zamenhof's "Dream" language

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What was the language Zamenhof dreamt in when finding the solution for a/the definite article "la" in his Esperanto?

What was Zamenhof's "first" language?

(quoted from the Mendele list vegn mame-loshn --mi'e .aulun)

"I thought that the recent postings on the topic of language in dreams

had pretty much covered the range of phenomena in existence on this

topic, but it appears that I was wrong. I was recently browsing

through a biography of Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, called

"L'homme qui a d�fi� Babel"(the man who defied Babel) by Ren�

Centassi and Henri Masson, when i came across an account of a dream

which Zamenhof had, apparently at the age of about 16. That would

have been more than 10 years before 1887, usually considered the

birthyear of the language, when his first grammar of Esperanto was

published. He at that time was concerned with the question of whether

his language should have a definite article, having noticed that his

own Polish, and also Russian (presumably the prestige language of that

time and place, since Zamenhof lived in Bialystok, then part of the

Russian Empire), did not. In the dream he was pondering this question

near a forest with his uncle Jozef and his Greek teacher, whose name

was Billevitch. Zamenhof suggested that they might find someone in

the forest who could help them. Billevitch, on the contrary, warned

against going into the forest on the grounds that there were three

girls in red who wanted to harm them. Zamenhof then looked toward the

forest, saw the girls in question, and cried out, "there are

- -the-(author's emphasis) three girls in red." Zamenhof then woke up

in a sweat, but decided that his problem had been solved. The

definite article had in his view proved its usefulness. And, as every

Esperantist knows, there is a definite article, namely the invariable

"la". I can't remember having or hearing about a dream with this degree of

linguistic specificity. It is also not clear what language the dream

occurred in. Probably not Polish or Russian, since these lack the

article which played such a prominent role. Zamenhof knew several

other languages, most of them with definite articles, so these appear

to be better candidates. In any case, postings from others suggest

that people can dream in languages that they don't know very well.

The last possibility is that the language was some embryonic form of

Esperanto itself, since Zamenhof was so intensely concerned with this



E. P. asked about whether L. L. Zamenhof, the

inventor of Esperanto, knew Yiddish. Although he apparently regarded

Russian as his first (and favorite) non-invented language, he clearly

was a speaker of Yiddish and, in fact, wrote a fascinating grammar of

Yiddish in Russian. The grammar was not published until 1982 with the

original Russian and a complete Esperanto translation. In it Zamenhof

argued for Latinization of the Yiddish writing system. He proposes a

literary pronunciation that is almost exactly the same as the YIVO norm.

A propos of another thread he states that one should spell 'auf' as

'af.' His proposed spelling norms totally reject the daytshmerish

orthography in favor of one reflecting actual Yiddish pronunciation. He

calls for a purging of daytshmerisms from the language. All in all, a

very "modern" approach for 1879-1882, the approximate time of


I don't know about the 'the,' but it is widely accepted that only one

purely Yiddish morpheme made it into Esperanto. This is the suffix (now,

basically, substantive) -edz-o 'husband,' which is viewed as a back

formation of -edz-in-o 'wife,' and which appears to derive from the

suffix -etsn in the word rebetsn.

By the way, Zamenhof's writings on Yiddish are collected in: Adolf

Holzhaus. "L. Zamenhof, Provo de gramatiko de novjuda lingvo- kaj

-Alvoko al la juda intelektularo. Helsinki, 1982.

H. I. A.

According to Reyzen's _Leksikon_, Zamenhof's father, Marcus, and his

grandfather, Fabian, were both teachers of French and German in

Bialystok, then part of the Russian empire, where four

languages--Russian, Polish, German and Yiddish--were common. Reyzen says

nothing about his first language, but points out that Zamenhof once

thought that Yiddish, because of its widespread character, might serve

as a basis for an international language. Zamenhof spent three years

working on a Yiddish grammar, only fragments of which were ever

published (in a Yiddish periodical). In his publications on Yiddish he

suggested adopting the Latin alphabet for Yiddish.

In 1958 the editor of _Yidishe shprakh_, Yudel Mark, gently

corrected a reader who had asserted that Zamenhof's mother tongue was Russian (emphasize by me)

He argued that Zamenhof grew up in a bilingual milieu even if he learned

Russian as a child and heard Russian at home--and from his mother at

that (YS 18:80).

In a subsequent issue of the journal (YS 19 1959:30) another reader

expressed his surprise that Zamenhof had written for a Yiddish

periodical and worked on the language. He related his own experience of

being visited daily by Dr. Zamenhof (who was an ophthalmologist) during

the four weeks in 1902 when he was a patient in a Jewish hospital in

Warsaw. He reported that the doctor normally used Polish while making

his rounds, but since he (the patient) spoke little Polish, Zamenhof

spoke "a 'daytshn' yidish" with him. He added that the doctor "(hot)

ober keyn mol nit oysgeredt keyn ekht yidish vort." The editor (Mark)

conceded that this may have been true, but suggested that the strongly

anti-Yiddish attitude of the time would have made it difficult for a

doctor to deal officially with his patients in ordinary Yiddish, "nit

fardaytshndik a bisl zayn shprakh." Mark added that it is conceivable

that a person could perfectly well write about linguistic matters in

Yiddish without being a fluent _speaker_ of the language.

B. R."