Monday, June 1, 2015

Esperanto and Cycling

Herzl's bicycle
When I visited Vienna last year, I took in two (among many others) two sights: the Esperanto Museum (which is is fairly small) and the Jewish Museum (which is fairly large). I was surprised to see a bicycle hanging from the ceiling. This turned out to be the bicycle one owned by Theodore Herzl, the journalist who started the Zionist movement, a search to regain the homeland of the Jewish people. Another surprise was to see a book on Esperanto, though perhaps Esperanto shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise, since it was created by a Polish (not Viennese) Jew, Ludovik Zamenhof. Zamenhof was even involved in the Zionist movement, though he later concluded that withdrawal was not the right thing for the Jewish people (he also had his doubts specifically about the settlement of Palestine). The book on Esperanto (in German) was not one by Zamenhof, but rather by the Austrian peace advocate (and Nobel laureate), Alfred H. Fried. In this museum, I walked from bicycling to Esperanto.

Both were seen as something of a fad in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. They didn’t come together only in the Vienna Jewish Museum, but instead as many European cyclists were exploring nearby countries, there seemed a need for a common language. The Touring Club of France was an early proponent of making Esperanto the international language of bicycling, and according to this article, the Cyclists’ Touring Club in the UK, was thinking of doing the same. (Zamenhof was a proponent of making Esperanto the language of a new Jewish homeland, one that wouldn’t be in the Middle East. No word from him on bicycling.)

The New York Times wrote on the French Touring Club’s endorsement of Esperanto on June 1, 1901.

They Tour So Much that They Are Adopting a Universal Language.

From The London Express.
“Esperanto differs from Volapük in that it is intended to be merely an auxiliary language common to all nations rather than a universal language supplanting the existing ones.”

So said Mr. O’Meara, the manager of the correspondence bureau of the Cyclists’ Touring Club, to an Express representative yesterday.

“It would be useful to cyclists, because they go abroad a good deal, but ti would be useful to all. The Touring Club de France have taken it up, I imagine, because they are energetic people who would be the first to take up such a novelty. The language is also being taught in American academies.

“Roughly Esperanto has been created in the main by taking roots common to all languages, and adding distinctive terminals to show whether they are being used as nouns, verbs, and so on.

“Theoretically, all the principal languages have been drawn upon equally including Latin and Greek, but there is really a preponderance of Russian and Slavonian roots. That is probably because Dr. Zamenhof, the inventor, is Russian. He is a doctor of medicine, and pushed his language in 1887.

“The chief defect of Esperanto is that there are four particles, as in Russian, whereas two, as in other languages, would have sufficed.

“The grammar consists of bout twelve simple rules—to which there are no exceptions. People could learn it without the least difficulty. How long it took them to become proficient Esperantistoj—speakers of Esperanto—would depend on the extent of the their European vocabulary.

“I think the language is practical, but it would have to be taken up by everybody, and the different nations would have to refrain from making different variations.”

Here is a specimen of Esperanto:
Jam longe mi volis la adreson de la persono en urbeto X. Serĉante en la Adresaron de Esperantistoj, mi kun ĝojo trovis vian adreson, kaj mi rapidas uzon el tiu ĉi trovo.

Already for a long time I wish to have the address of a person in the town of X. Searching in the Directory of Esperantistoj I with pleasure found your address, and hasten to make use of this discovery.
I had to fix up the Esperanto a little. The original was:
Jam longe mi volis la adreson de la persono en urbeto X. Sercante en la Adresan de Esperantistoj, mi kun gojo trovis vian adreson, kaj mi rapidas uzon el tiu ci trovo.
Also note that the translation is as if the Esperanto were “en la urbeto X.”

The language of peace!
There have been many places on the web (and certainly elsewhere) where people find fault with Esperanto. I could easily make a list of “common criticism of Esperanto,” however, “too Russian-influenced” is a first for me. Mr. O’Meara was actually wrong, since the bulk of the roots in Esperanto come from French, Latin (that’s about 60% already), German, and English. Yeah, there are some Slavic roots, but looking through the A’s, I didn’t find any words that were uniquely Russian or Slavic. This is quite a singular criticism of Esperanto.

Alas, the cycling organizations did not take up Esperanto. Just over thirteen years after this was printed, it became just a little difficult to cycle about Europe. Okay, not difficult, impossible. And they even stopped the series Adresaron de la Esperantistoj in 1909.

With the launch of Esperanto on Duolingo, there is a thread on that site on “flaws in Esperanto.” People have suggested several things that they might correct if they could (presumably if they could go back in time), but “too Slavic” hasn’t shown up. If I could go back in time and influence Zamenhof, my first priority would be to get him to stop smoking (he was a chain smoker who died at the age of fifty-seven), and then my second priority would be that the non-standard adverbs be regularized (something no one ever complains about).
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