International Auxiliary Languages

Gode-Lapenna Debate

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From: "Donald J. HARLOW" <donh@...> Date: Tue Sep 27, 2005 11:45 pm Subject: Re: Pros and cons of the big three - was: Trade-offs in conlang design

For those who may have missed it, here's a fun letter from Alexander Gode to William Auld, dated Jan. 11, 1963. It's part of the Gode-Lapenna Debate correspondence. The Debate never occurred, but the correspondence is interesting; you can read it at . (Ivo Lapenna was General Secretary of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio at the time.)dri

Dear Mr. Auld: Our mutual friend, Mr. Floyd Hardin, has kindly allowed me to read the letter you addressed to him under date of Dec. 17, 1962. I take the liberty of writing to you directly in this matter, for it gives me great pleasure to note that there are several points of basic importance in regard to which you and I see eye to eye.

Your impatience with the interlinguistic hobbyists cannot be greater than mine, and I also believe, as you do, that most attacks on Esperanto are quite nonsensical. This leads me to emphasize once again that nothing is further from my mind than that I would want to challenge Dr. Lapenna to a debate in which the comparative merits of Esperanto and Interlingua would represent the issue. What I expect the debate to make clear is not at all that Interlingua is superior to Esperanto , but rather that Interlingua has nothing whatsoever in common with the ideological motivation of Zamenhof and his followers.

To you Esperanto is a living language with all the characteristics implied in that designation. I assume you would agree to the statement that Esperanto still has a long way to go before it can be claimed that it represents a more or less adequate realization of Zamenhof's early vision. Your goal must be to have millions, not thousands, think of Esperanto and handle it as you do. This makes of you in a sense a missionary, for you realize that a great deal of work remains to be done before your language can perform the functions for which it was set up. As for myself, I can of course respect your faith in the future of Esperanto but I cannot share it.

To me, as to millions and millions of others, an auxiliary language in the sense in which you conceive of it, is a nightmare rather than an ideal. This is a view which I have no right and no reason to impose on others; though it does, paradoxically, make me fairly intolerant of the attitude of the typical Esperantist, to whom proselytizing is a necessary and natural activity, with the implication that he must try and try again to convert me and my equals and/or our descendents to his faith in the ultimate glory and grandeur of a single common secondary language for all mankind.

I know, of course, that there are not a few advocates of Interlingua who think of it as a competitor of Esperanto in the latter's pretended or projected role of a universal language for international communication. I call these advocates of Interlingua "EsperantoEsperantists" for the true quintessence of the Esperantistic attitude is not that the accusative should end in -n or that the plural must have a -j, but rather the belief that planning and propaganda and education can bring about the golden age when no two human beings are without a shared medium of communication. consider the promotion of Interlingua in these terms to be a grave disservice to our cause, which, in fact, is nothing more than the endeavor to give concretely tangible form to the shared linguistic tradition of the Western world, because this tradition happens to have become the reservoir from which all languages all over the world derive, directly or indirectly, their technical and scientific terminologies. If medieval Latin had lived on into modern times there would be no room for Interlingua.

I have never argued against Esperanto in strictly linguistic terms, and I do not propose to do so in future. My objective then in challenging Dr. Lapenna to a debate was to make clear once and for all -- to Esperantists, Interlingua-ists, and the public at large, that Interlingua is not a rival of Esperanto, and that it is unfair and silly to judge Interlingua by Esperantistic criteria or, vice versa, to criticize Esperanto as though it had the same objectives as Interlingua.

I have recently had occasion to state the foregoing in the form of a number of concrete theses. Though these will be published in a forthcoming issue of the International Language Review, I take the liberty of sending you herewith a separate copy. [This was published in Issue No. 29-30 of the Review.]

There is one observation in your letter to Mr. Hardin on which I wish to comment specifically. I refer to the passage in which you express your conviction that no advocate of any project such as Interlingua has ever used it as a language, or, more important, has had a single emotional experience within the context of his project. This is a most interesting observation, for it does state succinctly the basic difference between your language and ours. Still, I must tell you that you are wrong in this, but I hasten to add that emotional experiences in Interlingua will never be listed amongst the raisons d'etre of this language. I have often stated that Interlingua is to the languages of the Western world what a literary national language, let us say, German, is to its dialects. To stick to the example of German, there is something abstract and in a sense unemotional about literary Hochdeutsch. Emotional experiences are "being had" if I may say so, despite the obvious exaggeration -- in local dialects or regional variants of the literary language. But this line of reasoning leads on to a strangely significant reversal of its premises. While warmly human and intimately emotional experiences are "being had" in local dialects, as mothers use them to speak to the children at their knees, there are experiences that exceed the holding power of the homely dialect and that require the abstract coolness of the detached universality of the literary norm. There is an interesting essay to be written on the comparative emotional "scope" of dialect and literary standard in poetry. I am obviously not concerned here with a comparison of Interlingua and Esperanto - I am never concerned with such comparisons - but I do wish to report that it has happened that in an attempt to cope verbally with an experience I failed in my native German, failed also in my acquired English, and came closest to succeeding in Interlingua.

I regret that you cannot join Mr. Hardin as a member of the arrangements committee for my debate with Dr. Lapenna, for I have a notion that you would agree with me on what I think the debate should achieve. I read between the lines of your letter that you and I also agree on what must be avoided to prevent the debate from becoming a useless double monologue.

(Alexander Gode.)


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