Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Jest for Esperanto 2 - A Lesson!

There's more Polish than Esperanto
“A Line-O’-Type or Two,” the humor column of the Chicago Tribune in the early twentieth century, wasn’t done with Esperanto with its entry of June 16, 1903. No, there was more to come. For the sake of history, let’s put this in some context. In June 1903, the first Esperanto group in the United States, the American Esperanto Association, was nearly two years in the future. The North American Review woulnd’t start its Esperanto lessons for another four years, and the establishment of the Esperanto Association of North America wouldn’t come for another five years. Even most of those referred to as “pioneers of Esperanto” in the United States had yet to learn Esperanto.

This joke is about as obscure as you can get. This was not the first reference to Esperanto in the Tribune, not even the first reference in the “A Line-O’-Type or Two,” but the preceding references in the Tribune were sparse enough that Chicago readers could be excused if they had never heard of it. Getting back to historical context, Chicago didn’t get an Esperanto group until three years later.

With all that going against it, “A Line-O’-Type or Two” was back to Esperanto on June 18, 1903.
Many of our readers complain that we set them too stiff a pace in Lesson I., and that while Esperanto is the simplest of all universal languages, not everybody can master it in two hours and a few minutes, as we did. Others claimed that we are ringing in Polish or Bohemian on them. To disprove this charge we have only to quote forth card of a Chicago avenue laundryman:

“Za zawiadomieniem nas karta korespondencyjna brudna a przywozimy czysta bielizne”

It will be seen readily that the forgoing bears little resemblance to Esperanto, which is music itself.

For a second session we offer the following, which is so simple that a child can translate it at a glance:
Somero komencas Dimanco, Junio dudedk-unu.
Since we were given the option Polish or Bohemian (that is, Czech), I typed the phrase into Google Translate, which quickly gave me the information that it was indeed Polish, and provided what is probably a slightly garbled translation (which I won’t include here, since that would tend to convince Google Translate that its version must be right). I only ever trust Google Translate as a helper, sort of the foreign-language spellcheck. I’ve seen plenty of Esperanto-by-Google-Translate, and it’s not the same thing as real Esperanto.

The ante has been upped. “Esperanto in Six Easy Lessions.” So far, we haven’t learned anything. The first sentence was somewhat garbled. The transcription above is how it appeared in the newspaper. It’s an Esperanto convention that only personal names are capitalized (as in, say, French) and so the only word that should be capitalized. Plus, they left out the accent in dimanĉo.
Somero komencas dimanĉo, junio dudek-unu.
Summer begins Sunday, June twenty-one. (This is true in 2015 and also was in 1903.) To quibble: the Esperanto either the pronoun je should be inserted, or dimanĉo should be the accusative, and I’d probably put it in the future tense:
Somero komenciĝos dimanĉon, junio dudek-unu.
So we’ve gone from it being just their “Esperanto Department” to the claim that it’s the second of six Esperanto lessons. Is the writer really planning on drawing this joke out for six more columns? It’s not that you’re going to learn any Esperanto from the two sentences so far included. At the rate of one sentence per lesson, you’re not learning much. It would be quite a challenge even for seasoned Esperanto speakers to come up with six sentences that cover all of Esperanto grammar (not saying that it can’t be done, only that it would be difficult), and the resulting sentences would doubtless be useless for teaching Esperanto.

The column is attributed at the bottom to “B.L.T.,” which I initially assumed was simply a reference to the “bacon, lettuce, and tomato,” with the name “Taylor” just given to expand it into something that could possibly be a real name. Except it’s a real name. A little more research showed that the “Line-O’Type or Two” column was written by Bert Leston Taylor. Taylor does seem to have been an Esperantist.

Outside of his column, the only reference to Esperanto I’ve found in his works is a single mention in his 1924 book, The So-Called Human Race, and even there he’s actually writing about Timerio, a number-based language.

[A Digression. Although Albert Léon Guérard in his A Short History of the International Language Movement (1921), mentions Timerio, cites a publication, and even quotes a sentence in it (1–80–17 = I love you), that one sentence is described by Wikipedia as “the only known sentence.” It just so happens that is the sole extract of Timerio in A Short History. It would seem that all subsequent references to Timerio come out of Guérard’s book. No library on Worldcat admits to owning a copy of Tiemer’s book Timerio, A Numerical Language. Despite its citation in Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages, Timerio might be a phantom language, perhaps never more than a proposal.]

Taylor describes Timerio as “simpler than Esperanto,” but I suspect that it was Guérard’s book and not Tiemer’s that came to his attention. Taylor does provide a one detail not found in Guérard, that the language consisted of a list of 7,006 concepts, ordered and numbered. Taylor quotes (something, presumably the one impossible-to-find book on Timerio):
Timerio,” which is simpler than Esperanto, “will enable citizens of all nations to understand one another, provided they can read and write.” But we should think a picture book would be simpler. 
“You can go to any hotel porter in the world,” says the perpetrator of Timerio, “and make yourself understood by simply handing him a slip of paper written in my new language.” But you can do as well with a picture of a trunk and a few gestures. The only universal language that is worth a hoot is the French phrase “comme ça.”
So much then for Taylor’s Esperanto lessons, if eighteen years later he’s dismissing all universal languages. You can’t go to a hotel porter anywhere and hand over a slip of paper written in Timerio. First, the porter is unlikely to understand that the string of numbers is a polite request. Second, who has the book to even find out for themselves what the numbers to write down are? Taylor may actually constitute our best proof the book existed and the two sentences are the longest extract I have seen, as everyone else simply quotes “the one sentence.”

You’re better off studying Esperanto. Just not through Taylor’s method.

Update: I initially followed Taylor's verb, but a friend pointed out that it should be komenciĝos, which makes sense, because komenci is transitive.
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