Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Esperantists Hold a Congress

Still not taken seriously
There is a tendency in the early reports about Esperanto to continually emphasize the “newness” of the language, even as it it approached twenty years since it had been initially published. I keep coming back to the thought that the final Volapük congress took place only about nine years after Schleyer published that language, while there were eighteen years between the Unua Libro, the first book on Esperanto (not that it was called that at the time) and the first World Esperanto Congress (which was called by its participants the Universala Kongreso). And yet, when the Minneapolis Journal wrote about the first Universala Kongreso, they felt obligated to describe Esperanto as “the new tongue.”

The first Universala Kongreso occurred in Paris from 7th to the 12th of August 1905 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, with 688 participants.[1] It took some time for the news to go from Paris to Minneapolis, although there was a wire services article[2] which appeared on August 13, 1905 which preceded it. The earlier article was probably the source for this August 26 article.

This one combines a report of the congress with some thoughts about Esperanto, sort of giving us the bigger picture. Not just the congress, but also the importance of the congress.

The New Tongue.
When the papers announced a year or more ago, that the universal language “Esperanto” had been formulated, in the hope of undoing the mischief caused by the tower of Babel, people smiled and then forgot all about it. That is, most of them smiled and forgot. The rest of them began to study Esperanto. The result was that a congress of Esperantists has just been held in France, with delegates attending from France, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, Russia, Germany, Sweden and Canada. Speeches were made in Esperanto, everybody talked in Esperanto, and much to the pleasure of all concerted, everybody could talk with his neighbor, no matter what his nationality and native tongue. Esperanto, evidently, must be taken seriously.
While the Journal felt that Esperanto must be taken seriously, in the century since that sentiment was uttered, it’s unfortunately been viewed more as the exception than the rule. I just encountered someone who, after two months of study, was able to translate my Esperanto into English for people who were just starting out. Yes, Esperanto should be taken seriously.

But the Journal is off by a few years when it says that “the papers announced a year or more ago that the universal language ‘Esperanto’ had been formulated,” unless by “or more” we can understand it to mean “eighteen years prior.” Several newspapers in the United States wrote about Esperanto less than a decade after its publication, with a few even writing about Esperanto in 1887, the year of its publication.

People did seem to smile and forget. There seemed to be a need to continually re-introduce Esperanto, reminding us that someone had proposed the language, whether that person was a Spaniard, or had spent fifteen years in a Polish prison.[3] More than a century has passed since that initial gathering of people who could speak to his or her neighbor.

Typical of early twentieth-century writing, the Journal’s “his” is quite inaccurate. The Esperanto Wikipedia article on the “Unua Universala Kongreso de Esperanto” has a photograph of congress participants. The first row of the photograph has twenty-two people in it, all but three of whom are women (and there are other women in the photograph). In the center, amongst the women is Dr. Zamenhof, and two seats away from him appears to be Émile Boirac, who chaired the congress. The person I’m most curious about is the man on the right edge of the photograph. With no chair available for him, but clearly wanting to be in the front row, he is reclining in front of three women.

  1. There’s an excellent summary at the Esperanto Wikipedia entry UK 1905.  ↩
  2. Other matters prevented me from getting to it, which is a shame, because I skipped it in 2014 intending to write it up in 2015 (the 110th anniversary). I’ll slip it in out of date.  ↩
  3. Zamenhof was twenty-seven when he published Esperanto. Do the math.  ↩

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