Saturday, July 11, 2015

Esperanto at Twenty-Five

And the party is in Poland
It’s one of those accidents of history that the outlook for Esperanto looked better at twenty-five than it did a century later at one hundred twenty-five. In 1912, although the 1910 Universala Kongreso had been a bit of a disappointment (and financial loss for the Esperanto Association of North America), there was still hope in the United States Esperanto movement.

And so, when the Bridgeport Farmer of Bridgeport Connecticut wrote about the Esperanto movement on July 11, 1912, the national convention had just begun in Boston, and (as the article notes) many American esperantists were heading off to Europe for the Universala Kongreso in Krakow, Poland. Though the 1912 UK would be smaller than preceding or succeeding one, it nevertheless had nearly three times as many participants as the 1910 Washington UK.

The Evening Farmer needed a better compositor. The text has quite a few errors in the English, and so we’re told that people are “able to vice their thughts in the Zamenhl ftngue.” I’ll just fix that. (Seriously, 's th
Esperantists all over the world will celebrate this year the twenty-fifth anniversary of Esperanto, the newest “universal language.” In the quarter of a century that has passed since that first text-book was issued, Esperanto has made great strides in public favor and there are now millions of people, representing every nationality, who are able to voice their thoughts in the Zamenhof tongue. “Nordamerika” Esperantists are now holding their anniversary convention in Boston, and many of them will sail in a few days for Europe to attend the eighth International Esperanto Congress at Cracow, Poland.

There are now 2,000 Esperanto societies throughout the world, as compared with 1,700 two years ago and 750 four years ago. Over a hundred magazines and periodicals are issued in the Esperanto language. Eleven text books have been issued from the presses, and there are six different Esperanto dictionaries, while in the area of general literature there are over a hundred titles to election from. Among those listed are Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll kaj Sro. Hyde,” and Shakespeare’s “Hamleto, Reĝido de Danujo,” while “Alice in Wonderland” appears as “Alicia en Mirlando.”

It is claimed by the disciples of Dr. Zamenhof that Esperanto includes the best features of all languages, without their numerous drawbacks. Many business concerns carrying on an international trade have found Esperanto very useful. Many French, English and German firms carry on correspondence with their Latin-American customers in the new language, as South American has given an especially hearty welcome to Esperanto. Many Socialist leaders have indorsed Esperanto, as have several international peace societies. The inability of workmen of different nationalities to converse with each other is declared by the Socialists to foster prejudice and this raise the greatest barrier to the realization of their dream of the “co-operative commonwealth of the world.” A similar argument for Esperanto is used by many of the friends of peace and arbitration. International associations of all kinds have found Esperanto useful in carrying on correspondence. An International Catholic Esperantist Union has been formed in order to bring Catholics of different languages in to closer bonds of union.

The dream of a common tongue for all peoples has persisted through centuries, but all previous attempts in that direction have resulted in failure. Esperanto’s immediate predecessor was the language Volapuk, the inventor of Johnann Martin Schleyer, a German, who is said to have constructed the entire grammar of his universal speech in a single month. That work was published in 1879, and in the decade the followed Volapuk gained adherents throughout Europe and America. By 1900, when 200 works in Volapuk were in existence the interest in Schleyer’s language began to subside, while Esperanto came to the fore. Esperantists claim that their grammar is far superior to that of Volapuk, but the latter tongue still has its enthusiasm who bitterly deny that such is the case.

Many Esperantists declare that war will never cease until all the nations have been brought to one language. The real fall of man, they assert, was at Babel rather than in the Garden of Eden. Nobody can deny the utility of an international, universal language. Everybody would be glad to see the adoption of such a language—if his own.
The text threw me for a moment, as it said that “by 1900, when 200 words in Volapuk were in existence,” and I thought, “I’m sure the vocabulary of Volapük was far beyond a mere 200 words in 1900.” That’s when I realized that it was “works.” By 1900, a fair number of works were available in Esperanto as well, although many of them were fairly short works, just pamphlets, really (though the same might have been true of Volapük). I have not counted these, but lists of Esperanto publications in 1900 go on for several pages, and those only grew over time. Reportedly, the Volapük movement was less interested in literature, and so there wasn’t much push for literary writing and translation (though there was some).

Esperanto was on the rise in 1912, with more speakers and new groups every year. I’m sure to many it seemed unstoppable. Then the war years came along and everything changed. Still, many of the problems that people expected Esperanto to address actually still persist. No language would be a panacea, but English brings a number of problems to the fore. Unfortunately, as the Evening Farmer indicated, everyone is happy for there to be one dominant language of international communication, and everyone wants it to be his or her own native language.
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