Sunday, June 28, 2015

Esperanto on Street Cars

Somewhat dated, alas.
Oh, were this the reality now, and perhaps it will be again. I’ve been making periodic checks of the number of people who have signed up for Esperanto lessons on Duolingo. As of today (June 28, 2015), it is just past thirty-seven thousand.[1] In a way, it resembles the wave of enthusiasm that happened in the United States from about 1906 through 1912.

In the “Book Chat” column of the June 28, 1906 edition of the New York Observer and Chronicle, that’s exactly the vision brought forth by the writer: “it would not be surprising to hear ‘Esperanto’ conversations on board the street cars.” It would be today. I have the sneaking suspicion that there were more Esperanto speakers in 1915 New York than there are throughout the entire United States in 2015 (I hope I’m wrong).

The Observer and Chronicle was likely reviewing (somewhat belatedly) J. C. O’Connor’s Esperanto; [The Universal Language]; The Student’s Complete Text Book, which was published in 1903 by the Fleming H. Revell Company. (In that same year, they also published his Esperanto Handy Pocket Vocabulary.) I say “likely,” because the review fails to actually name the book in question. (All the other books get named, but perhaps the three references to the language of the same name were deemed sufficient.)
When Copernicus first declared the world to be round; when Graham Bell affirmed he could enable a man to talk from Chicago to New York over a wire by means of electricity; when Roebling essayed to span the East river, the world laughed and scoffers scorned. But to each principle there were a faithful few. To-day outside of asylums none dare doubt any one of these theories, so completely are they demonstrated. Good-natured ridicule is being aimed at “Esperanto,” the new universal language, but very surely its disciples are growing in number and fervor and in certain centers it would not be surprising to hear “Esperanto” conversations on board the street cars. Boston, Philadelphia and New York lead in interest in the order named, according to Revell Company, publishers in America of the “Esperanto” text books.
Nothing succeeds like success. Now, all but a die-hard delusional few think of the world as anything but round (after all, the Catholic Church declared that it was in error in charging Galileo for heresy for his support of the Copernican heliocentric view), no one thinks twice about calling New York from Chicago (and much of that talk begins and ends wirelessly these days), and those using the Brooklyn Bridge only think about merging through the traffic and getting across. Of the three, I think Alexander Graham Bell was the only one who lived to see himself vindicated. When Copernicus died in 1543, his views were still controversial. John Roebling died a few months after construction started on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Here we are ninety-eight years after the death of Ludovik Zamenhof. Yes, there are people in the world that still scorn and scoff at Esperanto (and some of it is decidedly not “good-natured”). The day could yet come where it is commonly heard on the public transportation systems of the world.

  1. Time flies. As of June 29, 2017, it's 915,000 learners for Esperanto.  ↩

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