Monday, January 12, 2015

Esperanto — A New Language in Germany

Esperanto's first magazine
One of the great early moments in the history of Esperanto was the defection of the Nuremberg Volapük Society, which abandoned Volapük for Esperanto as a group. At the time, the Volapük movement was already on the skids, but instead of just dissolving with the rest of the Volapük movement, the Nuremberg group stayed with the idea of an international language.

It was not, apparently, without problems with for the Esperanto movement. On the Wikipedia page for Leopold Einstein, Zamenhof is quoted as saying that the Nuremberg group brought the spirit of reform from Volapük to Esperanto. On the other hand, it also brought with it a magazine. The publication, La Esperantisto, mentioned in the article was the first periodical published in Esperanto. Leopold Einstein encountered the Unua Libro in 1888[1] and September 1889, the club was publishing La Esperantisto.[2]

The magazine had been published for just over a year before it came to the attention of the New York Sun. (The Sun scooped the New York Times on this by years, as the Times wouldn’t report on Esperanto until 1897.) If we’re looking to make this a first, it’s the first report of Esperanto in a major New York newspaper. This appeared in the January 12, 1891 edition of the Sun:


Germany Has a New Universal Language in Lieu of Volapuk.
Associations are being organized all over Germany to hasten the introduction of a universal language called Esperanto. The agitation is conducted mostly by learned scholars who travel from town to town delivering lectures to young tradespeople, for Esperanto is to be first and foremost a language of traders and travelers.

Herr Charles Schmidt, President of the Nürnberg[3] Esperanto Society, which is the home of the Esperanto movement in Germany, recently explained at length to a great meeting of Nürnberg tradesmen just what Esperanto was and what it would do for them and how better it was than Volapük. His subject was this statement:

In English.
If an international language can be created with a vocabulary that will be at once intelligible and easy of speech for the whole world, an arbitrarily invented language like Volapük will be superfluous.

In Volapuk.
Pük bevünetik pakapälom fa vol lölik pekulivöl; abu men nonik tala sesumü volapükels, kapalom püki lekanix „Volapük”.

In Esperanto.
La lingvo internacia estas komprenita de al tuta mondo edukita; sed nenia homo sur la tero ekaklusive volapükistoj komprenas la artan lingvon „Volapuk”.

The words of Esperanto, Herr Schmidt claimed, were derived from or built after words common to all languages in general use to-day and were recognizable and intelligible for a man of any civilized nation after a few days of study. The trouble with volapük was, he said, that the inventor of it had thrown away the linguistic product of ages of history to begin the weary work all over again. A man uneducated in volapük would find a volapük letter entirely beyond his power of understanding, while an Esperanto letter could be translated faultlessly in an hour by a man who had never before seen Esperanto. Herr Schmidt closed his lecture with an offer to correspond in Esperanto with any person of any land, and he founded among the tradesmen present a correspondence club, the members of which will devote all their leisure to sending and receiving letters in Esperanto.[4] The Nürnberg Esperanto Association has a periodical entitled La Esperantisto. The name of the language is the name of its inventor, Dr. Esperanto.
Of course, we know his name wasn’t Dr. Esperanto. As I’ve noted, by 1891, the cat was out of the bag on Dr. Esperanto’s true idendity. Herr Schmidt’s statement about Volapük got incorporated in the 1902 New International Encyclopedia, although the English version in the Sun doesn’t accurately translate the Esperanto (and I assume the Volapük as well).

Schmidt’s claim that the words in Esperanto were “derived from or built after words common to all languages in general use to-day” is erroneous. Rather, that principle is used for bringing in the so-called “international vocabulary” of science. Many words in Esperanto (particularly in Zamenhof’s initial vocabulary of 1887) can be traced to a specific language, and could not be called “common to all languages.” They aren’t even common to all major European languages. However, unlike Schlyer, Zamenhof did nothing to disguise his selections. This gives Esperanto some words that are spelled like their sources, but given different pronunciations. While it’s not obvious that the Volapük vol comes from the English “world,” it’s easy to guess what English word boato comes from.[5]

La Esperantisto for January 1891 make it clear that the original report appeared in the Fränkischer Kurier (a Nuremberg newspaper, now part of the Nünberger Zeitung). La Esperantisto gave a translation of the article, with Herr Schmidt’s examples given in Esperanto and Volapük. The Sun likely got it from the Fränkischer Kurier and simply translated the German to get an English translation.

Esperanto had hit the United States at this point, but only in a small way and very quietly.

  1. So says Wikipedia.  ↩
  2. The magazine only ran until 1895. Scanned copies can be found at the Österriechische Nationalbibliothek.  ↩
  3. Nuremberg.  ↩
  4. The movies were new yet. No radio. No television. What else was there to do but write letters in Esperanto?  ↩
  5. Zamenhof had no choice there. Bat/ has the root meaning "strike.” Bot/ has the root meaning “boot.” What’s left? Boato is three syllables. Bo•at•o. Mi batis la boaton per mia boto. (I struck the boat with my boot.)  ↩

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