Esperanto on the AUXLANG list  

During my time on the auxlang-l mailing list, there has been a great deal of discussion about the merits and defects of various constructed languages to be used as *the* international auxiliary language.  Almost without exception members of the list feel that an IAL is a great idea, but which one?  Of course, some (including myself) think that Esperanto, as the most widely used planned language, is the logical choice, but Interlingua IALA, Ido, Novial, Glosa, and Latino sine Flexione (Peano's Interlingua) each have fervent supporters (although in some cases only one) on the mailing list.  I have complained about pure propaganda postings, and encouraged proponents of all auxlangs to give hard facts, and ideally to create webpages about their favorite contender.  It is a great service to the IAL community to bring this information before the public.  I am happy to say that there now exist online resources in Interlingua IALA, Lojban, Loglan, Ido, Volapük, Novial, Glosa, and various lesser-known conlangs. And naturally, there are thousands of pages of Esperanto material online.

It is my feeling that none of the discussion has changed anyone's opinions or preferences.  But the discussions have been valuable none-the-less, for me, at least:  I have had to carefully rethink my position, justify my views with facts, explain my criteria for choosing an IAL and why Esperanto remains in my opinion the only choice.  I would like to thank my fellow list members for their help in this process:  those who agreed with my points and thanked me for one or more of my postings, and those who disagreed with me (rather forcefully at times!) and forced me to restate my position more coherently and logically.

These webpages are a distillate of many discussions, and provide a resource that I (or others) can refer to rather than hammering away at the same points, boring those who've "heard it all before".  The page you are reading now contains additional explanation, claims & counterclaims, and some of the longer diatribes (or links to them).  Please see the main "Eo_unue" web page first!

Topics:

For a touch of light comedy to begin, see Mark Vines' essay on how to pick tomatoes <tomatoj> in 5 constructed languages (kun traduko Esperanten de Jens Larsen).


Excerpts: 

Clear Winner:

21.01.96:  My personal opinion is that almost any of the planned languages would work well as "the" international auxiliary language (assuming one were ever agreed upon).  Perhaps the more Romance-based vocabulary of Interlingua IALA would make for better initial recognition without study for those who already speak a Romance language, similarly Latin scholars and students would already know the vocabulary of LsF.  But it seems to me that Esperanto's word-building make vocabulary learning _much_ easier for _everyone_, not just those who happen to recognize certain root words.  Perhaps Ido does the same?  [N.B.  Yes, Ido has a system of affixes but prefers to import new words instead of using word-building. --kc:12.08.97]  To me this is definitely one of the most important features of the "ideal" auxlang.  However I'm sure no two conlangers would ever agree on all the features to include in the "ideal" auxlang, so it is pointless to condemn this or that feature of Esperanto, as long as it is _much_ simpler than natlangs (and it is).

For me the _primary_ feature of the "ideal" auxlang is definitely that it already be in use!  Who wants an auxlang that is "perfect" but no one uses?  If I someone created a fantastic auxlang tomorrow I'd have to wait years before there was a significant amount of material written in it.  But I'm using Esperanto _now_.

To me Esperanto is (at this time) the clear "winner", since it has:

1.  Simple grammar.
2.  Word-building to *greatly* facilitate vocabulary learning.
3.  Some thirty thousand (30,000) books already published.
4.  About one hundred (100) periodicals currently in print.
5.  Organizations and clubs in many countries all over the world, sponsoring local, regional, national and world-wide congresses.
6.  Far more speakers world-wide than any other planned language.
7.  A long track record of success against great prejudice (on the part of both non-conlangers and some conlangers!)

[References for the numbers in Britannica and elsewhere.]


Supposed defects of Esperanto:

1.  Esperanto is horribly outdated, worthless, difficult (!!!), etc., etc.

brg /c`e/ NETCOM.COM (Bruce R. Gilson) skribis:
> NOBODY can convince me that there is one person in the world who would find Esp'o easier to learn than Ido, Novial, or Intal, starting from scratch. <

Well, I won't try to convince you.  I hope someday to have access to materials on these languages so that I might know something about them.  [Note:  now online materials are available for Ido and Novial, so readers can see for themselves! --kc:12.08.97]
But if they don't have regular word-building, nobody can convince me that they could possibly be as easy to learn as Esperanto.  If they do have it, then I still doubt if they could be even 5% faster to learn.  This is not enough of an improvement in the "cost of learning" equation to be worth giving up Esperanto's other strengths.
 

Note:  Esperanto has 11 grammatical endings and about 30 "suffixes" (plus the scientific suffixes of chemistry, etc). They can be learned in at most a couple of hours.


2. Esperanto has an ending "-n" to indicate the accusative (direct object):

brg /c`e/ NETCOM.COM (Bruce R. Gilson) skribis:

> [Russian and German] are considered very difficult to learn. Note that English, French, Spanish, and Chinese do not [have an accusative case] <

The accusative case in Esperanto is marked by one letter:  "-n"  This way even rearranging the words in the sentence doesn't make the meaning ambiguous.  In German the accusative is marked by changing the article and adding endings to the adjectives in front of masculine singular nouns, but not for feminine, neuter or plural nouns.  In addition, in some exceptions mentioned by others the masculine or neuter noun takes an accusative ending.  I hope you aren't planning to argue that the Esperanto accusative is hard simply because German is!

See Barry Savage's eloquent response to Bruce Gilson's critiques of this feature of Esperanto here.

See Don Harlow's explanation of the advantages of the "-n" marker here.


3. Esperanto doesn't use a fixed word order.

Edmund Grimley-Evans <Edmund.Grimley-Evans /c`e/ CL.CAM.AC.UK> responds to the opinion:

> I think fixed word order langs are a little easier to process -  the listener or reader doesn't have to expend as much mental energy unscrambling the arguments. <

So you would claim that (1) and (2) are easier to process than (3) and (4), would you?

(1) That's exactly what I wanted to say.
(2) C'est précisément ce que je voulais dire.
(3) ^Guste tion mi volis diri.
(4) Genau das wollte ich sagen.

(I claim that these are more-or-less translation equivalents, but I don't guarantee that the French sentence is totally correct.)

(I read recently that the subject is more likely to follow a verb of happening in German than to precede it. The same is probably true in Esperanto. So the most common sequence depends on the verb.)

Edmundo


4. Let's reform Esperanto, there are a couple of features I don't like:

The "suggestions for improvement" that I have seen would almost all result in a great loss of flexibility in the language.  It would be harder to use it, whether for writing poetry or for translating literature of another culture while retaining some of the feel of the original.

I'd say that a person must have a fair mastery of a language before he is likely to have useful ideas for "improving" it.  Otherwise you risk losing some of the most powerful features of the language in your attempt to "fix" some perceived problem.


5. Esperanto "can't be reformed", therefore it is useless or dead:

brg /c`e/ NETCOM.COM (Bruce R. Gilson) skribis:
> Since Esperanto was fossilized in 1905, it is a dead language. Case closed. <

Disagree.  Natlangs are almost never reformed.  It is major undertaking that sometimes just splits the language.  (See Norwegian)  Natlangs do gradually change, but basic structure has immense linguistic inertia.  Those changes that do occur within any one person's lifetime are few, incidental against the background of the stable language.  Any language, planned or wild, that is reformed too often has just committed suicide, or mitosis, or something.  ;-)  Esperanto's Fundamento is intended to act to some extent in the place of the inertia innate to natlangs.

Perhaps Ido didn't overtake Esperanto, not because of Esperanto's headstart, but precisely because of Ido's lack of stability.  Briefly, what Mr. Gilson considers a great disadvantage in Esperanto (some firm ground), I see as necessary and useful.  (Like E-o's accusative, but I won't repeat myself!)

Read Edmund Grimley-Evans' comments regarding stability vs. reform in Esperanto here.


6.  Claim:  Ido is a great improvement on Esperanto, and Novial a great improvement on Ido, etc., etc.

brg > if I try to quantify it, as compared to most natlangs, Volapu"k went 5% of the way to our ideal interlanguage; Esperanto 10%, Novial 80%. <

I don't believe in an "ideal interlanguage".

But suppose we accept your strong belief that Novial is somehow "better" than Esperanto (in abstract aesthetics, ease of learning, great use of Latin roots, or whatever).  But it can't be _that_ much better.  And personally, I wouldn't put Volapük that low:  it is complicated, but regular:  a big plus in my book.  In any case there was a mass exodus from Volapük to E-o, which indicates that some people thought the latter better (at least 5% better!) but no proportional switch from E-o to Novial, which makes me suspicious that _it_ simply can't be very much better than E-o.

Here for my thoughts on Ido, Novial, etc.
Here is Don Harlow's comments to James Chandler's comparison of Ido and Esperanto.


7.  Is Esperanto a dead language?

No! If the language has been successfully used as a literary medium, successfully used in business, in science, in families, even according to reports [*I* wouldn't know] in bed, how can anyone look down his nose and proclaim that it somehow isn't "living"?  Not to try to define the term, but what I mean is that Esperanto is "viable in any situation where an unplanned (wild, 'natural') human language could be used".

[With reference to other language projects:]
I would certainly _not_ equate the twitching convulsions of constant linguistic reforms with "life".

Some people think that all planned languages are "dead", "soulless" and "lacking any culture".  So far (in my opinion) only Esperanto has been used enough to show this to be false in its case.


8. Aren't you just inflating the numbers of Esperanto speakers?

Bruce R. Gilson wrote:
> Is there anyone who actually _believes_ that there are actually two million Esperanto speakers? The World Almanac published that figure a few years ago, but has since withdrawn it because, I am certain, it was shown to be a ridiculous estimate. <

In 1963 Mario Pei of Columbia University, famous linguistics professor, author, supporter of the idea of an international auxiliary languages, but not himself an Esperantist (as far as I know) suggested a total of 8 million Esperantists.

It is truly ridiculous for us to continue this discussion.  Anyone who takes the trouble to look up "Esperanto" in an encyclopaedia, any encyclopaedia, can read the number of national Esperanto organizations that exist, the number of countries in which members of UEA (Universala Esperanto-Asocio) reside, etc.  I'd quote some of these, but my only handy encyclopaedia is dated 1968, so the figures have probably changed.

But noone can deny that we are talking about significant usage here.

More convincing to me than eternal claims and rebuttals of number of speakers is that the British Esperanto Association Library lists 30,000 (thirty thousand) publications in Esperanto.  My '68 Britannica has an entire column just on the original literature of Esperanto.

Friends (and I'd like to think we can be friends), all I'd like here is to set to rest the off-hand comments that Esperanto hasn't been used enough to be worth any consideration.


9. Poor little me!  If it weren't for Esperanto, my favorite conlang would already be used globally!  It's all the fault of Esperanto.

[Believe it or not, this is the attitude of some so-called "supporters" of the IAL ideal]

Bruce R. Gilson:

> As I said, Zamenhof's intransigence is responsible for the fragmentation of the IL movement today. <

kc: The only satisfactory reply to that in my language is:  "Sez who?"

From: Edmund Grimley-Evans <Edmund.Grimley-Evans /c`e/ cl.cam.ac.uk>

ege > My practical experience of Esperanto tells me that BRG's idea of a language that is constantly and consciously being reformed and improved is totally impracticable. Moreover, lojbab has said roughly the same thing based on his experience of Lojban. <

brg > I've had my arguments with Bob on this, true. However, this is what Idists do.  I've seen papers in Ido journals with asterisked words and even suggested grammatical changes. They are published, and not ridiculed, and I understand that some changes have even been made. <

ege > The trouble is that such a conlang never attracts ordinary users:  everyone who uses Ido, etc is a conlanger, interested in language design. Most Esperantists are not particularly interested in language design. Instead they are interested in music, literature, politics, stamp-collecting, whatever, which is why Esperanto has its own music, its own literature, serious discussions about politics ... and clubs for stamp-collectors. The language become mature and complete through ordinary use by ordinary people, not through constant hacking by lunatic lovers of language. I think this is something that lojbab understands well, but that most conlangers never understand. <

brg > If the publishers of the official Esperanto organs threw their lot in with the 20%, there certainly would be compulsion. <

ege > There aren't really any "official" Esperanto organs. If UEA started pushing a reformed Esperanto, most of the Esperanto movement would desert UEA overnight. <

brg > It is clear that, in the absence of WWI, Ido might well have overtaken Esperanto. <

ege > People like Kalocsay and Baghy were for a long time both Esperantists and Idists. They eventually decided for Esperanto. Kalocsay claims that he found Esperanto to be linguistically more suitable for literature, particularly poetry, but one shouldn't necessarily believe that this was the real reason. Some people blame the personality of the Ido leaders.

Whatever the reason, it's a poor excuse to blame the war. <


Conclusion:

Some of Zamenhof's design choices aren't "normal" among conlangs, but he struck a balance that makes the language usable, expressive, "alive" (whatever  that means).  I can't conceive of a language much simpler than Esperanto than would still be viable.  Other design choices might have worked, too, but you can't make a language that is enough "better" than Esperanto to make it worthwhile for me to abandon it.  I don't need "perfect", I need easy and practical (usable now).

I'm not a linguist, though I enjoy learning languages.  Usually I sit back and listen to my betters.  But these are my views.  I'll try not to bore anyone by repeating myself.

All the best! / ^Cion bonan deziras al vi
Ken

Other interesting material:

Why Rick Harrison, a former auxlang activist, has given up on auxlangs entirely:  <http://www.geocities.com/Athens/5383/farewell.html>

Why Paul Bartlett has withdrawn from the auxlang and conlang lists, and after investigating all and sundry, says "pick one and go with it", and himself recommending Esperanto. <PBFarewell.txt>

Why Chris Zervic, an Esperantist and conlang/auxlang enthusiast, left the auxlang list:  <CZFarewell.txt>



 ^Gisdatigita je la 1 septembro 1997 fare de Ken Caviness     --    Bonvolu averti min pri eraroj!