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What was the language Zamenhof dreamt in when finding the solution for a/the definite article "la" in his Esperanto?
What was Zamenhof's "first" language?
(quoted from the Mendele list vegn mame-loshn --mi'e .aulun)
"I thought that the recent postings on the topic of language in dreams
had pretty much covered the range of phenomena in existence on this
topic, but it appears that I was wrong. I was recently browsing
through a biography of Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, called
"L'homme qui a d�fi� Babel"(the man who defied Babel) by Ren�
Centassi and Henri Masson, when i came across an account of a dream
which Zamenhof had, apparently at the age of about 16. That would
have been more than 10 years before 1887, usually considered the
birthyear of the language, when his first grammar of Esperanto was
published. He at that time was concerned with the question of whether
his language should have a definite article, having noticed that his
own Polish, and also Russian (presumably the prestige language of that
time and place, since Zamenhof lived in Bialystok, then part of the
Russian Empire), did not. In the dream he was pondering this question
near a forest with his uncle Jozef and his Greek teacher, whose name
was Billevitch. Zamenhof suggested that they might find someone in
the forest who could help them. Billevitch, on the contrary, warned
against going into the forest on the grounds that there were three
girls in red who wanted to harm them. Zamenhof then looked toward the
forest, saw the girls in question, and cried out, "there are
- -the-(author's emphasis) three girls in red." Zamenhof then woke up
in a sweat, but decided that his problem had been solved. The
definite article had in his view proved its usefulness. And, as every
Esperantist knows, there is a definite article, namely the invariable
"la". I can't remember having or hearing about a dream with this degree of
linguistic specificity. It is also not clear what language the dream
occurred in. Probably not Polish or Russian, since these lack the
article which played such a prominent role. Zamenhof knew several
other languages, most of them with definite articles, so these appear
to be better candidates. In any case, postings from others suggest
that people can dream in languages that they don't know very well.
The last possibility is that the language was some embryonic form of
Esperanto itself, since Zamenhof was so intensely concerned with this
E. P. asked about whether L. L. Zamenhof, the
inventor of Esperanto, knew Yiddish. Although he apparently regarded
Russian as his first (and favorite) non-invented language, he clearly
was a speaker of Yiddish and, in fact, wrote a fascinating grammar of
Yiddish in Russian. The grammar was not published until 1982 with the
original Russian and a complete Esperanto translation. In it Zamenhof
argued for Latinization of the Yiddish writing system. He proposes a
literary pronunciation that is almost exactly the same as the YIVO norm.
A propos of another thread he states that one should spell 'auf' as
'af.' His proposed spelling norms totally reject the daytshmerish
orthography in favor of one reflecting actual Yiddish pronunciation. He
calls for a purging of daytshmerisms from the language. All in all, a
very "modern" approach for 1879-1882, the approximate time of
I don't know about the 'the,' but it is widely accepted that only one
purely Yiddish morpheme made it into Esperanto. This is the suffix (now,
basically, substantive) -edz-o 'husband,' which is viewed as a back
formation of -edz-in-o 'wife,' and which appears to derive from the
suffix -etsn in the word rebetsn.
By the way, Zamenhof's writings on Yiddish are collected in: Adolf
Holzhaus. "L. Zamenhof, Provo de gramatiko de novjuda lingvo- kaj
-Alvoko al la juda intelektularo. Helsinki, 1982.
H. I. A.
According to Reyzen's _Leksikon_, Zamenhof's father, Marcus, and his
grandfather, Fabian, were both teachers of French and German in
Bialystok, then part of the Russian empire, where four
languages--Russian, Polish, German and Yiddish--were common. Reyzen says
nothing about his first language, but points out that Zamenhof once
thought that Yiddish, because of its widespread character, might serve
as a basis for an international language. Zamenhof spent three years
working on a Yiddish grammar, only fragments of which were ever
published (in a Yiddish periodical). In his publications on Yiddish he
suggested adopting the Latin alphabet for Yiddish.
In 1958 the editor of _Yidishe shprakh_, Yudel Mark, gently
corrected a reader who had asserted that Zamenhof's mother tongue was Russian (emphasize by me)
He argued that Zamenhof grew up in a bilingual milieu even if he learned
Russian as a child and heard Russian at home--and from his mother at
that (YS 18:80).
In a subsequent issue of the journal (YS 19 jbocre: 1959:30) another reader
expressed his surprise that Zamenhof had written for a Yiddish
periodical and worked on the language. He related his own experience of
being visited daily by Dr. Zamenhof (who was an ophthalmologist) during
the four weeks in 1902 when he was a patient in a Jewish hospital in
Warsaw. He reported that the doctor normally used Polish while making
his rounds, but since he (the patient) spoke little Polish, Zamenhof
spoke "a 'daytshn' yidish" with him. He added that the doctor "(hot)
ober keyn mol nit oysgeredt keyn ekht yidish vort." The editor (Mark)
conceded that this may have been true, but suggested that the strongly
anti-Yiddish attitude of the time would have made it difficult for a
doctor to deal officially with his patients in ordinary Yiddish, "nit
fardaytshndik a bisl zayn shprakh." Mark added that it is conceivable
that a person could perfectly well write about linguistic matters in
Yiddish without being a fluent _speaker_ of the language.
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