Reasons to learn Esperanto  

This document contains 3 sections:

Most of this material is taken from discussions which took place in the "soc.culture.esperanto" newsgroup, the "conlang-l" and "auxlang-l" mailing lists, and email exchanges.  All opinions are my own except where noted.  This compilation represents answers to frequently asked questions and oft-repeated but unfounded statements regarding the idea of a constructed language and particularly the planned language "Esperanto".



"Esperanto should be taught in our schools because,  if  for no other  reason,  it  would give our linguistically isolated and complacent students a chance to experience  reasonable  knowledge of another language, and to increase knowledge of their own".
 - Professor Todd C. MOODY, St.Joseph's University, Philadelphia
"Esperanto is  the  linguistic expression of the brotherhood of man".
 - Sir Anthony BROOKE

"My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: "Back Esperanto loyally."
 - J.R.R. Tolkien


What is Esperanto, anyway?

Reasons to learn Esperanto or any planned language:

Reasons to learn Esperanto first among planned languages:

The idea of an Planned International Auxiliary Language:

The idea of a second language for everyone (dua lingvo por ^ciuj) may seem unusual at first glance, but it is actually very logical:  I don't make you learn my language, I may not have the time to learn yours, but a small effort on both our parts can let us communicate.  Of course, ideally everyone should learn the same second language, and it should be exception-free, easy to learn.  No "natural" language would qualify, a simplified or planned language is the obvious answer.

And throughout the last few hundred years, many people have thought this goal worthwhile.  Over a thousand people (priests, philosophers, scientists, doctors, laborers from all walks of life) have created their own planned language (planlingvo).  The vast majority of these were never used, not even by the inventor, but a handful have caught the interest of others, and one stands out far and away above the others:  Esperanto.

But no matter what is your favorite planlingvo, the idea of an international auxiliary language is logical and reasonable.  Yet no such language is in universal use in politics, commerce and science.  The only explanation I see for this is that humanity itself is illogical and unreasonable.

Isn't English spoken world-wide already?

Subject: English on decline

Don Harlow:

Interestingly, while English was spoken by about 10% of the world's population in 1900, and by about 11% in 1950, it is today spoken by about 8.5-9%. The corollary is that, for better than 90% of the world's population, it is _not_ the de facto means of international communication.
Ken Caviness:

Proponents of English as the defacto international auxiliary language delight in pointing out that English is used internationally in aviation.  They conveniently forget the "accidents" or near accidents caused by linguistic misunderstandings between pilots and air traffic controllers.

Here is Steve Belant's report on another catastrophe that could have been avoided by use of an easily-learned and globally-used second language.

Ne¨trala lingvo:

Linguistic handshake:

Sylvan Zaft:

One Chinese Esperantist described Esperanto as a linguistic handshake.  When two people shake hands they both reach out halfway. When two people speak Esperanto they have both made the effort to learn a relatively easy, neutral language instead of one person making the huge effort to learn the other person's difficult national language and the other person making no effort at all except to correct his/her interlocutor's errors.

Wouldn't any universal language break up into dialects?

Simon Patience <sp /c`e/>:

And if the language ever did become a truly international language then you can be certain that it will be corrupted by the large number of speakers that would be more interested in expressing themselves than in language purity so irregularities will be introduced. Esperanto is so regular because, in global terms, the number of people who speak it is insignificant.

Ken Caviness:

This is the same unfounded claim repeatedly made by people exposed to the idea of an international second language for the first time.

(1) Esperanto is intended to be your _second_ language, so it remains relatively intact: people primarily create slang, idioms, etc. in their native language.

(2) Esperanto is intended for cross-cultural use, therefore use of too many colloquialisms, etc. jeopardizes your chances of being understood (which is presumably your intention).  This acts as a stabilizing influence on the language.

Cris <acjgabr /c`e/>:

besides, if Esperanto was implemented in Europe, it would be greatly altered - just like any other language which has and is around - every language has different regional differences and accents and pronounciations - this would only encourage every local speaker to adjust Esperanto to their own local flavour in language.

Hinsen Konrad <hinsenk /c`e/ cyclone.ERE.UMontreal.CA>:

Regional dialects appear when people communicate mostly with their geographical neighbours and rarely with people from further away.  Dialects tend to disappear when long-range communication dominates (as can be observed in many parts of the world after the introduction of radio and television). So there is no reason to suppose that Esperanto (or any other language chosen for international communication) would form dialects. There is also the not unimportant observation that Esperanto has not formed any dialects in its more than hundred years of existence.

Gil G Silberman:

But there is no predicting the future.  If lots of people use it, it will pick up its own idioms, style, slang, regional dialects, technical terms, and so on.

Sylvan Zaft:

1. Idioms. They are thankfully extremely rare in Esperanto.  Esperantists as a rule do not encourage them because they impede international communication.

2. Style. There has been style in Esperanto since 1887. Different authors write in different styles, just as in other languages. Some write clearly, some obscurely, some profoundly, some shallowly, as in any language.

3. Regional dialects. Since Esperanto is used for international communication, regional dialects have not developed. Umberto Eco explains why in *The Search for a Perfect Language*.

4. Technical terms. Of course. How else can you talk about highly technical subjects. An ample Esperanto dictionary of computer terms has just appeared and has received many favorable reviews. For many thousands of technical terms you might consult the Esperanto "Duden" picture dictionary, a massive work put out by Rudiger Eichholz.

A more effective way to teach modern languages:

D Gary Grady <73513.2350 /c`e/> / <dgary /c`e/>:

Research at Columbia, Sheffield, and elsewhere strongly suggests that the time spent studying Esperanto as a first foreign language is largely repaid by the time then saved in learning a second. Hence the marginal cost of learning Esperanto -- especially for someone who intends to later study French, Spanish, or English -- is very low.  This is especially true for people who find language-learning difficult.

A fairly high percentage of U.S. students spend several years studying a foreign language. As far as I can tell, for the vast majority of them this time is utterly wasted, because they don't remember enough of the language well enough to actually use it beyond the phrasebook level.

About 25 or 30 years ago Mario Pei, the now-deceased Columbia University philogist and polyglot who wrote numerous books on languages, suggested an alternative scheme that strikes me as a lot more practical and sensible than the one currently used. He proposed dividing the time now devoted to language classes into two parts:  Roughly half would be spent teaching the students how to communicate on a very basic but useful level in perhaps as many as a dozen languages (Danke! Merci! Gracias! Kiitos! Salamat! Tak! Spasebo! ...)  The other half would be spent studying one language in more depth, just to develop language learning skills. Pei suggested making that in-depth language Esperanto, because the student could cover far more ground in it, and could reach the point of actually being able to communicate something non-trivial in it.

Only for kooks and fanatics, right?

Michael P Urban <urban /c`e/ COBRA.JPL.NASA.GOV>, responding to a quoted message:

> First off, this quasi-religious behavior is not limited to Esperantists;
> every international auxiliary language that has more than one user, also
> has this behavior among some of its users.

Well, this is understandable, isn't it?  If Esperanto (or Klingon, or Glosa) is nothing more than just a frivolous
game, then it is a game that is more fun the more people you have playing.  And if it is more than just a game, then it is proportionally that much more Globally Significant.

> What the fanatics of the world fail to realize is that having a snappy,
> memorized retort to every possible objection does not help to win more
> supporters for "the cause*," instead it just makes it obvious that you are
> in the grips of fanaticism, which is the human equivalent of a computer
> virus, and is a very unpleasant thing to behold.

I am not sure I know just where the dividing line is between your use here of "fantaticism" and the use of "enthusiasm" in my own idiolect. If someone has already made the decision to try to get outside people involved in some interesting area of activity, surely it is important for that person to have already considered the common objections and detractions ahead of time rather than having to reply, `well, uh, that's, uh, a good question' on the fly?

> Mentally healthy people are instinctively repelled by the stench of fanaticism, say nothing of the antiseptic odor of sanctimony.

> Why do auxlang projects turn into quasi-religions, anyway?  Did the
> inventors of the telegraph, the wireless and the telephone have to engage
> in such behavior to attract users to _their_ inventions?  I think not.

Seen any ads for Windows 95 lately?

I suppose that the Telephone company originally just sat back, never ran a newspaper or magazine advertisement, and just waited for the world to come beating at their door, begging them to lay cable.

There is a curious implication here that commercial ventures that spend vast amounts of money in their promotion are somehow more reasonable in their behavior than enthusiasts handing out flyers at conventions, language expos, or whatever.  I guess it depends on your religion...  

Why not learn a natural language?

All languages are invented.  Most "natural" languages have horrible inconsistencies and irregularities that are completely unnatural for the human brain.  (Have you ever notice children making "mistakes" in speaking their mother tongue, and thought that the mistake is more logical than the "correct" version?)  Maybe Esperanto is more natural than English, Spanish, etc.  [Note:  My thanks to Sylvan Zaft for this viewpoint, which is from a manuscript being published.]

Manuel M Campagna <ah514 /c`e/ FreeNet.Carleton.CA>:

The expression "natural language" is an oxymoron. The great Swedish phonetician Bertil Malmberg showed scientifically that nothing in the human body appeared to allow speech. We are only making secondary (after the fact) use of what we have. Language is exclusively cultural, which is proven by its utter diversity, the fact that it is controlled by unrelated (but hopefully coordinated!) parts of the brain, and the fact that it can be conveyed by so many media:  controlled hiccups (speech), controlled gesticulation (mimicry, sign languages, etc.), controlled twitches of the hands (writing). In addition, the receivers are different from the senders : breathing system for outgoing speech, auditory system for incoming speech; hands for outgoing writing, eyes for incoming writing.

In 1997, clinging to the superstition of "natural" languages is a naive display of sheer amateurishness.  

Esperanto has (by far) more speakers than any other planlingvo

That's not a real language, is it?

Simon Patience <sp /c`e/>:

You can't seriously pretend that Esperanto is a living language in the same way as any European language for example?

Ken Caviness:

Yes, actually it is.  You see, it's been used in all conceivable circumstances for over 100 years.  Whatever you have to say, you can say it in Esperanto.

Yves Bellefeuille <an448 /c`e/>:

It's said that Umberco Eco, before he started supporting Esperanto, once said in class that Esperanto isn't a real language "because you can't make love in Esperanto". A girl stood up and said, with some embarrassment, "I'm sorry, Professor, but it *is* possible to make love in Esperanto. I've done it." Personally, I don't believe it. I mean, I don't believe she actually said it. Oh, forget it. ;-)

But can an artificial language have its own literature?

Among all constructed languages, only Esperanto has achieved the stability and wide-spread acceptance to develop a literature of its own.  Therefore we turn to Esperanto to answer this question.  Please note, however, that a certain number of works (mostly translations) exist in Interlingua, Ido, VolapŘk, and perhaps others of which I am not aware.

Gil G Silberman:

My guess is that if it is always to be a second language, esperanto will never develop serious literature.

Sylvan Zaft:

The myth that Esperanto does not have serious literature keeps popping up.

Esperanto has developed serious literature. Thousands of works are currently in print in Esperanto and new works are constantly appearing.  Works have been translated from Esperanto into other languages.  PEN has an Esperanto chapter. An account of Esperanto literature can be found in Janton's book on Esperanto which is available in the original French version, an Esperanto version and an updated English version.

If you are interested in serious Esperanto literature, you might take a look at Trevor Steele's fine novel, *Sed Nur Fragmento*, Josef Rumler's major poem *"Lasta ^Cevalo" and Spomenka Stimec's moving account of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, *Kroata Milita Noktlibro*. The latter is available in German and Japanese translations. Other recommendations upon request.


If I had a small amount of money for every time I have seen this kind of uninformed untruth, I would now have a lot of money.

I appreciate that not being familiar with the intracacies of esperanto-culture makes it difficult for you to write about it with any deep knowledge, but please try to understand that Esperanto has just as much literature (original, not just translated) as any other language of a similar number of speakers.

(1) It already has serious literature
(2) It already has it's own idioms, and style, and even some slang
(3) It *still* doesn't have regional dialects, since it is mostly used internationally
(4) The artists already have discovered it

There is no reason why a planned language shouldn't be capable of the same things as a national language.  Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  Have you heard of Auld, Szathmari, Kalocsay?  Galloway, Gray, Kelman?   None of them, probably, but you would probably not be as quick to claim that Scotland did not have a literary culture.

Is there a body of Esperanto poetry out there anywhere?

Yes.  Over the years much Esperanto poetry, novels, and all types of literature has been written.  In view of its "pont-lingvo" application, many works of national/regional literature have been translated into Esperanto.  Little by little, some of these works are being made available on the web.  An excellent place to start your tour of Esperanto literature on the web is Don Harlow's "Literaturo" page: <>

I've never seen a translation of a famous Esperanto author into my language, so there must not be much original Esperanto literature, right?

Richard Caley:

How many great novels in any artificial language? I can't remember coming across anything translated from Esperanto.

Ken Caviness:

This can be subdivided into two (2) questions:

(1) Has any original literature of any value been written in

    Answer:  YES.

(2) Are there any translations from Esperanto into MY language?

    Answer:  Why should there be?
I've never understood the demand for something to be translated OUT of Esperanto (presumably into English).  Yes, it has happened, but this is a priority for _nobody_.  Why should it be?  Anyone can learn the language in a short time and be in a position to read the original works for themselves.

Also compare the difficulty of creating a good translation into English with the ease you can chin yourself up to the level of reading the original in Esperanto.  There is more than perceived value to be considered here, there is accessibility.  I _need_ a translation of Dostoyevsky, since it is taking me literally years to make headway in Russian.

Translation INTO Esperanto is a different story.  I invested an incredibly small amount of time learning the language, and now have been able to get a taste of great works of many different cultures.  And such translations are likely to be superior to translations into English, by reason of Esperanto's flexibility and expressiveness, and the fact that native speakers typically do the translating from their language into E-o, in contrast to the typical situation  or translations between unplanned languages.

[Yes, ideally I should read all these works in the original languages.  I promise, I'm working on it!  But I'm not sure if I'll be able to master them all in the next 50 years.]

The surprising thing is that there actually _is_ a large body of original literature in Esperanto.  It doesn't surprise me that much of it has not been translated into English.  Comparatively little of the world's literature has been.

For those interested in literature in Esperanto on the net, both original and translated, see

This collection, although impressive, is of course only a tiny fraction of the extant Esperanto literature.  For most of it, you still have to buy the books!  Contact the Esperanto rganization of your country for more information.

Just how much Esperanto literature is there?

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1968 edition: (Unfortunately a little old, but it was passed
down to us from my grandfather, so I didn't spend thousands of dollars to buy it!)  There are one and a half pages about Esperanto, including development, structure, examples, uses, and literature.  It really seems impossible to me for one to read this entry without being impressed:

"The Library of the British Esperanto Association registers about 30,000 publications in Esperanto, and while many belonging to its original literature are of significance only as pioneer works, on the other hand merely commercial writing is almost nonexistent.  There is a considerable translated literature, ranging from Dante, Goethe, Heine, MoliŔre, Voltaire, Ibsen, and Tagore to Baudelaire, Sartre, Lermontov, Golgol, Selma Lagerl÷f, Imre Madach, Mori Oogai, and Erich Maria Remarque; and anthologies from national literatures (e.g., Hungara Antologio, 1933; Angla Antologio, 2 vol., 1957- ) are of a high standard."

[This paragraph is preceded by a much larger section devoted to original poetry, novels, etc.]  

Superior translations from/to Esperanto.


Due to a dearth of native  speakers, any translating into or out of Esperanto is done by a (preferrably) native user of the =other= language, and this works well.  When translating into Esperanto, the translator recognizes the idioms, and translates them into plain language (since Esperanto is not loaded with idioms as are national languages), because he is aware of these idioms, and is careful to be sure that others from different cultures will not be confused.

When translating from Esperanto, he can use the target language's idioms where they are appropriate.

This is why Esperanto would be useful to the European Union:  they would need a much smaller bank of translators to get everything translated from each of the official languages to each of the others.

If there are ten languages involved, with no Esperanto intermediary, it takes ninety translators to do the translating (or better yet, one hundred eighty, so each translates only in the efficient direction).

With Esperanto as an intermediary, it takes only ten, even though the path from one national language to another involves two translations.  And the resulting translation may even be better, because it is translated =from= the source language by a native, and also =into= the target language by a native.

Have you really ever used any Esperanto words for actual communication?


Actually, many words:  When I was stationed in Crete, a friend and I went to a plateau in the middle of the island and tried English.  Well, we had to rely on her Italian from college and (yes, it is true:) my ability with Esperanto. (there was one kid in one of the shops there who had been to the university in Athens and picked up Esperanto there.)  Then, when I was in Japan, some from my base volunteered to help some area high school kids with their English.  These kids had had more than  4 years each of the language and their level of ability was atrocious.  My student knew Esperanto, so when we found out our mutual language, we decided to conduct further lessons in Esperanto.  He never did quite get English learned any better than when we first started 13 months before.  So, even if people *learn* (and I use that term very loosely) English, their ability to use it makes the premise of English=IAL very shaky indeed.

Is the Esperanto accusative (-n added to words) too hard to learn?

Thomas Leigh <u02tl /c`e/>:

Interestingly, in all my experience with Esperanto, the only people who really vociferously constantly complain about the accusative are the native English speakers. The Dutch are also rather famous within Esperantujo (the Esperanto-speaking  community) for having problems using the accusative, but they don't seem to complain about it very much. I once read somewhere that when speaking Esp-o (or any intended international language) that most of the time you will be speaking to people of other countries/cultures, and so the aim is not so much to make yourself understood, but rather to make it impossible to make yourself misunderstood.

I am not about to say that Esp-o is a "perfect" language, as that is obviously an extremely subjective idea which will vary tremendously from person to person.  But the fact is that Esp-o works. It is used daily by people all over the world.  People use it to talk about the weather, argue over whether we're being visited by beings from other planets, discuss the benefits of vegetarianism, flirt (all examples from personal experience) and so forth, and is therefore quite clearly a living language, and no one will convince me otherwise.

Esperanto uses diacritics on certain letters rather than digraphs or multiple sounds per letter

Although a favorite complaint by certain proponents of other planlingvoj, this is a good feature of Esperanto!

English, French and Spanish, for instance, all have two completely different sounds that are represented by the letter "g", as in the words "good" and "gymnasium".  In French and Spanish, how you pronounce the letter "g" depends on the letter that follows it.  (In English it's all a historical accident.)  Likewise in English "c" and "s" change their pronunciation if followed by an "h"!  Clearly we need separate letters to represent these different sounds, since who would want a planned language that required the spelling bees (contests) so familiar to English-speakers?  Icelandic imported non-Latin characters where new symbols were needed, but this would reduce visual recognition of international words.  And although it is hard to believe, the creators of Ido reverted to using the digraphs "ch" and "sh".  (Note that among the various ethnic languages there is no standard pronunciation for these two-letter combinations.)

In Esperanto, Zamenhof chose a brilliant compromise:  new letters that still look like the old ones.  For example, the "hard g" and "soft g" are "g" and "^g", respectively.  Diacritical symbols are traditional in practically all languages which adopted the Latin alphabet, so the solution is a familiar one.  Here are all of the Esperanto letters involved:
   ^c    g ^g    h ^h    j ^j    s ^s    u ¨

[Pronuciation:  "c" is a brief /ts/ as in some of the slavic languages, "^c" represents "ch" in English or "tsch" in German, "g" is "g" as in "good", "^g" is "g" as in "gin", "h" is /h/, "^h" is the German "ch" in "Bach", "j" is the German "j" or the English "y" in "yet", "^j" is the French "j" like "s" in the English "pleasure", "s" is /s/, "^s" is the English "sh" or the French "ch" or the German "sch", "u" is /u/, "¨" is /w/.]

These are considered to be separate letters, so for purposes of alphabetizing "^s" immediately follows "s", etc.

Note:  Esperanto characters are part of the Latin-3 international standard (as well as Unicode).  However, for the benefit of those who do not have suitable fonts, in this document I have used inline images.  (Look here here for freeware fonts containing Esperanto letters.)

Dan McGinn-Combs <d.mcginn-combs /c`e/ MINDSPRING.COM> skribis:

One of the _benefits_ of the "hideous" letters Esperanto is the fact that they allow for this kind of immediate recognition of the written word by the man/woman in the street.  They provide _one_ means of avoiding some of the problems with the letter /c/ with which Jespersen, a talented linguist, dealt [with] by eliminating the offending letter completely from his first incarnation of Novial.

Is Esperanto "too European"?

And although much of Esperanto is certainly European-based, it is still simpler (even for an asiatic) than unplanned (even asiatic) languages.  One of the best Esperanto magazines I've seen is "El Popola ^Cinio", and the president of UEA (Universala Esperanto-Asocio) is a Korean.  It would be ridiculous to pretend that E-o poses no difficulties for speakers of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malay, or any language you care to name (including English and French), but the Esperanto movement is stronger in China than in the U.S., the evidence goes to show that E-o is not particularly difficult for Asians.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the saying goes.

Joseph Voros <joseph.voros /c`e/>:

The argument seems to always come down to the difference between agglutination and separate roots.  Or "Eastern" and "Western" style languages, broadly speaking (I know it's an oversimplification). Some people think every concept needs its own root, others are happy to begin with some basic set and modify. Two incompatible systems of thinking.

I consider Esperanto to be a good compromise between "Western" root-based thinking and "Eastern" agglutinative thinking (again, very roughly speaking). Having a Hungarian background, I delight in the simple elegance of Esperanto word-building.

[Note:  To the best of our knowledge, Hungarian is completely unrelated to Indo-European languages.  --kc]

I think there is something for everyone in Esperanto, no matter what your linguistic background, and that this is one major reason why it is the most successful of the conlangs.

Baudouin Petit <100523.1467 /c`e/>:

Esperanto was a beautiful idea, and still taken seriously by some people, including a subgroup of the transnational Radical Party.  My main personal objection to esperanto is that it is in fact an attempted synthesis of exclusively european languages.  People whose native tongues belong to another linguistic group can only find esperanto completely foreign to their linguistic culture and vocabulary.

PEJNO Simono <100103.24 /c`e/>:

As far as vocabulary goes of course you are right.

As far as anything else goes, I rather suppose that you are completely wrong! Or have you ever heard of an 100% agglutinate indoeuropean language? Or of an indoeuropean language with a mechanism anything like the Esperanto affix "ig"? Or of anything at all like the affix "eg"?

The problem is that people only "casually acquainted" with Esperanto tend to base their judgement on its vocabulary. Vocabulary is - rather obviously - the only thing they can recognize at first sight.

In reality Esperanto is something very different from any indoeuropean language. It is infinitely more regular and agglutinate then say Turkish, well known for such properties. Also it's flexions are not really flexions at all.

And by the way the consonants and alphabet are definitely Slav, the vowel system could maybe be Spanish, and the general sound of the language somewhat similar to Italian.

One last point to make, is that it could be a better idea to learn words common to several commercially important languages, than to learn arbitrary words or words arbitrarily selected form 50 non-related ethnic
languages. In other words if a Chinese person learns Esperanto at least his vocabulary acquired in doing so will be of some use to him if he decides to tackle the 10-fold more difficult task of learning English, French, Italian, etc. afterwards.

Sylvan Zaft:

The other night I was having dinner here in the Detroit area with Koralo Chen, a fellow-Esperantist from China whose home is very close to Hong Kong. I presented this objection to him. Koralo Chen replied that he had often heard this objection but that it made little sense to him. In his part of the world the major languages are completely unlike each other. Knowing Chinese doesn't help with learning how to speak Korean or Japanese, for instance.

Koralo Chen believes that China needs to profit from the knowledge it can obtain from the western countries. However, learning English is extremely difficult and requires an enormous investment of time and effort. He believes that if Esperanto were used as a universal international language this would be of enormous benefit to the Chinese. His experience has taught him that speakers of Chinese can learn Esperanto in a fraction of the time that it would take to learn English.

I can see where Baudouin Petit's objection makes good theoretical sense to some westerners such as himself, but it makes no sense at all to those Chinese who, like Koralo Chen, need not a theoretically perfect but very practical language to learn for international communication.

Can a language with European root words be linguistically neutral?

Manuel M Campagna <ah514 /c`e/ FreeNet.Carleton.CA>:

There is no lack of non-IE roots in Esperanto, Arabic being the largest original provider. There are roots from all over the world, including Hottentot and Tamil.  [Note:  But of course, these roots are also "international", that is, common in several widely-spoken languages. --kc]

Word-building in Esperanto is agglutinative, i.e. based on a principle prevalent in Turanian (Ural-Altaic), Sino-Tibetan, Bantu, Eskimo-Aleut, many Amerind families, and other families. Japanese is often called agglutinative, although this is moot.

Sentence-building in Esperanto is similar to that of (relatively) free-order languages, which is found dispersed in various language families. I am not aware of any language family that presents a single sentence-building system. IE languages vary from (relatively) free-order languages such as Latin and Russian to rigid-order ones like Modern High German.

Should we create a language with words from all around the world?

Manuel M Campagna <ah514 /c`e/ FreeNet.Carleton.CA>:

The IALA (International Auxiliary Language Association) researched this point scientifically, and came up with the conclusion that while there are 6170 languages in the world (not including dialects) AT THIS TIME, there is no evidence that a language with one word from each language would be more popular. Indeed it would be an unworkable hodge-podge.

Words are not the only aspect of language. Morphology, Syntax, and Semantics are even far more important.  While the lexicon of Esperanto is chiefly but not exclusively Western European, the Semantics are chiefly Slavic, the Morphology is agglutinative, a feature of such languages as Sino-Tibetan languages (including Chinese and Vietnamese), Bantu languages (including Swahili and Zulu), and a large number or North and South American languages.  The Syntax is relatively free, which makes Esperanto an excellent translator of Japanese, Latin, Bengali, as well as, of course, English, Hungarian, Chinese, and French.

David Poulson <d.poulson /c`e/>:

This objection has been handled at length by Prof. Pierre Janton. In brief, there are two major facts to take into account.  First of all, there are thousands of languages in the world and if Esperanto attempted to create its vocabulary from even 10% of them you would simple get a language which would be very difficult to learn for everybody instead of the real Esperanto which is relatively easy for many.

Secondly, the world wide spread of Euro-American science, commerce, technology, geopolitics, entertainment, etc. has meant that many technical terms from "Western" languages have entered the vocabulary of many other languages too. So, in fact, the European basis for Esperanto's vocabulary is a lot more international than appears at first sight.

However, the whole argument is really irrelevant because the internationalism of Esperanto - or of any other planned language - cannot reside in its vocabulary for the reason just mentioned.

In fact, what makes Esperanto a truly "international" language (as distinct from a "world" language like English) is its extraordinary semantic flexibility which allows speakers from different language families to translate their own thought patterns directly into Esperanto and produce something which is perfectly intelligible and grammaticaly correct.

This fact is generally not known to Esperanto's critics, needs to be explained at length, with actual examples, and perhaps we should all make an effort to make it more widely understood.

Isn't Esperanto hard for speakers of non-IndoEuropean languages?

Manuel M Campagna <ah514 /c`e/ FreeNet.Carleton.CA>:

Non-IE speakers thank you for your protective attitude, but they can and do fend for themselves, and Esperanto is very popular in Hungary, Estonia, Finland, Japan, China (both mainland and Taiwan), Vietnam...  The current president of the Universal Esperanto Association is a Korean university professor of _Economics_.  The most attended international meeting in _5000 years_ of Chinese history was the 1986 Universal Congress of Esperanto in Beijing, being the largest both by the number of delegates and the number of countries represented.  

Maybe it was just a historical coincidence that Esperanto was better accepted than the others?

philip /c`e/

I s[u]spect the success of Esperanto is more because Z[amenhof] was in the right place at the right time and was good at publicising E-o, rather than the intrinsic merits of the language.

Don HARLOW <donh /c`e/>:

The right place and right time argument has much to recommend it (Harlow's fourteenth law [ask not what the first thirteen are]: No planned language invented in the 20th century United States has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding). Zamenhof, on the other hand, was not particularly good at publicising Esperanto; he had neither the contacts, the experience, or the financing. To a very great extent, the language sold itself in late 19th century central Europe and very early 20th century western Europe. How much this had to do with the intrinsic merits of the language, I leave to others to determine.

Maybe Esperanto only overwhelmed the opposition because of the availability of textbooks?

Rick Harrison:

Perhaps one reason for Esperanto's relative success is the plethora of instructional material available: if one textbook doesn't make sense to you, or annoys you, there are others to choose from.

Don HARLOW <donh /c`e/>:

This may make sense in the context of 1995, but doesn't tell us much about why Esperanto did so well early on. The _Unua Libro_ is hardly a paragon of pedagogical correctness, and during the first few years of Esperanto's existence most of the available textbooks were simply clones of it (in various languages). The English-language version, written by one Julius Steinhaus, a cousin of Zamenhof's who thought that he spoke English, was an absolute catastrophe.

Official resolutions favoring Esperanto:

1952: UNESCO, Paris
1954: UNESCO, Montevideo
1979: WFUNA , Barcelona
1980: WTO, Manila
1985: UNESCO, Sofia

Nobel-prizewinners supporting Esperanto:

Informis Manuel M Campagna <ah514 /c`e/ FREENET.CARLETON.CA>
kaj Don HARLOW <donh /c`e/ NETCOM.COM>:


William RAMSAY (Kemiiko 1904)
Joseph J. THOMSON (Fizikiko 1906)
Alfred FRIED (Paco 1911)
Charles RICHET (Medicino 1913)
Daniel BOVET (Medicino 1957)
Salvatore QUASIMODO (Beletro 1959)
Reinhard SELTEN (Ekonomiiko 1994)

Eble interesus la legantojn ekscii kelkajn faktetojn pri tiuj nobelumitoj.

Ramzejo, kiu malkovris la plenan familion de la "noblaj" gasoj, estis aktiva Esperantisto, kiu partis kongresojn kaj aliajn E-eventojn.

Tomsono, kiu malkovris la elektronon, estis interalie vicprezidanto de Internacia Scienca Asocio Esperantista.

Frido, kunfondinto de la germana pacmovado (kun Berto de ^Stutnoro / Bertha von Stuttner) en 1892, interalie telemorsigis (okcidentece "telegraphia") kiel partanto de la Haga Packonferenco al la 3-a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto en Kembri^go (1907) la sekvan mesa^gon : "De la nepaca konferenco en Hago korajn salutojn al la vera paca konferenco en Kembri^go."  [...]  Frido verkis germanlingvan lernlibron de Esperanto kaj kunlaboris kun "L'EspÚrantiste".

Ri^ceto, kiu malkovris kaj nomis anafilaksion (^sokeg-reago de la korpo al substanco, al kiu la korpo jam sentemi^gis per anta¨a sperto), estis aktiva Esperantisto, e^c volontulis en la movado. Li verkis kaj aperigis libron "L'homme stupide" (La stulta homo), en kiu li ripro^cas la homaron pro siaj stulta^jon ; en la ^capitro "La mare aux grenouilles" (La ranmar^ceto), li ripro^cas la homaron pro ^gia rifuzo lerni Esperanton. Mi legis tiun libron. Li estis anka¨ pioniro de aviado.

Boveto, kiu malkovris la sintezon de artaj kurarecaj substancoj (tio estas, substancoj paralize agantaj sur la movignervoj), lernis Esperanton sur la genuoj de sia pa^cjo. Onidire li parolis Esperanton "perfekte".

Kvazimodo, kiu italigis la verkojn de Psapfo (nacilingve Psappho [^sia propra literumado], ofte Sappho a¨ Psappha), estis pro sia retiri^gemo nur trankvila partanto de la loka babilrondo.

Zelteno, kiu ricevis sian premion pro la ludteorio, anka¨ nomata strategiiko, estas aktiva Esperantisto, membro de IAS, kaj kunverkis jam du librojn en Esperanto pri la aplikado de la ludteorio al Esperanto. Evidente modela Esperantisto.

Vilhelmo Ostvaldo scipovis Esperanton (almenaux ^gis konversacia kapablo) kaj entuziasme propagandis ^gin en Germanio anta¨ la fino de 1907.  Li poste fari^gis idisto, en en 1916 ellaboris novan lingvon "Weltdeutsch" ("la mondgermana") kaj en 1926 li (la¨ Drezeno) skribis pri la bezono ellabori _novan_ internacian lingvon ! Sendube li apartenis al tiu kategorio de homoj, kiuj lernas ^gis ioma grado kaj ekde tiam volas la tutan lingvon ^san^gi...

Pliaj informoj / More information:

DRATWER Isaj, "Pri internacia lingvo dum jarcentoj", 2-a eldono, Telavivo, 1977 (320 pa^goj).

Interview with sci-fi author Harry Harrison:

"harry, the galactic hero"

Comic artist, SF editor, Stainless Steel Rat creator and Esperanto ambassador, Harry Maxwell Harrison is one of the great names in science fiction.  He's been writing since 1951 and, as M J Simpson discovered, shows no sign of stopping yet.


Harry's famous for a number of things, beyond writing SF - one of the most unusual is being a love of the little-used "international" language Esperanto.  Did this come from all his travelling, I wonder.

"No, it actually came about before that.  It's in my blood, I suppose.  In the army, we had a lecture about Esperanto, and I studied and learned to read and write it.  After the war, I went back to New York and learned to speak it too."

It's a bit ironic that Esperanto, which was meant to be the leading international language, has now been taken over in terms of actual speakers by Klingon, isn't it?

[Note:  This is certainly not true.  -- kc]

He laughs.  "What appals me about Klingon is that it's the hardest language to learn, the one with the most difficult grammar, whereas Esperanto is the easiest, has the most regular grammar.  You can learn to read and write it in an hour and a half."

I guess it just hasn't caught peoples imaginations like Klingon has...

"Yes, but Esperanto is still a great, glorious thing.  I'm happy to say that me science fiction has made me an honorary patron of the World Movement.  They called me up and said, `Would you be an honorary patron?'
so I said `What do I have to do?'  And they said `You have to speak Esperanto and be world-famous,' and I said `That's me!'.  I'm the only science fiction writer they have.

[Note:  Also not true, but is he is the best known.  --kc]

"In fact," he continues, "the _Stainless_Steel_Rat_" books have brought thousands of new members in.  They had an ad on the back page - normally the translator puts in `The Rat speaks Esperanto.  Why don't you?', and then they put the address of the local organisation.  At one point, 80% of all the enquiries in America were from the _Rat_ books.  Then they translated the _Rat_ books into Russian, and the translator translated the last page with the American address on it!  So the Americans got hundreds of requests about Esperanto - in Russian!  Just now a group of international enthusiasts have done an Esperanto translation of the first book, and I've done an introduction for it.  That'll be coming out soon."


Contact us at:
SFX, Future Publishing, 30 Monmouth Street, Bath, Avon, BA1 2BW <sfx /c`e/>

 ^Gisdatigita je la 1a de septembro 1998 fare de Ken Caviness     --    Bonvolu averti min pri eraroj!