Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Alsatian Esperantist in New York

Esperanto: Not a jargon
The early Esperanto movement was fond of pointing to merchants who used Esperanto in their businesses as a sign of the success of Esperanto. Some of the early lists of people who had learned Esperanto also include merchants with whom you could correspond in Esperanto in this early phase of global commerce. For the most part, their inclusion on these lists is the sole indication of their involvement in Esperanto. We get no determination of how successful it was (clearly not sufficient, in that it didn’t become a standard business practice).

But we have at least one actual piece of testimony from someone whose business had made use of Esperanto. On April 3, 1920, the New York Times had published a letter from J. G. Fourman on Russian words that had entered English. Perhaps they had entered Mr. Fourman’s English, because although some words (Bolshevik, knout, pogrom, ukase), he also cites “mujik” (which did not appear in my dictionary) and “zemstvo” (which did, but is so specialized in meaning “a system of elected councils in tsarist Russia” that it can’t really be said to have entered English). Despite the claims made by H. E. Lempertz, he didn’t call Esperanto a “jargon.” That was his predicted future international language, derived from the “interchange of words among the chief European languages.”

Still, someone was wrong on the Internet, er, in the pages of the New York Times. While Mr. Fourman may not have called Esperanto a jargon, he did say that it unsuccessfully met the needs of humanity in this global era of 1920. On April 9, 1920, the New York Times published Mr. Lempertz’s rejoinder.

An Altsatian’s Language Problem.
To the Editor of The New York Times:
I wish to correct a statement in a letter in The Times by stating that Esperanto is not a jargon but a language that has a fixed grammar, known to be better than that of any existing national language. It is simple and clear in spelling, reading, writing, dictation, singing and talking and practical in its use whether for business, scientific or political transactions.

My concern has been using Esperanto for several years in business and entertains correspondence with nearly all countries. For thirty years I know French, for eight English, making still many mistakes in using both languages. I cannot clearly pronounce such words as: World, worth, earth, though, thought, nor can I make any differentiation in pronouncing the words hidden place and hidden plays. As to French, I serve you with this sentence: “Si six scies scient six cypres combien de scies scient soixante-six cypres!” I am an Alsatian and I don’t want you to pronounce the German words Hecht, Pfeife, Pfreunde, Zwetschkenknodel, because you could never do it! Yet an Esperantist would be able with the Esperanto letters to pronounce them better than anyone else. Any Englishman having learned Esperanto is able to pronounce the words Pripet, Cerna, Triest, Fiume, Bukarest, Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Ukrania, Moskva, Petrograd, Zara, Spalato, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Cetinje, Vladivostok, Vladikavkaz, Biaogviestchensk, etc.

Esperanto is in fact a living language, spoken among its admirers and in international congresses, where more than forty-five nationalities have met.
New York, April 5, 1920.
I think Mr. Lempertz overstates the difficulty of his German words and Eastern European place names. Yeah, I think I can say “Petrograd” with reasonable certainly of not making a fool of myself. I might even manage “Zwetschkenknodel” with some work, as soon as I figured out what “Zwetschken” is and how you make it into a noodle. (The Internet says its a plum dumpling.) He does make a point with his mistakes in English.

He’s clearly an Esperantist, though he was, it would seem, an largely anonymous figure in the movement. He may have been very active locally. His name was Henry Emil Lempertz, and he was born on January 27, 1891 in Erkelenz, Germany. As of 1917, he was single, working in general export, and was his own employer. He lived at 119 E. 86th St. A quick search of the records doesn’t turn up much beyond that.

But the French tongue-twister is a lot of fun.
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