Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Zamenhof in the Independent

Did he really write
the article?
Zamenhof’s article “Esperanto: A New International Language” in the August 11, 1904 Independent is two long to include in full. Despite the attribution to Lazaro Ludiviko Zamenhof, it was probably translated from the Esperanto, although no such credit is given. If you’re interested in Esperanto, it’s well worth reading, since it’s one of the early statements about the language in English. My guess is that, despite the attribution, it was not written by Dr. Zamenhof, since it has a sort of third-party quality to it.

At some point, the Kansas City Journal (which is not available online) abridged this. This abridgment was then reprinted by the Los Angeles Times on September 8, 1904. Newspapers don’t seem to do this as much anymore, thought it’s become pretty standard for bloggers; rephrase and quote an article in an existing source.

That’s what we get here. Partial paraphrase, partial rewrite. But it is significantly shorter than the piece in the Independent, and so I can include it in full here:


Esperanto Has Many Qualities to Recommend It For Universal Adoption.
[Kansas City Journal.] Out here in America we have heard but little of the new language, Esperanto, intended as a means of communication between men of all languages without attempting to overthrow or replace any of the many tongues. We are familiar, of course, with the rise and fall of Volapuk, which some years ago was heralded as the golden speech which would take the place of all existing languages. The downfall of Volapuk was due to two primes causes: first it was ambitious to kill off other languages; second it was an involved and difficult speech to learn. Neither of these objections can be urged against Esperanto if we may believe Dr. Lazaro Zamenhof, writing for the New York Independent. He tells us that Esperanto is making rapid progress all over Europe; that hundreds of societies are using it into general use; that no less than twenty-five magazines and gazettes are already published in the language in different parts of Europe, and that a vast number of the standard literary works of all countries have been translated into it.

It is needless to argue about the great use to mankind a universal language would be. A favored few may learn three or four languages and be able to converse with that many races of people. But even the exceptional few will find the rest of the world closed to them so far as speech is concerned. It has been said, indeed, that the greatest linguist the world has ever known could not communicate by word of mouth with one-tenth of the different races. “For centuries past,” says Dr. Zamenhof, “studious youths have spent long years in learning Latin, yet are there to be found many able to make free use of that tongue? Yet had the same youths spent but a tenth of the time mastering the international auxiliary, every human would now be intelligible to his fellow. In a few weeks on can learn Esperanto sufficiently well to be able to communicate one’s ideas with freedom.”

The claims made for Esperanto by Dr. Zamenhof are that its entire grammar consists of but sixteen brief and simple rules which can be mastered in half an hour; that its root words are those already known to many of the other languages, and that, knowing one-half the words, the other half are created by the process of deduction. He says that any student can gain a good working knowledge of the language in a few weeks. He quotes from Count Leo Tolstoy who declares that he readily comprehended the first letter sent him in Esperanto after only two hours’ study. The ability to read the language understandingly is within the grasp of everyone who possesses an ingenious dictionary and grammar sheet issued in the various languages. This is a unique property not possess by any other tongue, declares the doctor. For example, the German phrase, “Ich weiss nicht wo meinen stock gelassen habe” (“I don’t know where I left my stick”) would read, if translated by the aid of a German-English dictionary, “I white not where I to think story dispassionate property”—a confusion impossible to Esperanto. We quote from the doctor’s article as follows: 
“The remarkable simplicity of Esperanto is brought about by the fact that not only is the grammar capable of being learned in half an hour, and is free from all exceptions but also because it also possesses diverse rules by which all are able to coin words from any given root without being forced to learn them. Thus, for example, the prefix ‘mal’ signifies absolute opposites. (Bona, good; malbona, bad.) Thus, having learned the words alta, diva, promise, luma , ami, estimi, sure, etc., meaning high, thick, near, light, to love, to esteem, above, etc., none need learn the opposite words, malalta, maldika, malproksima, malluma, malami, malestimi, malsupre, which signify low, thin, far, dark, to hate, to despise, below, etc. Thus all can manufacture for themselves the opposite to any known root by making use of the prefix ‘mal.’ Also ‘in’ is used to form feminines. Knowing that patro, frato, filo, edzo, koko, bovo, etc., mean father, brother, son, husband, cock, bull, one need not learn the words patrino, fratino, filino, edzino, kokino, bovino, etc., which are represented in English by the totally different words, mother, sister, daughter, wife, hen, cow, etc. A further example is afforded by the suffix ‘il’ which indicates an instrument by whose instrumentality an action takes place. Thus, having learned that sonori, kombi, kudri, plugi mean in English to ring, comb, sew and plow, we at once knew that sonorilo, kombilo, kudrilo, plugiolo mean a bell, comb, needle, plow, respectively. Of these affixes, which serve to simplify and abbreviate the language in such a remarkable matter, there exist about forty in Esperanto.”

In printed appearance Esperanto much resembles the Italian. It is not unmusical in pronunciation, either, though it is severely mathematical in character.
This is the first suggestion I’ve seen that Volapük was intended to become the single world language, though given that Schleyer felt that the command to create the language had come to him from God, it’s not surprising. Certainly language creators, such as Elias Molee, felt that their creations would push aside the older languages.

The German example seems rather contrived although I suppose if you paged through a translating dictionary and consistently chose the worst choice, you might get there. There are no homographs in Esperanto.

Sadly, the explanation of the affixes is so deathly dull (if you skipped past it, you’re excused, but I had to type the whole thing), that it a clever part of the language and by telling too much, drains it of any life and interest.
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