In this issue’s trip through the archives, we visit an editorial from the the December, 1917 issue (Vol. 21, № 5) of Amerika Esperantisto. (Many thanks to Kinen Carvala for proofreading the scanned text.) How well did the author’s predictions hold up over time? And what about some of the claims—like how speakers from different nations show a “uniformity of accent”?
Occasionally we meet a person who thinks that “all steps toward a universal language are futile” for the reason that, as he says, even assuming that we could ever get the people of the world to speak one tongue, in the course of years, differences in pronunciation, localisms, and even changes in the grammar would arise to make the future linguistic aspect of the world after all very much as it is today with all the complexities and variations that we now find.
Esperantists, of course, know that such an opinion is founded upon two unwarranted assumptions. As to the first, no one is really proposing a “universal” tongue. Esperantists, at least, are not guilty of any such stupidity. Their proposition of an international language is not only a more modest one and therefore more easily realizable, but it takes into account the vast accumulations of cultural material that have grown up in the existing national languages and the preservation of which really postulates their preservation as national tongues, at least as far as we of the present generation are concerned.
As its name implies, the International Language would only be used between people of different nations. While leaving each group of people free not merely to make use of their own national speech but also to develop their own civilization along lines which are just as peculiar—and, I may even say, just as sacred—to them as their language and religion. Esperanto offers a vehicle of communication at once simple and logical, absolutely neutral in its relation to the nations of the world. Even after the most sanguine Esperantist has had his way, you and I will still be using English among ourselves and in all likelihood giving very little encouragement to any scheme to abolish our mother tongue.
The second of these erroneous ideas is founded upon a wrong notion of why today differences in speech exist at all. The big reason why the Chinaman and the Frenchman, for instance, have different languages, as well as the more obvious reason for the difference between the speech of the Yorkshireman and that of the Londoner is not hard to understand. Not only had primitive peoples separated before the development of means which give permanence to language, but they then found themselves cut off by seas and mountains from easy means of communication with their cousins of other lands. The latter of these two causes has certainly been the more potent, for, if we assume howsoever great a dispersion of peoples with as great a dispersion of tongues as we please, still, assuming quick railroad and steamship service between the several parts, with thoro systems of telegraphy the world over and with books and newspapers freely crossing the boundaries thru the mediumship of efficient postal systems—given these, we say, the most pronounced differences of speech would tend to extinguish themselves. Indeed, this very process is now being worked out right under our eyes. Slowly, it is true, but nevertheless with a certainty which leaves no student room for doubt. Even the casual observer has seen and commented upon the changes which recent events of world importance have made in our own mother tongue: changes which point to a sure-enough “melting pot of languages.” Real tho by many undreamed of, right under our very eyes–—or rather, about our ears.
To some extent, this melting pot has always existed, but the selection of language elements has gone on always more or less unconsciously by what, if we may change the figure of speech, is a kind of eugenics of language. Now, while evolution in other things such as art, music, science and invention is very manifestly a conscious process, why, ask the Esperantists, should language, which is but another human tool for other human needs, be subjected in its growth to the whims and unreasoned changes and distortions which come with time? And why wait for centuries to effect a gradual change toward uniformity of world speech, meanwhile painfully trudging and struggling along handicapped by the diversities, illogicalities and supernecessities of the so-called “natural tongues”?
The uniformity of the accent and pronunciation of Esperanto by the peoples of various nations has long been a commonplace observation among those who have attended the International Congresses. So marked is this uniformity that the nationality of a speaker is absolutely disguised by his neutral speech, unless revealed by the cut of his clothes or other unlinguistic evidence. No, Esperanto will never be in any danger of splitting up into dialects. Rather the contrary will be the result. As the language will be used only internationally localisms will have no chance to develop. Individual nations, it is true, will enrich the common speech with contributions of their best thought, but these will tend to diffuse themselves thruout all the civilized world.