Thursday, March 12, 2015

Those Lying Esperantists

Dire predictions for Esperanto!
One of the recurrent features in the Ido schism were claims—from the Ido side—that the Esperanto movement was making false claims. In all fairness, yes, there were statements from Esperantists rebutting statements made by supporters of Ido, what was absent on the Esperantist side were out-and-out attacks against Ido. I have seen claims by Idists that these existed; I just haven’t found any yet (or they were mischaracterizing the responses and no such exist).

Given this, I don’t want to demonize current Ido speakers; I’m merely pointing out that their predecessors at the beginning of the Ido movement seem to have been a pugnacious crowd. The ire of two Ido proponents was directed at a March 10, 1909 letter to the editor in the Chicago Daily Tribune. The Tribune ran two letters in response on March 12, 1909, one from a pseudonymous writer who used the name “Progress” (undoubtably in homage to the Ido magazine Progreso), and the other by O. H. Mayer, of Chicago, who was quite active in the Ido movement, but has proved somewhat elusive on biographical details. There were about 13,000 people in Chicago with that last name in 1910, and the street where he lived is spread out over about twenty enumeration districts in the 1910 Census, which is about 400 pages.

The initial letter in the Tribune was by William George Adams, and is largely concerned with the use of Esperanto at a 1909 scientific conference in Santiago de Chile. Mr. Adams, according to Vikipedio (Esperanto Wikipedia), Adams was a very early Esperantist, as he learned Esperanto in 1903. Adams wrote to the Tribune:

Scientists Approve Esperanto.
Chicago, March 8.—[Editor of The Tribune.]—The pan-American scientific conference which met at Santiago de Chile last month with delegates from twenty-two countries of North and South America, approved highly of Esperanto, the international language, and requested the United States government to call of congress of delegates from all nations to consider ways and means of bringing about the universal adoption of Esperanto as an auxiliary international language for scientific, business, and other relations between peoples using different languages.

Esperanto has passed the experimental and sensational stage and at no period in its history has it been more prosperous and successful than at present. It is no longer a fad but a fact; it is here to stay, and its final and complete success is a matter of only a few years.
William George Adams.
That last bit, he didn’t get right. Despite that the Tribune datelined his letter Chicago, Adams lived in Seattle, Washington. Then on March 12, came the responses of the two Idists.

Old and New Esperanto.
Chicago, March 11.—[Editor of The Tribune.]—The Tribune recently printed a letter asserting that many scientists approve primitive Esperanto, invented by Dr. Zamenhof, and that the language is no longer a fad. Anybody who will take a glance at “Amerika Esperantisto” will come to the opposite conclusion.

Esperanto, which is on the downward course in Europe, is thriving at present in this country almost exclusively on faddists other persons who are unable to judge its glaring defects.

The Esperanto editors are making a comical attempt to disguise the fact that their language is at present in a state of transition and that they are about to adopt the thoroughgoing reforms which were published recently by some competent philologists under the name of “Ido,” or simplified Esperanto.

Well, if Adams was wrong abut the time for Esperanto to become a “complete success,” Progress was even more wrong about the inevitability of the Esperanto movement accepting the Ido reforms (as in, more than a century has passed and it’s clear that it won’t be happening). I have looked at issues of Amerika Esperantisto from this period (and quoted from it frequently), but I see no evidence in the issues that Esperanto was being viewed by its supporters as a fad, nor that they were trying to conceal a supposed state of transition.

Progress also makes reference to the “glaring defects” of Esperanto, and while there are plenty of people who will point to one or another aspect of Esperanto as a defect, while Esperantists just shrug and say that they have no problem with it. Some changes are just changes. Many Esperantists were wary of changes, as a desire for reforms brought down the Volapük movement. Many of those calling for the Ido reforms were former Volapükians who had jumped to Esperanto. In the view of the Idists, the Esperantists were either blind to these “defects” or had a vested interest in maintaining Esperanto as it was, no matter the cost.

Mayer’s letter followed just below in the “Voice of the People” column.

Scientists and Esperanto.
Chicago, March 11.—[Editor of The Tribune.]—The report that South American scientists have declared themselves in favor of Esperanto as it now appears in the official text books of the Esperantists, may well be taken with a grain of salt. The Esperantists have a few agitators in Chile who may have succeeded in imposing on some among the less informed Spaniards, but the great number of scientists all over the world consider Esperanto as Zamenhof published it as far too defective to take it seriously. Only four notable philologists have ever temporarily and reservedly indorsed Esperanto—viz.: Max Muller of Oxford, Jespersen of Copenhagen, Seidel of Berlin, and Balint of Kolozsvar. Of these Max Muller is now dead, the other three have declared emphatically that they indorsed only the idea of an international language, but find Esperanto does not come up to that idea. They recommend quite warmly, on the other hand, the “simplified” and modernized Esperanto, called Ido, and they are doing much to propagate this latter language among their confrères.
O. H. Mayer.

Mayer tells us not to believe this claim, attributing it to “a few agitators in Chile,” and even if it’s true, the people involved are “the less informed Spaniards.”

Max Müller died before the introduction of Ido. Jespersen eventually broke from the Ido movement and published his own language. “Seidel” was August Seidel, whose specialties as a linguist seem to have been Hausa and Swahili. He later created, Ile, as a compromise between Esperanto and Ido. Gábor Bálint was was a Hungarian professor of Linguistics. He joined the Ido movement in 1907, and when his application for membership in the Ido Academy was rejected, he abandoned Ido as well. Mayer couldn’t have peered into the future, but by the end of 1909, only Jespersen was still in the Ido movement. So much for citing the support of linguists.

Like Progress, Mayer alludes to defects that prevent anyone from taking Esperanto seriously, but doesn’t actually specify these. The main defect, from the point of view of an Ido speaker, was that the Esperanto movement had ignored the alterations suggested under the name Ido.

Please note that neither Progress nor Mayer actually claimed that Adams was wrong, except for the question of whether or not it was a fad, which would seem to be largely a question of opinion. But these letters are typical of those written by Ido supporters in the first decade of the Ido movement, eager to convince readers that anything they heard about the strength of the Esperanto movement was just a big old lie, and it was all going away soon. They may have dissuaded some people from learning Esperanto, but they probably did more to convince people that planned auxiliary languages were bad ideas.

Oh, and Progress should have published under his or her own name. We know now just how trollish anonymous comment can be. Sure, this was selected by the letters editor of the Tribune, who knew who wrote it, since their policy stated:
No communications unaccompanied by the name and address of the writer—which will not be published if not desired—will appear.
Though the Idists claimed that the Esperantists were making “a comical attempt to disguise” what was really happening in the movement, and that Esperantist claims “may well be taken with a grain of salt,” its their predictions of a continued mass exodus from the Esperanto movement that never came to be.
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