Sunday, March 3, 2013

The presence of English in India at the crossroads chapter 3

Probal Dasgupta

Kumud Chandra Dutta Memorial Lectures 1997 (Dibrugarh University, Assam)

Published as ‘The presence of English in India at the crossroads’, pp 1-132, in Probal Dasgupta, Udayon Misra, Amaresh Datta (2002) English at Crossroads: The Post-Colonial Situation: Kumud Chandra Dutta Memorial Lecture Series, 1997-98. Guwahati: Students’ Stores.

Posted here chapterwise; this is the third of six chapters. In the text itself I call the chapters ‘sections’ and the sections ‘subsections’.

3. Against Essentialism

3.1 An Englishness in an Indianness?

If you are an Indian who speaks English, does that mean that in your Indianness essence your Youness (the personal essence) harbours also an Englishness essence?

In the present section of this argument, I propose that this question is badly posed as it assumes the existence and viability of essences. This assumption, Essentialism, underlies these apparently harmless and perennially toyed‑with thoughts, but becomes obnoxious in serious, chauvinistic applications of the same logic.

There is Essentialism lurking behind the Olympian arrangement of giving prizes and keeping records. One is measur­ing individuals and other entities with respect to their perfor­mances, seeking to label as praiseworthy or silenceworthy the persons performing, not the actions themselves but the actors. One is thus measuring essences. Resistance to the Olympian must therefore also take the form of anti‑essentialism.

All Essentialisms converge on the nation‑state. Nationalism is a thin veneer which covers chauvinistic war‑mongering, racism, and other widely condemned forms of essentialism. It is nations again that drive the organized frenzy of sports and group‑centred selective cheering. The race for various gross indicators of aggregate success levels in the competitive international economy is also a matter of the nation‑state level of human organization.

It is thus important to ask if there is a way to be neutral and to attain standpoints free from national bias. This question is asked with some urgency in the field of history‑writing. Many historiographers have been trying to find a neutral standpoint which at least stands back from the loud celebration of a nation‑state's professed achievements.

This attempt to find a peaceful rather than war‑worshipping viewpoint for historical inquiry may find it useful to join forces with the philosophical struggle against essentialism in its metaphysical form, with new ideas in literary theory, and with the theoretical and practical critique (emanating from the movement first launched in the late nineteenth century for the international auxiliary language Esperanto) of the nation‑state as a conceptually valid form of social organization.

Hence the present section, which introduces Esperanto as a metaphor for the necessary ubiquity of translation. For those of us who would rather keep focusing more directly on the topic of English in India, here is one way to read this section of our argument.

English is present in India as a node of various translations that go on all the time. Its presence here is medi­ated, translated, carried, by conversations which are largely in other languages. To understand this presence better, we need to improve our general understanding of the linguistic knowledge system as a Code ‑‑ a task addressed in section 5 ‑‑ and to develop a metaphor, in the present section, for lexical media­tion. One may think of the mixed neutral transcode Esperanto as a symbol of the fact that a word can mean what it does only by serving as a translative relay between various words in various languages. Esperanto may notionally play the role of a Universal Lexical Mediator in theory, then, without prejudice to our di­verse opinions as to its practical utility in specific contexts.
Once the exercise in the present section is finished, we are in a better position to appreciate the claim that all people are each other's guests and need to take the mutuality of this guesthood seriously. That background claim determines the logic of section 4, which returns to the empirical details of English in India and the debates about its presence in real earnest.

3.2 Whither historiography

We embark now on a journey in dialogue with historiographers who wish to find a standpoint that is sustainable by virtue of making their work less servile to whoever happens to be in power in a particular nation‑state and orders people to write history textbooks propagating their official line.

We first present the reasoning as a possible direction in which the practices of history‑writing might be seen as moving. Then we elaborate. The connection with the rest of our argument becomes clear gradually.

Historiography deals with documents. Historians produce documents about documents. These formally count as metadocuments.

In the olden days, documents used to be defined by literary analysis. Literary commentary would determine a document's genre as poem or play, as story or receipt.

In the same good old days, the measurement of metaness belonged to a branch of philosophy. That branch was called meta­physics. Its task was to decide on the means and ends of valid knowledge acquisition. The valid roads to knowledge were consid­ered severally as methods of demonstration, a consideration called epistemology. Such knowledge admitted only objects whose true objecthood seemed beyond reasonable doubt. Ontology was another branch of metaphysics. The way from the forms down here on the ground to the metaknowable essences up in some sky was provided by epistemology. And the depiction of essences belonged to ontology's province.

Historiography, in the business of producing valid metadocu­ments on the basis of document to document comparison, was care­ful about the document in literary terms. And it reserved some care for the determination of true objecthood, an enterprise where it could draw on the advice of philosophy. These footings kept historians traditionally careful.

Types of care are changing now. Literary analysis is going through a big overhaul. The map of philosophizing is changing as well. In connection with these changes, historiography finds it, in our view, useful to encounter the international bridge lan­guage Esperanto. How does this encounter look? Some initial signposts are provided here. Caveat lector. A quick run‑through of the theoretical reasoning might help. Here goes.

It had been hoped that on all planes, big and small, the determination of the truth and falsity of documents would keep moving ahead. This was supposed to be part of progress.

In practice it turned out that there is no viable enterprise of drawing a sharp dividing line between documents that lay it thick with picturesque metaphors and special effects to the point of falsity and documents that present the unvarnished truth. All documents varnish, draw pictures, and imagine things.

What then does a conflict yield? The outcome that some document that had been victorious on an earlier occasion loses its legitimacy. And some alternative document, shaking off the dust of neglect, takes its place.

One imaging loses. Another imaging wins. This accounting deals in imagination as currency and cannot afford to refer to any baldly non‑imaginary truth. The frustrated accountant can at most turn to the issue of whether a history looking for a truth is learning how to express adequately the imagined whole, the nation which holds all the imaging together.

But even the nation itself is a pawn in games of winning and losing. How long can history keep filing such cards to any ef­fect? Wishing to move away from the regal company of nations, history will do well to visit the justly celebrated Regions where the people commune among themselves. Fine. But what other way of comporting itself will give historiography access to a sustain­able, continuous, non‑distorted telling of truths?

This question puts us in touch with the salty wind of ship­ping.

Another type of point of departure becomes available in the world of philosophical considerations. The metaphysics of the old philosophers has, you see, declared bankruptcy. You need to really see this. It is not that there are some characters called philosophers who decide such things. What happens is, ways of thinking change. Then thinking about thinking, which is philoso­phy, moves around until it reaches a new settled state. There is a change going on right now. Its contours show up in the major shift in philosophy. What is the big point in all this that merits public attention? The point is that people no longer regard as compulsory, the way they used to, the job of determin­ing for each fact the unique cause or deep source of that fact, of finding some true essence for every phenomenon. One is willing to see such a pursuit as a wild goose chase. Thinking, today, is willing to embrace instead, as the ultimate desirable, the play of appearances, the trunk itself of the tree of knowledge. In the manner of the physically tree‑hugging Chipko movement for tree conservation in northern India.

The Chipko style rejects the familiar forms of ownership. Ownership shows up as a lot of things: essence, source, theory, intellectual property. The Chipko style does not get involved in feudal wrangling over land ownership. It does not get hung up on the commercial anxiety of establishing occupational, means‑of‑production rights over the roots of trees. There is life that grows out of the ground. The vitality of its diversity makes the Chipkos stand by and express solidarity.

In metaphysics, people had felt like thinking: there are these temporary, contingently placed homes where thought finds an abode, which are vitiated by various one‑location biases. But thinking will gradually overcome such bias and find for itself its own real home. Nobody will then be able to dislodge it from that abode.

Asking that metaphysics to go on leave, philosophy today is giving ultimacy to another general knowledge. That knowledge declares that everybody's thinking had been obsessed with the ideal of some permanent settlement geared to the tastes of the aristocracy, while today at last we are all realizing that our knowledge of the need to repeatedly move house for ever is the last resting place. There is no home, there is no autonomous domesticity.

Given the nonexistence of the ultimate home, obviously the metahome which knew how to be exact about its limits loses its rigorous clarity of metaness. If historiography still wants to write metadocuments as official as an arrest warrant, philosophy can no longer underwrite such efforts. Likewise, if a linguistics continues to wish to think "Words have sky‑held meanings like clouds, we ride those meaning‑clouds and survey the boundaries between land‑bound words", no philosophy is willing to allow such wishes as legitimate. The old deal of leaving the ground to words and the sky to their meanings, a settlement proposed by the metaphysics of yore, is no longer acceptable to current thinking, whose formalized diaries are called philosophy. A new Place, a land that does not segregate its skies, is therefore today becom­ing the Site for a new pact between word and meaning. Nowhere does the picture survive of a separate metalanguage called mean­ing which alone could permit traffic between languages and thus could make cross‑language contact possible. This leaves us with an unending series of translations, of moving from home to home.

Does this spell the end of the enterprise of a semantics that would explicate the way word‑expressions bear their meaning‑contents? Will there be no separate semantics providing a neu­tral, general sky outside the particular languages? Does this mean that the only articulation left of meaning is translation itself?

Then the basis of the world changes. Cross‑language traffic depends on the wishes of the traffickers. Will words be able to find reasonable space in a new place? That depends on the inter­action of the hospitality of the new home with the behaviour of the new guests. Words are not in such a strong position that they can demand a new home of exactly equal value to the old home.

Then today all those exacting ways of making or refusing demands with their machinery of laws, accounting, strictness are going out of business. The mode whose vitality seems to be rising instead is one that we can perhaps make friends with in the manner suggested by the historian Arun Das Gupta (p.c., 1995). He suggests that document workers spend a short period every day translating to keep the habit of guesting and hosting alive, in the spirit in which Gandhians used to work daily on the spinning wheel. The giving and taking of hospitality may not be account­ably exact. But it is no unintelligible mess. On the contrary, it is one of the routes to common sense ‑‑ the Bangla word for which, /kaandxoggean/, literally means 'trunk‑knowledge', imagin­ing a tree of knowledge and taking common sense to be knowledge of its trunk, and inspires the metaphor of a ship whose wood comes from many trees.

Now you see, possibly, why it might make sense for histori­ography, having tasted the landlubber homes in all nations, to set sail on the ship language Esperanto made of wood from many lands. As we watch, not just the old suns and moons but the sky itself is setting, the sky which used to underwrite all metalan­guages. Then this ship, assembling the wood from many soils, becomes a metaphor for the exchangeability and miscegenation of place and transplace.

Once the right to file and win exact lawsuits goes out of fashion, it is these norm‑negotiating styles of seeking justice that remain. Only on board this ship can the metajudgment or critique of nations be conducted. Hence the vast display of postmodern, poststructuralist and other broken games.

3.3 The nation‑flagged shape of modernity

Who validly rules a country? Time was when aristocracy went without saying. The spirit of that age regarded a country as the fiefdom of the few. There was thus no objection to the thought that essences hold the key to the real. Particular realities might be contested. But all contestants agreed on this essential­ist presupposition. The question of legitimacy arose in a literal form in those days, and could be settled. This was the background of the general belief in the reality of ownership, underwriting the ordinary management of normal homes.
        Later the progress whose indicators include industrializa­tion and so on moved people from this land that way and people from that land this way until the value‑comparisons inspired by this interchangeability lead one to view any particular these people as equivalent to any particular those people. This process inaugurates the general‑modern world. And the beginning of the practical critique of metaphysics. The experience of the nation roasts people, and makes them run this way and that way even more
systematically to make ends meet. They themselves become ex­changeables. Out of this experience emerges their particular‑modern subjectivity.

The modern people who have come out of this process will apparently mingle and join forces to construct a new platform. Many people hope so. But it would seem that nation‑flagged his­toriography finds it difficult to work out what the logic of such construction might look like even in the language of hopes. Perhaps the mingling and joining will spend a long time looking for a suitable orthography in the alphabet created during the age of fiefdoms. There is this big transition going on. Its diaries are being written. One aspect of that project is going to be, to keep working on the new orthographies, and at the same time to look back and enrich its apparatus with colourful narratives of the past that this project is rooted in. In that context, it becomes important to look at the way the discourse that came with the nation‑states was subjected to an early critique in and by Esperanto.

That historiography, as a first step towards taking a seri­ous look at Esperanto, may wish to start the dialogue with spe­cifically the history of Esperanto, makes perfect sense, of course.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the gradual development, through conflict, of the equations between various forces leads to a generally implementable nation‑state ideal. Around that time, on 15 December 1859, Lazar Ludvik Zamenhof is born to a Jewish family in Poland under Russian rule. The crucial project he initiates can be understood in terms of a breakdown like this:

(1) He notices that one aspect of the nationality question is the language problem; and that, even if some particular national language grows big and subdues the rest, this will at most make for a temporary settlement; no stable solution can come about in that fashion. Any lasting solution must satisfy the taste of modern people wedded to rationality, equality and fraternity ‑‑ must, in other words, accept diversity and not inequality as the principle of traffic between nations.

(2) The port of his ingenuity launches a language‑ship, and releases it from intellectual property claims so that the collec­tive but rigorously assembled taste of the community of passeng­ers can shape it. This ship ‑‑ a language called Esperanto ‑‑ enables each generation to recast the logic of translation, moving around the changing pieces of contemporary thinking‑games people play in and across languages.

(3) Around that proposal of Esperanto as a nation‑independent medium for contemporary thinking, he slowly, carefully formulated a surrounding cultural project. This alternative gradually sets aside the militaristic foundation of his period's thinking about national and other categorial identities. It begins instead to outline a new identity in a pluralism‑friendly dialogue with life, not by methods imposed from above, but on the basis of an exchange on equal terms between people of all sorts interested in negotiating relative importance and unimportance.

(4) As a tangible, permanent, valuable embodiment of this labour, Esperanto structure inherits an apparatus that enables every period's contemporary thoughts to arrange themselves, and also enables new proposals to coexist with such arrangements and draw them into debate. As an example, to be studied later, of such apparatus, we mention right now the sentence 'Ne chiu rusujano estas ruso'.

When we face this project of Zamenhof, the modernity asso­ciated with the familiar public forum of popular discussion is recognizable as a mass medium of the nation‑held people's self‑expression. In other words, it becomes possible to see the modern public's nation‑flagged face.

It is true that many thinkers, following various modern agendas, are in favour of seriously altering the nation's econom­ic, military, juridical sovereignty. They see themselves as post‑national or as world‑oriented. Which they may well be. But even when constructing this world of theirs, they remain willing to sit under the umbrella of an English or a French to do the con­structing with. And this language, representing as it does some great power, imposes a certain kind of bias on everybody. In order to see how nation‑dependent even the world citizenship of such enlightened souls remains ‑‑ and in order to act on one's realization that this is the case ‑‑ one needs to be able to look Esperanto in the eye.

For Esperanto is that hybrid language in whose nature the issue of its hybridity has managed to become crucial. And we are living in a period when everywhere there emerges a clear aware­ness of the absence of pure nationalities, pure languages; we are all hybrid.

The pictures of purity of tradition are being torn apart. It is in the face of such tearing apart that old minds used to traditional purity are expressing their distraught anguish by banning somebody's book, burning somebody's painting, destroying somebody's mosque. One trait of today's particular‑modern face is a process of one's mind being pushed around by the impact of a new equi‑valence of person with person, place with place. This equal valuing breaks, mixes up, alters one's criteria. The drama of this mind's social negotiations is renewing every community. These crucial mixing‑up processes cannot easily find adequate commentary if traditional historians remain enslaved by the terms of their labour in the archives proper of the private languages of this or that nation.

Those who would do the historiography of the postnational must find Esperanto an essential resource. Hence the question of looking Esperanto in the eye.

3.4 Zamenhof's eyes

Esperanto surely sees, in the first instance, through its i­nitiator's eyes. He happened to be an eye doctor.

Born in Bialystok in 1859, Zamenhof had seen the problem of clashes between neighbourhood‑bound ethnicities. His young mind thought that a world walled into little pieces by languages could be changed by a bridge language that all would learn. But he did not want all the little languages to surrender to some specific big culture. That culture is enriched by its enormous ability to vary from place to place is a principle that inspired his wonder and respect until his death in 1917. He did not believe that storing everything in a single pool would benefit humankind. So he sought a language that would serve, if not all, at least many as a second language, thus providing a forum for human generality outside the private arenas of ethnic groups. And which would encourage parallel growth efforts in the diverse resource spec­trum of the first languages of all communities.

In his period, there was of course French, functioning as a practical medium of interstate contact. But first of all it was reserved for the highly educated. It was a language that ex­pressed the aristocratic exclusiveness of the elite. Secondly, languages belonging to specific communities ‑‑ ethnic languages ‑‑ are always full of irregularities. Even if French lessons for all children can be arranged, nonetheless the proposal that everybody will be happy performing military drill in the arena of that language's terrifying verbs is scarcely credible. Thirdly, those who learn it as a foreign language remain unable to compete with true Francophones and thus seem less brilliant at meetings; they either hold their peace or mumble. Broadbasing or intensify­ing the training system does not address this issue. As long as any ethnic language holds any other ethnic language down by force, the problem will remain insoluble. Language will not know how to do its job, that of serving as a medium of dialogue, but will stay what it now is ‑‑ a carrier and means of discrimina­tion.

This analysis of the language problem by Zamenhof is still as relevant as it has always been. French has given way to Eng­lish. First of all, the world elite's hold on it is well‑estab­lished. The rights of the middle ranks are unstable and occasion considerable anxiety. The subaltern are footboard riders or off the bus. Secondly, the gap between English spelling and pronun­ciation is not merely the butt of jokes, an occasion for point­less and intelligence‑destroying labour, and a source of suffer­ing for oppressed students in practical experience. It is, con­ceptually, an insult to modern humankind's sense of rationality.

If French verbs, English prepositions, the orthographic chaos of both languages, and other messes were confined to the private playgrounds of this or that nation, others could have remained unconcerned. But these languages have had a chance to force these pointless games on others. And English today is a candidate for the global job of Chief Language ‑‑ why a can­didate, some people have notionally anointed it for that throne already. The more readily we agree to these childish proposals, the more these traps like French verbs and English prepositions besiege us. Why indeed should all people have to learn that the verb 'to go' in French comes out in the present as IL VA for 'he goes' or as NOUS ALLONS for 'we go', but in the future as NOUS IRONS for 'we shall go', which means the verb stem rings the changes of an ALL‑, an I‑, and a V‑? Or why must we all learn that English treats its years like "IN 1970" but its days like "ON Sunday", its day‑fragments like "IN the morning", and its hours like "AT ten o'clock", juggling IN, ON, IN, AT in a game quite opaque to outsiders?

Some people obviously think that such questions will be answered in the esoteric knowledge of some secret linguistics. I have been checking that scene out for some time now, and can assure you that specialists have long known that that domain will not give us any rational answers to these questions.

Perhaps questions of this sort will force us to rethink the area. Zamenhof had quickly seen that people will not stay trapped in their willingess to assent to such oppression as if it was a form of legitimate rule. If we join him in seeing this, what strikes our eye?

3.5 An academic reinterrogation

Some historiographers are interested in grasping the Nation. Obviously they are uneasy, and likely to stay this way, as long as they cannot find a neutral standpoint to do this from. Hindus speak of using (sacred) Ganges water to worship (the goddess) Ganges. How long does it make sense to worship the nation‑god with nation‑water? All modern birds have to keep worshipping their cages. One feels like wanting to find oneself a space outside that worship.

Such a space must of course be a language‑built stage. In what language, though? We have been learning that the praxis of using a language of any type lands us in typically biased visual­izations. Male chauvinist ideology, for instance, bends the light of pronouns. The quasi‑neutral use of the masculine pronoun makes us tend to think of males as default or prototypical humans, leaving females as the marked, non‑neutral second sex. Having noticed this, we have become aware of the presence of patriarchal ideology in language. Many of us have been trying to resist its hegemony. That effort of course cannot completely uproot this ideology from the face of the language. But this gesture of trying to clean up, even if it stops at a gesture, becomes a valuable move in what we hope will be a fuller dance.

Let me take for granted the willingness of thinking people to extend the scope of that gesture to eliminate other forms of injustice. In this spirit, they will gradually begin to notice what we are involved in if we say Yes to the increased use of a powerful English or French replete with irregularities and viola­tions of logic and the decreased use of all the weaker languages. Such a Yes makes us complicit with an overall attack on equity and rationality in the domain of language use. These opacities occur in English or French ‑‑ special spellings, irregular verbs, crazy prepositions ‑‑ because these languages came out of the private playgrounds of particular ethnic communities. But today these childish opacities are allowed to force themselves on the continued mental labours of all communities and thus oppress the public space as a whole. This spillover of private childishness into the public space where rationality would be desirable is an attack on human rationality that has gone unchecked. The task of removing this affront to public rationality will stay on the general agenda until it gets done. Perhaps some of us today perceive that point on the agenda as extremely remote or utopian. Those who perceive things in this light are perhaps under the impression that, just as they themselves have said Yes to the violent, irrational regime of an English rooted in particular ethnic groups, so also all others have consented or will consent to such a regime as a permanent arrangement. May their impression come true. But perhaps they have not recently been to Japan.

The use of English with its chaotic mismatch between orthog­raphy and phonetics is a praxis which cannot be reflexive. It cannot pick up tools adequate for the task of analyzing the praxis itself and find these tools a place in any recognizably public or universalizable project. All that such a praxis can do to provide the impression of transparency is to silence all possible opposition or to render it unthinkable by laughing such thoughts out of court. Hence the total absence of spelling reform projects from the contemporary mindscape. Surely the mess of such a praxis, being incapable of reflexive self‑criticism‑based reform, is unsustainable. It is natural that some historians will wish to understand the logic of the historical forces that are likely to wash away such messes. This forms part of the project of grasping and acting on the ecological cleaning‑up impulse of our period of history.

What one would expect a sustainable future to live with is a spectrum of solutions to language problems ‑‑ for there is no unique language problem, nor any unique solution ‑‑ which will encourage all the communities to learn something in a generalized reciprocity, trying to reach out towards each other. A stop‑gap "solution" of the sort that turns the mother tongue of some people into a language learning compulsion for others, and thus gives surplus comfort to those who happen to be native speakers of the language, is not an arrangement that people can accept as a long‑term solution. Hence the unsustainability of such solu­tions. The Esperanto movement is not built around the proposal that it is Esperanto that everybody must learn. The main point is that every community will keep cultivating its own patch and also try and learn a second language for the sake of others. And, for international communication to be democratic, the bridge language must be characterized by ease of invention of words to carry all kinds of ideas, and by a regular construction that makes it a fair and neutral mediator. The exact form of this regularity has been emerging, through a history of intersystemic compromise, in the developmental experience of Esperanto as the first detailed proposal of this type.

There is of course a green movement that has been leading the struggle for a sustainable future. The green star on the flag of Esperanto is then not merely a coincidentally similar symbol. There is a real convergence of purposes and means. Those working for this bridge language today have stopped making the a priori assumption that global peace will be brought about by governmen­tal or voluntary efforts specifically directed towards institu­tional change. Removing hang‑ups about political geography or about the codes of conduct and culture that supposedly govern us all, contemporary workers in the Esperanto domain have been finding out, and showing us, how people can explore each other's worlds of natural and cultural resources. How these explorations give a new criticality to translation as an enterprise of reper­ception. How Esperanto can serve as an overall visualization of this critical translation enterprise. What work needs to be done on the body and spirit of Esperanto itself as a combinatorial bridge language serving as such a visualization.

Today's Esperanto activism, then, is an exploratory journey towards the everyday reality of transactions between actual men and women across barriers imposed by language codes. It is natu­ral for historical inquiry to wonder where this activism comes from. Esperanto has had to emerge from the obvious competition with all earlier and later models for a planned interlanguage. Winning those contests, Esperanto has been able to play the role of the main symbol of language design for mediation. This is a major event of modern history, one that has gone unnoticed among intellectual articulators. It is worth our while to consider the background of this event. Analysis will surely follow, from the pens of professional historiographers. What inheritance has made it possible for this activist journey to retain continuity and coherence? Our reply to this question will touch base with a few major moments. Fuller analyses can only be provided if the public discussion of these issues finds a richer perspective that can bear the weight and detail of such accounts.

The first moment belongs to Lazar's father Markus. Lazar Zamenhof's adolescent dream ‑‑ shared by a few of his friends, who at a school‑leaving party launched, with Lazar, his world language project ‑‑ collided with Markus' entirely unsentimental plans for Lazar's future. As a practical Jewish father under an anti‑Semitic Russian regime, Markus wanted Lazar to concentrate on his medical studies. He made him promise not to breathe a word of his dream language to his university friends. Markus went so far as to destroy Lazar's manuscripts when he was away.

So Lazar's student days became an extended incubation period for his language project. No other world language project has had such a prehistory. An adolescent's vision of a bridge language thus underwent nine years of revisioning by a modest, publicity‑shunning medical student training to be an eye doctor. Those nine years gave this project a chance to graduate from the stage of an academic scheme to that of a full‑blooded medium in which a sensitive person was able to write poetry. To put it differently, Zamenhof's project, unlike other world language proposals launched before and after, had no single moment of birth, but emerged from a protracted process of origination.

The next moment in the early existence of Esperanto, its social take‑off from the harbour of Zamenhof's private shipping, was yet another protracted process. This is the second, also fractured, moment on the list of moments we wish to revisit. To this end, we skip the period from the 1887 publication of the first Esperanto primer in Warsaw to the first world congress in the French town of Boulogne‑sur‑Mer in 1905. We proceed directly to the crisis of 1908. During this twenty‑year period, enough cultural capital had accrued to this young language that a bright idea occurred to some intellectuals in France. The idea was that they could establish a Frenchified form of the language and thus bring its cultural capital under their intellectual control. For the dramatic details of how this plot unfolded, see the Zamenhof correspondence edited, with astute and informative commentary, by Gaston Waringhien (Waringhien 1948). To cut a long story short, Esperanto's intellectual‑begotten offspring Ido (the word ido, in both those languages, means 'offspring') did attract the leaders of many Esperanto organizations. But the rank and file did not respond to this proposal for a take‑over by intellectuals. For the rank and file had noticed that, in violation of the norms of a democratic cultural movement, a few people claiming to repre­sent the voice of scholarship were looking for a shortcut to hegemony. But Zamenhof himself, in 1887‑88, had declared the language free from all authoritarian control. The majority of its users, in 1908, stayed with an Esperanto which belonged to a community's slow but public rhythms of mutually agreeable evolu­tion rather than switch over to an Ido shaped and periodically re‑shaped by the private dictates of a quick and clever committee of scholars. This quiet choice by what already was a real commun­ity made its social reality visible and enabled thinking people in and outside the Esperanto community to apprehend this reality.

Since that moment of the Ido crisis, the rank and file of the Esperanto community have remained suspicious of the academic and intellectual world as a whole. Most of the people who become users of Esperanto tend to come from the lower middle class and marginal backgrounds. They know that elites everywhere have access to foreign language courses, IITs, and other routes to a further upward mobility that puts one country's elite in touch with their peers across mere national borders. But subalterns of various sorts who enter the Esperanto world have found, from their experience, that they can remain rooted in their marginal but real home communities, retain their identities and their daily existence, and yet cross the barriers to exchange thoughts, ideas, experiences, and share their lives with counterparts in radically different places in Esperanto. Their experience shows them that it is in a lightweight, marginal alternative medium like Esperanto that they can gain access to such transactions across barriers. Would this medium for personal and yet barrier‑breaking friendship become a mere toy of erudition in the hands of some elite authority? That such a possibility must be fiercely resisted has always been obvious to the Esperanto‑speaking pub­lic. Their success in keeping their intellectuals on leash is no mean achievement. The total number of users of this bridge lan­guage has never been large. But it is not always big numbers that make history. The public determination of the social identity of the Esperanto phenomenon as a non‑elite movement in 1907, then, was a qualitative event. Even though it was not backed by numbers that appear huge on the scale of events of other types, this event was of a historical importance that historians neglect at their peril.

It was the clear and distinct ideological importance of the Esperanto movement, not obscured by its small constituency, that led  the Nazi regime, the Stalinist regime, and Japanese fascism  to mount a serious effort to completely eliminate this movement. The historian Ulrich Lins shows in his well‑documented book La danghera lingvo the extent of the repression unleashed by those authoritarian regimes ‑‑ from banning organizations and destroy­ing libraries to the point of actually killing functionaries in the concentration camps and the Gulag system.

To consider another aspect of the historical importance of the social reality of Esperanto as a movement, we find in Hans Jakob's book Servisto de l' ideo the details of the initiative taken by the World Esperanto Association in neutral Switzerland during World War One. The Association arranged the exchange of vital medicine, food, and personal information across the mili­tary barriers, creating a new model for the work of what was to become a global network of Non‑Governmental Organizations. As we improve our historiographies, it gradually becomes possible to take cognizance of the work of these networks, outside the spaces run by the nation‑state apparatuses.

We have chosen the moment of Zamenhof's father Marcus and the moment of the Ido crisis for the purposes of this discussion. The point is to notice that these two fractured moments define the social identity of Esperanto as an open praxis. It is no private endeavour to attain individualistic goals. It represents an experiment successfully handed over from the initiator, after a long gestation period, to a community that continues to run it as its own experiment. No intellectual egoes have been able to grab it to weave their own little thoughtful doormat. Rather, it serves as a public carpet where normal users weave their overlap­ping registers.

Having arrived through these two fractured moments of origi­nation, Esperanto has turned today into a resistance to the serious dictatorships and other heavy bureaucracies of the teacherly. It is instead a medium, light by choice, whereby one can learn, come to understand, to follow, the ways of various others. What makes it uniquely so is the rootedness of devices of mutuality and symmetry in its very body. (In order to unpack the point about this designed lightness of the medium, one would have to get into narrating the explicit derivational device driven design which gives this language its bridge character. An impos­sible task in the present context. Readers are referred to the bibliography.)

The stories of asymmetric or one‑sided processes are rela­tively familiar, and thus it is not very difficult to tell the tales of kings and things wielding one‑sided power. But nowadays we realize that we cannot relax until we write the stories of the citizens, restoring reciprocity at least in the narratives. We are on a long trip to the possibility of telling the story of mutuality, and then living it out. This apprenticeship, for some of us, is going to touch base with Esperanto on its way to the general goal. This is the main point of the present argument.

What is especially valuable to such an apprentice is not the missionary project of yesterday's Esperanto standard bearers. Those teachers were committed to stuffing the stuff down everybo­dy's throats. In their hands, Esperanto had become mere material. What is valuable for those of us trying to write the reciprocity‑laden stories of citizens is the new contemporary movement. This  movement's project is to help people from different places and contexts as they borrow each other's ordinary maps used in daily living, as they learn on both sides how to use these coordinates, and as they hesitantly build tentative inter‑contextual bridges.

This activity is becoming necessary. One is no longer able to stick to one's conceptual guns, or to one's existential but­ter, in its present form, anywhere. Essences are falling apart, as described in the opening moves of this argument. Esperanto has been forced out of its earlier coded, a priori maze into the job of serving these new, living goals that actual people are com­pelled to pursue. Its workers have been formulating a new pro­ject. The point now is to direct collective and mutual efforts to the task of taking note of the material realities of one's living and the idealized actions of one's concerns, missing nothing important, as people translate each other's experiences into usable currencies and keep building bridge after bridge. From this continuous translation will emerge a reasonable semantics, an accountable theory of the content that the translation shifts around. Thus will the promise of the Enlightenment be kept, some day.

3.6 The Bridgehead
These concerns are excellent. But what have historians to do with the needs of other thinkers? Will any group serve any useful purpose by trying to teach an old dog new tricks it can't learn?

It is of course true that one should stick to what the general design of one's collective endeavour. For otherwise one drowns, inundated by unmanageably alien material one's specific devices cannot do justice to. Historians must get their head back out of the water and breathe the friendly air, the better to enjoy the swimming. Without the supple grace of voluntary strokes, nobody can swim well, and the project becomes a burden. And the point that any task that becomes a burden is an external­ly imposed unassimilable is what has kept the Esperanto movement faithful to the notion of Simplicity.

One would thus want a historian to try to mesh the issues of Esperanto with the needs of historiography itself. One approach to these needs is through an incident that affected one of the subaltern historians. A friend of his, a Muslim from Dhaka who was a student of physics, once said to him, Look, the physics of Dhaka and the physics of Calcutta are the same, but the history we had to study in Dhaka made us think highly of Aurangzeb and the stuff kids have to study in Calcutta makes them cherish Akbar instead; this means that physics is a real subject, whose reality remains invariant when one crosses this little border, whereas history is a creature of the nation‑state that happens to be telling you what to think. Such observations obviously injure a historian's professional pride. Out of this personal annoyance comes at least a personal urgency about finding a way for history to meet this challenge. More seriously, of course historians do seek true neutrality. On their way to such an attainment, there has been at least some durably important discussion. Many people have found ways to show others that they are biased, to the satisfaction of many bystanders. So far, so good. But the collec­tive correction of wrongs is unlikely to ensure a generalized rightness. What ground do we stand on, we who would cure the physicians? Questions of this kind will never be satisfactorily answered. For we are taking it for granted that, now that the landholdings of the aristocrats are gone, there is going to have to be some supreme owner of all lands to whom it is possible to present proper accounts of the appropriate use of each patch. And this hidden assumption is giving trouble, for it does not help if the abolition of ownership merely takes the form of getting rid of overt owners of a certain kind. We need to change the way we think about accountability itself. And this we have not been able to do.

One road to neutrality becomes availability when we consider the experience of the Esperanto praxis. For this experience enables a historian to approach the thought that a neutral lan­guage cannot take on the job of working as a mechanical synthesis of other actual languages. Or of playing the role of an organic kernel shared by all languages and thus standing for every lan­guage in some privileged way. Working in such a capacity, a neutral language might have aspired to cast a universal net and harvest from the ocean of all there is to be known and said. We need to not get trapped in such pointless formal aspirations. The real job of a neutral language people try to speak to some effect is to show us how to see that every language is a mixture and depends in its very structure and functioning on constant renego­tiation; and to see this fact about every language as a sign, not of its  loose morals, but of its character as a language. So that, pushing aside an aristocracy nourished by the metaphysics of unmixed purities of essence, the intersubjectively recomposed composures of the fragmentary, tentative abodes of migrants becomes the normal symbol of language as a mutuality of the guest‑host relation. If this condition remains unmet, the impuls­es of anti‑essentialism run the risk of remaining a matter of the prepractical noisiness of theory‑bound minds.

Let us assume that this point can be made, and is accepted. Then perhaps the project of finding a neutral standpoint for serious assessments ‑‑ including historiography ‑‑ will look different, and feasible? We may offer the rough guess that to­day's Esperanto experience represents the realization that the way people get chained in inference systems and other bureaucra­cies when they worship the goddess of rationality is not a way to serious freedom. If people want to work together, they need to learn how to recognize what counts as work. If this recognition becomes a practised skill and not just a theoretical analysis, then and there the chains of formal rationality fall off the body of real negotiation. We thus emerge from the idealism‑ridden landholdings of the nations and step on to the at last easy materiality of a general earth. The present stage of a posteriori materialism's protracted struggle against a priori idealism, to combine two sets of old‑fashioned terms, can usefully rely on several contemporary movements, Esperanto prominent among them (cf. section 2, above).

Historiographers have spent ages under the national sky, star‑gazing, fixated first on the superaltern Vasistha and more recently on the subaltern Arundhati. This must have been a vital need. Many of them are today surveying sites, excavating, and in other ways looking for alternatives to that kind of gazing. This quest, too, reflects the compulsions of the times. One relevant compulsion may be a new type of self‑distancing from the claims of various owners, including nations, over specific patches of earth. The claim that the owner has exclusive proprietary rights over the object, or the gods over creativity, or the root over the trunk, or the cause‑principle over the effect‑action, was a Brahminical point. It no longer commands general assent in this dalit‑conscious, indigenous‑peoples‑solidary, nomad‑routed, state‑skeptical day and age. The critique of the classical or essentialist form of all ownerships finds a new articulation in the emerging generalized opposition to the nation and its allied categories. If one wishes to undertake this activity seriously, touching base with the practical critique of the nation embodied in the Esperanto movement is simply an indispensable first step.
 3.7 Ne Chiu Rusujano Estas Ruso

It is not just a matter of theoretical opposition to the nation's exclusive ownership of land by the initiator of the international bridge language. He has handed us specific tools to help think about peoples and lands.

It is essential to clarify at a prefatory level that one key feature of Esperanto will remain a major piece of its formal legacy long after it fades away from the scene. This feature is the way it releases meaningful derivational devices, namely affixes, from the chaos of the morphological diversity of words in ethnic languages. Esperanto is a language which, when it pairs the verb TENAS 'holds' with its derivative TENILO 'handle', or pairs the verb ATENTAS 'pays attention to' with its derivative ATENTINDA 'significant', invites all users to see at once that ILO itself is a noun meaning 'tool, means, device', and that INDA itself as an adjective carries the meaning 'worthy' (since a handle is a device to hold with, and significant means attention­worthy). This system pervades the entire body of the language and ensures that, when you learn about a thousand Esperanto elements, you have learnt the equivalent of fifteen thousand words in another language ‑‑ making the language easy for reasons of design.

One is thus unsurprised to hear that standard ethnicity terms like GERMANO/J for 'German/s' (J pronounced as y) or RUSO/J for 'Russian/s' combine with the meaningful invariant UJ to give country names like GERMANUJO, RUSUJO 'Germany, Russia'. In the other direction, where it is the name of the country that is more widely known, like NEDERLANDO, KANADO for 'the Netherlands, Canada', such a word combines with the meaningful element AN for member or inhabitant to yield NEDERLANDANO, KANADANO 'Dutchman, Canadian'. This is unsurprising given the general make‑up of the language, and the key principle underlying its formal simplicity.

What is noticeable, and makes history, is the fact that, in a nineteenth century primer of this language, its initiator Zamenhof, setting out to teach the reader the use of derivational devices, casually observes, and later retains in the essential 1905 foundation document establishing the intersubjective future of the language this time‑bomb of an observation, that NE CHIU RUSUJANO ESTAS RUSO. A Ruso is a Russian. Thus Rusujo is Russia, the land of the Rusoj. Adding to this the element Ano, you obtain Rusujano, for a Russia‑dweller. This bombshell signifies, Not every Russia‑dweller is a Russian. What a thing for a colonial subject of the Russian empire, and a precariously placed Jew at that, to say! Not every citizen of the Russian territories be­longs to the Russian ethnicity, he says as emphatically as his linguo‑pedagogic excuse will let him. He is saying out loud that no land belongs to its real or fake majorities. He is inviting us to see this as such an obvious point that it can stay buried in the initial primer of a language designed to be easy.

And yet this history‑making can only begin to make the point that needs to be made. The story does not stop here, by any means. This style of a priori doubting the legitimate rights of nationalities over the lands they hegemonize is surely a prereq­uisite not only for an Esperanto movement, for also for the critique of the hegemonic place given to national archives and their documents in historiography, its cognates, and derivatives.
At first sight, a nation‑state like a Russia gives a real home to its dominant nationality or nationalities, leaving the rest to the joys of some outhouse. But a state so apparatused freezes the nation's constituents into a permanently tense mobilization and thus keeps not just such marginals but all its inhabitants now "peacefully" on edge, now in the middle of a riot or two, a war or three, a permanent crisis or four, leaving them all to the tender mercies of an outer space of homelessness. This too is common knowledge, softening the blow of the majority population's lording it over the minorities; you are all minor, when such is the adulthood of the elite! Today we begin to take note of the fact that, under these conditions imposed by the nation frame, no thinking person, no social system based on thought, can regard the stillness of an idyllic domestic abode or its cognitive counterpart, a foundational set of metaphysical constants, as an invariant general basis of all thinking. It is this new incon­stancy that brings today's historical thought into dialogue with the themes of the bridge language, as adumbrated in the introduc­tory remarks, our notional return to which brings these consider­ations to a close.

Bibliography : retain here as well? Occurs at end of Document.
Boulton, Marjorie. 1960. Zamenhof: creator of Esperanto. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Dasgupta, Probal. 1987. Toward a dialogue between the sociolinguistic sciences and Esperanto culture. Language Problems and Language Planning 11:305‑334.
Dasgupta, Probal. 1997. Esperanto, the theoreticals, and guestli­ness: some captions. Osmania Journal of English Studies, Theory Special Issue.
Fettes, Mark. 1991. Europe's Babylon: towards a single European language? History of European Ideas 13:3.201‑213.
Jakob, Hans. 1995. Servisto de l' ideo: 50 jaroj che Universala Esperanto‑Asocio 1908‑1958. Antwerp: Flandra Esperanto‑Ligo.
Janton, Pierre. 1993. Esperanto: language, literature, and com­munity. Tr. Humphrey Tonkin et al. Albany: SUNY Press.
Lins, Ulrich. 2/1990. La danghera lingvo: studo pri la persekutoj kontrau Esperanto. Moscow: Progreso.
Privat, Edmond. 4/1957. Vivo de Zamenhof. Rickmansworth: Esperan­to Publishing Company.
Sircar, Badal. 1988. Je aasaa kare. 282‑303, Naanaa mukh: naatxok kobitaa probondho onnaanno. [In Bangla.] Calcutta: Anjali Bose.
Sircar, Badal.1991. Ni esperu.[In Bangla.] Calcutta: Anjali Bose.
Waringhien, Gaston. (Ed.) 1948. Leteroj de L.L. Zamenhof. 2 vol. Paris: Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda.


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