Monday, September 21, 2015

Doctors Take Early Look at Esperanto

And a good attempt, at that
In Esperanto’s early period, there was much interest in the language in scientific circles, particularly medicine. This makes sense, since science is more firmly international than many of the other subjects of study. Poetry may be, as Robert Frost famously put it, “the stuff that gets lost in translation,” a carbon atom is a carbon atom, whether you’re in Germany, France, the United States, or Brazil (and everywhere else too—far off planets have carbon, but they don’t have the works of Shakespeare).

It was early lamented that at international scientific (and medical) conferences, people just couldn’t understand each other. You were just guaranteed that someone wouldn’t be able to to comprehend the language of at part of the sessions. (This actually still persists. I know of a conference that happened in Germany only a few years ago, at which some of the talks were in German, which not everyone there spoke. The main language of the conference was English, but talks could be given in German.) One of the early reviews of the first Esperanto Congress noted that it was an amazing thing that someone put together an international congress where everybody understood everything.

It’s no surprise that the Medical and Surgical Reporter reviewed an early Esperanto pamphlet in 1889 (in their issue of September 21), though it wasn’t Zamenhof’s pamphlet of 1887, but instead Henry Phillips’s primer and critique of Esperanto, “An Attempt towards an International Language.” The item was in two parts, first a numbered listing of the item and price if applicable, then later (in the same order), a brief review. I’ll cut out all the intervening stuff, and omitted the second reference to the number.
326. An Attempt towards an International Language. By Doctor Esperanto, Warsaw, Russia, translated by Henry Phillips, Jr. Philadelphia. 56 pages. Price, 50 cents.

Mr. Phillips’s presentation of the work of Samenhof (whose nom-de-plume is Esperanto) is a labor of love, which carries with it an indorsement of the greatest value. The Committee of the American Philosophical Socity, which recently investigated the subject of Volapük, and of universal languages in general, and which did the best and soundest work of this sort which has ever been done, spoke in very complimentary terms of Dr. Samenhof’s method. It has also the warm approval of Mr. Phillips, who adds to the pamphlet a vocabulary of the International Language. The whole pamphlet is exceedingly interesting, and the language is very simple and easy to learn for one who has some knowledge of Latin or the Latin languages.
There’s not much to say on this, since they didn’t say much about it. It doesn’t even cover the application of Esperanto to international medial research. Still, this was an endorsement (to use the contemporary spelling) of Esperanto to a reasonably international audience. Certainly the backing of the American Philosophical Society was seen as important, although this was probably lost with the early demise of Henry Phillips Jr.
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