Thursday, June 4, 2015

A British Esperantist Writes the Sun

He might have to cancel his subscription
Imagine, if you would, just what it took to get a New York newspaper to Aldershot in the United Kingdom in 1906. The newspaper would have gone from the New York docks, across the ocean to England, and then from one of its ports to this town south west of London. Or perhaps the paper made its way all the way to London, and from there reached the gentleman from Aldershot. Certainly, a copy did, because the June 4, 1906 New York Sun contained a letter responding to an item in the April 8, 1906 issue.

If we assume that the Sun printed Mr. Robinson’s letter as soon as they received it, then the whole thing took a mere fifty-seven days., although most of those seemed to be involved in getting the Sun into Mr. Robinson’s hands, as he wrote his letter thirteen days before it was printed. April 8 was a big Esperanto day for the Sun, as they printed three items related to Esperanto on that day. One was a letter from John Twombly, responding to an earlier statement about Esperanto in the Sun. Directly beneath it (and I don’t know how I missed it), was another letter on the same subject (of Shakespeare in Esperanto), and then there a third item, unsigned (so we can assume it was an editorial), making some false statements about Esperanto.

While on the one hand, the Sun was printing letters favorable to Esperanto, this is what they were writing (on the same page) as editorial:
Esperanto wants to be the universal language. The principals of its construction are simple, as its disciples asseverate, and it may be masted easily and with only a few weeks study. This sounds too good to be true right at the start; and it doesn’t require any painful amount of thinking to find the deadly “but”; You need to know the elements at least of the syntax of Spanish and Italian, French and German, Latin and a few other languages, living and daed, with a smattering of comparative philology, before you may aspire to the ambitious goal of Esperantism. With this simple knowledge as a starter the rest is easy.

To the average person, however, the preliminarily condition to becoming an Esperanter is fatal, like the need of a fulcrum for the lever of Archimedes. How easy to scale the 20,000 foot peak of Ruwensori, if one could start from the 15,000-foot mark where explorer Wylde stopped in 1901.
I could rebut this, but for that task I turn to Mr. Henry Robinson of the British Esperanto Association.

Defense of Esperanto.
To the Editor of The SunSir: In The Sun of April 8, a copy of which I have this week received, you make some remarks regarding the universal language which are not strictly in accordance with fact and which show that either the writer of the same has not trouble to make himself conversant with the principles of Esperanto or is blindly prejudiced. He says that one “requires to know the elements of a number of living and dead languages before one may aspire to the goal of Esperantism.” What are the facts?

Take my own case. my knowledge of languages other than my native tongue is limited to a superficial acquisition of conversational French. Yet, after a short study of Esperanto I find myself in correspondence with fellow Esperantists on the continent of Europe, able both to convey my own ideas and comprehend theirs with a facility which is remarkable. Although I have only studied this flexible medium intermittently in my spare time, I am able to correspond with men of diverse races, of whose native tongues I am ignorant as are they of mine. And this without prolonged or concentrated effort.

Would the same period (about a year) spent in the study of say French or German enable one to have intelligent intercourse with the inhabitants of those countries? I think not. But, for the sake of argument, suppose that it would do so; even then it would open up one section of the world only, whereas Esperanto throws open to one all lands.
Before you any any more paragraphic cockshies at the Esperanto Aunt Sally, it would be as well to become acquainted with the true value of “la lingvo internacia.” If you will do this we Esperantists will have to wait a long time for a repetition of the remarks mentioned above. Rather are we assured that we shall have the support of The Sun in spreading what is bound to prove an immense boon to the tongue-tied nations of the world.
Henry Robinson.
Member, British Esperanto Association.
Aldershot, Hants, England, May 22.

The Sun didn’t write “la lingvo internacia,” but “la lingoo internacia.” We’ll assume it was an honest mistake.

Certainly Zamenhof did draw from a number of languages in creating Esperanto, but it’s not necessary to learn them all in order to speak Esperanto. The whole point is that you don’t have to become some amazing polyglot to communicate with people across the globe, you just have to expand a little effort to learn Esperanto, an easy language. So, if you do think you need to brush up on your Latin before you’re ready to tackle Esperanto, Mr. Robinson would like to disabuse you of that notion.
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