17 Jul 2008
Thanks for conceding that not all Esperantists are nutters! I'm much relieved.
The 'Esperanto' used in this piece about Littlewoods is grammatically inaccurate. A good place to start looking at what Esperanto really looks like is
17 Jul 2008
Not all Esperantists are nutters, but...
No - not all Esperantists are nutters. I prefer "Esperanto speakers", to distance the harmless, idealistic semi-nutters from those who see in Esperanto merely a wonderfully flexible language that is in many ways superior to some national languages - and in some ways inferior to a few.
The recently deceased Bronislaw Geremek, (Pókoj jego duszy) a polyglot and one of the sharpest minds in Europe spoke Esperanto and supported it both in his personal dealings and when he was in government. He saw the potential for Esperanto as a second language for all, that would enable everyone to communicate together on a much more equal footing, and preserve national languages -including English itself - from the deleterious effects of international "English"
Polish is rather neglected outside the Polish borders and Poles are forced to learn other, complicated languages before they can hope to make any headway in the non-Polish world. Geremek personally had little need for a simple, regular and neutral language that could be quickly learned and yet express the most complicated ideas of philosophy,theology, politics, linguistics etc and the humdrum ones of every-day life and emotions. In fact, I believe that Gemerek - like the also recently deceased, brilliant linguist and yiddishist, Claude Piron whose clips you showed here some time ago - were emotionally attached to Esperanto partly because of their Jewishness.
How could a constructed language - Esperanto meets all the criteria for what constitutes a "language" - iniciated by a sensitive, introverted, intellectual student Ludowik Zamenhof in the Warsaw ghetto, claim the emotional allegiance of such people? None of the other hundreds of projects before or since - some by outstanding linguists and philosophers - have had any success on the practical or emotional level. The earliest Esperantists were the siblings and university friends of Zamenhof in the ghetto and in the University of Moscow. The majority of pre-WWII Esperanto speakers in Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania,Hungary were Jews. A relative of mine, a fine musician and linguist - later murdered by the nazis - was involved in the Esperanto movement in Lodz. They were for the most part culturally sophisticated speakers of several languages. They saw in Esperanto an artistic work of a linguistic genius.
Hitler banned Esperanto (juedischer Mischmasch) within a short time of coming to power, and the German-Jewish Esperantists were among the first into the camps; the utter destruction of the Jewish Esperanto movement was completed throughout the Reich before the end of the war. (I believe just one nephew of Zamenhof's large family escaped death - protected by Catholic Esperantists). Stalin persecuted the - mostly Jewish - Soviet Esperantists as "cosmopolitans" = Jews. If they had abandoned Esperanto and kept their mouths and minds and hearts shut and their heads down, they would have had at least one thing fewer to worry about, but they didn't. All Esperanto activity in China was illegal during the cultural revolution; academics were physically attacked and sacked. But Esperanto was one of the first languages into which the Little Red Book was translated, and Esperanto was used for propaganda - via radio and ultra-cheap publications - which was enthusiastically lapped up by Esperanto speaking communist running-dogs in Europe and the Americas. Esperanto became popular in the Iranian universities in the mid-seventies, but was banned by Khomeini when he learnt of its Jewish origins. With the translation of the koran into Esperanto permission was given again to establish groups.
The "sterility" that non-speakers ascribe to Esperanto obviously does not exist for speakers who have been fascinated by its ingenuity and its soul. Objections to regularity and simplicity in a constructed language are just plain silly. Some national languages have, for example, almost totally regular verb systems and invariable accentuation and these two features in no way detract from the "naturality" of those languages. Natura non facit saltum - but Esperanto was "made" articially i.e. by art - and was able to make the progressive jumps to regularity that has taken other languages hundreds of years within a couple of years of its appearance.
I think your joky articles on the Esperanto-Ido-Volapuk axis of language evil are brilliantly funny. Your translation of the limerick "There was a young Miss of Paree" is great fun. But give us your very-best-of-all-time limerick in English and I'll give you an equally silly rendering in cod-German, Dutch, Yiddish, Spanish, French, Italian or Polish. Esperanto translated without a knowledge of it is absolutely no different from any other language.
Jen estis fra?lin' en Parizo;/?i dormis sen nokto?emizo, /feli?e ?i havis /- Kaj tio min ravis - /pi?amon en mia valizo.
(There was a miss in Paris/she slept without a nightshirt/happily she has/and that delighted me/ pyjamas in my valise)
"People who learn it tend to be idealistic. There's a vast number of poets in Esperanto and there's a lot of vegetarians, a high ratio of pacifists and Quakers." Politically, he says, they tend to be left-of-centre.
Yep: All those beardy-weirdy, sandalised, vegetarian, militant non-smokers and non-drinkers that you and I are almost genetically predisposed to despise. (Do lapsed quaker poets go around beating people up with heavy rhyming dictionaries?)
But suppose, in a grotesque parody of Robinson Crusoe's discovery of Man Friday's footprints, he came across a line in the sand: the Esperanto-Volapuk isogloss?
By and large, Esperantists are the main reason why Esperanto has never caught on. Daft Buggers!