Thursday, January 15, 2015

Esperanto on the Job

How do I put this on my timecard?
It would probably make the news even today if the employees of the Organization of American States had a compulsory lecture on Esperanto. That’s what happened in Washington, D.C. on January 15, 1910 to the office staff of the Bureau of American Republics (the predecessor organization to the OAS). The staff probably knew it was coming, since John Barrett, the director of the BAR was also the president of the Esperanto Association of North America.

Of course, Barrett didn’t give the lecture himself. That would have been somewhat embarrassing, since it was noted that after his election as the head of EANA, he needed to step up his progress in Esperanto. I, personally, have no sympathy for him. It doesn’t take all that much effort to master Esperanto. It’s not that Barrett couldn’t find someone who was competent and willing to give lessons. His lecturer, Professor Arnold Christen, gave lessons at the princely cost of $4 for four lessons.

The Washington Evening Star reported on the lecture:


Advantages of the New Language Pointed Out to Office Force of Bureau of American Republics.
The office force of the international bureau of American republics listened to a lecture this morning on Esperanto delivered by Prof. A. Christen, a European Esperantist lecturer, who has been conducting a number of classes in the language here for several months. Among Prof. Christen’s audience was John Barrett, director of the bureau, and recently elected president of the American Association of Esperantists.

The lecturer dwelt on the case of mastering Esperanto and explained its root connections with the chief living tongues, the simplicity of syntax, arranged in such a manner as to readily acquired and adapted to idiomatic English, French, German, Russian, Spanish and Italian. The conjugation of verbs,[1] the forming of tenses and the uses of adverbs, participles and adjectives, the practicability of the language’s use in commercial affairs, international translations and conversation were also gone into in detail.

Expects Wide Recognition.
“Time will tell whether Esperanto gains a permanent place in the world,” afterward remarked Director Barrett, who said he was delighted with the lecture. “It seems now that it is beyond the hobby or fad stage, and that is one of the surest signs of permanency. There seems no doubt, in my opinion, that it must eventually become a recognized medium of communication in international business affairs, in the scientific world, in the literary world, and, in fact, almost everything intended for international communication. I am thoroughly impressed with it, and only regret that I have not the time to master it as quickly as I have wished.”

When asked whether or not the lecture of Prof. Christen before the bureau’s staff had any significance, Mr. Barrett replied that it had not. The lecture was given, he said, to permit the members of the staff to become familiar with the principles of the language for their own personal satisfaction.
Barrett had just recently been teased in the press for his failure to actually speak Esperanto. It sort of undercut the claims that it was easy to learn when the president of the main organization promoting it had found the language too much trouble to learn. The Evening Star gets the name of his organization wrong, because while the “American Association of Esperantists” is a fine name for an organization, the groups real name was the Esperanto Association of North America.

As for Professor Christen, advertisements in the Washington papers noted:

Esperanto classes. Complete course in four lessons. Begins Tuesday, 3–4 and 8–9, promptly; finishes Friday. Third floor, George Washington University, 15th and H. Fee $4, including text-book.
Esperanto is quick to learn, but four hours of Esperanto is still only four hours of Esperanto. Even with the word-building in Esperanto, there’s only so much vocabulary you get get through. John Barrett probably wanted to get more than four hours of Esperanto under his belt before he started speaking publicly in it (something that does not seem to have ever happened).

I wonder about the staff of the Bureau of American Republics. What went through their heads as this Swiss professor lectured them on Esperanto? Did they wonder why they had been hauled into work on a Saturday? The article says “office force”—was this the professional staff, the clerical staff, or both? Did anyone pick up some Esperanto to humor the boss, or were they following his lead in other ways and waiting until he showed some progress?

  1. This section of the lecture must have been incredibly brief. Verbs are not conjugated in Esperanto. One might as well talk about the use of the locative case in English.  ↩

You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at
This blog runs solely on ego! Follow this blog! Comment on this post! Let me know that you want to read more of it!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...