Sunday, February 8, 2015

Professor Proposes Esperanto for League of Nations

Professor Murray
Not sure if he's reading
something in Esperanto.
Attempts to get the League of Nations to use Esperanto or another international language (in this case, Ido) kept coming. Although the French diplomat Gabriel Hanotaux tried to put this matter to rest in December 1920, that did not end the matter. In October 1921 (possibly), there was a resolution made by thirteen delegates to consider Esperanto. That resolution doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere (since we know that the League of Nations never adopted Esperanto), but that didn’t stop further attempts.[1]

That brings us to 1922. The Watchman and Southron of Sumpter, South Carolina clearly wasn’t worried about news not being sufficiently new, since their February 8, 1922 article is datelined January 9. I mean, it’s less than a month old. That’s still current right?[2] Though less than a century would elapse before the 24-hour news cycle, its spirit was still a long, long way away. Would a media outlet today cover a month-old story with no new development?

The professor quoted in this article, Gilbert Murray, was one of the great public intellectuals of his day[3] and can be added to that ever-growing list of “professors who advocated for Esperanto.”[4]

A Language for the League of Nations.
London, Jan. 9.—Professor Gilbert Murray, vice chairman of the Executive Committee of the League of Nations says the necessary of an international language was forcibly borne upon him when attending the recent meetings of the League of Nations at Geneva.

“If you spoke in English,” he said, “it was translated into French; if in French it was translated into English, and if anybody knew neither English nor French that was his own look out.”

On the whole, he thought the natural way out of difficulty would be for the League to recognize one of the two artificial languages, either Esperanto or Ido.

The latter for most Europeans was easier. To non-europeans there were certain advantages in Esperanto, which had a smaller number of roots.
Clearly in 1922, the vast apparatus of simultaneous interpretation (as is typical of the United Nations)[5] from and into a variety of languages did not exist at the League of Nations in 1922. Clearly if, say, the Spanish delegate wished to make a statement in his native tongue, he was out of luck. English or French, buddy. Professor Murray realized what a problem that was, but he probably wouldn’t have considered expanding that number from two to six a reasonable solution.

In the preceding paragraph, I initially wrote “German,” then double-checked the list of official United Nations languages, and realized that German wasn’t on the list. So, in 2015, as in 1922, if the leader of Germany wishes to address the United Nations, she must use one of the six languages.[6]

Professor Murray was right. It would make eminent sense for an international body, like the League of Nations (or its successor the United Nations), to use a simple-to-learn, neutral (as in “not associated with any country”[7]) language. I’m not sure what all those translators and interpreters would do if diplomats were thoroughly trained in Esperanto.[8] That it is sensible is almost irrelevant, of course. I’m not sure how many times Esperanto was proposed to the League of Nations or how many times it has been proposed to the United Nations, only that I doubt the body will be describing itself as the “Unuiĝintaj Nacioj” any time soon.

  1. None successful, alas.  ↩
  2. Instead of promising that matters would be timely or relevant, the masthead quotes “Be Just and Fear Not—Let all the ends Thou Aims’t at by thy Country’s. Thy God’s and Truth’s.” The line comes from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. The first five words are seen in the chapel scene of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  ↩
  3. So says Wikipedia.  ↩
  4. Which sounds like one of those odder Wikipiedia categories. The category on the Wikipedia page for Gilbert Murray include “1866 births,” “British classical scholars,” “Harvard University faculty,” and “people born in Sidney.”  ↩
  5. On their website, the United Nations uses the word “translation” with reference to documents, but “interpretation” with reference to spoken communication. The page (available in six languages—Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish—clearly through the labors of the Translation Service) notes:  ↩
    No United Nations interpreter is ever at a loss for words.
  6. Angela Merkel’s English is reportedly good, although she reportedly pronounces the German word shitstorm as “shitschturm.”  ↩
  7. Esperantio (earlier “Esperantujo”), or “Esperantoland,” is the mythic nation that is formed by a gathering of Esperanto speakers. It has no real political existence.  ↩
  8. At the standard of 150 instruction hours for a first-year language, you’re done with Esperanto. If you started the course right after Labor Day, there’s no particular reason to still be dealing with grammar after winter break. Let’s be serious here. I have no idea what one would do in a college-level course of second-year Esperanto.  ↩

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