The Propagandists and the Raumists
Copyight © 2002 Sylvan Zaft. Here is the twenty first chapter of Esperanto: A Language for the Global Village. You may make electronic copies and paper copies for your personal use, and you may freely distribute verbatim copies which include this notice provided that you do not charge for these copies. You may not post this material to any site. You are invited to insert links to this site. For any other use, including publication, you must first get permission.
Over the course of a century and more, Esperantists have dreamed of the time when all mankind would share one common language, the language which they have learned and the language which they have attempted to spread throughout the world. Many Esperantists have been tireless in their use of propaganda to promote their language. The word propaganda arose in the Catholic Church where it was a short way of referring to the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith. The Nazis gave propaganda a bad name by their use of vicious lies and distortions against those whom they strove to eliminate. In English propaganda is now often used in a pejorative sense. This is not the case with the Esperanto word propagando which simply means working hard to propagate an idea.
In their propaganda, as with any propaganda, Esperantists are one-sided, and sometimes they even stretch the truth. They paint a picture of a language which can be learned very, very easily. Zamenhof himself, in his first little brochure about Esperanto, spoke of the language as being so extraordinarily easy that it was child’s play to learn it.
Although Esperanto is much, much easier to learn than unplanned languages, it still requires a certain amount of attentive study. Most students need to invest dozens of hours of hard study before they are ready to begin to correspond. Being able to read literature and being able to converse fluently requires additional time, perhaps a few hundred hours of study and practice.
Individual talents vary. There are those rare individuals who have learned the language in a few weeks and there are others who have dabbled in it for years without getting very far. Many have made the effort to learn how to read and write and have exchanged quite a few letters in the language but have not spent much time speaking. Such Esperantists may write in a perfectly satisfactory manner and yet not be able to converse fluently.
Some are intrigued by the idea of Esperanto but never manage to devote diligent and regular study time to learning the language. Perhaps they have been misled by exaggerated claims about the fantastic, incredible ease with which people supposedly learn Esperanto. Some of these insist on speaking English all the time at meetings of their Esperanto club. Although their fervent support of the language is welcome, they often seriously interfere with those who come to club meetings to practice speaking and hearing the language. Sometimes they are referred to as “bonan matenon” Esperantists because they know how to say “good morning” in Esperanto but very little else.
Just as a lawyer who is defending a client or a candidate who is running for office is not interested in presenting both sides fairly, so propagandists for Esperanto are not interested in seriously dealing with critiques of the language. They do not discuss suggestions like the one made by the Chinese Esperantist who said that it would be easier to learn the months if they were numbered (as in Chinese) rather than having individual names. Another example of a topic that propagandists do not discuss is the problem of naming nations and of nationalities.
The Naming of Nations and Nationalities
Umberto Eco, who endorses Esperanto, has pointed out that Esperanto is not a perfect language. One way, according to many students of the language, in which it is not perfect is in the way it names nations and members of those nations.
In English there is no regular relationship between the names of countries and the words that signify people of that nationality. The following examples make this clear.
|Name of the Country||A Person of that Nationality|
|The United States||American|
There is no way the foreign student of English can figure out from the name of a nation the term for the nationality or vice-versa. Each term must be learned individually.
The situation is nowhere near this chaotic in Esperanto. However, there are two separate patterns and the user of the language must remember which nations go with one pattern and which go with the other. If there were just one pattern this would get rid of this problem and a whole class of possible errors. The language did not develop this way.
The first pattern concerns those case where a nationality existed before the birth of the nation-state. For instance, the nation-state of Germany was first formed in 1871. Long before that year there was a German nationality. Although the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861 it was not until 1871 that the unified nation-state came into being. Long before the 1800s there were Germans and Italians.
In cases like this where the nationality historically came first, the word that means a person who is of that nationality simply takes the noun ending –o while the name of the nation takes the ending –io. Here are some examples:
|The Nation-State||A Person of that Nationality|
When it comes to other nations, such as the United States, the nationality did not exist before the country became independent. The United States is an example. In 1776 a new nation and a new nationality came into existence. The same kind of thing happened in other countries of the Americas. In these cases the name of the country simply takes the –o ending. Here, to form the name of a person of a certain nationality Esperanto uses the suffix –an which means “a member of.” Here are examples:
|Name of the Country||A Person of that Nationality|
Although this dual system in Esperanto is easier to learn than the lack of a system in English, it would be easier still if all countries and nationalities were named according to a single system. Although the additional learning load is not as great as it is in English, it is greater than it needs to be.
European users of Esperanto largely decided this usage. They decided which category each country fits into. They put Korea into the second category and so called the country Koreo and the people of that nationality Koreano.
Today there is a strong Esperanto movement in the Republic of Korea. The Universala Kongreso was held in Seoul in 1994. Not long afterwards Dr. Lee Chong-Yeong of South Korea was elected president of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio.
Korean Esperantists point out, quite rightly, that Korean culture and thus the Korean nationality is thousands of years old. It long preceded the construction of the modern state, the Republic of Korea. Therefore, the name of their country should be Koreio and the name of a person of that nationality should be Koreo.
While for many European Esperantists the word Koreo is the name of the country, in the country itself Koreo means “a Korean.”
It would be simpler if the name of every country ended in –io and the name of the people of that nationality ended in –ano. It would save some study time for students of Esperanto and avoid unintentionally slighting Korean Esperantists.
Propagandists avoid discussing this kind of problem. Perhaps this is because they are measuring Esperanto against the standard of some kind of nonexistent perfect language, and they do not want to admit that in some ways Esperanto does not quite fit the bill.
Esperanto, of course, is not a perfect language. It is a real language with its own difficulties, its own idiosyncrasies, and yet it is a language which can be learned in a relatively short time and which works very well.
In my opinion the propagandists are short-sighted. If they were to make the case for Esperanto in a more balanced way perhaps they would attract more people, including those who are turned off when they sense that what they are hearing is overly one-sided.
However, a great many propagandists for Esperanto do not care to weigh pros and cons in a judicious manner. They prefer to maintain that what they propose is not merely a reasonable and workable solution to the problem of international communication but the only possible solution.
Perhaps the reason for this kind of behavior of the propagandists is the strong emotion they feel for the language, an emotion that touches them deep in their being. There is a strong sense of idealism that a great many Esperantists share. It is the idea that in a very important sense all humankind belongs to one family, and that if we were all to share one auxiliary language, we would be better able to understand each other and find solutions to our many common problems. It was this idealism that inspired Zamenhof to create his plan for the language. It is this idealism that has led so many people from so many countries to invest the time and effort to learn and teach the language. This deep-rooted idealism has helped make possible the creation of a world-wide community that shares this common second language, a language that many of them refer to as “nia kara lingvo” (our dear language).
Zamenhof called this idealism “the internal idea” of the language. Esperanto developed to do more than communicate facts, as important as that is. Esperanto grew as a means of bringing together the members of the one human family.
This powerful attachment to the language has, interestingly enough, led some Esperantists to turn away from the original dream of a universal auxiliary language. For these individuals the language is not a tongue that is destined to be used by everyone in the world but rather the particular language of a small but highly international community. These Esperantists are the Raumists.
An International Culture
In 1980 the annual International Congress of Young Esperantists was held in the small town of Rauma in Finland. There a group of young Esperantists drew up and signed a document called La Manifesto de Raŭmo (The Manifesto of Rauma). In it they stated that they were not interested in working to make Esperanto the international language for the whole world. That goal seemed to them to be quite unrealistic.
In renouncing Zamenhof’s dream, at least for the present, they were not at all renouncing Esperanto itself. In the course of its history Esperanto has attracted adherents from all around the world. These adherents form an international community, which shares a common language and a well-developed literature. There is a name for that world-wide community: Esperantujo which could be translated as “Esperantoland.” Esperantists correspond with each other, and get together in international gatherings that range from a few dozen participants to thousands of participants. When they meet they talk to each other, sing together, interact in all of the ways that people interact, all the while using their common language. Esperantists have created a large number of organizations based on a wide variety of interests. Esperantists today belong to a unique international culture.
The young Esperantists meeting in Rauma found value in that culture. They decided that they would prefer not to waste their efforts in trying to convince people who were indifferent to Esperanto, who made fun of Esperanto, who refused to take the language seriously as the answer to the world language problem, the problem that arises because most people in the world cannot talk to each other, because they do not understand each other’s words. These young Esperantists said that their goal from this time on was to develop their language, their literature, their culture. They maintained that being an Esperantist, being part of this international culture, has value in itself, whatever the position of the outside world might be. Esperanto makes it possible for people from different parts of the world to communicate with each other on a level of linguistic equality that is simply not possible, when one person has to use another’s language. That is highly valuable in and of itself.
Those who agree with the signers of the Manifesto of Rauma are now called Raumists. Raumists now hold important positions in Esperantujo. Istvàn Ertl, the editor of Esperanto, the official publication of the World Esperanto Organization, is on the editorial staff of Literatura Foiro (Literary Fair), the excellent literary review put out by a cooperative which holds to a Raumist position.
Esperantist authors worked to get their language accepted by PEN International, a prestigious organization of authors and editors from some sixty countries. PEN gives out literary awards and it works to protect the rights of authors regarding freedom of expression. The languages which are used in the meetings of PEN International are English, French and the language of the host country. The first time Esperantists tried to get an Esperanto chapter admitted into PEN they were turned down. The international writer’s organization felt no need to admit a language whose goal was to become the universal language.
There are Esperanto writers who write in more than one language. One of these, István Nemere, is a best-selling novelist in his native Hungary. Nemere has written more than a hundred books in Hungarian but also more than a dozen books in Esperanto. With advocates like Nemere, who was already a member of PEN, Esperantists in the end convinced PEN to accept an Esperanto chapter, just as it had accepted other languages, like Yiddish and Romany, which are not the languages of specific countries.
The Raumists point to this accomplishment to show that their approach is the one by which Esperanto will thrive. The Esperanto chapter was not accepted by PEN International, because authors all over the world believed that this easy-to-learn language should be adopted for international use. It was accepted because it was the language of a particular culture and literature, a language in which poems and novels and essays and other forms of literature have been and are being produced. Today at meetings of PEN International Esperanto representatives take part just as representatives of other language groups take part. Like the other participants they speak in either English, French or the language of the host country. Here Esperanto does not have the special status that Esperantists have dreamed of. It is a language like any other, different from most only in that it is not the language of a particular country or countries but of an international community, which is bound together by its common language.