After a rather hectic few weeks, I am now able to offer at least a partial response to Cousin Thomas (“C Thom”), to whom I should first like to apologise for giving inadequate information (“4 pages”) about the length of the discussion on this thread (I then went away and didn’t have chance to examine his initial posts and correct the error).
The revival of this discussion originated on AUXLANG:
a month ago with a posting from Don T., to which I replied as follows:
> Also, I can't think of many examples of support by religious groups.
> There is, of course, the famous example of Baha'ism and Esperanto, which
> dates from the 1920s (I believe), but never went anywhere.
Baha'i endorsement of Esperanto actually preceded WW1, but 'Abdu'l-Baha also stated that
Esperanto would have to be revised, because it was too difficult for some people.
As recounted in Wendy Heller's biography, Zamenhof's daughter Lidia (who was a Baha'i) often
heard requests for a revision when she lectured in Europe and America during the 1930s.
However, she was either unable or unwilling to make the necessary arrangements - so the major
impediments for non-linguists of certain nationalities remained.
Unfortunately, the concept of a language effectively constrained by a central committee loyal to
the ideas of a sole author wasn't conducive to the aftermath of WW2 - popularly seen as a
potentially democratic era after "The Age of the Dictators". English having discovered a second
wind via the victory of the Allies, Esperanto gradually lost the high media profile that had given it
"household word" status during the 20s and 30s - a trend reinforced by Orwell's "Newspeak" and a
perceived association with Red China and other totalitarian regimes.
Anyway, 'Abdu'l-Baha, evidently knowing in advance that a satisfactory reform of Esperanto would
never take place, also specified before WW1 that a new language should be formed by an
international committee - and that the hopes of Esperantists would be realised in this way.
Antony Alexander http://langx.org
Now follow excerpts from C Thom’s replies to AUXLANG, with my comments. (The complete postings can, of course, be read on AUXLANG. I directed AUXLANG readers to this forum, and subsequently informed them that I would be responding to C Thom’s specific points re Esperanto and the Baha’i Faith here rather than there):
(June 25) "....The local Baha'i community has been kind enough to have me in to speak on several occasions over the last few years, so I
have had an opportunity to dig into this topic.
Baha'u'llah actually described Esperanto - although not by name - and called on the leaders of the world to make it happen. This was in his "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf." This was written, according to
the best source I could get on short notice, a year before Baha'u'llah's death in 1892. It's interesting to me that quite often, the Baha'i will look at this same passage for justification for *not* getting more
involved with Esperanto.
One detail I'd like to have clarified is when did the conversation between Baha'u'llah and Kamal Pasha (which he writes about in the Epistle of the Wolf) take place? I'd always assumed that it took place before 1887, but thinking about it now, I have no real reason to think that."
Well. let’s look at the relevant passage in “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” (p 137-9):
"How often have things been simple and easy of accomplishment, and yet most men have been heedless, and busied themselves with that which wasteth their time!
One day, while in Constantinople, Kamal Pasha visited this Wronged One. Our conversation turned upon topics profitable unto man. He said that he had learned several languages. In reply We observed: "You have wasted your life. It beseemeth you and the other officials of the Government to convene a gathering and choose one of the divers languages, and likewise one of the existing scripts, or else to create a new language and a new script to be taught children in schools throughout the world. They would, in this way, be acquiring only two languages, one their own native tongue, the other the language in which all the peoples of the world would converse. Were men to take fast hold on that which hath been mentioned, the whole earth would come to be regarded as one country, and the people would be relieved and freed from the necessity of acquiring and teaching different languages." When in Our presence, he acquiesced, and even evinced great joy and complete satisfaction. We then told him to lay this matter before the officials and ministers of the Government, in order that it might be put into effect throughout the different countries. However, although he often returned to see Us after this, he never again referred to this subject, although that which had been suggested is conducive to the concord and the unity of the peoples of the world.
We fain would hope that the Persian Government will adopt it and carry it out. At present, a new language and a new script have been devised. If thou desirest, We will communicate them to thee. Our purpose is that all men may cleave unto that which will reduce unnecessary labor and exertion, so that their days may be befittingly spent and ended. God, verily, is the Helper, the Knower, the Ordainer, the Omniscient."
As can be seen, there are two separate references to a new language and script: the first, in a conversation between Bahá’u’lláh and Kamal Pasha, would have taken place about the end of 1863, but the second contemporaneous account- written in 1891 - would certainly fit in with Esperanto chronologically.
However, apart from this coincidence there is no evidence that Bahá’u’lláh was actually referring to Esperanto. On the contrary, one might wonder why He didn’t refer to Esperanto (or Dr Zamenhof etc.) by name, given that the language was already published and freely available; also it’s questionable whether Esperanto has a new script - it would probably be more accurate to describe it as a modified Latin script.
For such reasons it has been suggested that Bahá’u’lláh was referring to another language entirely. The Research Department at the Baha’i World Centre responded to this suggestion as follows (see Item 21 - - Khatt-i-Badí’):
".....the leaders of the world should either choose an existing language or create a new one. He then goes on to explain that this would mean that ALL people would then be learning two languages. Since an existing language would not need to be learned by its native speakers, I conclude that he really saw "the one language" to be a new language and not one of the existing ones."
Yes, I agree.
"Occasionally, a baha'i will tell me that this falls upon the governments and not individuals. (That is, they don't have to learn Esperanto till it is pronounced official). To that, I point out that governments rarely do anything which hasn't been demonstrated by the people first. Also, Baha'u'llah says that if "men" (presumably this means "people in general"
keeping in mind that the quote is a translation) "[were] to take fast hold on that which hath been mentioned, the whole earth would come to be regarded as one country, and the people would be relieved and freed from the necessity of acquiring and teaching different languages." So, the governments have a role, but so do all men."
Actually I think your Bahá’í is correct. Nothing with a mundane aspect - including language with script - is realisable without the consent of government. That isn’t to say, of course, that the private, voluntaristic approach shouldn’t be encouraged too (as you rightly point out, the Bahá’í Writings would seem to support this). In reality the two approaches - public and private - are complementary, and harmonisable through proper consultation.
"If Baha'u'llah didn't mention Esperanto by name, his son and successor sure did -- although he seemed to slowly change his thoughts on the topic over the years. This makes it easy for followers of the Baha'i faith to pick the one quote they like and follow that one. As with most things in life, the reality is more complex. At the very least, I have no problems telling the Baha'i that I meet that Abdul Baha wanted them to get involved with Esperanto and to associate with Esperantists."
Yes - a valid point which you do well to point out. Bahá’ís believe that God can, and does, change His Will (or Mind, if you like) whenever it pleases Him to do so - perhaps influenced by how humanity responds to Divine Revelation. For instance, Bahá’u’lláh originally required everyone to learn two languages (the IAL and the respective mother tongue) but afterward decreed that all the languages in the world should be reduced to one (see the UHJ interpretation in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas). Certainly there is a potential source of division here, but what unifies everything is the Bahá’í Covenant, of which the arbiter is the Universal House of Justice. Personally I have found such differences to be of emphasis rather than substance, and that being made to view the same Teaching from various angles and perspectives can greatly help in understanding it.
> Unfortunately, the concept of a language effectively
> constrained by a central committee loyal to the
> ideas of a sole author wasn't conducive to the
> aftermath of WW2
"This sounds familiar. Was it 'Abdu'l-Baha who said that "one man" cannot create a language? Did one man create Esperanto? I don't think so. One man started it, but Zamenhof repeated frequently in his life that
he doesn't own Esperanto - that he has no power to change it any more than any other individual Esperantist. Zamenhof published the first book of Esperanto with just 900 words. Many many people have added to this over the years. Still, I've heard many Baha'i use this "one man cannot create a language" line from 'Abdu'l-Baha as their excuse for not doing anything to promote linguistic equality by actually learning another language."
Well, it’s a two-way thing. Zamenhof may have disclaimed ownership of Esperanto and renounced its copyright, but that didn’t stop his readers regarding him as the author. There have been cosmetic changes and additions - new words etc. - but the structure of the language itself has been fundamentally unchanged for a century.
As is well known, Zamenhof decreed at the First Congress at Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1905 that the 16-rule Fundamento should remain unchanged until Esperanto had been officially adopted as the IAL. He may have introduced this constraint with the best of intentions, in order to preserve the unity of the movement, but - in the absence of the hoped-for endorsement by the appropriate world authority, and consequent fundamental revision - he was effectively left as the sole author of the language. Thus it is absolutely true to state that Esperanto was created by one man.
"By the way, what's this "central committee"? I'll guess that you're talking about the Akademio, but I don't see how it fits the description you've applied."
> Anyway, 'Abdu'l-Baha, evidently knowing in advance
> that a satisfactory reform of Esperanto would
> never take place, also specified before WW1 that
> a new language should be formed by an international
> committee - and that the hopes of Esperantists would
> be realised in this way.
I think what has actually happened is that the other parameters have altered, because the language itself has not fundamentally changed. Thus you are quite right: the function of the Central Committee (‘Akademio”) is no longer the same as it was seventy years ago. In those days it might still have been possible for the Akademio to organise a fundamental revision, but now it is much too late.
One evidence of this is two letters I received in about 1979, one from a member of the Academio de Esperanto and the other from the Secretary of the British Esperanto Association. Both were in much the same vein, and one read, in part:
"...no one, repeat no one, now can possibly propose changes in Esperanto which would have the slightest effect on the use of the language all over the world."
"We are constantly receiving proposals from old and new Esperantists for "improvements" to the language, any of which would have as much chance of success as trying to improve the English language - of which there have been many projects, all of which have been, and will always be, ineffective."”
Similarly, an Esperantist wrote on AUXLANG a few months ago:
“.....But what all this overlooks is that Eo is not a project anymore. It is a
language, complete with user base and a very extensive corpus. You can
change a project, but reforming a language is generally limited to cosmetic changes. All the other auxlangs may be reformed, but changing Eo other than in some very superficial way would involve putting a gun to probably hundreds of thousands of heads simultaneously.”
When Zamenhof stated that Esperanto should remain fundamentally unchanged until after it was officially adopted, he surely didn’t envisage the process taking more than a century. The remarkable, albeit short-lived, success of Volapük, and the progress of Esperanto to date, probably suggested a time-scale of no more than a few decades at most. Indeed, he was very possibly aware that an over-extended wait might lead to the language “growing roots”, and subsequently being impossible to radically alter.
In any case, this is what has evidently happened, with the result that there is now no chance of Esperanto being substantially revised - whether it were officially adopted or not. A new “radically reformed Esperanto” might be formed by the appropriate commission, but it wouldn’t be Esperanto, which would carry on as before. Even a compulsory change of name wouldn’t alter the reality.
The way I see it is something like this: there will be an International Language Commission, which will form a new constructed auxiliary language for the world, which won’t be Esperanto. However, Esperanto - which remains an excellent language, though not ideal as the initial IAL - will continue to exist independently, and will probably gain many more speakers too. Then, at a later date (perhaps at about the Lang29 level, according to my illustrative scheme) Esperanto will effectively begin to merge with the developing initial IAL
"One reason why I think I would never be able to become a good Baha'i is I'm still programmed from my fundie Christian days to expect the Word of God to be internally consistent. My understanding of progressive
revelation and individual search for truth is that scripture doesn't necessarily have to be internally consistent to have the power to instruct. 'Abdu'l-Baha lived a fair amout of time and the world around him
changed. Perhaps that explains (with no contradicion) why he was able to act on the Divine Knowledge to which you refer above, and yet at other times of his life, write such glowing praise for Esperanto that
it's difficult to imagine how any serious Baha'i would doubt that all Baha'i should learn Esperanto and be actively involved in the Esperanto community."
There are two aspects to the Word of God. One is essential and unchanging; the other changes over time. The first consists of those timeless verities common to every Divinely-revealed religion; the second indicates that these different religions really constitute the progressive revelation of one religion. But there may also be a varying revelation, or difference of emphasis, within each religion (or progressive unfoldment of religion). Bahá’u’lláh's aforementioned Statement re the languages being reduced to one is one example. For another, the Universal House of Justice may alter punishments for certain crimes as it sees fit, influenced no doubt by the prevailing social conditions. And likewise ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made varying statements concerning Esperanto, according to the nature of the audience He was addressing.
A piece I wrote about four years ago: http://bahai-library.com/books/lango/lang10.html
gives examples of themes that might be thought contradictory, but only if considered in isolation. Yes, it’s undoubtedly true that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged Bahá’ís to study or learn Esperanto, but there was also an obligation for the language to be revised or reformed - or for a new language to be formed by an international committee. The two aspects are really inseparable. Thus, the absence of a fundamentally revised or new language caused Esperanto to become more or less extinct in large areas of the world, with the result that it became very unrewarding for Bahá’ís to learn the language. I think the Statement of the UHJ in the above piece might be understood in this context.
Again, the question of internal consistency is vital. Although the differences have been apparent rather than real, every Divinely-revealed religion has been pulled apart as each denomination or sect has clung on to a particular verse or interpretation without understanding the whole. And the same would no doubt happen to the Bahá’í Faith but for the existence of the Covenant, or line of authoritative interpretation, now residing with the UHJ - whose exposition, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and elsewhere, pulls apparently diverse threads in the Bahá’í IAL Teachings together into an internally consistent and unified form.
(28 June, AUXLANG) "In your essay, you cite 'Abdu'l-Baha as saying that he hopes that Esperanto may be "perfected through the bounties of God" and from that, you conclude the he "required" an immediate reform of the language. I believe this to be a bold jump, unsupported by the facts. I'm curious about the words used in the original (not that I'd understand them), but I will point out that even in English that "to perfect" can mean "to complete or finish." My reaction to this sentence is that he hopes that the work of Esperanto should be MADE COMPLETE -- that is, it should be spread and accepted by the world -- through the bounties of God.
Of course, the alternative is supported by the fact that a year earlier, he said that Esperanto "needs perfecting" and that it is "very difficult for some people." (Still, I'm left wondering why that would matter if it's supposed to be taught to children - see Pei - and eventually become a universal mother language.)
Here and in other postings, C Thom, you interpret my essay: http://bahai-library.com/books/lango/lang10.html
as indicating that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá required an “immediate” reform of the language. Well, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá never used the word “immediate” and neither did I. On the contrary, He was probably well aware of Zamenhof’s 1905 decree that fundamental revision of the language should not proceed without official endorsement, and specified the intervention of an official internationally-appointed committee for that very reason.
Which brings us back to the point made earlier: that Esperanto is now so old and deep-rooted that a radical revision to improve its global accessibility of would now prove impossible. Consequently, the international commission would in effect be forming a new language, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá predicted.
Mario Pei was quite correct that children can learn any language, but it’s also true that they learn basic and regular language more quickly and easily. Robert Craig and I provided some examples of this in “Lango” (1996): http://bahai-library.com/books/lango/lang26.html#p
(30 June, this thread) "This is exactly the path put forward in the “Fundamento” (the ‘foundation’ of Esperanto): at such time when the governments have accepted Esperanto, they will appoint a council who will review the experiences and lessons learned over the years and make any changes deemed necessary (even starting over from scratch, I suppose). At that time, this new “Esperanto” will be accepted and will become universal. The first step, however, is for enough people to start learning and using Esperanto (as it currently is) to demonstrate to the governments that this idea has support and is feasible."
Since you write “(even starting over from scratch, I suppose)” we evidently agree. However, I don’t see that your “first step” is absolutely necessary. The utility of Esperanto and other IALs, including pidgins and existing national languages, has already been comprehensively demonstrated. In fact there is already a great deal of relevant linguistic research out there, which just needs to be collated and synthesised. There is easily enough information for an International Commission to be set up immediately.
"Cousin Anthony, in his note of 16 December, made some other potentially misleading comments about Esperanto. He spelled out various reasons for preferring words from “natural’ rather than “artificial” languages, and then concluded that as a result, “Esperanto and its ilk are inferior to languages whose words have been proved in centuries or millennia of usage by entire societies.” This ignores the fact that Esperanto’s vocabulary comes from these very languages."
I’m well aware that Esperanto vocabulary was derived from existing languages, but - rightly or wrongly - I’d still call it artificial because the inflectional (word class) system has usually distorted the original word. This view is predicated on the supposition that language is primarily a
spoken rather than a written phenomenon - so euphony proved over time should take precedence over everything else.
"‘Abdu’l-Baha is right. One man cannot construct a language. It takes a community. In that same passage, though, He describes the qualities of a “Universal Language”, all of which are qualities of Esperanto: It contains words from different languages. It is governed by the simplest rules, and there are no exceptions, gender, or extra and silent letters. Furthermore, why do we think that “effort put into this will not be lost” means “stop putting effort into this”? To me it means put MORE effort into it, since you know that the effort will not be lost. He then talks about how the one final language will be constructed by a council. Is this not the same council which I mentioned above; the one referred to in the Fundamento? Is not the scenario which I sketched out above? We put effort into Esperanto now. This effort is not lost, since it serves to draw attention to the idea. Then the governments convene a council and create a new language based on the lessons learned? This is the message in the Baha’i scriptures. It’s also the plan spelled out in the Esperanto documents."
Yes, I’d agree with most of that, apart from: “It contains words from different languages. It is governed by the simplest rules”. Esperanto does indeed contain words from different languages, but they are usually modified by its synthetic grammar (word-class inflections); also its vocabulary is European-based to a degree that would probably now be considered unacceptable. And by no stretch of the imagination can Esperanto be described as being governed by the simplest rules. For instance, it has the plural adjective, accusative case inflection, and separate reflexive pronoun and intransitive verb form, all of which English generally manages without.
"Oh, by the way--anybody remember the Khatt-i-Badi (the alphabet of M. 'Ali, Baha'u'llah's brother)? I think I've got it figured out. It's based on the "visible speech" system of Alexander Melville Bell (father of the telephone guy). Vertical marks are vowels, and it looks like M. 'Ali has incorportaed the consonants into these."
Could you provide more information or a link for this, Daw ud?
(back to C Thom) "I did not see any mention in the thread of the idea presented by Bernhard Westerhoff (and perhaps others) that if the IAL turns out to be a "reformed Esperanto" (reformed at the time of adoption, in accordance with the "Fundamento" of Esperanto), then the selection will be both an existing and a new language. Not to mention, many other apparently contradictory statements will be resolved, as I mentioned in my first long message here. (As a consequence of this idea, I think it’s fair to say that Cousin Anthony’s repetitions that “according to the Baha’i Faith” the language won’t be Esperanto, and that ‘Abdu’l-Baha called for an immediate reform are in error.)"
Yes, I can accept the possible validity of this interpretation, which I seem to remember Bernhard Westerhoff suggesting to me some years ago. (For reasons already explained I don’t agree that the last sentence in brackets is fair.)
"Back to the topic, in his 03 January note, Cousin A wrote:
If it were an existing "national" language such as English it couldn't be "taught in the schools of all the federated nations as an auxiliary to their mother tongue" - simply because, in many nations and countless schools, it would be the same as the mother tongue! Did you spot that one before, Brett? I certainly didn't.
I pointed this out to the community here when I gave my first presentation there as a fairly new Esperantist (maybe two years after starting to learn) and brand new to the Baha’i scriptures. I got lots of ooh’s and aahs as if nobody had ever noticed that before -- not in a lifetime of being a believer. How can so many people miss such an obvious point? My only thought is that they aren’t giving enough thought to this issue -- or to be more fair, that they have given priority to other important issues to the neglect of this one."
I find that interesting, and wonder if it is because you have approached the Bahá’í Writings on the IAL issue directly, rather than via the normal induction process for Bahá’ís - in which the need for an IAL tends to be presented in terms of a choice between an existing language and a new invented language. Nothing wrong with that - it’s the choice the Bahá’í Writings clearly present - except that people naturally jump to the conclusion that the choice is between an existing “national” language and a new invented language such as Esperanto.
This in turn produces the well-known psychological effect that a statement to the contrary is glossed over by the mind, even though it is read by the eyes. I think this is why this passage in “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” has escaped the attention of so many Bahá’í, whereas you - approaching from a very different perspective - spotted it immediately.
"It beseemeth you and the other officials of the Government to convene a gathering and choose one of the divers languages, and likewise one of the existing scripts, or else to create a new language and a new script to be taught children in schools throughout the world. They would, in this way, be acquiring only two languages, one their own native tongue, the other the language in which all the peoples of the world would converse."
I must have read this passage a number of times over the years without “seeing” what it actually said. And yes, it certainly does seem to confirm the possibility presented by Mr Westerhoff that the choice will really be between an existing “previously-invented” language such as Esperanto and a “brand new” invented language formed by an international commission.
Anyway, at this stage it seems to me that the latter alternative will be chosen - but that the excellence of Esperanto and all other languages will be incorporated in due course, perhaps along the lines I have sketched at http://langx.org
The Bahá’í Writings don't endorse such a mechanism, of course, but it is at the very least a concrete route from the many tongues of the present to the single universal language of the distant future.