Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Esperanto and Its Rivals

Esperanto and Its Rivals: The Struggle for an International Language

Roberto Garvía
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Esperanto and Its Rivals
    Book Description:

    The problems of international communication and linguistic rights are recurring debates in the present-day age of globalization. But the debate truly began over a hundred years ago, when the increasingly interconnected world of the nineteenth century fostered a desire for the development of a global lingua franca. Many individuals and social movements competed to create an artificial language unencumbered by the political rivalries that accompanied English, German, and French. Organizations including the American Philosophical Society, the International Association of Academies, the International Peace Bureau, the Comintern, and the League of Nations intervened in the debate about the possibility of an artificial language, but of the numerous tongues created before World War II, only Esperanto survives today.

    Esperanto and Its Rivalssheds light on the factors that led almost all artificial languages to fail and helped English to prevail as the global tongue of the twenty-first century. Exploring the social and political contexts of the three most prominent artificial languages-Volapük, Esperanto, and Ido-Roberto Garvía examines the roles played by social movement leaders and inventors, the strategies different organizations used to lobby for each language, and other early decisions that shaped how those languages spread and evolved. Through the rise and fall of these artificial languages,Esperanto and Its Rivalsreveals the intellectual dilemmas and political anxieties that troubled the globalizing world at the turn of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9127-8
    Subjects: Linguistics, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 1928, the young Eric Blair, later known as George Orwell, moved to Paris to begin his career as a writer and to improve his French. He first set up quarters at the home of his bohemian aunt Nellie Limouzin and her lover, Eugène Adam. Better known in revolutionary circles asLanti, the man who is against everything, Adam was a radical Esperantist. He was the found er of Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda, an international—or, more accurately, a non-national—working-class organization that combined class struggle with the advancement of Esperanto as the language of the coming proletarian revolution. Adam refused...

  4. CHAPTER 1 The Emergence of Linguistic Conscience
    (pp. 7-18)

    Social scientists use the term “critical junctures” to describe those historical periods when the power of standing institutions weakens and societies are forced to choose among new institutional trajectories.¹ In the recent history of the European linguistic regime it is possible to identify two such critical junctures. The first took place in the late seventeenth century, when Latin was abandoned as the lingua franca and replaced by a competing, unstable array of vernacular languages. The second was in the late nineteenth century, when English, French, and German competed to become the first global language. Meanwhile, the rediscovery and reinvention of...


    • CHAPTER 2 A Language in Search of a Problem
      (pp. 21-24)

      On the night Johann Martin Schleyer was born in 1831, and as he later claimed as an omen to his remarkable life, a new volcanic island, Ferdinandea, emerged from the Mediterranean Sea. Strategically located between Sicily, Malta, and Tunisia, the island soon became the source of a political dispute, when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom claimed their sovereignty over it. Fortunately, in January of the next year, and before the dispute could turn into armed conflict, the forces of nature let the island sink. But this was not the only eventful night in...

    • CHAPTER 3 Who Were the Volapükists?
      (pp. 25-33)

      The first Volapükists were the readers and collaborators of his Catholic poetry journalSionsharfe, where Schleyer published a first draft of his language, mostly southern German Catholics interested in poetry.¹ In his first separate brochure on Volapük, Schleyer explained its grammar and vocabulary and established the organizational imprint of the Volapükist movement. This brochure included an invitation to send a short text in the new language to obtain a certificate or diploma that automatically granted membership in the movement. The bylaws of the movement, included in the official diploma, clearly indicated that it was not his intention to govern the...

    • CHAPTER 4 “Pandemonium in the Tower of Babel”: The Language Critics
      (pp. 34-43)

      Kerckhoffs’s Association française pour la propagation du Volapük was established in 1886, three years after the Association nationale pour la propagation de la langue française, later called the Alliance Française. The Alliance was an organization “éminemment patriotique,” whose goal was to “propagate the [French] language in the world [in order to] ensure the purchase of our national products, and expand its political and moral clientele [of France].” If Kerckhoff s envisioned a diglossic international regime with French dominating in politics and diplomacy and Volapük in commerce, were not his efforts undermining the patriotic goals of the Alliance? By giving up...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Strangled in the House of Its Friends”: Volapük’s Demise
      (pp. 44-50)

      When Volapükists met at their First Congress in 1884, they agreed that they needed to spread the language and movement outside of the German-speaking world. They were successful. Two years after their First Congress the number of Volapükists had increased substantially, and more than 100 supporters had earned the Volapük teaching certificate. Local organizations sprang up in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. In path dependence terms, Volapük had an important advantage as the first mover.

      A growing membership, however, kindled competing views within the Volapük movement, both about the final purpose of...

    • CHAPTER 6 “My Troubled Child”: The Artist and the Kulturkampf
      (pp. 51-56)

      What accounts for Volapük’s demise? In the battle of artificial languages that it initiated, Volapük had the incumbent’s advantage. In a short time it had kindled the enthusiasm of a large number of educated people, willing to endure criticism and mockery from their peers and firmly convinced that the definitive international language had arrived. In addition, Volapük had prevailed over upstart rivals such as Spelin and Pasilingua. For many, its ultimate triumph seemed assured. In the words of the younger Edgar de Wahl, whom we meet later:

      I remember when I came into contact with Volapük. I did not like...


    • CHAPTER 7 “The Purpose of My Whole Life”: Zamenhof and Esperanto
      (pp. 59-64)

      In 1937, the Soviet Esperanto movement was liquidated. Some of its leaders were shot, and many others were sent to the Gulag. There is some evidence that Jews were overrepresented among the Russian Esperantists. One-third of the leading Esperantists of Petrograd who fell victim to the 1937 purge were Jews.¹ This connection between the Jewish people and Esperanto did not go unnoticed by the Nazis. In 1939, the German Esperanto association was dismantled under the conviction that the language was the “weapon of the Jews” in their struggle for world dominance.²

      Hitler had already made much the same charge in...

    • CHAPTER 8 “Let Us Work and Have Hope!”: Language and Democracy
      (pp. 65-70)

      In a technological contest dominated by positive feedback mechanisms, it is important for a potential challenger to enter the contest as soon as possible to prevent the incumbent from gaining further ground. This was Zamenhof’s intention when he learned of Volapük, but he did not publish the first handbook of Esperanto until 1887. He could have entered the contest earlier, as he had been working on an international language since he was nineteen, but his involvement in Hovevei Zion and lack of funds made it impossible to launch his project earlier. Only aft er he severed links with the proto-Zionist...

    • CHAPTER 9 “The Menacing Thunderstorm of Reforms”: First Esperantists and First Crises
      (pp. 71-76)

      It might seem that Esperanto entered the artificial language contest late, and at the wrong time. But the opposite is true: Had Zamenhof published hisUnua Libroin 1885, as he intended, we would probably not be speaking about Esperanto today. In 1888, a window of opportunity opened, and Zamenhof happened to be there. That year, the splinter Volapükist club of Nuremberg was looking for an alternative. They could not credibly adopt any of the other previous language projects that they had severely criticized, so they chose the next in line, and that happened to be Esperanto.

      Had Zamenhof been...

    • CHAPTER 10 The French Resurgence
      (pp. 77-83)

      In 1898, a year after Zamenhof turned to French Esperantists for help, Louis de Beaufront launchedL’Espérantiste, a bilingual French and Esperanto journal. A man of humble origins, de Beaufront was very ambitious. He had managed to climb the social ladder and become the private tutor in a wealthy family. Well connected, de Beaufront concentrated his campaign for Esperanto among the intellectuals and the upper echelons of French society. He quickly recruited to the cause a small clique of highly regarded public personalities who became the center of the international Esperanto movement until the outbreak of World War I. They...

    • CHAPTER 11 “Bringing Together the Whole Human Race”: Esperanto’s Inner Idea
      (pp. 84-92)

      Planning his participation in the Boulogne Congress, Zamenhof sent a letter to Michaux, also of Jewish origin. In this letter, Zamenhof explained his worldview and Esperanto’s role in it. As he told Michaux, it was precisely because of his Jewishness that he had committed to the idea of “bringing together the whole human race,” and Esperanto was only an instrument toward the realization of that ideal.¹ More troublesome for the assimilated and secularized Michaux was Zamenhof’s warning that he intended the congress to be a “heart-warming,” quasi-religious experience, for which he would write and read a prayer.² Busy as they...


    • CHAPTER 12 The Demographics of Esperantujo
      (pp. 95-102)

      Since an international language such as Esperanto is a public good, rationality dictates free riding rather than volunteering to promote its success. Another factor that might discourage cooperation was personal reputation. Like the Volapükists before them, the Esperantists were harassed and ridiculed by the media as hopeless fools, when not more vehemently as people of questionable patriotism. Who were they? What motives drove them to invest time and money and to risk their personal reputations to learn and champion a barely spoken language?

      A review of contemporary journals gives us some answers. Also, theAdresaroj, or address books, provide some...

    • CHAPTER 13 Pacifists, Taylorists, and Feminists
      (pp. 103-111)

      In a standardization battle where positivist feedback mechanisms operate, the number of adopters is critical: the more that people adopt technology A instead of B, the more likely next adopters will also choose A rather than B. But equally and perhaps more important than the number of adopters is the variety of places and social settings where adoptions occur. If adoptions concentrate within the boundaries of a specific location or interest group, the door is open for rival technologies to gain a foothold elsewhere and offset the progress made by the first adopters. Also, if for whatever reason the social...

    • CHAPTER 14 “Hidden-World Seekers”: Esperanto in New Wave and Old Religions
      (pp. 112-119)

      If the celebration of science and the search for organization al efficiency were part of the spirit of the times, equally characteristic was the reaction by some against the dehumanizing character of scientific and technological progress. For many, it looked like a new tyranny had triumphed: the tyranny of the mechanical and the artificial, which was about to cut man off from nature and suffocate the true, spiritual character of humanity. The blind materialism and consumerism brought about by mass production and embodied in a continuously expanding plague of department stores should be resisted. The first de cades of the...

    • CHAPTER 15 Freethinkers, Socialists, and Herderians
      (pp. 120-128)

      The emergence of new lifestyles and “disguised” religions, as the journalist Carl Bry called them, was not the only front that the established churches had to contend with. Darwinism and, in general, the scientism of positivists and Monists also posed a serious threat to the privileged position that Catholic and Protestant churches had long enjoyed. This challenge was exacerbated when freethinkers and socialists created their own cross-border internationals that mimicked those of traditional religions. And also in this direction the Esperanto movement spread.

      In 1880, British, French, Dutch, Belgian, and American freethinkers established the International Freethought Federation.¹ Since 1905, the...


    • CHAPTER 16 “One Ideal International Language”: Ido
      (pp. 131-143)

      In 1900, before the opening of the Paris Universal Exhibition, Leópold Leau, the ex-Volapükist and professor of mathematics at the University of Dijon, publishedUne langue universelle est-elle possible?In this brochure, the author did not position himself for Volapük, Esperanto, or any other language project. He was mainly deploring how a multiplicity of vernaculars impeded scientific progress. He anticipated that this problem was going to become quite visible at the international scientific meetings scheduled to take place in Paris. And, consequently, he proposed that national scientific societies and the recently created International Association of Academies name delegates to a...

    • CHAPTER 17 “Linguistic Cannibalism”
      (pp. 144-152)

      We have already met Edgar de Wahl (1867–1948), an enthusiast of artificial languages who had felt paralyzed by the success of Volapük. Probably de Wahl was the most restive mind in the already variegated and querulous tribe of artificial language supporters. A mathematician of Baltic German origins, de Wahl studied in Saint Petersburg when Volapük was in full swing. There, he made contact with Waldemar Rosenberger, the leader of the Saint Petersburg Volapük club, and became a Volapükist. He later abandoned Volapük to join the ranks of the first Esperantists. A reformist, he left Esperanto, unhappy with the result...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-168)

    Figure 3 illustrates the number of Volapük, Esperanto, and Ido journals from 1880 to 1928. This is probably the best mea sure of each language movement’s strength. As the figure shows, by the time Ido entered the scene, Volapük had already exited, defeated by Esperanto and its own internal divisions. For its part, Esperanto had a very difficult time during its first decade of existence, only taking off at the turn of the century. When Zamenhof published hisUnua Libro, Volapük was still thriving and about to reach its peak. The Volapük movement was certainly experiencing some difficulties, but its...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 169-198)
    (pp. 199-218)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 219-226)
    (pp. 227-227)