Sunday, December 21, 2014

The New Orleans Scoop on Esperanto

Is this the earliest report in the
US English-language press?
Awareness of Esperanto was slow to spread in the United States, apart from a very prompt reference in the German-language press, American newspapers paid scant attention to Esperanto in its early years. The New York Times got around to mentioning the “well-written little pamphlet” by “somebody named L. Samenhof” in May 1897, just a few months shy of the tenth anniversary of the printing of that little pamphlet. Other major American newspapers also were slow to catch on. The Sun did scoop the Times, since their article appeared more than six years earlier (hell of a scoop), in January 1891.

I have found a newspaper that puts the Sun to shame and may be the first English-language newspaper in the United States to write about Esperanto. That newspaper was the Times Picayune of New Orleans, and while they didn’t beat the Sun to press by six years (since that would have involved reporting on the lingvo internacia at a time when just about everyone who knew about it was either named Zamenhof or Silbernik, or married to someone who had started life with one of those family names).

The Times Picayune wrote about Esperanto on December 21, 1887. Esperanto was just 179 days old.
Dr. Esperanto of Warsaw has gone into the world language business in competition with the inventor of Volapuk, and announces that he has succeeded in getting up a language on the lighting calculator order, constructed from only 800 roots of the Latin tongue, which he has condensed into two pages of dictionary and three of grammar, and may be learned in just one hour! Cranks have commenced to turn on new languages and there will be no end to it. The funny part of it is that so many English speaking people catch a new language craze before they acquire a common knowledge of their own language.
It is not, unfortunately, the most supportive of statements, since new languages are described as something in which “cranks” who don’t speak their native English properly take an interest. Already, there’s the implication that the language is in competition with Volapük, which is likely true, as they were both trying to be the language for people to use across language barriers.

The Times Picayune’s claim that the language can be learned in one hour is a bit of hyperbole, even for the days when the language consisted of a basic word list of about 800 roots. I can’t memorize a list of 800 foreign words in an hour. I think I’d probably have difficulty memorizing an 800-word speech, given only an hour in which to do it, let along a list of 800 disconnected words. So there’s learned and then there’s learned.

The preceding item in the column, “Our Picayunes” also mentioned Volapük. Here we get the standard complaint that it sounds awful. There would be the occasional complaint about the sounds of Esperanto, but Volapük had a much worse time of it.

Unless something earlier shows up [update: it has], the Times Picayune was the first English-language newspaper in the United States to write about Esperanto. Congratulations on your scoop.

This, fittingly, is my 150th post tagged "Esperanto."

Update: That didn't take long. I have found an article that preceded that in the Times Picayune. Sorry, New Orleans, you don't win. I re-did the search that turned up the Times Picayune article and found another.
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