Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Temperance Beverage for Esperantists?

Elbe nur malgranda glaso.
The Methodist weekly Zion’s Herald gave a somewhat snarky view of Esperanto in their issue of August 30, 1905. This was the magazine’s first encounter with Esperanto (they would go on to publish a few more articles over the next few years), occasioned by the first Universala Kongreso. The first few congresses were great opportunities for publicizing the Esperanto movement. This had been done before (by the Volapük movement), but no one had done it in the sixteen years following the last of the Volapük congresses.[1]

Esperanto had taken its time to grow slowly over the previous eighteen years, including an influx of former Volapük speakers as the Volapük movement crumbled. It’s not clear why it took until 1905 for the Esperanto movement to hold its first congress, although in 1891 (four years after the introduction of Esperanto) it hadn’t gone nearly as far as Volapük had in the same number of years. Volapük’s rise and fall encompasses a mere nine years; during the first nine years of Esperanto, it was still fairly obscure.

Wikipedia notes that Zion’s Herald merged with The Christian Advocate in 1828. The second name must have been just too tempting, because another Methodist publication under the name of The Christian Advocate was being published concurrently in the early twentieth century. In 1905, Zion’s Herald was published on Wednesdays and The Christian Advocate on Thursdays. The August 31, 1905 Christian Advocate has nothing to say about Esperanto.

This is what the August 30, 1905 Zion’s Herald says:
Esperantists in Congress
The new language, “Esperanto,” is now spoken, it is claimed, by 250 000 people of different nationalities. Dr. Zamenhof, of Warsaw, the inventor to the language, received a great ovation on the occasion of the gathering recent at Boulogne for their International Congress of 2,000 students of the new tongue, from all over Europe. Dr. Zamenhof’s hymn related to international harmony was sung (in Esperanto) beginning:
“En la mondon venis nova sento
Tra la mondo iras forta voko;”[2]
which may be freely translated :
“Into the world a new sentiment has come,
Around the globe goes a mighty voice.”
The language — by those who have taken the trouble to study it — is described as rather monotonous, all nouns ending in “o” and all adjectives in “a,” and the accent always falls on the penultimate. Enterprising tradesmen in Boulogne took advantage of the assembling of the Congress to produce a new drink — it is to hoped a temperance beverage — called “Esperantine,” and to prepare for sale “Zamenhof Lozenges.” It is a curious impulse which leads some people to go about to invent a new language before they have learned perfectly to speak their own.
In the early period, there were a number of estimates of Esperanto speakers, none of which ever give a source for their assertions, nor do they seem supported by any evidence. The Adresaro de la Esperantistoj for 19o3 ends at 6,357 (Doctor J. B. J. Brossard of La Prairie, Quebec, Canada). The final numbered list of Esperantists (in 1909) ended with 21,915. That falls well short of 250,000. Just who is making this claim?

Then again, the statement in Zion’s Herald that “2,000 students of the new tongue” took part in the first Esperanto congress also well overstates the actual participants by a mere 1,312 individuals (suggesting an attendance nearly three times the actual number). We are not talking the last and definitive word in journalism here.

I must (belatedly) disappoint those involved in Zion’s Herald; Espérantine was clearly a digestive—almost certainly an after-dinner liquor, although the banquet at the first Universala Kongreso concluded with cognac, not an herbal liquor. It was not the sort of thing you would serve at a temperance gathering, even those who sought to align the temperance movement with the Esperanto movement. Lingvo Internacia confirms the existence of not only “likvoro Espérantine,” but also (for those who’d like a drop of something before dinner) “Aperitivo Zamenhof,” following these two with a “ktp.,” Esperanto for etc.[3] (Plena Ilustrita Vortaro does say that a digestigaĵo (digestive) is “usually containing alcohol.” I think we can be assured that Espérantine did.)

And then there is that nasty little dig at the end:
It is a curious impulse which leads some people to go about to invent a new language before they have learned perfectly to speak their own.
Are they suggesting that Dr. Zamenhof had some difficulty with his own language? Did they have any evidence of this? On the contrary, all evidence points to Zamenhof being quite skilled at several languages, including his native ones.

  1. The second Volapük congress was in 1887, a year dear to the hearts of Esperanto speakers, as that was the year that Zamenhof published the Unua Libro. Some sources put the congress in August of the that year, which would put it just after the July 26, 1887 publication of Esperanto (how do you say, “I feel as if someone just walked over my grave” in Volapük?), but the Harvard Crimson in a December 1887 piece on Volapük says that the congress happened in June.  ↩
  2. Zion’s Herald actually printed “En la mondo” forgetting the accusative of direction. “En la mondo” means “in the world” instead of “into the world,” which doesn’t make sense after “venis” (came). Sometimes the additional -n offers a different meaning, such as in ŝi kuris en la domo (she ran in the house), which would indicate that all the running was done inside, as compared to ŝi kuris en la domon (she ran into the house), which would indicate that she was outside and entered the house rapidly.  ↩
  3. Ktp. is short for “kaj tiel plu” (and so forth). Esperantists say it as “ko-to-po.” Linvo Internacia wrote “apertivo,” dropping an i from the correct spelling of aperitivo.  ↩

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