domingo, 21 de abril de 2024

Esperanto: new international language

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[Texto original em inglês. Em breve talvez eu publique a tradução em português.] This is a very rare text and a jewel for the Esperantist movement. It is the article “Esperanto: A New International Language”, presumably written by Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, initiator of Esperanto, and published on the magazine The Independent (New York) on August 11th, 1904, that is, almost 120 years ago. Signed by “Lazaro Ludiviko Zamenhof”, it maybe was not written by Zamenhof, according to John Dumas, who argues that it does not bear his style. In any case, Dumas thinks it could be written first in Esperanto and then translated by another person into English, but I have also read some Zamenhof’s texts during my life, and it really seems not to be his authentic style. The article on The Independent has a triumphalist, too optimistic, and quite arrogant tone, which was in no way the case of Zamenhof, mainly taking in account that the first international congress of Esperanto would meet only in 1905, and that several ways of describing how the language works are not in line with Zamenhof’s general ideas about language and communication.

Anyway, the text has been attributed to him all along the history of the Esperantist movement, and the letter quoted at the end of the work is indeed another classic material: a personal letter (here in my translation into Portuguese) written by Zamenhof originally in Russian to Nikolay Borovko ca. 1895, in which the physician tells him the first challenges in creating and publishing his “international language”. There are two versions of that edition of The Independent which can be found on and on HathiTrust (more legible), and I did not try to have any permission to make the HTML of the text. I also took the liberty of correcting the most evident orthographic or factual mistakes without further notes and not following thoroughly some editor’s choices (using of capital letters or italics, line breaks, etc.).


[Dr. Zamenhof is the latest of those intrepid philologists who from time to time attempt to alleviate the calamity which fell upon the human race at the Tower of Babel, notwithstanding the apparently hopeless nature of their undertaking and the oblivion and contempt which have been the fate of their predecessors. “Esperanto” is, however, more promising than “Volapük”, which is, or, perhaps, it is more correct to say, was, a highly inflected language, like Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Russian, and German, while “Esperanto” goes even beyond English in being a grammarless tongue. Dr. Zamenhof was born in Bialystok, in the department of Grodno, Russia, December 15th, 1859, and was educated at Warsaw, where he is a practicing physician. His polyglot environment impressed upon his mind at an early age the need for an international medium of intercourse, and in 1878 he had contrived his new language, which he taught to his fellow students in the preparatory school. After working on it for nine years more he considered ready to publish his first pamphlet, which he did at his own expense, since no publisher would take the risk. Our readers can judge of the appearance of the language from the example, part of a letter from the author, which we copy from The Esperantist, at the end of the article.—EDITOR.]

ESPERANTO is a neutral compounded language which aims at supplying men of divers nationalities with a means for mutual intercourse. Many erroneously fancy that Esperanto seeks to supplant existing tongues, whereas nothing of the kind is desired. At home and in the family circle all will ever converse in the national idiom: Esperanto will but serve them as a basis for communicating with those who are ignorant of their language.

In order to enjoy correspondence with foreigners it is at present necessary to learn at least four or five other languages. This is so difficult that it is possible of attainment to but a few persons; and these favored few can only understand a few languages. The rest of the world is for them a sealed book. On the other hand, did an international medium exist, it would only be necessary to learn this in addition to one’s national tongue in order to understand and to be under stood by the whole world.

The well-informed have been working at this problem of an international language during the last two centuries. Many attempts to form such an idiom have been made, but all propositions have dwindled away to the vanishing point, for the matter was discovered to be extremely difficult. Not until the end of the nineteenth century did two systems appear which seemed to be really practicable, and which found many adherents. These were Volapük and Esperanto.

But the competition between these two systems was not of long duration, since Esperanto’s great superiority over its rival was too evident to all. At the present time Volapük has long been cast aside and all friends to the cause of an international language have rallied round the Esperanto standard.

(1) Is the existence of a neutral compounded language possible? – Even now there exist, among those ignorant of the matter, many who contend that such a language cannot exist, since language is organic and cannot be created, and so on. Facts are the best witnesses to prove that this is folly. Any one who does not close his eyes on purpose can assuredly be readily convinced that such compounded languages have long been in existence, that hundreds of thousands of people belonging to different lands and nationalities correspond by them with each other and carry on the most lively oral communications on all kinds of subjects and understand each other as well as if they had been using their mother-tongue, altho not one of them knows the national language of his interlocutor. It is truly absurd to question the practicability of the language in the face of such proofs as these. It resembles the argument of a German society about the possibility of constructing locomotives when, for some years, England had been making use of railways and had found them capable of fulfilling all requirements.

(2) Why should not some extant language, such as English, be selected for the international medium? – To select for international purposes any natural language would never be possible. The self-esteem and self-preserving instincts of all nations could never permit it. The people whose language was selected would gain a truly great superiority over the rest, and would soon overwhelm all other peoples. But even should we admit that all nations could, on their own initiative, select such an already existing language, none would be the gainer, for all natural tongues are so exceedingly difficult that their mastery would only be possible to those endowed with plenty of spare time and money.

For centuries past studious youths have spent long years in learning Latin, yet are there to be found many able to make free use of this tongue? Yet had the same youths spent but a tenth of the time in mastering the international auxiliary every human being would now be intelligible to his fellow. In a few weeks one can learn Esperanto sufficiently well to be able to communicate one’s ideas with freedom.

(3) Would it not be doubtful wisdom to learn Esperanto to-day, as maybe tomorrow some other and superior language may put in an appearance, and displace Esperanto, with the result that we shall have to start afresh and learn another new language? – Even should one really fear that tomorrow will bring a language better than Esperanto, it would still be unwise not to learn Esperanto to-day, just as it would have been foolish to delay the construction of railways for fear of the discovery of an improved method of locomotion. But in reality we have no need to fear for Esperanto’s future. All critics have come to the conclusion that the international language of the future must embody the following two requirements: (I) Its grammar must be as simple as possible. (II) Its vocabulary must consist of such root-words as are in form recognizable to the greatest part of the civilized globe, in other words, those which are to be found in the largest number of cultured languages.

These two postulates precisely illustrate the principles underlying the construction of the Esperanto language. What, therefore, could a further new language introduce?

Esperanto’s entire grammar consists of but sixteen brief and simple rules, which can be mastered in half an hour. Can the possible new language submit a more simple grammar and would the world consent to reject the thoroughly elaborated, well tried and largely diffused Esperanto in favor of a new tongue, whose grammar could possibly be mastered in twenty-five minutes, instead of in thirty?

And as all words of the most international form have already been incorporated into Esperanto it follows that these words must constitute the vocabulary of this ideal language.

Let all, therefore, rest assured that, altho Esperanto may possibly at some future date be made more perfect, the elaboration of a new scheme is absolutely out of the question.

(4) What are the principal characteristics of Esperanto? – It is remarkably easy to acquire. While the study of any other language demands many years’ application, one can gain a really good working knowledge of Esperanto in a few weeks. Moreover, men of education can often read this language freely after some hours’ study. Take Leo Tolstoy, for example. He says:

“So great is the facility of learning Esperanto that, having received a grammar, dictionary, and an article in that language, I was able, after not more than two hours, if not to write, at any rate to read the language freely. In any event the sacrifices any speaker of a European tongue would make in devoting some time to the study of Esperanto are so small, and the results which could thereby be achieved are so enormous, if all, at least Europeans and Americans—all Christendom—should comprehend this tongue, that the attempt at least should be made.”

The remarkable simplicity of the language 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 divers rules by which all are able to coin other 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 learnt the words alta, dika, proksima, luma, ami, estimi, supre, 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 learnt that sonori, kombi, kudri, plugi mean in English to ring, to comb, to sew and to plough, we at once know that sonorilo, kombilo, kudrilo, plugilo mean a bell, a comb, a needle, a plough, respectively. Of these affixes, which serve to simplify and abbreviate the language in such a remarkable manner, there exist about forty in Esperanto.

From every word one can form for himself the substantive, adjective, verb, adverb, participles, etc., by simply adding the requisite termination. Take, for example, the root mort-, which signifies the idea of death. All know at once that morti means to die, morto, death, morta, mortal, etc., for all nouns end in o, present infinitives in i, adjectives in a, and so on.

It is, therefore, unnecessary to learn these parts of speech separately. One can also combine any preposition with any other word and thus obtain without study all possible shades of human thought. Thanks to this, Esperanto, in spite of its remarkable simplicity, is as rich and flexible as any existing language.

In fine, from every root-word one can form an endless array of derivatives, and that root-word is generally known to any educated civilized person, as Esperanto’s vocabulary consists of such words as are used in the majority of important languages (such as botaniko, direktoro, telegrafo, portreto, formo, etc.).

Nowadays Esperantists of one nationality are constantly visiting fellow students abroad. After studying the language for some days or weeks, many Esperantists have traversed the whole of Europe, which has hitherto been closed to them. At all points they meet fellow Esperantists, who receive them as brethren, and with whom they converse on whatever matter they please.

Moreover, one must also bear in mind that one can be understood in Esperanto not merely by those who already know that language, but also by those who are totally ignorant of the same! Esperanto is so constructed that, on writing anything in the language, it is comprehensible to the recipient, thanks to a compact dictionary and grammar printed in a broadsheet. This is a unique property not possessed by any national tongue. Take, as illustration, the German phrase: “Ich weiß nicht, wo ich meinen Stock gelassen habe.” (I don’t know where I have left my stick.) On referring to a German-English dictionary we find: “I white not where I to think story dispassionate property.

The last named quality of Esperanto has an incalculable practical significance, for it at once makes the whole world able to understand a solitary Esperantist. When the latter needs to write a letter to any foreign country, he no longer need seek out men who understand the language of that country and ask them to write a letter for him, but he himself writes direct in Esperanto, and incloses with the letter the broadsheet already referred to, printed, of course, in the language of the recipient. The latter is at once able to understand the letter.

In spite of its purely mathematical construction, Esperanto is agreeable to the ear withal. In sound it much resembles Italian. I will quote the following lines to illustrate this:

“En la mondon venis nova sento,
Tra la mondo iras forta voko;
Per flugilo de facila vento
Nun de loko flugu ĝi al loko.”

(5) What is the present condition of Esperanto? – At the present time there scarcely exists any country which does not contain many Esperantists. In a great many cities Esperanto clubs and societies exist, as well as reading circles and classes. For example, in Paris alone there are no less than thirty classes in Esperanto in various parts of the city.

To those who wish to become acquainted with the present state of Esperanto in the world I recommend the brochure published by the Lyon Esperantist Group. As a result of an inquiry based on information from all Esperantist centers, this group has published La diffusion de l’Espéranto dans le monde. The committee making the inquiry consisted of the following persons: M. Cledat, head of the Literary Side of the Lyon University, Professor of Philology at the University and Director of La Revue de Philologie Française. Dr. Dor, Honorary Professor of the Berne University; M. Drodin, Agent de Change; M. Ferouillat, proprietor of the “Lyon Republicain”; M. Legouis, English professor at that university; M. Offret, Professor of Mineralogy at the said university and Vice-President of the French Mineralogical Society, as well as being the General Secretary of the Lyon Esperantist Group; M. Patricot, Director of an assurance society; M. Quinson, silk manufacturer; M. Soulier, Professor of Therapeutics at the Lyon University (Medical Side); M. Toucheboeuf, retired silk manufacturer.

Some twenty-five magazines and gazettes are now published in Esperanto, among which is one specially devoted to scientific matters, published by the well-known firm Messrs. Hachette, under the patronage of the following persons and societies: The French Physics Society, the International Society of Electricians, Professors Adelskjold (Stockholm), Appell (Paris), D’Arsonval (Paris), Baudoin de Courtenay (St. Petersburg), Berthelot (Paris), Prince Roland Bonaparte; Professors Bouchard (Paris), Becquerel (Paris), Brouardel (Paris), Deslandres (Paris), Duclaux (Paris), Förster (Berlin), Haller (Paris), Henri Poincaré (Paris), Sir W. Ramsay (London), General Sébert (Paris).

Esperanto also possesses a literature already rich, which, in addition to textbooks and dictionaries in nearly all European tongues, contains a considerable number of original works and translations, including metrical translations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Homer’s Iliad, Byron’s Cain, and many others. The titles of all Esperanto publications are to be found in the world-wide “Address Book of Esperantists”, published by Messrs. Hachette, of Paris.

While there at present exists scarcely a single important country in the civilized world which does not possess its Esperanto center and gazette, the United States of North America have hitherto formed a strange exception. In the United States, which, owing to the cosmopolitan nature of their inhabitants, is bound to play a leading part in the adoption of the international key language, there does not at present exist any central society of Esperantists. There is an Esperanto section to the St. Louis Exhibition, and it is to be hoped that this will arouse much new interest in the Esperanto cause. Pending this happy state of affairs all in the United States who wish to become identified with the movement, which has such an important bearing on the future welfare of humanity, and also those who merely wish to procure the Complete Textbook of Esperanto in English (price, 40 cents) and The Esperantist Monthly (75 cents per annum) should apply to the London Esperanto Club, 41 Outer Temple, London, W. C.


Ankoraŭ unu cirkonstanco igis min por longa tempo prokrasti mian publikan eliron kun la lingvo: dum longa tempo restis nesolvita unu problemo, kiu havas grandegan signifon por neŭtrala lingvo. Mi sciis, ke ĉiu diros al mi: “Via lingvo estos por mi utila nur tiam, kiam la tuta mondo ĝin akceptos; tial mi ne povas ĝin akcepti ĝis tiam, kiam ĝin akceptos la tuta mondo.” Sed ĉar la “mondo” ne estas ebla sen antaŭaj apartaj “unuoj”, la neŭtrala lingvo ne povis havi estontecon ĝis tiam, kiam prosperos fari ĝian utilon por ĉiu aparta persono sendependa de tio, ĉu jam estas la lingvo akceptita de la mondo aŭ ne.

Pri tiu ĉi problemo mi longe pensis. Fine la tiel nomataj sekretaj alfabetoj, kiuj ne postulas, ke la mondo antaŭe ilin akceptu, kaj donas al tute nedediĉita adresato la eblon kompreni ĉion skribitan de vi, se vi nur transdonas al la adresato la ŝlosilon—alkondukis min al la penso aranĝi ankaŭ la lingvon en la maniero de tia “ŝlosilo”, kiu, enhavante en si ne sole la tutan vortaron, sed ankaŭ la tutan gramatikon en la formo de apartaj elementoj. Tiu ĉi ŝlosilo, tute memstara kaj alfabete ordita, donus la eblon al la tute nedediĉita adresato de kia ajn nacio tuj kompreni vian Esperantan leteron. WARSAW, RUSSIA


Yet another circumstance compelled me to postpone for a long time the appearance of my language; for many years another problem of immense importance to a neutral language had remained unsolved. I knew that every one would say “Your language will be of no use to me until the world at large accepts it, so I shall make no use of it until every one else does.” But since the world at large is composed only of its units, my neutral language could have no future until it was of use to each separate unit independently of whether the world at large accepted it or not.

This problem I considered for a long while. At last the so-called secret alphabets, which do not necessitate any prior knowledge of them, and enable any person not in the secret to understand all that is written if you but transmit the key, gave me an idea. I arranged my language after the fashion of such a key, inserting not only the entire dictionary but also the whole grammar in the form of its separate elements. This key, entirely self-contained and alphabetically arranged, enabled any one of any nationality to understand without further ado a letter written in Esperanto.

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Deixe suas impressões, mas não perca a gentileza nem o senso de utilidade! Tomo a liberdade de apagar comentários mentirosos, xenofóbicos, fora do tema ou cujo objetivo é me ofender pessoalmente.