6th International Congress of Esperanto, Washington, DC,
August 15, 1910

Sesa Universala Kongreso de Esperanto, Vaŝingtono,
la 15-an de aŭgusto 1910

“Land of Liberty” / “Lando de Libereco”

Speech of / Parolado de L. L. Zamenhof


LAND of Liberty, land of the future, I salute thee! Thou land of which have dreamed and still dream multitudes of the suffering and oppressed, I salute thee! Land of a people which belongs not to this or that tribe or church, but to her all her honest sons, I bow before you and am happy that fate has permitted me to see you and to breathe at least for a little while your free and unmonopolized air.

I salute thee, United States of America, most powerful representative of the new world. We sons of the old and youthless continent have come to you as guests; but we did not embark as sight‑seeing tourists, no hope of commercial conquest impelled us to your shore; we have come to you to bring you a new sentiment and a new idea, we came to bring new courage to our fellow‑thinkers and fellow‑idealists who have thus far labored among you and whose words concerning a new people have possibly seemed to you too like a fable. A part of this people, mixed of origin and yet united in language and heart, now stands before you living and real. Look at us, listen to us, and be convinced that we are not a fable. We are people of many tribes, yet we feel as though of the same race, for thus we understand each other, having no need to humiliate and stammer at one another in a foreign tongue. We hope that as a result of our labor, sooner or later the whole world will grow like us and become one great human tribe, consisting of various families with separate languages and customs among themselves, but with the same language and customs for the outside world. To that work which aims at gradually creating a united and therefore strong and spiritually elevated humanity we now invite you, sons of America, and we hope that our call will not be in vain but that it will soon echo in all corners of your nation, and of your entire continent.

Only a few of us could come to your country, for we Esperantists are, not rich men; we therefore do not expect of our present congress decisions which would have significance for the whole Esperantist body. We have come to you, citizens of the United States, chiefly to spend in your midst and before your eyes, one week of our Esperantist life, to show you at least a small part of that life, to bring you the seed; we hope that after our departure that seed will strongly germinate and grow, and that in your land our cause will have its most fervent and important advocates.

In your country, fellow‑thinkers of the United States, our movement is still very young and many of you have not yet acquired a perfectly clear judgment concerning it. Therefore permit me to at least give you some understanding, and to explore before you the way in which we are going.

What is the significance of the Esperantist movement? It aims to attain a reciprocal understanding among all men and peoples. Why do we need such reciprocal understanding? What are the things which we expect from it? Why do we desire that its shall rest upon a neutral foundation? Why do we labor so persistently for it? What is the spirit which binds us all to each other? I have already spoken a great deal about this and I do not wish to repeat my words, especially as each of you will easily find the answers after a little reflection. Before you, practical Americans, I wish to analyze another question, namely: do we in our labor stand on perfectly solid ground, or can we fear that at some time our whole labor may prove in vain? Only a full conciousness concerning the road to be traveled can give to those who walk upon it a sufficient amount of energy to overcome all difficulties which are found in the way.

The goal toward which we are striving can be attained by two ways—either by work of private individuals (that is, the popular masses) or by decree of the governments. Our purpose is most likely to be attained by the first method, for to a cause like ours the governments come with their sanction and help ordinarily only when everything is already prepared. Concerning the character of the first method, there can be no doubt but in a thing whose whole essence and life are based upon mutual agreement, everybody can readily understand that the work of the masses can bring it to success only when all work harmoniously. In such a movement, if it in itself shows vitality, concord is the most certain guarantee of undoubted success. Discord signifies death. This is well understood by our fellow workers and therefore they repel with indignation every one who wishes to entice them from the common way, but occasionally the following question presents itself to the mind of some: What will be the consequence if some great force shall ever take upon itself the solution of the problem of an international language?—some force against which we all are too weak, for example the governments of the world. Must we fear that they possibly will find another solution, and thus our whole labor become vain?.

To find a clear response to that question, let us imagine that the governments of the world or other great influential powers, have established a committee of authority to decide which language must become international.

Already in the article, "Essence and Future of the International Language," which many of you have read in the "Fundamental Chrestomathy," I have analyzed this question in detail and I have shown clearly that no one who has investigated the question can now doubt that such a committee could not select any national language, nor any dead language, nor any language with an entirely artificial vocabulary, but it must select either Esperanto in its present form or Esperanto somewhat changed. If the committee, in defiance of all the demands of prudence, should make any other decision it would remain only a proper decision and absolutely without practical value.

Let us see what is the only manner in which the committee could solve the last alternative. It is most natural and credible that the Committee would reason simply in the following manner: "There is in existence an artificial language which has proven itself wholly vital, works excellently, has held its position already many years, has created a great literature, has developed its spirit and life; consequently, instead of making entirely needless and aimlessly hazardous new experiments, let us simply accept that which is already in existence. Let us give it the authority and support of the governments which we represent, and then the whole eternal problem will be immediately solved, and from tomorrow, the entire civilized world will live in reciprocal understanding."

Such, I repeat, is the most natural decision which we could expect of a committee especially named by the governments for such a purpose. Let us suppose that the committee finds that different changes in Esperanto are actually very necessary. How would it act?

First of all, it would ask itself whether it has sufficient strength to obtrude its theoretical will upon those many thousands of people who, up to this time, have been the sole workers in the movement. The Esperantists have worked during a series of years and have labored much and sacrificed much, and with great difficulty have finally accomplished that which during many thousands of years seemed impossible.

This work, once lost, could never be regained, for the world would lose all confidence in the idea of an international language. Therefore the prudent and honest committee would say to itself: "We must be very careful that, instead of accelerating the movement, we do not forever destroy it." If the committee should realize that it had been elected only by one very small and unimportant country, that the election was only a quite valueless formality, that the electors had taken no interest in the matter and had not even the slightest intention of supporting it nor the power of doing so—then the prudent committeemen would simply express their opinion and desires on different changes in Esperanto and would leave the acceptance or refusal to the decision of the Esperantists themselves, but would never begin competition against the Esperantists, for they would understand that morally this would be only a crime against the international language idea and practically, sooner or later, would lead to a fiasco.

Let us now suppose that for the decision of question concerning an international language there has been created a committee which has strength not fictitious but actual and great. I have previously shown that if such a committee did not wish its decision to remain absolutely without practical value, it could take Esperanto or something similar to Esperanto. I have already said that most likely it would accept simply Esperanto in its present form, but let us suppose that it does not wish to do this, how would it act? For it would thoroughly understand that to create a vital language it is quite insufficient to be an educated person and say to oneself: "I will create; that one cannot do this to order in the course of a few weeks, but that it requires a very long, fervent, self‑sacrificing, loving 1abor, experiment, feeling, etc.; and knowing that another language is in existence to which a great many men have devoted long labors, which has a history of many years, much literature and full vitality, that this language works excellently, that only a few points in it can be disputed, it is then a matter of course that if the committee treats its task seriously it would not risk taking upon itself the creation of an entirely new language, nor would it take another linguistic project not yet sufficiently tried, would not commence a needless and consequently imprudent battle against those who up to the present time had labored in the movement, but it would take Esperanto, and would make in it the changes which it might find necessary.

Whom would the committee commission to make the changes? In the period of preparation, when it is necessary to examine in principle the question as to which language they should select, the committee might commission the work to any one at all, taking care only that the persons who are selected should be prudent and impartial, and should understand the whole responsibility which they would take upon themselves. But when the language was already selected and they should decide to make changes in it, with whom should they take counsel concerning such work? The simplest prudence and simplest understanding of scientific methods dictate that in such labor they would counsel, not with persons who know the language from the outside, but also with persons who best know the language internally; who have worked most for it; who have given it the most practical use and consequently have in it the greatest experience and best know its actual faults. Everyone understands quite well that to make changes in any language, being guided only by the external appearance, and not taking counsel with the people who best know that language, would be such a childish thing, that certainly no committee would do it if it treated its task seriously and were not guided by persons who had some hidden purpose.

And if the committee should decide to make changes in Esperanto, what could they change? If they for example decided to say: "This word is taken from a language spoken by a hundred millions, therefore we will throw it out and will take a word from a language spoken by a hundred and twenty millions," or if they would say: "We are not pleased with the word 'estas,' we prefer 'esas';" etc., that would be simple childishness in which serious men could not allow themselves to indulge, for they would understand that in a language which has already had many years of life, to change a great mass of words for simple caprice, or for any purely theoretical and absolutely valueless motive, would be foolishness. Remembering that people do not expect of them any theoretical philological amusement, but practical labor, they would of course change only those words or forms which seem bad in themselves, bad absolutely, and a grave hindrance to the users of the language. But if you will look through the criticisms which have been made against Esperanto in twenty‑three years—and Esperanto has been criticized by many thousands of men, certainly none, even the smallest of its faults have remained hidden—you will find that the immense majority of those criticisms are simply personal caprices. The number of these proposals for changes which could have some practical value is so small that they all together would not fill more than one small leaflet, which everybody could learn in half an hour. But even among those very few problematical changes the most important would be only seeming improvements, but in actuality after more reflection would possibly be revealed only as defects. Thus, for example, the removal of the supersigns and of the accusative, which I proposed sixteen years ago, to be freed from tormentors and facilitate the propaganda, and which a majority of the reformers demand, that change in the present time, and all the more before a committee established by governments and possessing power, must appear as not at all acceptable, because it would offer a crippling of the internal value of the language to please the outside lookers‑on, a removal of necessary and important sounds in the language and of free word‑order and clearness—to the end that printers need not spend a few dollars and that beginners may be spared a little difficulty.

If you will take any article in Esperanto offered by our opponents to discredit the language, you will always find only one thing: a great amassing of the plural ending "j"—that unhappy "j" which nobody dares to criticize in the beautiful Greek language, is the quintessence of all the terrors which our opponents find in Esperanto!

In a word, you can easily understand that if ever a governmentally established committee should decide to make changes in Esperanto, that committee should treat its task seriously and it could change Esperanto but a very little and the Esperanto which would remain would be quite the same language as before, only possibly present forms would become archaic, and would yield their place to more opportune forms in no way breaking the continuity of the language; in no way destroying the value of that which it had previously acquired. That is not simply our fervent desire, but it is fully guaranteed to us by simple logic and prudence, against which surely no serious committee would care to sin, if it did not desire that its labors should remain absolutely without practical results.

I shall now sum up everything which I have said. A logical examination of the matter shows us that:

1. The international language cannot be other than Esperanto.

2. The evolution of the language will go on most likely only by the same natural way by which it occurs in every other language, that is, by the unbroken way of neologisms and archaeisms.

3. If ever there arises the  necessity to make any change in Esperanto, it can be done only by the Esperantists themselves, by common consent, or by some great power, but in any case in full agreement with the Esperantist body.

4. If ever the Esperantists themselves, or any great outside power, shall decide to make changes in Esperanto, such charges can be only extremely small, will never break the continuity which we have had up to this time and will never render valueless the work which we have thus far done, are doing, or shall afterwards do.

This is the only possible natural course of affairs. Every one who wishes to fight against this natural course will needlessly lose his efforts. The Esperanto roots of the international tree have already been planted so deeply in the earth of life that no longer can anybody push the tree about at will.

Dear members of the Congress, everything which I have said is not in any self‑confidence of authorship, for I am fully conscious and openly confess that to change anything in the natural course of the international language movement I am as powerless as any other person. I fervently defend our present course only because the irrefutable laws of logic tell me that it is the only course which with full certainty will lead us to our goal. Whoever wishes to change the natural course of the international language movement—no matter whether he is the enemy of Esperanto or its most ardent friend, whether he is a person of obscurity or eminence, whether he is the most fanatic conservative, or the most fantastic experimentor, or if he is the purest idealist or the most profit‑seeking egotist, whether he raves and curses or works secretly underground—he will never succeed: he will only create a temporary schism and acquire the unhappy distinction of being a blunderer and an underminer, but never can he compel all the friends of the international language idea to throw away for any insignificant trifles their possession which has been shown fully vital, into which there has been put so much of labor and life, and which by a natural course must little by little absorb new life. This should be well remembered by all who labor for an international language, and if they do not remember it, life itself will give them the necessary instruction.

We can therefore tranquilly continue our labor. We need not be discouraged if the work is sometimes very difficult and thankless; on our side there is not alone the fire of our feelings; on our side there are also the irrefutable laws of logic and prudence. Patiently let us sow and sow, that our grandchildren may have a blessed harvest. To the Sixth Esperanto Congress, which doubtless will scatter many seeds on American soil, I extend my cordial greeting.

SOURCE: Amerika Esperantisto, vol. 8, no. 3, October 1910, pp. 46-52.

Note: Zamenhof's "Land of Liberty" speech, delivered on the occasion of the formal opening on the second day of the 6th Congress, was published in parallel English and Esperanto columns in the Congress report.

Paroladoj okaze de la 6a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto, Washington, 1910
de L. L. Zamenhof

Kongresa Parolado ĉe la Malfermo de la 6a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto (Washington, 1910)
de L. L. Zamenhof

6th International Esperanto Congress, Washington DC: 2nd Day: Formal Opening (15 Aug 1910) /
6a Universala Kongreso: 2a Tago: Solena Malfermo

6th International Esperanto Congress, Washington DC: Day-by-Day Report / 6a Universala Kongreso: Raporto laŭ Tagordo

Esperanto, Vaŝingtono, & la Mondo / Esperanto, Washington, & the World — 1910
Centjara Jubileo / Centennial — 2010

Zamenhof & Zamenhofologio: Retgvidilo / Web Guide

Esperanto Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo

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