In case you don’t already know, Esperanto is a constructed international auxiliary language created by L. L. Zamenhof, a Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist, in the late 19th
century. It is reportedly the preëminent auxiliary language, proposed for international communication. (In case you are interested, here is the Wikipedia article.)
My question is simply, how is Esperanto faring today? As I said, some people still have some high aspirations for it. But in a recent thread I made on another message board, someone referred to it as a dead language, like Latin.
I never learned Esperanto. But I guess I can tell you, about 25 years ago I was interested in it a little bit. So I contacted this local lady (in metro-Detroit). And she offered to help a little.
And I have to tell you, reportedly, the language has no culture. Yet still, there does seem to be a kind of culture that has built up around it nonetheless. Maybe that is what turns some people off to it.
But as I said, my question is simply, does it have any hope of fulfilling its original dream? And does anyone bother to learn it now? Especially young people?
And I do have to ask. Do we have any Esperantistoj on this message board? I had to ask.
A basic problem for Esperanto being adopted as an international language is that it is based on the Indo-European languages spoken in Europe. While it may be simpler than other languages and easier to learn for speakers of European languages, it won’t necessarily be a lot easier to learn for those from other language families. I can’t see a Chinese speaker seeing much point in learning Esperanto in preference to English or even French.
Linguistically, it’s about as good of an IAL (International Auxiliary Language) as you could expect a 19th Century European to come up with; that is to say, it’s fundamentally short-sighted, flawed even by the standards of an IAL only intended for Europeans, but usable as a day-to-day language if certain concessions are made to accents and places the grammar was never fully nailed down.
All that said, it’s hanging in there. As far as early experiments go (and Esperanto is only the second constructed IAL to achieve notoriety, Volapük being the first) it’s notable for the fact it’s still actively learned and used.
The original dream was to foster world peace, and we all know how well that turned out. But it was never the Tower of Babel that made people into bastards.
The World Esperanto Congress is alive and well, and, if you believe the statistics, over a million people speak the language. The problem, to the extent that there is one, is that they are dispersed all over the world, so while you can attend these congresses where everybody speaks Esperanto, it’s not a national language anywhere nor is anybody under any illusion that the whole world is suddenly going to start using Esperanto as a second language over English, French, Latin, or Chinese.
Therefore the use of Esperanto evinces a bit of Zamenhof’s idealism, whence the culture you mention. Why should invoking world peace and universal communication turn anybody off, though?
As for the language itself, it is a sort of European-style language with some quirks like most natural languages, but beyond some grumblings I never heard extremely vehement objections because of that or because it is not culturally neutral enough. It’s just a language.
Or Mandarin, which is a more-or-less man-made language meant to provide a common language to unify the speakers of the many, many Chinese dialects. It’s unquestionably successful (around the world, most places that teach “Chinese” are teaching specifically Mandarin Chinese, even though Cantonese is the most common native dialect), but almost certainly just because it had the weight of the Chinese government and educational system enforcing it (unlike Esperanto). Nearly everyone who went to school in China after the 1950’s can speak Mandarin, even if it’s not their native dialect.
Yes, but my point was about learning a language to use internationally. India uses English as one of their national languages in part so that speakers of the many other languages can communicate with one another. But this has the side effect of Indians being able to communicate widely internationally as well, which is not the case for Mandarin. If you want to communicate internationally, English for the present is a much better choice.
Now giving China’s increasing importance, that could change in the future, but English has a big head start and the advantage of being written alphabetically. (I realize Chinese script does have the advantage of being able to represent words in different forms of Chinese with the same symbol, but the fact that there are so many of them presents a lot of problems.)
I learned Esperanto because Harry Harrison had it as the lingua franca of his Stainless Steel Rat books. Outside of that, I have had exactly no use for it except that terrible horror movie with William Shatner in Esperanto and to read the signage in Chaplin’s The Dictator.
I think the idea of a constructed language is good in concept, but it needs to offer something more than just being a culturally neutral Indo-European langauge. It should be possible to create a constructed language that is far more compact and with rational layers of semantic complexity and for which the phonemes are more univerally accessible. However, getting people to actually use such a language requires that it provides some utility, and neither Esperanto nor any other constructed language really fills a need; Interlingua is probably the closest, and the failure of its adoption by the scientific community illustrates how difficult it is to insert a new language that does not have common usage.
Pragmatically. Politically, Esperanto is an IAL Which Is Not English.
Esperanto isn’t Latin or Mandarin or Hindi or Bahasa Indonesia or Russian, either, but being Not English seems to be a prime desideratum for people who want, and who believe can exist, an IAL which is non-political and, therefore, palatable to everyone. The fact Esperanto was banned by the Nazis and the Stalinists sails right over their… precious little heads.
It’s not dead. There are a (very few) people who grow up speaking it. It is still actively used by a million or so, and is somewhat familiar to a few million more. Unlike Latin which, as far as I know, has no native speakers left.
That said, it’s very very much a minority language. English is the main international language these days, for better or worse (at some point in the future likely some other language will take that role, but who knows when?)
There is a sort of culture in that people write stories in it, sing songs in it, and converse in it. But it’s not a mainstream culture. It’s more like people who who learn Klingon or Tolkein’s fictional languages - they are very much a niche.
No, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell it will become The International Language of Choice. I learned a bit of it from curiosity, and because I find languages interesting. I also studied Irish Gaelic for awhile, a language arguably even more “useless” in that fewer people in the world speak it than speak Esperanto (although Irish has a much, much longer history and a more developed culture attached to it). I’ve recently started looking at Hebrew, another language with few speakers (although it does have the distinction of coming back from the dead - I’m not aware of any other language that has done that).
That said - my studying French and Spanish is arguably much more useful in today’s world.
(No, I’m not a linguistic genius. I’m a dabbler. I can communicate in broken French and understand a few phrases and words in Spanish, fewer still in Irish and Esperanto. I find languages interesting, but am only fluent in my native tongue.)
Jes, ni havas kelkajn.
(Yes, we have some)
Incubus wasn’t so much terrible to me as boring (with a side order of terrible). Esperanto also showed up in the British comedy series Red Dwarf.
It’s not that Esperanto or some other constructed language couldn’t do the job, it’s that the job is already being done by a naturally evolved language. These days, that’s English. In the past, that language has been French or, in parts of Asia, Mandarin. Having an army does help a language spread and become dominant, and Esperanto has never had an army. There are other factors, too, it’s not just about conquest. Economic power helps, too.
I seem to recall hearing of an Irish delegate to some international body, who was a native Irish speaker, and who refused for political reasons to use English, and who therefore communicated with the rest of that body in Esperanto.
As for internationally-used constructed languages, doesn’t Swahili fit that bill? True, it’s only used significantly on one continent, but then, that’s not so different from Esperanto.
Swahili is not an artificially constructed language like Esperanto or Klingon - it is a member of the Bantu language family than has been heavily influenced by other languages like Arabic. Yes, it is spoken over a wide area and is a common second language in that area, allowing diverse people to communicate. Unlike Esperanto, though, it’s a naturally evolved language.
Conversely, I was told when I was in India that some people from non-Hindi speaking groups preferred to use English as their common language rather than Hindi in order to avoid giving Hindi even more advantages. Even though English was the former colonial language, it was neutral.