Book Review: Esperanto In The New York Times (1887-1922)

Esperanto In The New York Times (1887-1922), edited by Ulrich Becker

As someone who considers myself to be a fairly new and somewhat unusual Esperantist, who reads many books in and on the subject [1], I found this book to provide a great deal of insight into something that has long mystified me.  Why is it that Esperanto has drawn such immense hostility among many people?  While I do not consider myself to be a particular fan of the New York Times, and I subject them to considerable criticism given their own uncongenial worldview biases and the way that they are viewed (and may even view themselves) as an important news source, this book demonstrated as well how long the problematic nature of this cultural power has been with regards to the biases and disputes of culture.  And it is quite striking to see that this book has managed to pull together more than 250 pages of article reprints from the New York Times that deal with the subject of Esperanto during the first thirty-five years of the language’s existence.  If the cost of the exercise were not too great, it would be worthwhile to see how this continued further along in the existence of the New York Times, which would likely continue the process of figuring out what it is about Esperanto in particular that makes people so irate.

The book itself does not attempt any sort of analysis of this problem.  It is simply a collection of primary documents from the New York Times that strives to be as complete as possible in presenting what people have to say for and against and about Esperanto on the pages of the New York Times.  What is included here ranges from small notes about Esperanto club meetings and memorials to Zamenhof after his untimely death during World War I to controversies over various other, often forgotten, created languages, to connections between the language and espionage, to more curious statements about what Esperantists talk like and eat at various meetings from bewildered but moderately tolerant reporters.  The articles include language hobbyists posting their own ideas for a world interlanguage, some drama within various Esperanto clubs, some humorous comments about rivalries between various language schemes, and also some evidence in the way that Esperanto managed to make itself a part of a certain aspect of elite culture, which likely accounted for the fact that it appeared in the New York Times with the frequency and fervor that it did.

The author, though, leaves the texts to serve as the source material for writing and reflecting from others.  As for me, I think that this book indicates a few intriguing things about Esperanto and its place within the larger culture.  There exists in some circles a large degree of hostility towards Esperanto because it does not come attached to an imperial power like the United States.  In other circles, there exists a tendency to enjoy the process of creating languages and believing that they have solved the language problem, only to have failed to have a large enough culture that an support a language.  Esperanto, it would appear, has over and over again become the standard by which interlanguages are judged because it has managed to stick around, develop a fairly large population of speakers, readers, and writers, and because it has a genuine culture behind it, even if it has not been adopted by international organizations to the degree that many Esperantists would wish.  When one is the standard by which others are judged, one will draw a fair amount of targeted ridicule from those who are driven by envy or hostility.  The articles here are the evidence that Esperanto has been successful enough to have haters, and that it acquired such a status relatively quickly, which suggests that Zamenhof and Privet and other early adopters did a lot right in helping to create a culture around the language that remains vibrant today.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: Esperanto In The New York Times (1887-1922)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Lingvistikaj Aspectoj De Esperanto | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Esperanto And The EU’s Unusual Revenge | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s