Esperanto Spain

A Beautiful Story,
by Luis Lázaro Zamenhoff

You ask me, Mr. Borovko, why it struck me the idea of a creating an international language, and which has been its history since the moment of its birth up to today. The public history of the language, that is to say, since I came to the open light with it is known to you more or less; on the other hand this period of the language is still, because of different causes, improper to tell. I will comment, in general, just the history of the birth of the language.

It is difficult for me to tell you everything in detail, because I have forgotten a lot of it myself. The idea to which I dedicated all my life came up —it is funny to confess— in my most tender childhood, and has never left me since then. I lived with this idea and I cannot imagine myself without it. This circumstance will explain somehow why I worked in it with such obstinacy and why I, in spite of all the difficult and bitter moments, did not give it up, as many others who worked in this field did.

I was born in Byalistok, rule of Grodno (Poland, on the 15th of December of 1859). This place of my birth and childhood years marked the way for all my future wishes. In Byalistok the people consisted of four different elements: the Russians, the Polish, the Germans and the Hebrew. Every one of these communities spoke their own language and the relationship with the others was always hostile. In this city, more than in any other, a sensitive character feels the heavy unhappiness of the diversity of languages and at every moment gets the impression that it is the only, or at least the main cause which separates the Human Family and divides it into enemy parts.

I was educated in idealism; I was taught that all men were brothers and sisters, while outdoors everything, always, made me feel that men did not exist: there are only Russians, Polish, Germans, Hebrew, etc. All this always tormented my childish soul, though many, perhaps, smile at this grief for the world from a child. Because in that time it seemed to me that adults had a sort of almighty force, I repeated to myself that when I were older I would brush this evil away for good.

Little by little I convinced myself, as a matter of fact, that things are not carried out so easily as I had imagined as a child. One by one I deleted all my childish utopias, and only the reverie of a human language I could not erase. I felt attracted to it, though, logically, with no kind of foreseen plan.

I can't recall when, but anyway at a very early age, I developed the conscience that the only language could be a neutral one, which did not belong to any existing nation. When I moved from the Royal School of Byalistok —I was still in high school— to the Classic School in Warsaw, for a little time I was attracted to old languages, and I dreamt that some day I would travel all over the world and through warm talks I would lead men to revitalize one of these languages for their common use. Later, I can't remember how, I came to the firm belief that this was impossible and I started thinking about an artistic language.

Often I began some tests, invented declinations and conjugations which were both enriched and artificial. But a human language, as I believed, with its infinite quantity of grammar forms, with its hundreds of thousands of words in their think and terrifying dictionaries, seemed to me a machine so artificial and huge that more than once I said to myself: out with dreams! This task is not made for human strength. However, my dream always came back.

I had learnt German and French in my childhood, when one cannot still compare and arrive to conclusions. But when —being in the fifth form— I started to learn English, the simplicity of its grammar appeared in front of my eyes, above all when I just came from the Greek and Latin grammars. I realized then that the richness of grammar forms is just a blind historical event, but unnecessary for a language. Under this influence I started to investigate in the language, getting rid of the unnecessary forms, and realizing that the grammar melted in my hands more and more; and soon I came to the smallest grammar, which was just a few pages long, and still the language was complete. Then I started to commit myself to my dream more seriously. But the huge dictionaries would not let me in peace. Once, when I was in the 7th form, my sight was caught by a notice saying Shvejkarskaja (meaning doorway), which I had seen a lot of times before, and then the label Konditorskaja (candy shop). This suffix -kaja (pronounced "kyer") puzzled me and proved me that suffixes give a possibility to create, fro ma single word, other different ones, so that there is no need to learn one by one. I came to this conclusion all of a sudden, and then I felt the ground under my feet. It shone a light on those terrifying, huge dictionaries, and they started to shrink in front of my eyes!

The problem is solved!, I said to myself then. I got the idea of the suffixes and started work in this direction. I understood what a great meaning it could have for a language created consciously this full use of this force which in natural languages have a partial, blind, erratic and incomplete efficiency. I started to compare words, seeking constant and definite rules, and every day I added into the vocabulary a new and huge series of words which substituted a great many quantity of words by means of a suffix which meant certain relation. I understood that a great number of root words (for example mother, short, fork, etc.) could transform themselves easily in derived ones and thus disappear from the dictionary. The mechanics of the language presented to me as if in my palm, and then I started to work regularly, with love and hope. After a little time I finished writing all the grammar and a little dictionary.

Here I shall say just a few words about the stuff in the vocabulary. Much before, when I was looking for it and rejected which was not basic in grammar, I wished to used the principles of economy also for the words, and as I was convinced that it was not important the shape of this or that word as long as we agreed that it expressed a given idea, I simply devised words, trying them to be as short as possible and that they had not an unnecessary number of letters. I told myself that instead the eleven letters of interparoli we could express the same idea with the two letters in the word pa. That is why I simply wrote the mathematical series of the groups of words which were the possibly shortest, but easy to pronounce, to which I gave the meaning of a definite word (example: a, ab, ac, ad, ..., ba, ca, da,...,e, eb, ec, ..., be, ce, ... aba, aca,..., etc.) But this thought was put away soon, because the experience proved that such words were difficult to learn and even more difficult to memorize. Then I was already convinced that the material for the dictionary should be roman-germanic, changed only according to the regularity and other important conditions of the language. Once already in those grounds, I saw that the present languages have a huge provision of words which are already international, which are already known by all the peoples, and which make a thesaurus for the future international language: and I, of course, used that thesaurus.

In 1878 the language was finished more or less, though between the then Lingwe Universala and the present Esperanto there was a great difference. I spoke about it to my fellows at school (I still was at the 8th form in high school). Most of them were enthusiastic at the idea and the shocking ease of the language, so they started learning it. On December, 5th 1878 we all formally the baptism of the language. During this celebration there were speeches in the new language, and we sang enthusiastically the anthem the first words of which are the following ones:

Lingwe Universala Translation En Esperanto
Malamikete de las nacjes Hate of nations Malamikeco de la nacioj
Kado', kado', jam temp' esta'! Fall, fall, it is high time! Falu, falu, jam tempo estas!
La tot' homoze in familje All Human Kind as a family La tuta homaro en familion
Konunigare so deba'. must be united. unuiři devas

On the table, in addition to the grammar and the dictionary, there were some translations into the new language.

Thus ended the first period of the language. I was still too young to go out in public with my work, so I decided to wait still for five or six years, and test the language during these years carefully and work it in practice. Six months after the celebration of the fifth of December we finished the school year, and my mates and I parted. The future apostles of the language tried to talk about the new language and, because of the mockery from the adults, they soon abandoned the language and left me completely alone. Foreseeing further mockery and persecutions, I decided to hide my work. For the five and half years of my stay at university I never spoke to anybody about the matter. This time was very difficult for me. Clandestinity tormented me, making me hide carefully my thinking and plans; and so I was nowhere, I took part in nothing, and the most beautiful time in life —student's life— passed me bye sullenly. I tried somehow to amuse society, but I was often out of place, I sighed and went away, and now and then soothed my soul with some verses in the language elaborated by me. One of these poems ( Mia penso, that is: My thought) was included later in the first booklet I published; but to the readers, who did not know under which circumstances they had been written, they seemed —of course— strange and with no meaning.

For six years I worked in perfecting and testing the language: and I had plenty of work, though in the year 1878 I had thought that the language was already finished. I translated a lot into my language, I wrote original works in it, and the tests proved to me that what already looked like totally finished in theory was really to be finished in practice. I had to refine, substitute, correct and transform a lot from the root. Words and forms, beginnings and postulates hindered to one another, while in theory, separately and in short instances, I thought them totally valid. Some things, like for example the universal preposition je, the flexible verb meti, the neutral but definite ending ,etc., did not fit into my head in theory. Some forms which I thought enriching turned into superfluous weight in the practice. For example, I had to abandon some unneeded suffixes. In the year 1878 I had thought that it would be enough for a language to have a grammar and a dictionary; the heaviness and lack of grace in the language being attributed by me then to the fact that I had not had it deep enough. The practice convinced me once and again that the language still needed something untouchable, the catalyst which gives a language its completely formed life and soul. (Ignorance on this soul of language is the reason why many esperantists who have read very little in Esperanto write without any errors, but who use a heavy and nasty style, whereas more expert esperantists write with a good style which is totally equal to that of the nation they belong to. The spirit of the language will certainly change a lot with time, though little by little and unnoticed; but the first esperantists, people from different nations, will not find a definite fundamental spirit, but every one would pull towards his own side, and the language would go on endlessly, or at least for a long time, like a graceless and dead collection of words. That is why I started to avoid literal translations from this or that language, and tried to think directly in the neutral language. Afterwards I found that the language in my hands stopped being a bottomless shade of the language I was working with in that moment, but it got its own spirit, its own life, its genuine physiognomy, clearly expressed, already independent from any influence whatever. The word flowed on its own, flexible, gracely and completely freely, as a live mother language.

There was still a condition which made me postpone my going out with my language still for a while: for a long time I could not solve a problem which has a tremendous meaning for a neutral language: I knew that it would be said: your language will be useful for me only when every body has already accepted it; that is why we cannot accept it till everybody else has done it before. But since everybody is not possible without previous special units, the neutral language could not have any future till it could be useful for a person in particular regardless whether it was already universally accepted or not. I thought about this problem for a long time. The final clue was in the secret alphabets which do not demand that everybody has accepted them previously, and which give the non prepared addressee the possibility to understand everything which was written to him, as long as the key is provided: this made me reorganize the language in the way of such a key which, because it contained not only the vocabulary, but also the grammar in the form of totally independent elements which were alphabetically sorted, gave the unprepared addressee from any nation the possibility to understand a letter.

I finished university and started to practice medicine. Now I was thinking of my going out in front of the public with my work. I prepared the manuscript of my first booklet ( Dr. Esperanto. International Language. Introduction and Complete learning manual) and I started to seek a publisher. But here I tripped with the bitter practice of life, the financial need, for the first time, against which I have had to fight once and again. I looked for a publisher for two years, to no avail. When I found one, he prepared the edition of my little book for a year and a half, but he finally gave up.

At last, after a lot of efforts, I managed to publish it myself, in July of 1887. I was very excited for this; I felt that I was at the Rubicon and that since the day my book appeared I would not have the possibility to go back; I knew what luck is on for the doctor, who depends on the public, when people see a madman in him, a man who spends his time in marginal issues, I felt I was betting on a single card all the peace and existence of myself and my family; but I could no abandon the idea which I carried in my body and soul..., and I stepped across the Rubicon.

Lázaro Luis Zamenhof

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