INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE

By Dr. L. L. ZAMENHOF, Warsaw (Poland),
Originator of the International Language “Esperanto.”

ALTHOUGH our Congress bears the title of "Races Congress," I trust you will allow me to speak in this paper of peoples as well as of races. Both words indicate ethnological groups of human beings; they differ only in the wideness of their range. We find the same relations, though possibly on a comparatively larger scale, between peoples as between races, and it is very frequently difficult to say if a particular group of men represents a race or a people.

The conflicts that we find between the various races and peoples are the greatest evil that afflicts humanity. If this Races Congress can discover some means of extinguishing, or at least of lessening, these mutual hatreds and conflicts of peoples, it will rank as one of the most important Congresses that has ever been held.

To accomplish this, however, the Congress must not be content with theoretical expressions which pass, like the wind, and leave no trace. It must not seek futile compromises, which repair one rent by opening another. It must insist on discovering the cause of the evil, and seek some remedy that will remove, or at least moderate, it.

What, then, is the chief, if not the only, cause of this hatred which sets one people against another? Should we seek it in the political conditions, the rivalry that there is between those various groups of human beings to which we give the name of kingdoms? Certainly not; since it is clear that a German belonging to the German Empire, for instance, has no natural sentiment or hatred for a [425/426] German of Austria. Germans who have been born and are living under the diverse governments are linked in a mutual sympathy, while Germans and Slavs, born and living under the same government, regard each other as foreigners, and, if they have not a feeling of humanity stronger than the self-consciousness of their particular group, they hate and combat each other. It is not, therefore, the difference of governments which creates different peoples, and engenders hatred between them.

Is it economic rivalry that inspires this hatred? Once more, certainly not. We do indeed often hear a cry of alarm in this connection. We find a people exclaiming that they are about to be devoured and absorbed economically by some other people, and declaring that they must hate, oppress, or fight it. But any man who is not blinded by Chauvinism can see at once that these cries have no meaning; that we do not hate foreign peoples because they are in danger of absorbing us, from the economic point of view, but we raise the cry of absorption because we hate them. If, in point of fact, an economic danger were a source of mutual hatred, men would be forced to hate and fight each other in every country, every province, and every town.

Can we say, for instance, that so many millions of poor Russians hate the millions of poor Chinese on economic grounds, when they shed their blood so willingly to defend their Russian oppressors against the attacks of foreigners? Assuredly not, for the Russian soldier knows very well, when he kills a Chinese soldier, that the man would never do him as much harm as the "mailed fist" of his own compatriots. It is not economic causes that give rise to national hatreds.

Is it due to the distance between the two groups—the dissimilarity of climate and other geographical conditions—which might give rise to mutual aversion or antipathy? Certainly not. Remoteness from each other and difference in local or climatic conditions evidently produce certain variations in external appearance and in the character of men, but they do not create peoples, and do not impel them to hate each other.

The differences brought about by geographical and local conditions between the inhabitants of St. Petersburg and those of Odessa, or between the inhabitants of Kiev and those of Krasnojarska, are incomparably greater than the differences we find, for instance, between the inhabitants of Berlin and those of Warsaw; yet the former are united by a sentiment of nationality and fraternity, while the latter are divided by a feeling of deep aversion and most fanatical national hatred. It is not, therefore, the dissimilarity of geographical and climatic conditions that creates national hatred. [426/427]

May we seek it in the circumstance that the various races and peoples differ from each other in their bodily features? Certainly not. Within the limits of any single people we find men of entirely different skin-colours, and with the greatest possible differences in stature and in the character of the various parts of the body. It often happens that two men who belong to the same people differ from each other more than two men of separate nationality, as we see, for instance, in the medium type of the Japanese and the French. But no one would think of separating the individuals of the same people into distinct groups according to their physical characters, and of supposing that these groups ought to detest and fight each other. In regard to the majority of foreign peoples no one will doubt that the physical differences which distinguish them from us are a matter of complete indifference to us. As a general rule, we cannot detect them; sometimes, even, they give us pleasure, in virtue of the natural law, of which we are frequently unconscious, that seeks the physiological advantages of the crossing of races.

There is only one race to which many of us seem to have a natural antipathy—the black race. But careful reflection soon shows us that our antipathy comes from a totally different source.

The negroes, with whom we white races have contrived to have so much trouble, were savages at no very distant date, and then slaves; and the greater part of them still retain the characteristic features or traces of their long period of barbarism and. slavery. That has the instinctive effect of causing us, as free men and long established in civilisation, to regard them with aversion. The feelings of the white man toward the black, which seem to us to arise from some racial antipathy, are really just the same as the feelings with which a born aristocrat contemplates a peasant, whose lack of intelligence and of refined manners is disagreeable to him. When, in the course of time, the negroes have lost all traces of their former barbarism and slavery, when they have attained a high degree of culture and given to the world a number of great men, this unconscious disdain and antipathy will be turned into respect, and we shall no longer feel the slightest aversion for the black skin and the thick lips of the negro.

Each one of us can find, within his own nation, plenty of people whose frames are less agreeable than those of men of other races. When that is the case, we may avoid them; but do we hate and persecute them because we do not like their physical characteristics? Certainly not. We must, therefore, say that it is not these physical differences which cause nations to hate each other.

Is the hatred due to difference in mental endowment? We cannot admit it. The brains and bodies of the members of all  [427/428] races are equal, according to the nature of each, and the variations in mental power which we observe are not characteristic of the nations, but peculiar to individuals, or depend upon the conditions in which the individuals, or the entire people, live. If we find an immense difference between the mind of some race in the interior of Africa and that of a European race, we must seek the cause, not in any difference of national qualities, but in the diversity of civilisation and political conditions. Give the Africans, without any mingling of rancour or oppression, a high and humane civilisation, and you will find that their mental level will not differ from ours. Abolish the whole of our civilisation, and our mind will sink to the level of that of an African cannibal. It is not a difference of mentality in the race, but a difference of instruction; the same difference that we find, to a greater or less extent, between the various classes of one and the same race or the different periods of its history.

That the varying degrees of mental endowment do not constitute a national peculiarity is shown, not only by the fact that the individual members of any European nation, with the same education, have the same mental level, but is still more clearly demonstrated by comparing, for example, the Egyptians of the ancient civilisation or the Japanese of modern times with the civilised inhabitants of Europe. The three belong, not merely to different peoples, but to wholly different races and continents; yet if we leave out of account the conditions of time, place and religion, do we not find just the same mentality in these Africans, Asiatics, and Europeans? Is not the mind of a Japanese scholar, though he is of an entirely different race, the same as the mind of a European scholar, although, scarcely fifty years ago, there seemed to be a vast difference between the Japanese and the Europeans?

If a certain group of human beings presents, or seems to present, a different character from that of some other group, it is not due to some peculiarity of the national mind, but simply to the special conditions in which the group lives. A community brought up in slavery cannot have the courageous and free demeanour of a community that has been brought up in the enjoyment of liberty. A group that has had no opportunity of obtaining education cannot have the wide spiritual horizon that distinguishes a well-educated group. A group that is prevented from enjoying any other fruits of its labour than those which commerce affords it, cannot have the same character as a group that lives in daily contact with the soil and with nature. Change the conditions of the life of the group, and, as we have often seen in history, group A will to-morrow assume the character of group B, and group B will take on the features of [428/429] group A. No, it is certainly not innate differences in mental endowment that create races, and inspire them with hatred for each other.

May it not be the difference of origin? At first sight, it is true, we seem to have here the chief cause of national hatreds. We know that each of us loves the men of his "own blood"—loves his brother, or any member of his family, better than a "stranger." The division of men into families, with the attraction toward each other and the aversion for non-members of the group to which it leads, is a prototype of the mutual relations of peoples and races, and, when one seeks to explain the origin of the mutual hatred of peoples, one may say that these peoples are merely families in a larger development. Nevertheless, although the members of the same people may speak of themselves as "of the same blood," it is very easy to show that the analogy between families and nations, and the influence of origin on international relations, are only apparent. It is not the difference of origin that creates peoples and provokes their mutual animosity. That is a mere pretext, not a real cause.

What, then is the true cause of the dissensions and hatreds which inflame peoples against each other? From what I have already said you will begin to see that, in spite of all the pseudo-scientific theories which are based on differences of race or climate, community of blood, &c., the walls that really separate peoples, the true cause of all their mutual hatreds, must be sought merely in diversities of language and religion.

Language, especially, is a preponderant, if not the sole, element in the composition of the difference between peoples. This is so true that in some languages the words "tongue" and" people" are synonyms. If two men speak the same language, assuming that one does not use it for the purpose of humiliating the other, but that they use it with equal right ; if, in virtue of their common tongue, they not only understand each other, but have the same literature (oral or written), the same education, the same ideal, the same sentiment of human dignity, and the same rights; if, in addition they have the same "God," the same festivals, the same morality, the same traditions, and the same customs, they feel that they are brothers, that they belong to the same people. If two men do not understand each other, they regard each other as foreigners, if not as mutes or barbarians, and instinctively avoid and distrust each other; just as we instinctively distrust whatever seems to us to hide in the darkness.

It is true that many of us can understand the speech of foreigners. That is the reason why we find the walls which divide peoples thinner in the educated classes. It is true that many of us recognise, and appreciate at their true value, the essence of foreign religions. [429/430] That is why right-thinking men never entertain an animosity toward foreigners and their different religion. But if the good understanding of two men is really to unite them, it is necessary for them to feel that they have an equal right to the language that they speak. If religion is not to raise a wall between two men, it is necessary, not only that they be tolerant in regard to the principles of their intimate belief—a belief which, for intelligent men, is an individual matter, and does not depend on nationality—but that they be not separated from each other by any difference in external religious ceremonies.

All that I have said justifies us in formulating this principle: The diversity of peoples and the hatred of each other which they betray will not wholly disappear from the face of the earth until humanity has but one language and one religion. Then in truth will the whole of humanity form one single people. Then there may, indeed, still be the various kinds of discord which are now found within the confines of every country and every people, such as political and economic discords, or those of conflicting parties or classes, and so on, but the most formidable of all discords, the mutual hatred of peoples, will have entirely disappeared.

As a matter of principle, therefore, every friend of humanity should seek to bring about this supreme unity of language and religion. But is this absolutely necessary in practice? It is assuredly not. What we have to deplore is, not the existence of peoples, but that ambition to dominate each other for which we have not yet found a remedy.

Whenever we seek to enter into relations with a man belonging to another nation we find it necessary, at the present time, either to impose our language and our customs on him, or to suffer that his be imposed on us. When this deplorable itching for domination has disappeared, the mutual hatred of peoples will be extinguished. To establish peace within a country it is not necessary that all its families be dissolved, with their peculiar habits and their domestic traditions. It is necessary only that they be not compelled to impose their special habits on other families, and that there shall be laws and customs set up on neutral territory to regulate all issues that reach beyond the family. So, to ensure peace for the whole human race, it is not necessary that the distinctive peoples shall disappear. We need only find such a modus vivendi as will enable them to extinguish their unfortunate external animosities and to avoid imposing their national peculiarities upon each other.

It is necessary that humanity so order its life that, while preserving their national language and religion in the internal life of their linguistic or religious groups, men shall, in their relations with other [430/431] peoples, use a language that is neutral to all men, and live according to the rules of a moral code which dictates actions and customs that are similarly neutral.

How this end is to be obtained in regard to religion I shall not attempt to show here, because—

1. It is not the subject of this paper, and would compel me to enter upon long and special preliminary observations.

2. Religion is not essentially a national question, but depends on the will of man, and represents a part of human civilisation. The religious union of peoples began spontaneously long ago in some measure, and the completion of the work is only prevented by quite incidental and temporary circumstances. When, on the one hand, the privileged position of any particular religion has been abandoned in any country, and, as a result of this, the individual may change the religion of his birth without betraying his unfortunate co-religionists; and when, on the other hand, a religion has been found, the dogmas of which every man may adopt without doing violence to his conscience, the whole human race will very speedily regulate its religious life in the same way.

Moreover, the union of religions is closely connected with the union of languages. There is not the least doubt that, the more men come to understand each other through using a common language, and, in virtue of this common language, enjoy the same rights in all countries, their literature, their ideas, and their ideal will rapidly approach each other, and their religious views will resemble each other.

Hence the whole problem of the union of humanity and the extinction of the mutual animosity of peoples centres upon one single conclusion, and I most earnestly commend this conclusion to the attention of you who have met to study the problem of establishing friendship and justice between the various peoples and races of the earth. The conclusion is: In all our international communications we ought to use a neutral language, one that is easily acquired by all, and used with equal right by all.

Let us speak in this neutral language to any man who does not care to speak to us in our own language, and the chief cause of national hatreds, and every occasion for humiliating certain peoples, will disappear. Let every people that does not wish to undergo the humiliation of cultivating the language of its enemies, or of its proud neighbours, have the opportunity of learning a language that is neutral and humiliates nobody, and there will soon be no such thing as a people without literary culture.

Can we have a neutral language of this character? Certainly we can. It already exists, and has existed for some time. It serves [431/432] its purpose to perfection, has already a considerable number of adherents, and possesses a rich and rapidly increasing literature. This language, which has no master, either materially or morally, which is wholly free and the equal possession of all who use it, which requires of them only that they do not destroy it out of personal ambition and do not alter it without general consent, not only exists and is used, but already fills, with entire satisfaction, the part which I have suggested—the part of a language that shall serve as a fraternal link between the members of the human family and destroy the walls and the animosities which separate them.

Those who wish to discover how this language may be uniformly employed by all peoples, and what a great unifying force there is in this neutral language which belongs equally to all, will do well not to act like those men of science who, even after railways had been working admirably for a number of years, were still publishing large treatises to prove that they were impossible. Let them not discuss the subject from a theoretical point of view, and be content to express themselves in pseudo-scientific phrases on the peculiarities of national languages, but let them attend one of the universal annual Esperantist congresses.

They will behold a perfect harmony between different peoples. They will see with their own eyes, and hear with their own ears, how, when relations are established on a basis of neutrality which humiliates nobody, all the barriers and feelings of aversion that would separate peoples are banished and wholly forgotten. They will then understand what it is that humanity needs in order to establish a definitive peace among the peoples of the earth.

What mankind requires is not something to which we still look forward, not something that we must endeavour to create with great difficulty and exertion, for it is already a solid and accomplished fact, and admits of no doubt as to its reality. All that we have to do is to support it. It is not compromises, which are merely palliatives, nor even the most enlightened political agreements, that will bring peace to humanity. But, as Esperantism makes progress in the world, the men of different peoples will meet more frequently and converse in a neutral speech; they will come to understand and to like each other better; they will feel more deeply that they are of one heart, one mind, and one ideal, and have the same sufferings and sorrows. They will realise that all this mutual hatred of peoples is only a relic of barbaric times. On this neutral base, the one fundamental base, will be established the harmonious and purely "human" humanity of the future, of which the prophets of all lands and all ages have dreamed.

[Paper submitted in Esperanto and in French.]


SOURCE: Zamenhof, L. L. “International Language,” in Papers on Inter-Racial Problems, Communicated to the First Universal Races Congress, Held at the University of London, July 26-29, 1911; edited by Gustav Spiller (London: P. S. King & Son; Boston: The World’s Peace Foundation, 1911), Eighth Session, ‘Positive Suggestions for Promoting Inter-Racial Friendliness (continued)’, pp. 425-432. This is the English version of Gentoj kaj Lingvo Internacia.


Gentoj kaj Lingvo Internacia (1911) de L. L. Zamenhof

The Second Universal Congress of Esperanto: Opening Address, Geneva, Switzerland, 28 August 1906
de L. L. Zamenhof; partial translation from Esperanto by Marjorie Boulton, completed by Ralph Dumain

Letero al Kofman (Odeso, 15 [ 28] majo 1901) de L. L. Zamenhof

El Projektata Alvoko al Kongreso por Neŭtrale-Homa Religio
de L. L. Zamenhof / Edmond Privat

Zamenhof & la Hebrea Ligo (1914)

"Esperanto and Its Originator: How a Jew Came to Create a "Universal Language"
by Isidore Harris

Race, Equality of Intellect, & the History of Civilization
(extract from From “Superman” to Man)
by J. A. Rogers

First Universal Races Congress, London, July 26-29, 1911: Selected Bibliography

Zamenhof & Zamenhofologio: Retgvidilo / Web Guide

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

Esperanto Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo

On other sites / alireteje:

Universal Races Congress @ Ĝirafo

Papers on Inter-Racial Problems, Communicated to the First Universal Races Congress, Held at the University of London, July 26-29, 1911
edited by Gustav Spiller (1911)

Races Congress. A July Function (1911)


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