Thursday, February 12, 2015

Business Esperanto

It's very practical.
The Omaha Daily Bee raised the question on February 12, 1906 as to who was actually going to learn Esperanto. They handily divided people into the “the educated and the uneducated,”[1] and then looked at the prospects of Esperanto in each class. It was more like a thought experiment, even though some data was actually available to them. After all, by 1906, thousands of people had learned Esperanto.[2]

Additionally, the Bee made the claim (right there in the subhead) that the “champions of new language do not expect it to be literary vehicle.” They seem to have been unaware that Lingvo Internacia, the Esperanto literary magazine had been published since 1895, originally as the newsletter of the Upsala Esperanto Club, but from 1904 it had been published in Paris as an independent literary magazine. If Esperantists didn’t expect the language to be a literary vehicle, why had they been writing literature for the last decade?

The Bee reported as follows:

Champions of New Language Do Not Expect it to Be Literary Vehicle
LONDON, Feb 11.—(Special Cablegram to The Bee.)—Esperanto continues to make rapid progress in England and in fact throughout the continent. The new language is supposed to be used by two classes, the educated and the uneducated.[3] It is difficult to persuade any ignorant person that the ought to communicate with anyone outside his now country unless he is in a “state of war,” when his words will usually be deeds.[4] The uneducated person naturally cares no more about Esperanto than for any other language. The educated person naturally falls back upon the Latin or the French of his youth in case of an emergency.
Oh, naturally. And when you find yourself in a tight situation in Berlin, there’s nothing better to do than to quote some Cicero or Juvenal. Silent legs inter arma. Ut sometime feceris, ita metes.[5] Omnia Romae cum pretio. Quis costodiet ipsos custodes?[6] When you returned, you could say, “veni, vidi, vici.[7] In 1906, Latin may have been the mark of a man of good education, but it probably wasn’t all that useful in travel, even if one encountered other men of good education.
It is to the business world, the age of wireless telegraphs, of universal telephones, that the ardent Esperantists are turning. They do not quite approve of the lecture in which Mr. W. T. Stead regaled his hearers with a description in Esperanto of his accurate prophecies about the downfall of unionists members at the polls.[8] Practical Esperantists frown on this sort of thing just as they frown down upon the translation of a poem by Heine.[9] They say that the language will come on a “survival of the fittest basis,” just as the socialists predict the triumph of their economic theories because the world is alleged to be moving in that direction, but that the attempt to translate Shakespeare or Dickens or Longfellow into Esperanto would only result in the protection of a concatenation of harsh dissonances, and that the progress of the new language would be retarded instead of advanced by an attempt to adapt it for literary purposes in a manner which it would not be suited.
Esperantists frown on translations of Heine? They may now, because I think he’s somewhat out of fashion. But then? How would the Bee explain all those translation of Heine that fill the pages of Esperanto literary magazines (the ones that shouldn’t exist if the language were not to be used for literature)? At this point, it seems appropriate to break for a brief bit of Heine.
—El Heine—
Ĉiutage promenadis
De sultan’ filin’ belega
Je l’vespero, ĉe fontano,
Kie blankaj akvoj plaûdas…

Ĉiutage juna sklavo
Ĉe fontan’ vespere staris;
Kie blankaj akvoj plaŭdas…—
Ĉiutage pli paliĝis…

Unufoje pincidino
Ĵetis al li tri demandojn :
Aŭdu! volas mi ekkoni
Vian nomon, teron, genton…

Kaj al ŝi repondis sklavo :
Nom’ — Machmed’; el tero — Jemen :
Mia gento — tiuj Azrah,
Kiuj mortas, kiam amas…
Esperantigis Leo Belmont[10]
Mr. Belmont needn’t have done this in 1905 had he known what the Bee would be saying about Esperanto translations of Heine in 1906. Of course, perhaps it was because of translations like this that Esperantists formed an aversion to Heine, although it seems clear that their were further translations subsequently.

Ah, but what of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Longfellow? Well, Shakespeare was first translated into Esperanto (by none other than Zamenhof) in 1894. Dickens (also by Zamenhof) in 1891. Longfellow was alos certainly translated by 1905. And there’s more, not just the writers mentioned by the Bee, but both translations and original literary works in sufficient number to dispel any notion that the proponents of Esperanto did not consider it a literary language. The proponents of Esperanto did not think that “the progress of the new language would be retarded instead of advanced by an attempt to adapt it for literary purposes.” Quite the contrary.

While Zamenhof and others might have celebrated the use of Esperanto as a language with which people could transact business across language barriers, it was seen from the beginning as a literary language.

  1. Classist assholes.  ↩
  2. And received ID numbers.  ↩
  3. Doesn’t this work out to everyone? Who’s left? The moderately educated? The over-educated?  ↩
  4. So it’s perfectly acceptable to view tourists as hordes of invaders who must be repelled by any means possible.  ↩
  5. Cicero. The law is silent in a time of war. What you sow, you will reap.  ↩
  6. Juvenal. Everything in Rome has its price. Who watches the watchers?  ↩
  7. Julius Caesar, of course. I came, I saw, I conquered.  ↩
  8. From this description, it’s difficult to say if their objection was to his Esperanto or his politics.  ↩
  9. Where do they get these notions?  ↩
  10. Not a footnote about Mr. Belmont, but about Heine’s poem. The original is titled “Der Asra,” and the German text can be read here.  ↩

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