The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #13 January / February 2015
Extras
The Question Of Practice
An International Language Is Possible
by W. J. Clark
January / February 2015 | 

Editor's note: This article is a reprint from "International Language - Past, Present & Future" By W. J. Clark. It was originally published in 1907.

The man who says a thing is impossible without troubling to find out whether it has been done is merely "talking through his hat," to use an Americanism, and we need not waste much time on him. Any one, who maintains that it is impossible to transact the ordinary business of life and write lucid treatises on scientific and other subjects in an artificial language, is simply in the position of the French engineer, who gave a full scientific demonstration of the fact that an engine could not possibly travel by steam.

The plain fact is that not only one artificial language, but several, already exist, which not only can express, but already have expressed all the ideas current in social intercourse, business, and serious exposition. It is only necessary to state the facts briefly.

First—Volapük.


The first World Esperanto Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer—the exit of the convention hall, 6 August 1905.

Three congresses were held in all for the promotion of this language. The third (Paris, 1889) was the most important. It was attended by Volapükists from many different nations, who carried on all their business in Volapük, and found no difficulty in understanding one another. Besides this, there were a great many newspapers published in Volapük, which treated of all kinds of subjects.

Secondly—Idiom Neutral, the lineal descendant of Volapük.

It is regulated by an international academy, which sends round circulars and does all its business in Idiom Neutral.

Thirdly—Esperanto.

Since the publication of the language in 1887 it has had a gradually increasing number of adherents, who have used it for all ordinary purposes of communication. A great number of newspapers and reviews of all kinds are now published regularly in Esperanto in a great variety of countries. I take up a chance number of the Internacia Scienca Revuo, which happens to be on my table, and find the following subjects among the contents of the month: "Rôle of living beings in the general physiology of the earth," "The carnivorous animals of Sweden," "The part played by heredity in the etiology of chronic nephritis," "The migration of the lemings," "Notices of books," "Notes and correspondence," etc. In fact, the Review has all the appearance of an ordinary scientific periodical, and the articles are as clearly expressed and as easy to read as those in any similar review in a national language.

It was impressive to see people from half the countries of the world rise from different corners of the hall and contribute their share to the discussion in the most matter-of-fact way.

Even more convincing perhaps, for the uninitiated, is the evidence afforded by the International Congresses of Esperantists. The first was held at Boulogne in August 1905. It marked an epoch in the lives of many of the participants, whose doubts as to the practical nature of an artificial language there, for good and all, yielded to the logic of facts; and it may well be that it will some day be rather an outstanding landmark in the history of civilization. A brief description will, therefore, not be out of place.

In the little seaport town on the north coast of France had come together men and women of more than twenty different races. Some were experts, some were beginners; but all save a very few must have been alike in this, that they had learnt their Esperanto at home, and, as far as oral use went, had only been able to speak it (if at all) with members of their own national groups—that is, with compatriots who had acquired the language under the same conditions as to pronunciation, etc., as themselves. Experts and beginners, those who from practical experience knew the great possibilities of the new tongue as a written medium, no less than the neophytes and tentative experimenters who had come to see whether the thing was worth taking seriously, they were now to make the decisive trial—in the one case to test the faith that was in them, in the other to set all doubt at rest in one sense or the other for good and all.


Image on propaganda postcard for the 2nd World Congress of Esperanto.

The town theatre had been generously placed at the disposal of the Congress, and the author of the language, Dr. Zamenhof, had left his eye-patients at Warsaw and come to preside at the coming out of his kara lingvo, now well on in her 'teens, and about to leave the academic seclusion of scholastic use and emerge into the larger sphere of social and practical activity.

On Saturday evening, August 5, at eight o'clock, the Boulogne Theatre was packed with a cosmopolitan audience. The unique assembly was pervaded by an indefinable feeling of expectancy; as in the lull before the thunderstorm, there was the hush of excitement, the tense silence charged with the premonition of some vast force about to be let loose on the world. After a few preliminaries, there was a really dramatic moment when Dr. Zamenhof stood up for the first time to address his world-audience in the world-tongue. Would they understand him? Was their hope about to be justified? or was it all a chimera, "such stuff as dreams are made on"?

"Gesinjoroj" (= Ladies and gentlemen)—the great audience craned forward like one man, straining eyes and ears towards the speaker,—"Kun granda plezuro mi akceptis la proponon..." The crowd drank in the words with an almost pathetic agony of anxiety. Gradually, as the clear-cut sentences poured forth in a continuous stream of perfect lucidity, and the audience realized that they were all listening to and all understanding a really international speech in a really international tongue—a tongue which secured to them, as here in Boulogne so throughout the world, full comprehension and a sense of comradeship and fellow-citizenship on equal terms with all users of it—the anxiety gave way to a scene of wild enthusiasm. Men shook hands with perfect strangers, and all cheered and cheered again. Zamenhof finished with a solemn declamation of one of his hymns (given as an appendix to this volume, with translation), embodying the lofty ideal which has inspired him all through and sustained him through the many difficulties he has had to face. When he came to the end, the fine passage beginning with the words, "Ni inter popoloj la murojn detruos" ("we shall throw down the walls between the peoples"), and ending "amo kaj vero ekregos sur tero" ("love and truth shall begin their reign on earth"), the whole concourse rose to their feet with prolonged cries of "Vivu Zamenhof!"


Sign at the Esperanto Park in Pécs (Hungary), set on occasion of the 22nd International Youth Congress of Esperanto in 1966.

No doubt this enthusiasm may sound rather forced and unreal to those who have not attended a congress, and the cheers may ring hollow across intervening time and space. Neither would it be good for this or any movement to rely upon facile enthusiasm, as easily damped as aroused. There is something far more than this in the international language movement.

At the same time, it is impossible for any one who has not tried it to realize the thrill—not a weak, sentimental thrill, but a reasonable thrill, starting from objective fact and running down the marrow of things—given by the first real contact with an international language in an international setting. There really is a feeling as of a new power born into the world.

Those who were present at the Geneva Congress, 1906, will not soon forget the singing of the song "La Espero" at the solemn closing of the week's proceedings. The organ rolled out the melody, and when the gathered thousands that thronged the floor of the hall and packed the galleries tier on tier to the ceiling took up the opening phrase—

En la mondon venis nova sento,
Tra la mondo iras forta voko,

they meant every word of it. It was a fitting summary of the impressions left by the events of the week, and what the lips uttered must have been in the hearts and minds of all.

Into the world has come a new feeling,
Through the world goes a mighty call.

As an ounce of personal experience is worth a pound of second-hand recital, a brief statement may here be given of the way in which the present writer came to take up Esperanto, and of the experiences which soon led him to the conviction of its absolute practicability and utility.


12All pages
1
The Question Of Practice — An International Language Is Possible
Writer: W. J. Clark
Images:
brionv: Esperanto flag flying
nekonata: Propaganda Postcard
Melissa Gallo from Pittsburgh, PA, USA: Sign at Esperanto Park
Ivan Camilo Quintero Santacruz: 20th Colombian Congress of Esperanto
Petey: Esperanto Letter (splash page); First World Esperanto Congress; Alfred Michaux and Zamenhof postcard; Steloj Coin
Sources:
• "International Language - Past, Present & Future" W. J. Clark. London - J. M. Dent & Company. 1907

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.

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