quarta-feira, julho 30
...looks like the Zamenhof piece (see below) may be in the October issue of the ATA Chronicle.....
terça-feira, julho 29
How one makes a language
By Paulo Ronai
Translated by Tom Moore
Esperanto’s greatest contribution towards solving the problem of international communications lies in its being the first artificial language that was not stillborn, like almost all of its predecessors, or deceased after a few years of life, along with the enthusiasm of its adepts, like Volapük. Today it has reached the venerable age of 116 without showing signs of exhaustion. It is the only artificial language which not only survived its creator, but actually came to be used as an auxiliary language.
To verify its practicability, I decided to read, as a test, a book written in this language. The experience was valuable: provided solely with an overview of its grammar printed on a single sheet , and a pocket dictionary , which was limited to about two thousand radicals, prefixes and suffixes, I was able, with the exception of a few words and very few sentences, to understand it.
But what I least expected was that the little book captivated me less by reason of the attractions of the language than for the topic itself. It was a biography of Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, by Edmond Privat . Reading it makes us understand that it was not by chance that among so many attempts at artificial languages it was precisely Esperanto that managed to succeed. Its inventor was an exceptional individual, notably endowed with intelligence and character. Perhaps there had been more brilliant minds among the precursors of the language – Leibniz, for example; none, however, had the dedication of Zamenhof, who was capable of devoting his existence to this idea.
It is really inspiring to move with him through his singular career. The idea of creating an international language intended to strengthen the bonds between men from different countries did not come to him in a flash, as happened to Mons. Schleyer with Volapük. It had been taking shape inside him since he was a child. Son of a poor Jewish teacher, Zamenhof suffered from an early age racial, national and religious hatred in Bialystok, the little city where he was born, where, under Russian rule, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and Germans, isolated in their own languages, all detested each other. (Later he would understand that difference of language was not the principal cause for all this misunderstanding; there those who were interested in whipping up these hatreds. At any rate, the language diversity made it easier for them.) What was called for was an international language to bring together the people from all the Bialystoks of the world. He was easily convinced that, in order to be accepted by everyone, this language could not be any one of the national languages, and he resolved to create it.
No one ever clung to a dream more stubbornly. Bilingual, or rather, trilingual, since childhood (since he spoke Polish, Hebrew, and German), the young Ludwig Lazar learned Russian and French in high school, along with rudiments of Latin and Greek. He was still in high school when he began to dream of his language. Like almost all his predecessors – whose efforts and results he was unaware of - , he first wanted to make a brand-new language, made up only of invented words, all monosyllables, arranged by purely logical precepts. It would have been another of these aprioristic language, whose tombs litter the cultural landscape. But in his sixth or seventh year of secondary school he suddenly glimpsed the multiple advantages of suffixation. At the same time his studies of English revealed to him that there could be cultural languages without complex grammatical rules.
Along with his secondary studies he began patiently working out his system. Some of his classmates became his disciples, and on one day in 1878 – when Ludwig Lazar had not yet turned 19 – a strange ceremony took place at the modest house of the Zamenhofs: a half dozen adolescents joined to celebrate the birth of Esperanto. Leaning over the cradle of a grammar, singing the anthem of a non-existent people, they shared words incomprehensible to anyone else, in pure intellectual inebriation.
Ludwig Lazar’s father was frightened by the spectacle, not enthused. This sort of thing could put the future of his son at risk. He made him promise to put aside the idea until he got his diploma; then, not satisfied with the outcome, while his obedient son went to study medicine in Moscow, he secretly burned all the dangerous papers, the entire language with its roots and affixes.
Upon returning to the family house, over the holidays, the student was profoundly hurt when learned what his father had done. Now he considered that any agreement he had made was null and void. He would continue his education, but he went back to devoting all his leisure hours to the reconstruction of the work devoured in the flames. He would spend several more years experimenting with his language, which might be cause for surprise given the extreme simplicity of Esperanto. It should be noted, however, that Zamenhof’s predecessors generally put together the grammar and vocabulary of their respective languages and then turned them loose for humanity to adopt and develop; but because humanity always had other more important and more pressing business to attend to, the poor orphans withered away. Zamenhof’s process was completely different; he spent years testing the invented rules and vocabulary to see how they worked in practice. It was to this end that he began a series of translations into Esperanto of masterworks of world literature, among them the Bible, plays of Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Schiller, Gogol, stories by Andersen. Not until 1887, when the language had already been duly tested, did he communicate to the public, in a little book published with the material assistance of his future father-in-law.
The date of publication coincided with the second international Volapük congress. When he learned of the existence and progress of Volapük, Zamenhof had already laid out his language; otherwise he would have desisted, in spite of clearly seeing the imperfections of Schleyer’s language. The latter’s expansion, however, would soon stop dead in its tracks, and for about twenty years Esperanto could flourish without serious competition. These were twenty years of relative peace in the world, favorable to hopes of universal brotherhood, and thus, to an unprecedented effort in the propagation of a new auxiliary language.
The creator himself was surprised by the splash that his book created. Newspapers and magazines of all sorts, linguistic specialists and humble individuals showered him with praise. Many wrote to him in Esperanto. In Germany the first magazine devoted to the propagation of the newborn language was founded – La Esperantisto. Tolstoy’s support had a great effect. The writer declared that he had learned Esperanto in two hours, and added that “its study and dissemination are Christian duties, since they facilitate the advent of the kingdom of God, the principal and only objective of human life.”
Although his language was going great guns, Zamenhof found himself in a difficult situation. Far from becoming wealthy through Esperanto (he had renounced any royalties since the first edition of the book), he was losing time and money because of it, and on various occasions he had to move to a smaller office and send his wife and children to live in his father-in-laws’s house, since his income was barely enough to support himself. When finally La Esperantisto, supported by a patron, finally stopped running at a loss, and even began to help him, the Russian government in 1895 forbade its circulation in Russia, where it had its largest number of subscribers, since it had published an article by Tolstoy. But by this point the language had already put down roots in other countries, and in the same year another Esperanto periodical, Lingvo Internacia, appeared in Uppsala. From then on Esperanto would develop without interruption.
Influenced by Volapük, the leading Esperantists decided to hold their first international congress in 1905 at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Taking place in the deceptive euphoria of the beginning of the century with delegates from all over the world present, this must have been the happiest moment in the life of Zamenhof, who was applauded by all and hailed as a master. From then on he would look forward to the annual congresses. During the long, cold Polish winters he dreamed of them and impatiently prepared his annual speeches.
In spite of the enormous success of his movement, Zamenhof never lost his modesty and accepted with good sense and even humility the simplifications and improvements which were proposed by the initiates of the Esperantist idea, the samideanoj (same-idea-ers), in which respect he was completely different from Mons. Schleyer,, who, in appointing himself the pope of Volapük, became the reason for the collapse of his own creation. For this very reason he must have been deeply heart by the schism represented by ido (an Esperanto suffix meaning “descendant, child”), unleashed in 1907 by a few Esperantists, under the pretext of improvements and simplifications. Invited by a Delegation for the Adoption of an International Language, meeting in Paris, to argue for the Esperanto cause, Zamenhof had asked the Marquis de Beaufront, leader of Esperantism in France, to represent him. To everyone’s surprise, the Marquis, rather than defending Esperanto, presented in a true coup another language, ido (in reality, an improved version of it). Although ido had obtained the support of some renowned linguists, it did not manage to become a popular competitor for Esperanto; even so, Zamenhof must have suffered greatly with what seemed to him a betrayal.
Another more serious disappointment was an even bitterer pill. For him Esperanto had never been just a language: or rather, it was a language destined to say something special, something that had not been said or was not being said in the other languages. It was what he called the “intimate idea” of Esperanto, seeking to define it for the first time in 1905, in a brochure on homaranismo (humanitarianism), a movement in favor of a citizenship beyond nations and a religion beyond denominations. Not all of the samideanoj approved of the theories of the master, which the more fearful labeled as inappropriate messianism, capable of compromising the success of the language. Zamenhof agreed to make a complete separation between his ideals and the promotion of Esperanto; but he continued thinking that Esperantism without the intimate idea was something dead. He wanted to reaffirm it on the occasion of the tenth Esperanto Congress, to be held in August 1914 in Paris, but the organizers refused to include in the program an invitation to the participants to discuss homaranismo after the Congress. But the Congress was never to take place. Upon arriving at the frontier between Germany and France Zamenhof met the first trains of troops: the hostilities began like a flagrant contradiction to his dreams of universal brotherhood.
He would not long survive this terrible disappointment. He was already sick while on his way to the Congress in Paris; he returned to Warsaw from the French frontier after a harrowing journey, with the state of his health much worse. His illness made him give up his clinic little by little. He saw the horrors of the war, the new anti-Semitic persecutions, the bombing, and then the occupation of Warsaw by the Germans. Isolated in the middle of the occupied city, separated by his dear samideanoj and from his poor patients, who he had always treated without charge, the little eye-doctor’s flame slowly went out. His illness asphyxiated him, preventing him for lying down during the last months of his life. As he was dying he sat at his desk, composing an appeal to the diplomats who would sign a treaty of peace, a peace that did not arrive, and ever more disheartened, he would revise the date of the humanist congress called for in a manuscript manifesto: “December 1916”…..”after the end of the war”. But he died before peace arrived, in April 1917, bequeathing to the world a language and an example.
After the first World War Esperanto began to regain lost ground. But peace was only an illusion. Before the divisive force of the nationalism that was reborn in an even more aggressive form, the super-national language was unable to develop that spirit of reconciliation of which its founder had dreamed, even among the samideanoj. “In 1938, in a meeting of Esperantists, the Italian delegates protested the presence of Abyssinian delegates and left the room when the latter took their places.”
Even such manifestations of conformism were powerless to save Zamenhof’s language from the rage of Hitler, whose schizophrenia was directed against any entity with international tendencies. Nazism directed a real hate at it, ordered that Esperantist organizations be closed, and when its hordes invaded Poland, Zamenhof’s descendants, the objects of special persecution, were in part exterminated. Once Nazism had been destroyed, Esperanto was still the object of suspicion in Stalin’s Russia, as a “tool of bourgeois and cosmopolitan internationalism.” The “thaw” made it possible for Esperantist activities to begin again in the U.S.S.R. and the other socialist countries, and the centenary of Zamenhof’s birth (in 1959) was duly celebrated in Poland. By a strange turn of events, he managed to achieve a sort of monopoly in the German Democratic Republic, where the pamphlets of other universal languages were confiscated in the 1960’s.
sexta-feira, julho 25
by Paulo Ronai
Translated by Tom Moore
The efforts put into creating an international auxiliary language for communication all begin from the assumption that the woes of humanity stem from incomprehension: if men could understand one another, they would end by understanding each other.
This thesis demands a healthy dose of optimism, and the skeptics, who are lacking in this quality, think that, even if they speak the same language, men can always find things to quarrel about. During the civil wars of ancient Rome, the wars of religion of the sixteenth century, or closer to our time, in the class struggle, the adversaries curse and exterminate each other with no need for interpreters. But nevertheless, and even if war is inherent to our wretched human condition, who could deny the advantages which would come with the adoption of an international language? They are sufficient to have induced the scholars of the last two centuries to welcome the idea and to rack their brains in trying to invent such a language.
But then – who knows? – perhaps it might not even be necessary to invent it. It would be so simple to choose an existing language and have it taught in schools around the world! But this choice would give such an advantage to the nation whose language was chosen that other nations would certainly not allow it. And thus every now and then the notion pops up that the adoption of Latin would be a neutral solution.
This idea seems particularly straightforward seeing that Latin already served for centuries, and to general satisfaction, in this capacity as universal second language. During the Middle Ages, and for considerable time thereafter, was it not the medium not only for theology, but also for all the sciences, for legislation and administration throughout Europe?
This fact, however, if it speaks in favor of Latin, also speaks against it. Its progressive disappearance, its adversaries claim, was a natural phenomenon, an organic process impossible to hold back, and motivated by the explosion in the development of the national languages. Were it not to have become enfeebled, scholars would never have seen a necessity for a new means of communication.
Norbert Wiener’s interpretation of the disappearance of Latin as an international language is one of the most convincing. For him this disappearance had nothing to do with the growth of the neo-Latin languages, since Sanskrit survived in spite of having given rise to modern languages, and literary Arabic continues to unite the Muslim world notwithstanding the split of spoken Arabic into many different dialects. Those to blame for its death are precisely those who had already revived it: the scholars of the Renaissance.
“Starting in the Renaissance, the artistic demands of the Latinists became more stringent, and the tendency to reject all post-classical neologisms ever stronger. In the hands of the great Italian scholars of the Renaissance, reformed Latin could be a work of art, and frequently was. But at the same time this exquisite and delicate tool demanded a period of training that exceeded that of the scientist, more preoccupied, in the essence of his work, with content than with perfection of form. For this reason an ever wider abyss opened between those who taught the Latin language and those who used it, until the point at which teachers came to teach the most purified but less useful Ciceronian discourse. In this void, they ended by limiting their function to that of a specialist; and as this specialty was ever less in demand, the Latinists themselves destroyed their own function. This sin of pride we are now paying for with the absence of an international language well-adapted to current needs and much superior to the artificial languages, such as Esperanto.”
Others arguing in favor of artificial languages allege that Latin, being a natural language, suffers from all the defects of these, such as illogicalities, contradictions, tautologies, and obscurities. Its grammar, which is excessively complex, demands years of study; its vocabulary has not kept up with the progress of technology, and lacks terms for the most common notions of modern life; its pronunciation differs depending on the country where it is taught; and finally, it is detested by the majority of those who learn it. In order to be adopted as an international auxiliary language, it would require such numerous and radical modifications that it would end up being transformed into another language entirely. But if that is the case, let’s simply charge our scholars with creating a new language, without the imperfections of the natural languages – which, let it be noted, are creations as well, but to be credited to illiterates and not linguists.
The partisans of modern Latin, however, are not willing to lay down their arms, in spite of this host of reasons in opposition. When it appeared that they had finally resigned themselves to the withering away of the lingua mater, they returned to the fray with new and improved justifications, anxious to promote a new Renaissance in the twentieth century.
The penultimate attempt came in 1925, when the League of Nations formed a commission to examine the problem of an international language. The Swiss writer Gonzague de Reynold, reporting for the commission, decided to reject Esperanto and proposed the adoption of a “simplified medieval Latin”, stripped of its classical syntax and of part of its inflections. But the proposal went no further, since neither the writer nor the commission took on the work of making the suggested simplifications.
Scarcely thirty years later Latin attempted to rise once more, this time under the auspices of a conclave of scientists and philologists, the First International Congress for Living Latin , called together to revivify the movement. The proceedings of the congress, which took place in 1956, are worth examining.
Naturally those participating in the meeting were not unaware of the reasons for which the aficionados of artificial languages, in particular the Esperantists, opposed the reincarnation of Latin. Precisely for that reason, part of the sessions were devoted to rebutting these, seeking to reduce their importance.
The speakers at the Congress, the preponderance of whom expressed themselves in Latin (and let it be said in passing, quite a Ciceronian Latin, with nothing medieval about it), took as a given the ineffectiveness of artificial languages. Had the devotees of Volapuk, Esperanto, Ido, Novial and Interlingua, they asked, been able to put an end to the confusion resulting from bellicose misunderstanding? Certainly not. On the contrary, they added to the confusion, with a half dozen artificial languages added to the already enormous number of natural languages.
Given this impass, there was only one possible way out: Latin. It was necessary, then, to check its capacity for renovation and to face headon the modifications that it would need to be able to return to its former universality.
Having met in Avignon, the capital of Provence, sprinkled with Roman monuments, and strolling about Vaucluse, where in former days Petrarch had reanimated the Latin muses, the scholars at the Congress were in an environment favoring enthusiasm and optimism. The conclave opened amidst high hopes. The problems began when the commissions got down to business.
The commission charged with unifying pronunciation was the one which most easily wriggled out of its difficulty: according to the report from Prof. Erich Burck, it recommended the adoption of the Roman pronunciation from the time of the birth of Christ, which would eliminate the differences found in the traditional pronunciations. It is true that the suggested pronunciation differs from those traditionally used in any of the countries where Latin is still taught, and for this reason a large part of Latin teachers still refuse to accept it. If accepted, it would deprive the regenerated language of one of its principal advantages – ease of comprehension and assimilation. Moreover, there was no way to impose it; the Congress could only recommend it to the respective ministries of education.
Another commission reviewed the methods proposed to end the jaundiced eye cast on Latin by younger generations. Prof. Goodwin Beach, an American, suggested modern practices such as listening to records, conversations in Latin, plays, excercises in editing, incentives for reading at home. Excellent ideas, indeed, but which are fundamentally flawed, since any one of these innovations requires time, and everywhere the time allotted to teachers of Latin is diminishing (and the only South American representative came to complain of the total suppression of Latin in the curricula of his country). One arrives at a vicious circle: in order to improve results one needs to expand class time, and in order to expand class time one needs to show improved results.
Perhaps the greatest interest was aroused by the work of the commission charged with simplifying Latin grammar. The commission was confronted by a dilemma: either let go of the complex system of grammar, thus sacrificing some of the principal characteristics of the language, or maintain the traditional scheme with its wealth of shades of meaning, thus renouncing the yearned-for international expansion of the language. Professor Jean Bayet finally showed himself to be a better Latinist than world citizen, since in re-examining the rules of morphology and syntax he saw so many admirable qualities that he opted to conserve them almost untouched.
“It is unthinkable to reduce of the number of cases for nouns, not to modify the tenses for the verbs” he initially declared. As far as the adjectives were concerned, he recognized the inconvenience of having various paradigms, of the exceptions, of the ambiguities of gender and case, but felt these were “compensated for by various advantages”. Later, he admitted that it was not impossible to do away with infinitival and participial clauses; “this, however, could not be done without gravely affecting the very physiognomy of the language.” He then moved on to fulsome praise of the ablative absolute, followed by a justification for relative clauses – and those in attendance, relieved, applauded the few and timid measures which he dared to suggest, one of which consisted in always writing numbers with Arabic numerals in order to avoid the snares of declension, and the other in preferring the analytical forms of the comparative and superlative to the synthetic forms.
Mindful of the criticisms which had been made of the antiquated vocabulary of the language, the Congress entrusted another commission with the task of neutralizing these. According to Prof. Guerino Pacitti, the commission suggested that neologisms be adopted very cautiously, only after the lexical resources of archaic, classical, medieval and modern Latin had been exhausted (an easier recommendation to make than to carry out); it counseled that in case of extreme necessity one might have recourse to derivation according to Latin practice; accepted, in rare cases, borrowings from classic Greek, and only very exceptionally from the modern languages, categorically advising against hybrid forms.
Interesting theses appeared in relation to the teaching of Latin as well. An eminent French Latinist showed that poor performance in this area was unavoidably tied to general ignorance of French grammar; another suggested that the Commentaries of Caesar, the vocabulary of which was so much dead weight, be excluded from secondary school curricula, and proposed their replacement by passages from Plautus and Terence.
From a strictly interlinguistic point of view, the conclusions were modest. In substance, the scholars had confronted the necessity of an intensification in the teaching of Latin, and then considered the measure to be taken to increase its diffusion and internationalization. The teachers were advised to practice the language among themselves, and the possibility of inserting abstracts in Latin in scientific journals with an international readership was put forward. Finally, they decided on the publication of a magazine, Vita Latina (Leuven: Peeters, 1957-).
Three years later, in 1959, a second congress was held in Lyons, the annals of which are already in print. The congress reiterated all the conclusions arrived at by the first congress, and advised new measures, such as the promotion of letters in Latin between students in different countries and the creation of workshops or even of specialized schools in which all the classes would be in Latin.
As can be seen, the second congress did not broaden the movement’s objectives. It did not propose Latin as a universal language for intercommunication: its efforts were limited to making it a medium of communication between scientists. There was not much emphasis on simplification of the syntax, perhaps out of fear that it would injure the essence of the language itself. In principle the broadening of the scientific vocabulary throught the adoption of neologisms was accepted, and various attenders pointed to modern Hebrew as a model to be followed in this area; but a practical method for bringing this to fruition was not arrived at. The question of pronunciation, although it had been resolved at the first congress, which had opted for “reconstituted” pronunciation, came up once more, but was not reexamined. As far as renewal of curricula in high schools was concerned, the majority was in favor of a pedagogy similar to that used for living languages, with conversation in the foreground, but there were those who continued to think that translation, carefully and methodically explained, with attention to all the historical and philosophical details of each passage, was more important. Further, some attenders believed that this problem was not entirely appropriate for the conclave, which was supposed to have been focused on how to broaden the use of Latin among adults, and especially among scientists. The percentage of presentation made in Latin was greater than that of the first congress – but those attending decided not to vote on a motion that would have proscribed the use of any other language for the third congress, which was to be organized.
To sum up, the resolutions were quite prudent. Even the most passionate admirers of Sleeping Beauty hesitated to awake her for fear that a sudden shock could be fatal.
Let us note two facts of undeniable importance for the future of Latin, occurring after the Second International Congress for Living Latin, but which presumably will have differing effects; the first, the unexpected and inexplicable success in the bookshops of a certain number of books published in Latin, among them translations of such different works as Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne, a book for children, and Bonjour Tristesse, by François Sagan, a novel for those over 18 years old (and how!), both translated by Alexandre Lenard, and the neo-Latin poetry of today, collected or written by Joseph Eberle ; the second, the restriction of the use of Latin to some parts of the mass by the Second Vatican Council at the end of 1963.
In the meantime the question raised in Babel continues to be unresolved.
terça-feira, julho 22
Yo-Yo Ma has made another postcard CD, this time devoted to Brazilian music. It's called "Obrigado Brazil". As the resident expert on Brazil in American music library land
I got a call last year from the woman who was producing this farrago. She was looking for suggestions for classical Brazilianrep for cello, which I gave her, of course. As I recall the Assadswere supposed to be involved (doesn't look like they are...) and the arranger was from Buenos Aires....(Ouch!)
For the world's most famous classical cellist to record an album of Brazilian music without a single track that was really written for cello by a Brazilian composer of classical music is
a serious insult...and a statement about the decrepitude of the record industry in 2003.
segunda-feira, julho 21
I met Tony Brower from the saudadesdobrasil list (first time) and took in the Friday night concert of the Brazil: Beyond Bossa Nova series in Manhattan, which was exhilarating. We sat in the second row for the Vanildo de Pombos set, which meant that the sound mix was not so good (couldn't really hear the vocals properly), but at least it wasn't too loud. Highlights: the guy playing zabumba, and the virtuoso bass guitarist (not a genre you expect
to find this), who was completely deadpan and playing the most amazing lines. Not a lot of variation in the tunes. I got the impression that this was a working band for working-class nordestinos. A gringo in the audience that I spoke to in the intermission thought the bass was out of place (nottraditional enough), but the band obviously didn't feel that way...
We moved back to row N for Mestre Ambrosio. They ran a great show - Helder Vasconcelos was a barrel of laughs, a live wire. Lots of great dancing.I felt like he wasn't quite up to snuff as an accordionist - needs some more woodshedding - often behind the beat. Both the accordionist in theprevious band, and the button-box man at my local Irish session have him
beat. My favorites were the tunes with just rabeca, vocals and percussion, and really dry vocals by Siba.
My impression: this band seems like college guys from the middle class (that doesn't mean they didn't give a great show), revivalists, as opposed to the previous band, which had less ironic distance from the material. In this they seem like Antonio Nobrega, also from Pernambuco. Is there some connection between the two bands?
By the end the whole audience was on its feets dancing in the aisles and
at their seats (with the exception of a critic in the next row....)
The program booklet and notes sucked. More on that later.
Ben Ratliff's review of the earlier programs was in the Saturday NY Times.
I think it's bad faith for him to give the impression (which he did)
that he actually understands the lyrics at these programs....I don't
believe that he can...(somebody tell me I am wrong, if the case is
segunda-feira, julho 14
segunda-feira, julho 7
More Paulo Ronai in English
I just learned that a chapter from Babel/Antibabel will be published in the August issue of the ATA Chronicle as "A Linguistic Tragicomedy".