).

In hindsight, you might think that Esperantists of the period would have viewed this as a great success for Esperanto. There would be a population of Esperanto speakers using the language on a daily basis. Anyone who wanted to do business with Moresnet would have to do so in Esperanto. The language would move from being a sort of idealistic hobby to a living, working language. You’d think Esperantists would be delighted. You’d be wrong.

In a pair of letters to the New York Sun published on December 1, 1908, Henry James Forman and George E. Stansfield write concerning a November 25 editorial on “Esperanta,” a proposed name for the country. (I have not been able to find this.)

Forman had been writer at the Sun, followed by a number of other positions in various periodicals. He also wrote a number of books. His papers are collected at UCLA (which is also the source of the biographical data). Nothing in the list of corespondents indicates any sort of Esperanto connection. However, Mr. Forman makes clear in his letter that he was at the 1908 Universala Kongreso in Dresden.

George E. Stansfield, president of the New Haven Esperanto Club, was also connected with newspapers; he was an editor at the Associated Press. We have these two newspaper writers and Esperantists writing to the Sun to correct the newspaper’s mistaken beliefs about Moresnet.

Forman, throughout, calls it “Moreseneto,” which I have retained with reservations, since it could be a mistake on the part of the Sun. In Esperanto, the name of the country is “Moresneto.”
Moreseneto Not to be the Capital of the Neutral Auxiliary Language.
To the Editor of The Sun—Sir: In The Sun of November 25 was printed an editorial article entitled “Esperanta,” commenting on a scheme to make the little neutral town of Moresenreto, near Belgium, an Esperanto city. You imply in your article that this is something which has the support of all Esperantists.

Permit me to say that I was present at the last Esperanto congress at Dresden and am therefore in a position to tell you the facts as they are, not as some writer in the Strand Magazine chooses to put them.

Situated as Moresenreto is between Belgium and Prussia and near two or three other countries, there are many languages spoken there. The consequence is that a neutral language like Esperanto is very useful, and indeed nearly everybody in Moreseneto speaks Esperanto. A delegate from Moreseneto urged that the next congress meet at Moreseneto, and in his speech he implied that the tiny republic because of its neutrality is a fit “capital” for the neutral language.

But so alien is any political idea to the spirit of Esperanto that because of this implication that suggestion was promptly quashed and the speaker was very definitely made to understand that his notion was absurd. Esperanto is nothing more than an auxiliary language for the nations of the earth and not a political organization seeking territory. So that the plan on which you comment not only has not any support form Esperantists generally but is positively frowned upon.
New York, November 28.
And does Mr. Stansfield, the club president rebut any of this? No, he concurs.
International, Not Local
To the Editor of The Sun—Sir: The editorial “Esperanta” contains a timely warning, worthy, it would seem, of the careful attention of every Esperantist who has a real interest in the purpose of Esperanto, because it points out what is indeed a grave danger to the progress of the language. Esperanto aims to furnish an easily acquired, simple, yet sufficient medium of communication between the nations, or in other words an international language. If this object is lost sight of the language for all practical purposes ceases to be of value.

The proposition to establish an Esperanto city or nation, with all the accessories of civilization wonderfully changed, may appeal to the enthusiastic imagination of the theorist, but any attempt to nationalize the language or to take away form it in any degree its neutral an therefore international character constitutes a menace to the very life of the language os serious, it seem to the writer, that it is the duty of every well wisher of Esperanto to give such attempt prompt and energetic disapproval.

As an international language Esperanto may be a common vehicle for literature, a medium through with commercial and diplomatic business between different nations may be conducted; the common tongue for all international gatherings, and for any other business of a private or public natures which calls for discussion or communication between persons whose native languages differ. That one of its results may be the bringing about of a better understanding and more fraternal feeling between the nations is to be hoped for, but that an attempt should be made to found an Esperanto colony or nation, thereby giving to the language a national and restricted character, is most eminently undesirable.
George E. Stansfield
New Haven, November 30.
There lies the danger. If Esperanto were a national language, it ceases to be neutral, and you get mired in the politics of that nation. As I noted when I earlier wrote about Moresnet, “having Esperanto as the official language of a nation, runs against Zamenhof’s ideas.” There would also be the problem that whatever changes the people of Moresnet made to the language would be seen as “official Esperanto,” no matter what the Language Committee said.

Not only was this an idea that never happened, some Esperanto speakers thought it was a bad idea. Had the people of Moresnet been able to press though with this, the Esperanto movement couldn't have stopped them. After all, any use of Esperanto is a valid use. No one gets to say, "oh, you can't use Esperanto for that!" In the end, the Esperanto movement didn't have to worry, since Moresnet was a short-lived country.
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