Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Esperanto and the Friends

Ĉu ni devas esti Amikoj?
Given the interest paid to Esperanto by various religious groups, it’s not surprising to find the Religious Society of Friends (that is, the Quakers) among their numbers. The event that caught the attention of the Quakers was the first Universala Kongreso in 1905. Just a few weeks after the close of the Congress, a brief item appeared in The Friend, a Religious and Literary Journal in their September 9, 1905 issue.

Certainly the Friends (and a whole lot of other people) could get behind the idea of reducing “ misunderstandings, quarrels, and stupid hatreds.” (Ah, if only a language could do that; you don’t actually become more saintly when speaking Esperanto.) The bulk of the article is a quotation from somewhere. The words aren’t familiar to me, but the bulk of the article is quoted, although no source is given.

Whatever the source of the article, it gives us not only the idea that advocates of Esperanto are “teaching it with all but apostolic zeal,” giving the idea that some writer felt that Esperanto was almost religious in nature, but also gives some (likely spurious) numbers of Esperantists.
ESPERANTO, a language invented by Dr. Zamenhof, of Warsaw, can now be spoken by thirty thousand people, who desire to forward its use as a universal language. A congress of eight hundred Esperantists lately convened at Boulogne-sur-Mer, presided over by Dr. Zamenhof himself. Its champions find the new language,—invented, however, fifteen years ago,—“convenient and beautiful and are teaching it with all but apostolic zeal.”

“The original idea of it,” said the Doctor, “is almost as old as I am. From my childhood I was haunted with the feeling that it was a lamentable thing for men to kept apart by barriers of language; and I thought that that was a deplorable source of misunderstandings, quarrels, and stupid hatreds. So I began to dream of creating a universal language which should not supersede any one tongue but be auxiliary to each.

“It retains the essential elements of European languages, the forms common to the majority of them, and welds those forms into a simplified idiom, reconstructed along logical lines, and stripped of all the difficulties and oddities that make linguistic studies so slow and painful.”
Now we have eight hundred Esperantists at the first Universala Kongreso. The Independent told us that there were 1,200 people there. The actual number was 688. And were there really thirty thousand people who spoke Esperanto? Where does that number come from? It would be nice to know how many Esperanto speakers there are in the world, but we don’t know now, and we didn’t know then.

I will admit that, then as now, many an Esperantist (myself included) have an “all but apostolic zeal” for the language. If you don’t speak Esperanto, you’re missing out. As Zamenhof noted, he designed the language to be easy to learn.

Finally, although it’s clear that the Friends were aware of Esperanto from at least 1905, the Kvakera Esperantista Societo (Quaker Esperanto Society) was not founded until 1921.
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