UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
April 25, 1967
Mr. Albert C. Aumuller
Dear Mr. Aumuller,
Having occasion to glance at my table of “The Principal Languages of the World” World Almanac, 1967, p. 295, I noticed that the listing of Esperanto was omitted. At first I assumed that this was a typographical error, but later recalled that last year you sent me a copy of a letter from Prof. Gerd Fraenkel who was critical of the entry. I now suppose that the entry was omitted because of his statement, though such action was not mentioned to me.
Prof. Fraenkel’s letter contained two paragraphs, the first one critical of the “pidgin English” item in the 1966 World Almanac. His point was well taken, and I am happy to see that the item did not reappear this year. I did not, of course, have anything to do with this entry.
It was the second paragraph of Prof. Fraenkel’s article which concerned my table. On the chance you do not have his letter handy, I am copying the relevant paragraph as follows:
“ 2. Under The Principal Languages of the World you mention Esperanto and its one million speakers. This information is either wrong or misleading. If your count includes only native speakers, as it should, there are practically NO native speakers of the artificial language Esperanto although a few people are known to have learned it before their actual mother tongue. If your count includes non-native speakers it is correct to state that the International Esperanto Union claims the one million for the language (whether the figure is correct is extremely difficult to ascertain); but then all non-native speakers of all other languages should also be included and you can easily imagine what is going to happen if you try to do that.- By the way, one of the fascicles of Anthropological Linguistics published for Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. has a complete list of all languages spoken by more than one million speakers (and many others) as a whole set of issues of this journal is dealing with languages of the world. I do not have it right here at the moment and therefore cannot give you the exact bibliographical reference.”
Prof. Fraenkel has long had an interest in interlinguistics, and has written some provocative articles in the area. His voice has been one of moderation and objectivity in a group not generally characterizable in those terms. He is not however, an authority on Esperanto or the number of its speakers. (His knowledge of Esperanto might be judged from the fact that his charming little book What is language? contains a two-sentence example of Esperanto into which he manages to crowd three errors.) The paragraph contains several erroneous points as well as a generally condescending tone which is not justified by his careless and inaccurate statements. Seriatim:
1. “If your account includes only native speakers, as it
2. “. . . it is correct to state that the International Esperanto Union claims the one million for the language . . .”
Comment: Evidently Prof. Fraenkel is depending on his highly fallible memory here. There in no such thing as the “International Esperanto Union” and never was. The Esperanto organization with a name nearest to this is “Internacia Esperanto - Ligo” which might be translated “International Esperanto League.” This organization has not been in existence for twenty years, having amalgamated with the Universala Esperanto - Asocio on April 28, 1947. During the ten years, seven months, and ten days of its existence it never published an estimate of the number of speakers of Esperanto, and rarely made even an oblique mention of the matter. If Prof. Fraenkel has in mind, perchance, the organization which replaced IEL, The Universal Esperanto Association, it might be added that this Association (about thirty-three thousand members) also has tended to avoid committing itself. In its official organ “Esperanto” (May, 1965) it asks the question (I translate) “How many esperantists are there in the world?” and answers its own question thus:
“This question is one of the most often asked, but among the most difficult to answer. It is a mistake to answer immediately with some concrete number.”
It then explains why this position should be taken. Despite this advice, it has considered attempting to arrive at an answer, mentioning in its working plan for 1965/66 (Jarlibro, 1965, dua parto, page 98)
“Number of Esperantists: If the JIK [Year of International Cooperation] gives the hoped-for results, to undertake in 1966 an investigation concerning the number of persons who speak the International Language.”
In the Jarlibro 1966, dua parto, page 62, in its working plan appears the comment:
“Number of Esperantists: Because of the lengthening of the JIK to 1966, to delay the possible investigation concerning the number of esperantists to 1967.”
The closest thing to an estimate of the number of speakers of Esperanto which might be attributed to the Universal Esperanto Association is a paragraph in a book by the president of the governing board of UEA, Prof. I. Lapenna, entitled La Internacia Lingvo. The paragraph (page 142) reads (I translate):
“At the end of 1953 UEA . . . had members in 84 different countries and it represented in all 16,861 organized esperantists and about 380,000 persons who speak the International Language. These figures are constantly increasing.”
3. “. . .(whether the figure is correct is extremely difficult to ascertain);. . .” Comment: The figure cannot, strictly speaking, be “correct” since no entirely precise criteria are available, and in any case no exact census is possible. If Prof. Fraenkel is thinking of the difficulty of making a good estimate, I could not agree more, since I have personally conducted an on-the-spot stratified sampling of populations in dozens of countries during a period of over twenty years, using hundreds of hours in attempting to trace down every person within the selected areas of the selected countries who meet my criteria of “speaker of Esperanto.” In addition, I have the largest collection of items in and about Esperanto to be found in the Western Hemisphere -- a collection which has been thoroughly searched for any clues which could improve my estimate. In short, I know more about the topic under discussion than any other person . . . including Prof. Fraenkel.
Perhaps this lengthy and somewhat humorless defense of my item reveals an overly emotional response to a trivial matter. It is, however, annoying to go to elaborate, carefully planned, and time-consuming efforts to obtain data nowhere else available, and then to have the results incompetently criticized by someone who bothers neither to read the material carefully nor check on the “facts” which he offers in criticism. To quote Prof. Fraenkel from another context (International Language Review, No. 46-47. page 2) “Harsh words have to be said from time to time to put the account straight. These are harsh words.”
((Sidney S. Culbert))
Sidney I. Culbert
Copy to Professor Gerd Fraenkel