Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who was the first British Esperantist?

The English Wikipedia tells us that “In the Unua Adresaro, an early directory of supporters of Esperanto, Richard Geoghegan (pictured here) appears as number 264.” It goes on to call him, under a photo, “first Esperantist in the English-speaking world”. The Esperanto Vikipedio makes a more cautious claim, calling him “ŝajne la unua angle parolanta esperantisto”. (apparently the first English-speaking Esperantist).

The booklet called, in full, Adresaro de la personoj kiuj ellernis la Lingvon « Esperanto », serio 1, 1889 (illustrated here), does indeed list the first thousand learners, but it does not give them numbers, nor is there any indication that these names are listed in order of registration; indeed they are in alphabetical order. Giving his new address in Tacoma, Washington seven years later, Geoghegan gives himself the number 264 - see “Novaj Esperantistoj” Serio XVI, 1896 - but numbers were not published for the first thousand.

It is certainly true that there are very few British citizens who appear in a list overwhelming packed with citizens of the then Russian empire. By my calculations, 956 of the first thousand were Russians (including Poles, Ukrainians and residents of the Baltic countries)

So who are the other contenders for the crown of “The First British Esperantist”? One candidate is Pierce Essex O'Brien Butler (1858 – 1954), son of an Irish aristocratic family. He would certainly have considered himself British. He was educated in Germany, then served as interpreter with Her Britannic Majesty’s Consular Service in 1880 in China, acting as Pro-Consul between 1888 and 1893 in Tainan, Taiwan. His address in the first Adresaro is given as “H.B.M. Consular Service, China, Ĥ” (this letter signifying Ĥinujo, the word used for China in the language’s early years.

Another aristocratic candidate, this time from Northern Ireland, is James Douglas of Glenarm Castle, County Antrim.

A third contender is C.K. Fletcher of Birkenhead, the very same town on the Wirral where Geoghegan was brought up. In fact Richard Geoghegan is not the only person of that surname listed. Listed with him, and presumably recruited by him are his mother B.G. (Bessie Gertrude) Geoghegan of Birkenhead and James T. (Theodore) Geoghegan of Liverpool. Also from Liverpool are James A. Hinchliff and John Mercer of the International Patent Office there.

Finally there is another woman – far from a token woman, namely Helen Schultess-Young, from a legal and literary family in London.

It is not known which of those listed besides Geoghegan continued to use the new language, but it is not possible on the evidence currently available to say with confidence who the first Briton was to use Esperanto.

In the autumn of 1887, when the language Esperanto had just appeared, According to Richardson (Shamrocks on the Tanana, 2009) it was not Geoghegan himself but his friend Walter J. Crawhill, who read an article about the new international language and immediately wrote to Dr L.L. Zamenhof in Latin, but Geoghegan was able to use the German edition of his Unua Libro (First Book) which Zamenhof sent. Having learned the language from this book, a while later Geoghegan received from Zamenhof the first copies of the same book in an English translation by the Warsaw enthusiast, Geoghegan warned Zamenhof that this translation was a poor one, probably not by a native speaker, and it would bring Esperanto into disrepute in the English-speaking world. As a result, Zamenhof asked Geoghegan to produce a more suitable translation himself, which he did. The original faulty translation was withdrawn, and in 1889 Geoghegan's version was published, tasking the place of the earlier version.

Geoghegan can certainly lay claim to be the first propagandist of the new language

James Bond’s brother – Sidni Bond

James Bond’s brother – Sidni Bond

Just a hundred years ago a little-known character called Sidney Edmund Bond or Sidni Bond (1855 - 1933) began creating his own international languages.

He was an original thinker, and dedicated much time effort – and money – to the pursuit of lost causes, as some would see them. He was an advocate of reformed English spelling and an inventor of international languages which he planned to rival Esperanto. His origins in rural, monoglot England stand in contrast to the cosmopolitan, multilingual origins of Dr L.L.Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto.

Sidney Bond was born in Devon and was recorded in the 1881 census as living in High Street, Cullompton, Devon, as an ironmonger's assistant. His father was Edmund Bond, and he had sisters Martha and Eva, and Evan and, yes, a brother called James. His father is listed in 1881 as a retired ironmonger, "now a scythe-stone dealer". He was already living in the small market town of Wellington in 1889 because the trades directory for the town listed him as a glass and china dealer at 24-26 High Street. In 1893, a successful small businessman, he married Jean Anna Brown, of Scottish origins. She died in 1919.

In the census of 1911 Sidney Bond is recording his name as Sidni, an indication of his life-long commitment to "rational" spelling. He was by then a "shopkeeper of china and ironmongery" and living at 24 High Street, Wellington.

He was a serial creator of international auxiliary languages, and a member of the "Academia de Interlingua". He had been an enthusiast for Ido and for Esperanto before that. Dissatisfied with Esperanto and its reformed version, he moved on to a project called Interlingua or Latino sine flexione. Soon he decided he could do better himself. Between 1910 and 1926 he produced six separate language projects. The first in 1910 was called Mondlingu, and this was followed by Omnez (1912), Domni (1913), Optoez and Panhomel (1921), and finally Meso (1926),). I have an undated cutting from "The Wellington Weekly News” from some time in 1912 in which he gives the Lord's Prayer in Omnez. He corresponded with an Italian professor called Giuseppe Peano and others. Indeed, he claimed support from Peano for his linguistic innovations. Notwiythstanding a journalist's name on the newspaper article here, I wrote that piece!

Little remains of his attempt from 1910, except the following, “Sol splenda. Nokt sequa jorn. Vesper esa pos jorn ed ante nokt”. If you cannot decipher it, this means, “The sun shines. Night follows day. Evening is after day and before night.” It really is Ido, without the suffixes for nouns, adjectives and adverbs.

From 1910 onwards Bond was a member of the Academia pro Interlingua, a loosely academic body based in Turin promoting work on a planned international language, based on Latin. It was closer to a membership organisation than a prestigious body, and Bond was one of only thirty British members.

Bond’s version of the Lord’s Prayer in Omnez, published by him in brochure form in 1912, begins as “Nostro Pater, qui esa in ciel, to nom esaz sant, ta regnum venaz, to volio esaz exekutat in ter quale in ciel.” One wonders whether "The Wellington Weekly News” really was the best place to present this invention to the waiting world.

Domni is the name of an auxiliary language project proposed in brochure form by Sidni Bond en 1913. One linguistic oddity is that in Domni he gave the definite article the form “oin”.

A sample of his 1921 offering Optez reads as follows, “Optoez habi ple grand proportion de nelatinal vokes ka most skemes.” meaning Optoez has a greater proportion of non-Latin words than most schemes”.

In 1926 Bond published Meso of which a sample reads “Te basi most bon por lingu international esti elementes latinal vivint en lingus modern.” (The best foundations for an international language are Latin elements living in modern languages). Bond’s four-page booklet on this project “Gramatik et Specimenes” had a cover price of four pence. Sample vocabulary reveals an influence of English: werir (to wear), nekst (next), folgir (to follow).

At the end of 1929 he wrote in a circular to his many correspondents using Meso in the hope that advocates of the various projects for an international language should come together and agree on a language containing the good features of them all. He made it clear what those features should be – ones he had chosen.

Bond was not happy with the British tradition of giving addresses. In 1915 he gives his address as “Street High 24” in Wellington. By 1930 he had moved to “Street South 29”.

Changing the language of the world was not sufficient for Bond. He wanted to change the spelling of his mother tongue too. He wrote to The Pyoneer ov Simplifyd Speling in December 1915, using his own system, rather than that of the mainstream advocates of spelling reform. In for September 1917, he wrote to the same journal:

"Wun keurius argeument in faivor ov the prezent speling iz that, if our tradishonal speling iz bad for Anglo-Saxonz, it iz good for forinerz, bekauz for them it iz so eezi, so nateural, so lyk thair œn! For wun klaas ov peepel, then, our speling iz eezi, and thai aut not tu maik eni mistaiks. Good. Iz it so? Deuring my werk on Optez [Mr. Bond'z internashional langwij] I hav been ameuzd tu obzerv …”

One must admire Bond’s dogged persistence despite no signs of success. The nearest Britain came to reforming the spelling of English was when the Initial Teaching Alphabet was introduced experimentally in 1961 as a way of teaching young children to read, The new alphabet was not intended as a wholesale spelling reform and did not survive the decade. Despite Sidney Bond’s efforts, Esperanto has remained almost unchallenged as the pre-eminent planned international language. Indeed, it can be argued that part of Esperanto’s success lies in the fact that it lost, after 1907, those people never completely satisfied and in constant search of the next linguistic novelty.

James Bond did indeed live in Wellington, Somerset, but it was his brother Sidney who was the really interesting one.