Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Virginia Esperantist on Ido

Defended the honor of
The Esperanto Association of North America started at something of an inopportune time. Less than a year before the EANA was launched, the Delegation for the Adoption of an International Language had thrown their weight behind Esperanto-with-modifications (that is, Ido).[1] One of the first things the EANA had to deal with was a somewhat fractured movement in which some of the early luminaries were jumping ship.[2]

In Virginia, the honor of the Esperanto movement was defended by George H. Appleton of Lynchburg, Virginia, who wrote to the Times Dispatch defending Esperanto as it was set down by Zamenhof, and putting some of the news about the fracturing of the movement into context, basically arguing that the whole Ido movement was getting more intention than its actual numbers warranted.

Before I get to Mr. Appleton’s letter, there were two short items that preceded it, the first of which appeared in the March 14, 1909 Times-Dispatch.
Esperanto Society.
Please give again the address of the secretary of the principal Esperanto society in this country. I have misled the copy of The Times-Dispatch in which you gave the address some time ago.
The “Esperanto” has been displaced by “Ilo.” The address of the Ilo Society is 920 Longworth Avenue, New York City, the society having the same location and officers as the Esperanto Society had.
In 1909, the main Esperanto group was the Esperanto Association for North America, not the New York Esperanto Society. The EANA’s secretary, Edwin C. Reed, responded on May 16, 1909:
Please correct your statement that the “Esperanto Society” has been displaced by the “Ilo Society.” The so-called Esperanto Society in New York was never an official part of the Esperanto Association of North America, which is now growing at a rate of from 250 to 400 members a month.
EDWIN C. REED, Sect’y.
3981 Langely Ave, Chicago, Ill.
Clearly this was before the Reeds moved to Washington, D.C. This correction was expanded upon by George H. Appleton in the edition of May 30, 1909.
Esperanto Forever!
Editor of the Times-Dispatch:
Sir,—I note your statement, “Esperanto has been displaced by Ilo,” and E. C. Reed’s contraction. Having received inquires, and recognizing your journalistic supremacy as well as the championship of “fair play,” I ask for space in which to reach my inquiring friends, as I cannot expect to do so through any other medium. Though your sources of information are practically unlimited, I venture the assertion that in this instance you have from one of three—that of an ex-Esperantist, who side-stepped because he could rule the association; that of an article written for an almanac by one of the “disgruntled,” or that of a report from the Associated Press, derived from the same source.

A self-constituted “society” of five Esperantists, remnant of a larger body most of them withdrawn because of internal dissensions, called itself together. Three of the five voted to abandon Esperanto. Two retired to the shades of “innocuous desuetude.” Such a schism was not deemed worthy of attention until it received undue prominence and unintentional support through the media of worthy publicists.

Although your present correspondent is limited, he can refer you to about 3,000 members of the Esperanto Association of North America (the name of the unregistered users of Esperanto is legion).[3] If “Ilo” can muster fifty from the frozen North to Cape Horn, I am misinformed, and I have investigated. Ilo is simply one of the multitude of attempts to displace an established international language. All of them have learned advocates. Many of those who had grown cold have returned to their first love, and some societies formed have disbanded or returned to Esperanto. Others are still at work, but to-day Esperanto girdles the earth, and its rank must be represented by six or seven figures, while all its opposes combined will not make a good corporal’s guard; and they do not agree among themselves, as is evidenced by their discussions of “what it would be well to introduce into an international language.” I have the printed statements before me, and know whereof I affirm. That Esperanto now girdles the earth I can prove by my old files. I have communication form Esperantists from Canada to Chile and Uruguay, from Japan around the globe and back to Japan; from both sexes and all ages, ranging from the little girl twelve years of age in Asia Minor to some who must be far towards the biblical age limit. How many different languages and dialects these represent I would be afraid to say. This facile medium of communication is adopted by such associations for the betterment of mankind as the Christian Endeavor (Mrs. Wilbur F. Crafts is one of the most ardent propagandists and uses her paper as a medium); by the Good Templars, International Y. M. C. A., institutions for the blind, and the manual of the Red Cross Society are translated into this (as you say) displaced language. As recently as January 1909, the Pan-American Scientific Congress formally adopted Esperanto as the official language. The Queen of Roumania, “Carmen Silva,” has so far interested herself in this language, for the benefit of the blind, as to have typewriters made for indenting this language according to the Braille system. Our own Bureau of Labor and Commerce advocates its use commercially, as is already done in Europe. The Army and Navy Register (January 16, 1909) will give valuable information from a different viewpoint, I have merely touched the rim. The details are to be had for the asking. Some worthy and brainy men do not advocate Esperanto or any other common medium for intercommunication. College professors, scientists, etc. do. The need of some means for getting rid of the confusion of tongues seem to be desirable. The Esperantists have found this new language equal to the task, though some wise men think differently. The fact speaks louder than the contention. It is being used the world over, and is found to meet the requirements. The Esperanto Association of North America, though it has not yet seen its first anniversary, is a lusty infant, as stated, and its ranks are being augmented at an average rate of 200 or more each month. This cannot justly be called “displaced.”

Is Esperanto a perfect language? No. When will it be such? Not until the finite attains perfect. Mark Twain says h is not sure that the angles have yet adopted it. Is it easy to learn? Yes and no. With one conduction for all verbs, and but twelve infections of that one connection, few, if any syntactical complacent, and no exceptions worthy of the name, an unvarying phonetic orthography, it cannot be very difficult for annoy one not a dullard or a drone.

Its literature, original and translated, covers the field from Shakespeare and Homer to the joke book. Translations from foreign writers, whose works have never before been known beyond their native lands, are now ready for the would-be reader.
Lynchburg, May 27.
Long letter from someone who was actually active in the Esperanto movement for not a long time. Mr. Appleton shows up in Amerika Esperantisto from 1909 through 1911 and vanishes after that (though he does have a long item in the November 1911 issue, “Tro Multe da Bona Afero”). Appleton was born in 1854 in Missouri, but moved to Virginia sometime before 1900, where he worked as the supervisor for an oil company. He was fifty-five years old when he wrote his letter to the Times-Dispatch.

As for his actual claims, well, Ido (the earlier term “Ilo,” not only meant “tool” in Esperanto, but was taken from the initials of “internaciona linguo,”[4] with an -o ending to make it a noun) did seem to have the advantage that the newspapers liked the narrative of the two rival groups, each with their own competing dream of an international auxiliary language. As Appleton pointed out, the number of Esperantists far exceeded those of the Idoists (and continues to this day), however, those few Idoists got a lot of in the American press from 1908 through about 1910.

Oddly enough, the Ido movement seems stuck in that era, as on their website, the following can be found:
The “Lingva Komitato” esperantist refused to accept the improvements and simplifications of Esperanto suggested by the Delegation in January 1908.
Well, if they were only suggestions… In any case, the Lingva Komitato never had the ability to enforce wholesale changes on Esperanto, any more than the American Association of University Professors or the Modern Language Association could implement wholesale changes in English. Appleton was right: Esperanto doesn’t strive for perfection (I, myself, have been frequently wondering why Zamenhof didn’t change all the -aŭ adverbs to the expected -e[5]), but Esperanto is good enough to get the job done. It’s an easy-to-learn language. Making lots of changes might make it better, might not, and does mean that everyone who already learned it has to learn it all over again.

It’s strange that after his full-throated defense of Esperanto Appleton was in the movement for not a terribly long after. He died in 1930, but by that time there doesn’t seem to be anything about him in Amerika Esperantisto. Still, in 1909, he was ready to defend the honor of Esperanto.

  1. Just as a side-note, there re plenty of perfectly reasonable modifications one could suggest to Esperanto, as well as some that really aren’t all that well thought out. You could do the same for English, with about the same level of likelihood that anyone is going to listen.
  2. Max Talmey, who had been in the Nuremberg Volapük Society when it became the Nuremberg Esperanto society was one of these, and though he isn’t mentioned by name, he actually figures in today’s blog post.
  3. To think that just over a century ago, there were 3,000 EANA members, as well as Esperantists were were not members in the United States. Now Esperanto-USA can lay claim to a few hundred members (fewer than 500), though there are doubtless many Esperanto speakers who are members of no organization.
  4. The Ido phrase “internaciona linguo” is “internacia lingvo” in Esperanto.
  5. It’s a strange thing, given that the Esperanto antaŭ is clearly from the Latin ante. This was a proposed reform in 1895 that was actually voted down.  ↩

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