Ideas That Made Too Much Sense. Part 3.

esperanto-symbol.jpg

ESPERANTO

The idea, of course, is noble. Construct one ‘universal language’ so that all the peoples of the world could communicate freely to foster peace and international understanding. Esperanto, which means ‘one who hopes’, was created to achieve this goal. It’s symbol (above) was designed to show the five continents being united by a common language (nah, I can’t see it either; I count 3 contact points – what am I missing here?).

Anyway Esperanto, created in the late 1800’s, once actually looked like it would flourish. The number of speakers grew rapidly primarily in the Russian empire and Eastern Europe, then in Western Europe and the Americas.

But then Reality reared it’s ugly head. There were problems – lots of problems. Among them:

• The language is based on European roots and sounds. Too bad for you, Asia; and Africa? Forget about it.

• Language needs a specific culture to flourish. It’s words are symbols which represent tangible objects and ideas. People in Hawaii don’t need many words to describe snowstorms and Eskimos really don’t care about a name for pineapples.

• Dictatorships hated the idea. Stalin called Esperanto ‘the language of spies.’ Nazis even executed some of its practitioners. And here in the United States, Joe McCarthy (who spawned Ann Coulter) said it was “a Communist language.”

Today, over a century after its birth, Esperanto is spoken by (generously estimating) about 1-million Esperantists. Just a verbal speck in a world of 5- or 6-billion people.

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2 Responses to “Ideas That Made Too Much Sense. Part 3.”

  1. mankso says:

    To be quite clear, the goal of Esperanto is ‘universal bilingualism’ [YOUR language + Esperanto for everyone] and not ‘one language for the world’ (which seems to be the direction in which Anglo-American linguistic policy is now headed, if statements of Gordon Brown re the British Council a few days ago are to be taken seriously:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7193681.stm ).

    More than 50% of the world now speaks an Indo-European language natively. The word stock of Esperanto was selected largely on the basis of ‘maximum internationality’, not to satisfy any one group. It may appear to the unitiated to be very democratic to design a language with 15 words from Inuit, 25 from Zulu, 33 from Malayalam, 100 from Chinese, 3 from Manx Gaelic etc. etc., but in practice this helps no one – it’s mere tokenism at its worst. (And Interlingua chose to go in the opposite direction to Esperanto, and even excluded words from Germanic and Slavic languages).

    >Language needs a specific culture to flourish.
    Indeed! – and Esperanto does have a ‘culture’, although not in the traditional sense, since it is non-territorial and non-ethnic. How many authors of Esperanto literature (prose or poetry, original or translated) can you name? One does not need to belong to only one ‘culture’. By definition, all Esperanto-speakers are at least bilingual, and feel that they belong both to their own ethnic group AND to a much more diverse world culture. Have you looked into the annual World Esperanto Congresses, which attract around 2000 Esperanto-speakers from about 57 different countries every summer?

    You cite ‘world peace’ as one of the article tags. Where in the seven-point Prague Manifesto: http://lingvo.org/xx/2/3
    is this mentioned? The reasons for Esperanto have more to do with language democracy (in international use), global education, effective second language learning, preservation of minority languages, equal language rights without discrimination, and giving a voice to all people (not just the linguistically privileged ones). These are the issues that need to be addressed.

    Arguments against Esperanto as a language are too late and in vain. The simple fact is that it works fine as it is – try it and you’ll see! And listen to a daily program from Radio Polonia to hear it in action:
    http://www.polskieradio.pl/eo/

  2. Frank Paolo says:

    HERE IS THE COMMUNICATION TO WHICH I REFERRED
    IN MY SECOND BLOG ENTRY. MY REPLY TO BRIAN’S
    COMMENT BEGINS ‘DEAR FRIEND’ – I THINK YOU CAN
    FOLLOW THE REST.

    Frank:
    Thanks for the message and for taking the time to reply.

    On Jan 20, 2008, at 22:32, Frank Paolo wrote:

    Dear Friend,

    Thank you so much for your comments regarding Esperanto. You
    obviously know much more about the subject than I do and I’m glad
    you took the time to write. A few things:

    1. The Internet is a remarkable vehicle for communication. I am new
    at ‘blogging’ but if I pushed the right buttons, your comment will be
    listed under my Esperanto blog entry immediately.
    Yes you did – and thanks! Don’t be too surprised if you get other similar reactions also.

    2. My blog is mainly an outlet for my opinions and “creativity”. I am
    surprised that anyone outside a small group of my friends and clients
    even reads it. I’m very happy my ideas are exposed to a much
    wider audience and suspect the ‘Google Alert’ feature brought it to
    your attention.
    That’s exactly right. Everyday there are close to half a dozen such mentions of ‘Esperanto’ picked up by Google, most of them with an erroneous understanding of the idea, arguing from hearsay, or stating “facts” which five minutes research would show to be wrong.

    3. The tone of your letter suggests you may think I’m belittling
    Esperanto. Of course that’s not true. I think the idea of a ‘universal
    language’ is wonderful. The category of “Ideas that made too much
    sense” should give you an understanding of how I truly feel. Perhaps
    I was too idealistic in my view that ‘world peace’ was one of Esperanto’s
    goals. Perhaps that’s an overstatement of ‘universal understanding.’
    Sorry if I overreacted! I do tend to fly off the handle on this subject, but it’s because I have spoken Esperanto now for 58 years, and obviously feel an emotional attachment to it. Re the term ‘universal language’ – I no longer know what this terms means, and I’m not sure you do either – that’s why I don’t use it. Most unilingual English-speakers hearing it for the first time immediately think of ‘one language for the world’ – an idea quite abhorrent to most Esperanto-speakers, who are generally in favor of linguistic diversity. World English is now becoming a ‘killer language’, destroying smaller languages and cultures. I have personal experience of this, being from a Celtic background and having lived in Quebec. And now in the Pacific Northwest 54 indigenous languages are facing imminent extinction here too. Had a ‘buffer language’ such as Esperanto been in place there might have been some chance of slowing this down, if not stopping it.

    4. Although I have heard of the idea for many years, I only understood
    it in vague – and (I now know) sometimes erroneous – terms. The source
    of the background I presented can be found at this website:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto
    In it you’ll read MANY disagreements with the concept – whether they are
    right or wrong.
    Hope you’ll find the time to look into this a bit more and make up your own mind!

    One of the neat features of this ‘on-line encyclopedia’ is
    that it can be edited by readers. Information on how to do this are on the
    site.

    So again, thank you for writing and I doubt my perspective will harm what
    I consider to be a very civilized movement. I invite you to explore the rest
    of my blog for your amusement.

    Kind regards,
    paolo.

    Thank you again – amike salutas via
    Brian

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