Christopher Culver has written an impassioned essay, “Why Esperanto Suppresses Language Diversity”, about why he has withdrawn from the Esperanto movement. Basically, his point is that despite its rhetoric about supporting language diversity, the movement is actually interested only in supporting Esperanto use, and in practice works to suppress diversity as exemplified by the use of other languages. He says:

Esperanto is so strongly obligatory that its use is expected among any two Esperantists even if they speak the same native language. The act of using one’s native language with an Esperantist of the same mother tongue, referred to with the Esperanto neologism krokodilado, is one of the great taboos of the Esperanto movement and generally invites a scolding from other members of the movement.
The argument may arise that people attend congresses for the sake of practicing Esperanto and therefore it is inappropriate to speak other languages. The first response is that, provided that they understand one another, it is never inappropriate for two people to speak the native language of one or the other, for to do otherwise is to rule out any true cultural exchange. A second response is that Esperantists cannot be expected to limit this insistence on Esperanto to congresses, for many Esperantists look to congresses as ideal environments. Many times have I heard some Esperantist say “How I wish the whole world were like an Esperanto congress!” The norms of congresses, including the censure of the use of any language other than Esperanto, would serve as models for all international communications, as well as for communication in international contexts between two people of the same native language.

He also says that “in sheltering them entirely from the local language, congresses give participants no true contact with the host country.” An interesting take on a movement I don’t know much about, and I’ll be curious to see what better-informed readers have to say.


  1. Interesting. I don’t know much about the movement. But I was struck by two things. One, I had always taken for granted that Esperantists were not big fans of linguistic diversity. Why go to all the bother of creating an artificial “easy-to-use” language if you believe in diversity? Seems rather naive on the author’s part.
    Second, while the author protests that speaking only Esperanto “rules out any true cultural exchange”, might not the opposite be true? Isn’t it possible that Esperantists have created their own culture? Esperanto has been spoken for 100 years now. Surely some “genuine” culture has accreted around it by this time? In what sense is the Esperanto culture not a valid one? It may be a rather parochial culture but that is true of many cultures with small populations. Ironically the more “authentic” Esperanto becomes the less attractive it will probably be to the outside world as a neutral language.

  2. When I think of an artificial language with culture, I think of Klingon, not Esperanto.

  3. Odd that universal language movements seem so prone to schism.

  4. Well, the other way of looking at it is: The thing most Esperantists value more than pretty much anything else is the idea of universal understanding. So the more positive side of this is “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could understand everyone else all the time?”
    The argument in favor of language diversity would be something along the lines of “Isn’t it great that people have tremendous difficulty communicating? There are people who speak languages that I’d have to study for years to have any chance of communicate anything as complicated as this sentence — isn’t that just neat?”
    Obviously there’s a middle road. You don’t have to give up Esperanto in a dramatic huff because you disagree with their ultimate vision of the world. (You can leave it in a huff, like I did, because it seems like Esperantists have nothing to talk about other than Esperanto!)

  5. Bilingual and multilingual people are in the minority. Most people worldwide seem to prefer one language to the exclusion of all others. The dominant language of a region eventually prevails and many people will give up their native languages in favor of the dominant language if it means upward mobility for them.

  6. Michael Farris says

    As an esperanto speaker who doesn’t like some aspects of the organized movement, I’ll add the following notes:
    “Esperanto has no culture” – That’s not a bug, that’s a feature! Well actually I’d say there’s a few ‘cultures’ or more appropriately ‘cultural scripts’ for esperanto, for easy use, I’ll give them not-so-clever names:
    1. “the green room” – this is the basic default script, a set of behaviors for dealing with those for whom esperanto is the only or main means of communication. It’s friendly and gets the job done very well. It’s partially dependent on the assumption of good will and if there’s an area where esperanto usage needs work, it’s in diplomatic disagreement and institutionalized hostility.
    2. “the ESL course” – (esperanto as a second language) this is about ‘use and practice of the language’. Obtaining a practical reading knowledge of esperanto was ridiculously easy for me, learning to understand spoken esperanto was also pretty easy. Learning to actively speak was somewhat more difficult and I’m still far from eloquent (we’ll leave aside the issue of how eloquent I am in other languages). There can be good aspects to this script, but it can get tiresome too. This is where you get the admonitions to only speak esperanto, but IME it’s almost always at least intended in a good natured way.
    3. the family circle – this is mainly about those who use esperanto in their family lives. Interestingly, though there are some native speakers, those who stay in the movement don’t have any special status. That is native usage isn’t recognized as any kind of standard to be emulated (I like that, but I can uncerstand why some wouldn’t). There is a standard but it’s not native.
    4. the club – I have little experience with this. Famously, esperanto usage in esperanto clubs does not predominate (unless there are special guests, especially if they don’t know the local language).
    5. the international movement – I’ve avoided this and it’s probably what drove sinjoro Culver batty. Movadistoj can be hard going and it has a lot of aspects of any closed environment so that internatl personality conflicts can get blown out of proportion. As with any closed environment, the burnout rate can be high. The public renunciations of former esperanto users usually come from those that spend to long absorbed in the minuteia(sp?) of the congress types.
    I currently have three working colleagues who speak esperanto better than I do, one is a native English speaker and we always speak English. Another is a Chinese speaker who I don’t interact much with (but I usually do so in esperanto since their Polish isn’t especially fluent). Another is a Hungarian speaker (we share at least four languages to varying degrees, but almost always use esperanto unless other people are involved in the conversation cause it’s the easiest for us).
    Finally, having experienced both English and Esperanto as lingua francas (and the English as a Second Language industry), I have to say that Esperanto as a lingua franca certainly strikes me as being more fair and reasonable than English as a lingua franca.
    Any literate European can get all the Esperanto grammar they need within one academic year (assuming two or three meetings per week) and enough vocabulary to write or say most anything they want within one more (two at most, this would include technical vocabulary).
    Your average Polish speaker learning English is going to take three or four times as long to reach a much less acceptable standard (I’m being very conservative here).

  7. There is a HTML version now. Let’s try to make a link here. Esperanto Thoughts
    Sorry, but I forgot how to make it open up in another window. Maybe LH can add that link to the posting itself.
    Anyway, i don’t have much to say about E-o. I tried learning it once, but I gave up soon. It didn’t interest me at all, and I really couldn’t believe half the things they were saying about it.

  8. At the risk of offending Esperantophiles, I can only say:
    Give up!
    Like it or not, English has the global helm folks, and looks set to steer the ship for some time yet.
    It seems to me that those who espouse artificial languages like Esperanto are in constant denial. They fail to grasp that a “lingua franca” isn’t chosen because of its inherent linguistic characteristics, it’s chosen because it is clearly identified with political and economic advancement.
    Learn Esperanto in India and you’ve – well, you’ve learned Esperanto. Learn English and you might well get that government position or the job in the Microsoft call centre.

  9. Brian, I think your “Bilingual and multilingual people are in the minority. Most people worldwide seem to prefer one language to the exclusion of all others.” comes from a very narrow USAian perspective. Moreover, you mix preference and ability in a confusing way. Preference may vary according to circumstances: One 4-year-old Swiss boy I met had few problems in switching between Schwitzertüütsch (with parents), French (gramps), and High German (au-pair girl from Sweden). In Brussels, you regularily see wanted ads, asking for trilingual shopkeepers or secretaries.
    Take a look at for lots of other bi- and multi-lingual communities.I certainly and emphatically can attest to its “Bilingual interaction can even take place without the speakers switching. In certain areas, it is not uncommon for speakers to consistently each use a different language. This phenomenon is found, amongst others, in Scandinavia. Speakers of Swedish and Norwegian can easily communicate with each other speaking their respective language.”
    For example, a Swedish party was dining in Copenhagen. One of the guys (yes, male, of course) boasted that he spoke Danish, and offered to order the meals. Thus done, the dishes arrived, and one of his colleages asked the waiter, “Did you really understand what he said?” Waiter: “Of course, I have no problems with Norwegian.”
    I certainly won’t be surprised if ‘n when I find a scientifically sound survey stating that the majority of people world-wide are bi- or multi-lingual.

  10. I tried learning it once, but I gave up soon. It didn’t interest me at all
    Me too. I had an aunt who was nuts about Esperanto, and I’ve kept the books she gave me as a reminder of her, but to me it’s like taking a pill that satisfies all your nutritional needs instead of eating an actual dinner. Fine if efficiency is all you care about, but I want the sauce and the side dishes and those little crunchy bits that you have to chase down before they escape over the edge of the plate.
    Oh, and thanks for the HTML link — I replaced the pdf with it in the post.

  11. Esperantist ideology not only opposes the use of ethnic languages, it is equally hostile to artificially derived languages other than Esperanto. They claim that an international language should be easy to use and learn, but it horrifies them that there might be a language that is easier to use than Esperanto, aesthetically pleasing, and developed with linguistic competence. In their mind, there can be only one international language, and it has to be Esperanto.
    Esperantists ideology is a one track idea with a totalitarian solution. They view natural languages as enemies which must be separated by putting Esperanto in between. They detest the use of a language like Interlingua that actually helps speakers of western languages to understand each other’s language.
    Esperantism fails because it assumes you can separate language from culture and get people to ‘join’ the language. They try to defeat diverse and influential cultures with no culture at all.

  12. Language Hat: You’re welcome!
    Pete: I think there’s a likely reason for the tendency for schisms. With natural languages any feature that is established in the language historically is definitely a part of the language, even though it may be illogical or difficult. But with a constructed language it’s far easier to criticize the creator’s (or creators’) choices. “You don’t have to do it that way, I know a better way.” and so on.
    Imagine someone telling the French that their language would be far better if it also kept the difference between la and le in the plural! It would be much more logical and would make learning the genders much easier! That won’t do, of course, because the way French works is rooted in its history and the fact that it’s real people’s native language.
    Finally, I’m skeptical of the claims that Esperanto is X times easier that some natural language. With Esperanto learners you have a select group of highly motivated (others just give it up, like I did) learners with special interest in language. I don’t think anyone learns Esperanto for profit or because they have to take a foreign language to graduate. It’s not surprising it comes easily to those who want it. First of all, you’d have to take this into account to compare its relative difficulty.
    Final thought: easy to learn means easy to forget for me. As the Finnish saying has it: in through one ear, out the another. (let’s hear it for the crunchy bits)

  13. I agree with anders, contra Brian. Maybe it’s because I come from a mostly bilingual part of the world (Quebec). Or maybe it’s because most people I know speak at least three languages. While it is true that most people in English Canada (and most of the U.S.) are quite content speaking only one language, and figure that’s the same thing all over the world, that fact it that in most country where I or my friends have been (except maybe France or England), it is very easy to find bilingual people. In fact, in places like Cameroun, people usually speak three languages from early on.
    LInguistic diversity is like biodiversity: it is a necessity for long-time survival.

  14. Brian wrote:
    Bilingual and multilingual people are in the minority. Most people worldwide seem to prefer one language to the exclusion of all others.
    I don’t think “prefer” is the write word. It seems to me that bilingual people pick the most convenient language at any given time and use it. A personal example: at 3 years old, my niece knew she had to use English to talk to her father and uncles because all of the only speak English. She uses French to talk to her mother, aunts, and grandparents because all of them are bilingual but speak to her in French.
    After observing my wife talk to her sisters switching back and forth between English and French (sometimes even mid-sentence), it seems to me they use the language they feel best conveys their thoughts.
    Finally, while it does not involve a language, I have personally experienced this. When I first went to school, I started off learning imperial measurements (inches, feet, and pounds). Then we switched to metric. I can show you what 15 cm or a meter looks like but my preference is to use feet and inches. However, because I did not really pay attention to large distances until I could drive, I am more comfortable using kilometers instead of miles.

  15. I can’t believe I used “write” instead of “right” in the first sentence. My apologies.

  16. With several thousands of languages and only a few hundred countries, I can’t imagine monolinguism being the norm.

  17. Michael Farris says

    “Finally, I’m skeptical of the claims that Esperanto is X times easier that some natural language. With Esperanto learners you have a select group of highly motivated”
    I was no more than moderately motivated and pretty prepared to quit if it got too hard, and since there was no course available, I did it on my own. I just started going through the one textbook I could find (which seemed pretty dated and which I really didn’t like). After making sure I sort of understood all the grammar there and picking up some of the basic vocabulary (a half-hour to hour three or four times a week for a couple months), I just tackled the first book I could find, La Faraono. A translation of the Polish novel Faraon (the Pharoah for the compative etymologically impaired) a longish episodic novel by Prus (three volumes a couple hundred pages each).
    The first five or ten pages were rough going, but the more I read the easier it got, so that by the end of the first 100 pages I was understanding almost everything without using a dictionary (a lot I understood through context and immediately forgot unless it was repeated enough to establish a place in my memory.
    By the way I read all three volumes (it took a few months I mostly read it in the streetcar to and from work) I was essentially a fluent reader. That took about six months of not very intense effort. Now admittedly I have advantages in understanding about how to go about learning a language, but no other language I’ve tackled has come anywhere nearly as easily (except maybe for Papiamento, but I ran out of courses for that).
    One problem with Esperanto is that it’s hard to find reasonable opinions about it. One the one hand you have people that are seriously, almost creepily into it. It’s no surprise that they put people off. But at the other end, those who dislike it often feel free to insult it in a way they wouldn’t a normal ethnic language (and since there are native Esperanto speakers, I don’t say how you can say it’s not an ethnic natural language by now, no matter how it got its start).
    My own opinion is that it’s a potentially useful bridge language for those situations when one might be needed. It requires that everybody make some effort (as opposed to using a national language that makes some people linguistic winners and others losers before they have a chance to say anything) and certainly isn’t a threat to anyone’s native language and never would be.
    It’s certainly not built the way I would have gone about it (something like interlingua but with more phonemic spelling and more creole like grammar) but it gets the job done.

  18. A couple of months of moderate study to be able to read your first book in Esperanto. What a waste of time! It took me the same amount of time to learn to read Danish. A real language, with a real culture opening up for me. That is pay-back!
    I read about Esperanto, didn’t like the ideas. I read about Interlingua, I liked the ideas. I read an on-line grammar for about an hour. I had read my first book in Interlingua within a week, without the aid of a dictionary.
    I don’t believe an international auxiliary language is desirable. But some claim it is, and stick religiously to Esperanto as the one and only God-given language for all of mankind, treating any dissenters as heretics. It is a clear demonstration of how ‘neutral’ the agenda of Esperantism really is.

  19. Michael Farris says

    “What a waste of time! It took me the same amount of time to learn to read Danish. A real language, with a real culture opening up for me. That is pay-back!”
    But again, I think in a bridge language, the absence of a national culture of native speakers is not a bad thing (unless you think it’s good that let’s say Romanian and Polish speakers have to detour through some third national culture to communicate).
    I have nothing against Interlingua, in theory it works for me about as well as Esperanto. I haven’t put any work into learning it but can read a lot with varying degrees of success and would be very happy if it gained more users which would convince me to put some effort into it (I think for example that it would be very good for the written part of Euronews for example instead of the english/french mixture they use now).

  20. When you’ve travelled a long way to participate in a language conference, it’s most cost effective to maximize exposure to the language by refusing to speak in other languages. I don’t think it’s a supression of the other languages.
    In my experience of Esperanto groups, Esperantists fall into two camps: those who embrace the idea of language and speak several, and those who would like to be able to speak another language, are keen on the idea of Esperanto, but don’t seem to have accepted that it takes a certain amount of work to learn any language. They call the latter eternoj komencxoj — might have spelled that wrong.
    I would support an informal ‘ban’ on speaking your native language at a conference on an artifical language for two reasons: 1. to encourage practice of the artificial and 2. to prevent exclusion of the attendees who don’t share that native language. It’s rude to speak in a language that someone present can’t understand, unless they’ve specifically signed up to try to learn that language.
    And I want to get the eternoj komencxoj off their linguistic asses. Stop pontificating an sit down to learn the affixes and vocabulary.

  21. Qov, it’s “eternaj komencantoj”. And Esperantists can do all the banning of other languages that they want as long as they drop the charade of claiming to protect language diversity. The real annoyance here is the hypocrisy and duplicity of UEA and most facets of the organised movement.

  22. I don’t doubt that Esperanto is a lot easier than other languages for some people, but it does not follow from that that it is so for everyone. I’m not complaining against someone saying that it was easy for him/her, I just don’t like glib statements that generalize it for everyone.
    I’m bowing out of this discussion now. When things like “detouring through a third national culture” (um?) come up, or the eternal beginners (that’s how I read the Esperanto words) stuff, I tend to lose interest on the spot. So, better stop lest I say something rude.

  23. Anders,
    Hi, how are you?
    You’ve mentioned a couple of times before on another site that you read Language Hat. This is the first time I’ve noticed that you posted something on it.
    Regarding your commentary, you seem to believe that every human being has the potential to learn two or more languages and I agree with you there. I’ve always been skeptical myself of people I’ve met who say “I have no ability to learn a foreign language!” or “I’m not intelligent enough to learn another language.” They are under estimating themselves.
    However, I really believe that in most humans, the brain appears to be hard-wired to accept only one language. There are 6 billion people in the world so even if the bilingual and multilingual aficionados number in the the tens or hundreds of millions you are still looking at a small minority of the whole human race. Therefore, I think that the Esperantists that Mr. Culver talks about are showing a very human tendancy by being biased towards their favorite language and shunning others.
    One person mentioned Quebec as an example where bilingualism works. Now you and I both know that the opposite is true and that Quebec is not another Switzerland. In fact, Switzerland is just that, an exception. Bilingualism hasn’t worked very well in Belgium either; I’m old enough to remember the language riots and demontrations in Belgium in the 1950’s an 60’s which sometimes made the front page of American newspapers.
    10 years ago, “World Press Review” magazine had an article about how Africa’s tribal languages were rapidly dying out. The article mentioned English, Arabic, Swahili and French as the main threat to these languages in that order. Here is a classic case of people abandoning the language of their heritage for a new language they feel will be more “useful” to them.
    Washington State, where I live, has a large Nordic population, especially Swedes and Norwegians. Yet, nearly all of the Swedish and Norwegian Americans I’ve known can’t speak a word of Scandahoovian and show the same monolingual preference for English that Americans of English, British and Irish heritage do. One Norwegian- American friend of mine, Don Ellingsen, did have an interest in both Norwegian and Icelandic. He told me that his father spoke Norwegian but never wanted him or his brother to learn it. He told them that if they lived in America they were going to have to get along in English and that was the only language they needed to know.
    Don’t get me wrong. I love languages myself but most people I meet in my life see language only as a utilitarian phenomenon. They feel that one language is sufficient and have little or no interest in foreign languages.
    Anyhow, my time is running out. I’d better stop here but look forward to discussing language topics with you again.
    — Brian

  24. michael farris says

    I realize I haven’t really addressed language hat’s original request. Here’s my perspective (again I’m a fairly fluent speaker who doesn’t much like the organized movement):
    I think Mr. Culver is exaggerating … a lot. He’s mistaking informal ingroup norms for official policy or some kind of grand scheme. The main reason for the ‘esperanto only’ rule (which isn’t very strictly followed in my experience) is pretty mundane. Most speakers have learned on their own without the benefit of any kind of organized course and they try to maximize those opportunities they do have to use the language (the same way many language courses have a ‘target language only’ rule during class).
    The reason that congresses and the like are held in different cities and countries and continents is not to give non-local attendees the chance to ignore local cultures. The idea is to give local residents the chance to interact with esperanto speakers from around the world (and secondarily to assure that there’s no “home” country or continent for the movement).
    I think Mr. Culver’s disenchantment is typical of those that spend too long too deeply in the movement and who take it a little too seriously.

  25. It takes a lot of time to learn any language, particularly if you are an adult, only know one language already, and don’t have some exceptional gift for it.
    From an economic perspective it’s rarely worth it, so why worry that some people learn a language that is even less economically useful? To Peter Kleiweg I will say: even if learning danish was easy for you, I doubt the opportunity cost was very good, unless you got some extremely lucky job offer or something.
    Sure, if you make an effort you can speak with danes, read danish literature, and take pleasure from that, but I take from reading Agatha Christie in esperanto. How exactly is my pleasure less real?
    As for the dark, bigoted agendas some people ascribe to the esperanto movement, I say claiming such things and complaining about it in every avaliable forum is even more absurd than promoting an artificial language.
    At least the promoters have fun.

  26. “Esperanto neologism” seems like a bit of a redundancy — doesn’t a synthetic language consist entirely of neologisms?

  27. Spending a lot of time and effort so I can read books translated into Esperanto, books that I could just as well read in my own language, well, yeah, that is really gratifying. I mean, a book only comes to its full fruition when it is translated into a superior language, sanitised from all those nasty subtleties of the author’s native tongue!
    You wouldn’t believe how much nonsense people write in Denmark. Nearly nothing of it gets translated into any real language, and that proves it is all rubbish. So learning Danish will get you nothing. A big waste of effort. Reading Danish books, how stupid is that!
    Let’s just forget about Denmark, and all go happily celebrating our vacations in Esperantistan, a land of peace, free of any original art or history!

  28. Michael Farris says

    Peter, assuming that you’re not that serious about dissing Danish, and taking into consideration that there are native speakers of esperanto* would you feel so free about insulting their language to their face? Is this the last acceptable language prejuidice?
    And you might not think much of it, if you were able to read it, but there is a fairly large (per capita) amount of original literature in Esperanto (and the movement is, if anything, all too absorbed in the history of the language and movement).
    *no monolinguals, all native speakers are at least bilingual, but you can say the same about Basque I think.

  29. Original literature, I heard that one before. Another of those attempts to make Esperanto bigger than it is. You know, when I go to my local bookstore, there are thousands of books in my native language to choose from, as well as many books in several other languages. And I can find translations into my own language of books from all over the world, originally written in countless languages. (Yes, many translated from Danish as well.) But no translations from Esperanto.
    Literature gets translated into other languages. Because many books are good enough to raise attention abroad. Ask anyone to name writers from as many countries as they can, and anyone who occasionally reads a book can name authors from dozens of countries. Ask anyone who is not an Esperantist to name an Esperanto writer, and you get zip, zilch, nothing. Esperanto does not exist as a language of literature.
    And the other thing… the last acceptable language prejuidice (sic). Esperanto does not deserve that much credit. It was a nice little experiment by an amateur in a time and place where little about language was understood. Propagating Esperanto to this day is in itself an insult to language. And parents raising their children to speak Esperanto should be visited by child care.

  30. Peter,
    I respect your point of view and am not going to say that you are flat out wrong. However, in my view, Ludwig Zamenhoff was on the right track with Esperanto. Some of his choices of words are poor however. Esperantists could take some clues from other international language projects.
    I think that Hundo is okay for “dog” but I have never liked birdo for “bird” boato for “boat” and lifto for “elevator”. Cipriano Cardenas in his Hom-Idyomo offers avo for “bird”, batelo or navio for ‘boat” and elevanto for “elevator”, all much better. His choice of knabo and knabino for “boy” and “girl” (from German Knabe) is also poor and needs to be reconsidered even though the English, French and Latin words for these two nouns don’t give us good choices either.
    I read that Zamenhoff welcomed criticism of Esperanto at the tome he created it but no one respond

  31. Peter, could you try to be a little less aggressive? There’s no call for saying things like “Propagating Esperanto to this day is in itself an insult to language.” It’s possible to disagree without being nasty about it.

  32. I am not being nasty or aggressive. I am not really bashing Danish. I was just demonstrating what Harald Korneliussen was missing. I thought that was obvious.
    As for “propagating Esperanto to this day is in itself an insult to language”, what is wrong with that? I think it is a valid and justifiable stance. Whether it is Esperantists who act like they are threatened in their language rights when they get criticised (Michael Farris is not alone with his “last acceptable language prejuidice”) or pressure groups who lobby to get Esperanto recognised as an official EU language and introduce mandatory Esperanto lessons in primary schools, while there are TRUE languages out there dying, taking whole cultures with them, that behaviour is what I consider a gotspe. It is like offering homeopathic “medicine” to cancer patients. It is quackery. To me, as someone who cares about real language, Esperantist propaganda is offensive.

  33. Folquerto says

    When I long ago tried to learn Esperanto, I could not get over the ugliness of the language that creates monstrosities – for my feeling – like “la knabo”. You cannot triumph over “ille puer” that way. And Latin must have been very easy to learn, witness Spain, France, Rumania, Portugal, and elsewhere. One generation and the children of Gaulish chieftains spoke in fluent Latin to the Senate. And its main descendant, Italian, is divinely sweet to the tongue and the ear. So, some Esperantists are much like some Angloamericans and some English and some Limburgians. Big deal! I couldn’t care less. Let’s speak Greek in Athens, Italian in Florence, French in Paris, English in London, German in Germany, etc. And often, as when I tried to find Byron’s signature on the temple at Cape Sounion I used even more languages shouting for help among tourists of many nations. Oh, a human being can have such an interesting linguistic life. But why oh why does nobody comments on the many displeasing consonantal combinations of Esperanto, that are unique to Indoeuropean and often difficult to pronounce for the rest of the world? And by the way, Esperanto cannot beat Turkish in logicality and transparancy, let’s be honest. Last week I was in Istanbul and it took me two days to try my first Turkish. Wow the big appreciative smile and the answer back in Turkish. Of course it was easy to buy a ticket for the ferry to Uskudar, but in Turkish I spoke and was spoken to. Who needs Esperanto anyway.

  34. It was a pleasant surprise to find this page and read the comments and criticisms about Esperanto–an interesting counterpoint to Esperantists’ claims. I would like to raise a few points–some touched on by other comments–that have made me question the “ease-of-learning” and other claims.
    Vocabulary–Esperantists follow the commonly-held view that grammar is the big problem in learning a language; one can just “plug in” the vocabulary as one goes along. Language acquisition experts now admit what most language students know–the lexicon is by far the biggest part of the language to acquire–20,000-30,000 words for an educated adult. While it is true that one can “get by” with 2000-3000 words, one can also “get by” with a basic idea of word order and simple grammatical structures. Esperanto may let one “produce” speech more quickly than other languages due to its regularity, but I have found it no easier to learn to understand or speak than a natural language. Perhaps less easy–an English or Romance language speaker might find Spanish and French vocabulary more recognizable, and a non-European would probably find no advantage at all to Esperanto.
    Grammar–Esperantists contend that Esperanto has the easiest grammar to learn. While it may be more regular than other European languages, it may not be the easiest. Anyone who has studied Chinese or Indonesian–or a creole–can attest to the relative simplicity of at least the basic grammar.
    Orthography–Esperanto prides itself on its spelling regularity. While it is certainly more regular that English, it is only marginally better–if at all–than any number of languages: Spanish, German, Swahili, Indonesian, et al. And with the lack of diacritics available on most keyboards, it does not always even meet–in practice–the claim of “one letter, one sound”–eg., gx or gh. I am still surprised that Zamenhof did not use q, w, x and y–the Chinese use them quite effectively in their Pinyin transcription.
    Sound–Esperanto claims to be a beautiful sounding language, and that Zamenhof recommended pronouncing it like Italian. One can also try to pronounce Bulgarian like Italian, but you still have to put your mouth around the consonant clusters. I agree with Folquerto: I do not find Esperanto particularly pleasant sounding–or particularly easy to pronounce.
    Neutral–Although not an issue for ease of learning, there is the appealing claim made that Esperanto does not threaten native language and culture, as does, let’s say, English. But, as has been pointed out, dedicated Esperantists have long had their own world view. It is not surprising that Zamenhof’s own daughter gave up her own religious heritage for Baha’i.
    I will be the first to admit that Zamenhof’s accomplishment is amazing–to construct a language that is used effectively by a huge number of people, even for some as a native language. But for all the reasons listed above, I have yet to feel compelled to go beyond the beginner’s stage on a language that I have little or no daily practical use. For better or worse, I can use usually English for basic communication. And if I really want to learn something that has a regular orthography, a European vocabulary, is easy to pronounce, is pleasant sounding, has a managable grammar for comprehension, and covers vast and diverse cultures, literature, and politics, I can continue with Spanish–which can also be used all over the U.S., the supposed bastion of English.
    I welcome comments from pro- and anti-Esperantists on the points I’ve raised.

  35. Esperanto is ugly because it forbids the natural tendencies of true languages. Natural languages are spoken with assimilation, which gives it a fluid sound. Assimilation is not allowed in Esperanto, which practically forces you to pronounce it as if you have never mastered it. Esperanto is much too rigid. Every western language knows “pizza”, but you are not allowed to use that word in Esperanto. It has to be “pizzo”, or whatever. No, actually, it is “pico”!
    Esperanto treats everybody as a language cripple. A noun always has to end with -o or else you can’t see it is a noun. Never mind that you know from the meaning of the word that “pizza” is a noun. This forced “simplicity” does not encourage the love for true language. Particularly not a love for small languages. The bigger a language get, the more it tends to regularize, and lose its idiosyncrasies. Standard German is not the same as the dialects from Bavaria. Dialects are not backward languages. On the contrary. They tend to have a richer set of collocations with its specific meaning for the local people.
    Esperanto is the opposite. It abhors all idiosyncrasies, and small languages and dialects are all what Esperanto wants to do away with. It propagates an idea of language that is over-simplified. Who wants to really take care of an endangered language with all its peculiarities if you are used to using Esperanto?
    If you want to keep Welsh alive, don’t use Esperanto, speak Welsh!
    The threat of English to smaller languages is not undone be trying to de-throne English with the help of paper swords. You can’t compete with the big players if you have nothing to offer. It is the attitude towards local language and culture you should work on. People abandon their native tongue for a number of reasons that make people look down on their own language. You should cultivate the different language registers. In basic education, stimulate the local dialect as the “true mother tongue”, the national language as the “cultured language”, and a foreign language as a means of international contact. You keep the local language alive if you stimulate the local economy. Make sure you have something to offer with local expertise that companies with a focus on globalization cannot. Then, speaking your local language gives you an edge, and you will not want to neglect it so carelessly.
    (Is this too much, too off-topic?)

  36. Cro Magnon says

    I don’t know about Esperanto “promoting language diversity”, but it seems to me like it’s a good choice for international communication. It has flaws, but so do national languages. I don’t think Esperanto is as easy as the Esperantists claim, but it’s certainly easier than Spanish, which is said to be one of the easier national languages.

  37. Having read Christopher Culver’s recent essay “Why Esperanto Suppresses Language Diversity: Thoughts on Leaving the Esperanto Movement” and having known the author for a number of years, I can conclude that this work is a skilled work of sophistry, using seemingly logical arguments that have no basis in actual fact, whose objective is to slander a social movement in which he failed to achieve the recognition and influence he desired.
    Christopher Culver was a candidate for the position of general secretary of TEJO (the World Organization of Young Esperantists) in 2003—he was not elected. He interpreted this as a rejection of him personally—when the fact of the matter is that he was neither sufficiently qualified nor experienced. He also wished to become the editor of TEJO’s youth magazine—a position for which he similarly lacked experience.
    But let us take a look at some of the flaws in his actual arguments:
    “A tourist who visits a foreign nation and eats only at restaurants belonging to international chains, ignoring local cuisine, understandably limits his understanding of the local culture”.
    I simply must comment that when I participated in Esperanto conventions with the author (on several occasion) he always immediately sought out the local McDonald’s and ate there with great regularity for the duration of the convention (and if he was unable to find a McDonald’s he suffered greatly), while other “culturally suppressive” (!?) Esperantists enjoyed the local cuisine, avoiding McDonald’s and other globalistic chains with great fervor. So, this fact alone shows that Christopher Culver does not practice what he preaches…
    “Yet, the Esperanto movement believes that tourists can truly have cross-cultural experiences when they speak only a foreign, constructed language and give no attention to the local language”
    This assertion goes beyond distorting the truth to embrace bold-faced lying. One would be hard pressed to find a group of people more culturally sensitive, culturally aware and culturally educated than Esperantists. For example, a good Esperantist friend of mine is presently studying Lithuanian in preparation for his trip to Vilnius for this summer’s World Esperanto Convention—he also studied Croatian before participating in the World Esperanto Convention in Zagreb in 2001, and Swedish before participating in the World Esperanto Convention in Gothenburg in 2003. In addition, at EVERY World Esperanto Convention and World Esperanto Youth Convention there are intensive language courses in the local languages, numerous excursions to places of local interest (places usually missed by traditional tourists), and extensive presentations of local (often minority) culture and arts. Does this sound like the behavior of people who give no attention to local language?!
    But there is yet another flaw in Culver’s reasoning—while it is true that Esperantists are extremely active and enthusiastic in learning other languages (especially compared to typical English-speaking tourists who think the solution to communication problems is to shout slowly in dummed-up English!), there are limits to the languages one person can reach fluency in (especially considering the fact that most of us are not wealthy people of leisure who can devote long hours to the acquisition of many languages). I, for example, have traveled extensively in Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Sweden, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany), as well as in Asia (Japan, Korea, Malaysia) and South America (Brazil)—all on a very limited budget. How? By using the Pasporta Servo (Passport Service)—an network of Esperanto-speaking host families around the world which offer free lodging to Esperanto-speaking travelers. Of course I do speak some of the languages of the above mentioned countries—but I would probably have to devote all my waking hours to language study for the rest of my life to master them all. But Esperanto provides travelers with a unique window into other cultures—instead of staying in tourist-friendly, English-speaking hotel chains (expensive, with absolutely no flavor of the local culture), you can stay in the homes of real people, experience real local culture and experience real everyday life. Again, does this seem to suggest that Esperantists have no interest in local languages and cultures?!
    Of course, I would be more than happy to refute the remaining arguments in Culver’s essay—and I will, if the members of the forum show an interest—but I’ve already taken up considerable space in refuting just ONE of his many fallacies. But I think that even this brief response makes it more than obvious that the only place where Esperanto suppresses language diversity is in Christopher Culver’s distorted, vindictive imagination…
    For some facts about the Esperanto movement’s major organizations (also with information on various intercultural projects and undertakings) and Pasporta Servo please see the following sites (all in a surprizing number of languages, including many less commonly encountered minority languages):

  38. I read a collection of scientific papers on Esperanto:
    title: Interlinguistics – Aspects of the Science of Planned Languages
    editor: Klaus Schubert
    series: Trends in Linguistics – Studies and Monographs 42
    publisher: Mouton de Gruyter, 1989
    It has a paper that asks why people leave the Esperanto movement. The author gives an in-depth analysis, using Freudian psychology, of the mind and wanderings of the descenders, and comes to a stunning conclusion: people abandon Esperanto because they are mentally unstable, vindictive failures with an Oedipus complex.

  39. Yes, exactly what I was getting at! Bravo, Peter!

  40. One more huge error (i.e. blatant lie) in Christopher Culver’s essay is the assertion that he was an Esperanto-speaker from 1995 to 2005. I first met him in 1999–he, by his own admission, having learned Esperanto in the PREVIOUS SUMMER, i.e. 1998!
    Although this has little bearing on Esperanto itself, it does cast even more doubt on Culver’s credibility. This little distorted factoid can be found in the FIRST LINE of Culver’s essay–and the distortions, half-truths and out-right lies continue from that point. He obviously just exaggerated his experience in the Esperanto movement in order to enhance his semblance of credibilty.
    If someone is willing to lie from the very beginning of a work, can we really believe anything else the author asserts?

  41. mario righi says

    penso che le pagine web siano sprecate per degli idioti perditempo analfabeti
    io sono uno scienziato e sto componendo vocabolari in esperanto in 1200 lingue del mondo…
    Sono di lingua materna esperanto. ditemi cosa devo fare: dimenticare l’esperanto? far finta di non conoscerlo? uccidere chi parla esperanto?
    Non avete considerato che l’esperanto è un fatto sociale.
    se volete vi faccio la traduzione nelle mie lingue materne (Lombardo, Francese, Spagnolo, Portoghese, Russo ed Esperanto) Proprio per un cazzo vi faccio la traduzione in Inglese.
    mario righi

  42. Можно то же самое, только на эсперанто, английском, немецком, русском, украинском или испанском? Увы, я не понимаю по-итальянски… Спасибо.
    Cxu eblas ripeti la samon en Esperanto, angla, germana, rusa, ukraina aux hispana? Bedauxrinde, mi ne komprenas la italan… Dankon
    Would you be so kind as to translate what you just wrote into Esperanto, English, German, Russian, Ukrainian or Spanish? Unfortunately, I don’t understand Italian… Thank you.

  43. Jimmy Ho says

    Yes, I’d like to see the last sentence (“Proprio per un cazzo vi faccio la traduzione in Inglese“) in Esperanto.

  44. Michael Farris says

    J.P.A., vi devas scii, ke la estimata sinjoricho Kleiweg ne skribis tion, kion vi pensas.
    Mi ech legis grandan parton de la libro de Schubert, sed mi ne memoras ion similan al tio, kion li skribis. Aldone sinjoricho (mi estas ichisto nature) Kleiweg malamas (delikate skribante) esperanton, li pli frue ech skribis, ke gepatroj parolantaj esperante kun siaj infanoj kondutas maldece.

  45. Why does mario righi feel compelled to curse in Italian? Is it for consideration of the American law that forbids the publication of these words in English?

  46. Why does Michael Farris feel compelled to mention my name embedded in lines of gibberish?

  47. Dankon, Michael, mi poste rimarkis la antauxajn acxajxojn de Peter Kleiweg (kaj nun li plu gxenigxos ke ni mencias lian nomon inter linioj de balbutajxoj ;-))–sed cxiuokaze tiu unu afero (pri la vengxemo de la culver-a tipo de kabeintoj sxajnis al mi trafa.
    Sed bedauxrinde s-ro Kleiweg (s-icxo se vi preferas) devos simple gxenigxi gxis li agnoskos ke Esperanto estas ja VIVANTA lingvo. Gxis tiam s-ro Kleiweg simple devos elteni 😉
    If you, Mr. Kleiweg, want to know what I just wrote about you, then you’d have to learn Esperanto–but seeing as you don’t acknowledge it to be a real language, then it follows that I must not have written anything about you at all… so you shouldn’t worry about the “gibberish” (funny that I have managed to communicate in that “gibberish” for many years with my close friends [and even my closest family member!]–thank you for bringing it to my attention that I was not actually communicating, but just hallucinating!
    Vere, mi ne komprenas de kie aperas tiaj stultulegoj kiel s-roj Culver kaj Kleiweg!

  48. Mr Kleiweg says “Esperanto is ugly” — I could take it as a personal offence, as I feel Esperanto as a part of my cultural identity. When I started learning English, one of my biggest problems was how to recognise what was noun and what was adjective or verb etc. If you are not used to English syntax (which takes many years to get used to) you really can’t tell noun from adjective or verb! Something Esperanto has a neat solution for.
    In my first years of learning English I said “English is ugly” and “I hate English”, many times. What made me stop saying such things, is that 1. I improved my English (which was not as easy thing to do as I write about it now) 2. I got into contact with Esperanto and its culture. It made me more tolerant and broad-minded and I am never gonna say “I hate XY” or “XY is ugly” about any language, nation or cultural group. Such utterances carry no real information, but about their author.

  49. click on my name unter this or the previous comment to view my response to the original essay, “Why Esperanto supports language diversity”; however, it is in Esperanto, putting it into English would just cost me too much effort and time (yet with a poor result), which I cannot afford at the moment; I may choose to translate it into English one day; now only the main points:
    Because there is Esperanto around, the language diversity may flourish without being a hindrance for mutual understanding, because the last mentioned is secured by Esperanto without discrimination, at low cost and in good quality.
    (It may look incredible, but Esperanto is in the field of communication something like a new technology.)
    Esperantists suggest using Esperanto in international relations not because they would consider their language culturaly more valuable than the national languages, but because they consider it technically more appropriate and better available for everyone, unlike the national languages.
    Esperantists use prevailably Esperanto in international contacts, not to suppress the national languages, but simply because it is the best functioning communication tool available.
    The seminars of TEJO do contain cross-cultural experience, both through the means of Esperanto and with the use of local languages, as my personal experience shows. Language Festivals are still being organised and used to present also the lesser used languages. The continually developed project “Lingva Prismo” ( is one of the examples of the direct support to language diversity.

  50. Michael Farris says

    “Why does Michael Farris feel compelled to mention my name embedded in lines of gibberish?”
    rough and ready translation in a language whose speakers Mr. Kleiweg respects:
    “J.P.A., you should know that the esteemed Mr. Kleiweg didn’t write what you think.
    I’ve even read most of the Schubert book, but I don’t remember anything like what he wrote here.
    Also, Mr. Kleiweg hates (to put it delicately) eseperanto and even wrote earlier that parents who speak to their children in esperanto are acting indecently.”

  51. Mmmm. It seems I didn’t write what Michael Farris thinks I wrote. And it seems he missed the most hilarious part of “Interlinguistics”. Go read it all.
    My claim is that Esperantism doesn’t take language seriously. The response of many Esperantist is that I don’t take Esperanto seriously. But how do academic Esperantists look at the matter? The only academic book on the subject I have read is the one I mentioned earlier. (I was interested in the subject of interlinguistics in general, and this was the only book on the subject I could find in the library. I didn’t know it was mainly about Esperanto and written by Esperantists.)
    One of the first articles in “Interlinguistics” discusses the question: are Esperanto and other auxiliary language true languages, like natural languages? It is hard to define what exactly constitutes a real language. The author defines a true language by a list of properties. If a language has all these properties, it is a true language. Otherwise, it isn’t. The author gives no justification for the selection of properties he chooses. It seems like an arbitrary list, except for one fact: all properties are (assumed) properties of Esperanto. The author uses Esperanto as the defining standard of “language”, then concludes that Esperanto meets that standard, and thus, is a real language. And all those other pesky competitors, like Ido and Interlingua and many others, are no real languages. (The fact that many natural languages don’t meet the authors criteria of a real language doesn’t seem to bother him.)
    So, one author concludes that Esperanto is just like a normal language. Then comes the second author who will prove that Esperanto is *not* like a normal language. (Otherwise, why bother to promote Esperanto at all?) This second author makes a few assumption: Esperanto is a “logical” language, and it should benefit its users in solving logical problems. He describes an experiment that compares Esperanto with English. The results of this experiment is that Esperanto does not better than English, in fact, it does worse. The author then comes to a stunning conclusion: since Esperanto is clearly superior to English, and this test failed to demonstrate that fact, we need better tests!
    Not even these academic Esperantists take language seriously.

  52. Vere la Culver-a artikolo mirigas. Kial oni tiel intence tordus veron? Cxu li celas malrespekton de cxiu esperantisto? Min ne gxenas sincera kritiko de la lingvo, kaj mi mem kritikas la movadon, sed ne komprenas mi kial iu mensogus tiel!
    In relation to the assertions of Peter Kleiweg, I would advise readers to make up their own minds on the facts. I see no point in responding assertion by assertion with someone who would say “Propagating Esperanto to this day is in itself an insult to language. And parents raising their children to speak Esperanto should be visited by child care.”

  53. Assuming Esperantists are for better international understanding, why do they persist using their private code in mixed company, deliberately excluding people, including (I assume) the host from their conversation? Where I come from, that is considered rude and childish behaviour.

  54. “Propagating Esperanto to this day is in itself an insult to language. And parents raising their children to speak Esperanto should be visited by child care.”
    There were times, when they were saying this about the other one of my languages (the national one). And, I believe, Daithí, about yours too. Those times are definitively past, hopefully never to return. Authors of such utterances only show their lagging beind in ethics.
    While I agree with Mr Kleiweg that it is uncivil to use a language that one of your partners do not understand, may he kindly consider that what he is (unjustly, imho) experiencing now, is nothing, compared to the massive discriminative exclusion of non-English-speaking people (or not-that-good-English-speaking) they are suffering in this English-dominated world.
    English may be the default language of this forum, because its administrator and founder decided it to be so (I suppose). But there are people who believe that English should be the “default language of the world”. There is *no* rational reason why this should be so: English has gained its position unjustly and is not doing well. Everybody can learn Esperanto relatively easily, which is not true about English. After 4 years of practising (by no means intensive, nor everyday: you can imagine that one does not have that many possibilities to exercise their Esperanto than their English in this world) I can proofread in Esperanto and translate poetry *into* it. That means I can be active in the communication and not inferior to some caste of native speakers.
    There might be not that many good scientific papers in it. The (well, part of) Esperanto-speaking community is aware of it and tries to cope with it, but it’s hard because the institutional support that Esperanto gets (from governments etc) is just close to nothing. Compare how much money are invested into national languages.
    But the idea is here, and we saw that it works. We relish sharing the common international language and culture, but the language discrimination and language barriers that still unnecessarily still exist, are quite frustrating. (That it may drive some people crazy, admittedly.) As I see it, if the rest of the world accepts the communication model we are proposing (language democracy instead of language imperialism), it will be more the world than the Esperanto-speaking community to benefit from it.

  55. Gunnar Gällmo says

    “Uncivil to use a language that one of your partners do not understand” – yes. But who would ever try to discuss a language he can’t even read?

  56. Michael Farris says

    “why do they persist using their private code in mixed company, deliberately excluding people, including (I assume) the host from their conversation?”
    I wasn’t aware that there was an official language (or any proscribed languages) here. I will of course honor any such request from the host.

  57. The oppression of natural languages bears no relevance to my opinion on Esperantism. Please don’t insinuate I am responsible for any unjust discrimination. The threat to minority languages is something I take very seriously.
    You may wonder why I keep kicking a dead horse. (Except for being an animal lover. I would never kick a living horse.) My quarrel is not with Esperanto. My interest is with natural languages, and the loss of language diversity. Any Internet discussion on language loss sooner or later attracts the attention of an Esperantist, who brings along a whole bunch of sympathisers, who start dominating the discussion, twisting any real problem around into a simplified and corrupted version of what they call “The language problem”, that only has one solution: Esperanto. Any discussion of real language issues is swamped by this simple-mindedness.
    I wish more people would speak Klingon. Klingon speakers don’t annoy the hell out of people who don’t wish to belong to their church.

  58. What I wrote in Esperanto:
    “Culver’s article is amazing. Why would someone warp the truth like that? Is he seeking the disapproval of every esperantist? Sincere criticism of the language doesn’t bother me, and I criticise the movement myself,but I don’t understand why someone would lie like that.”
    I didn’t intend disrespect or secrecy, it’s simply that I was directing my wonder at others who have experience of the movement, not trying to refute Culver’s article (I think that has been done already.)
    The suggestion that Esperantists believe Esperanto is the solution to all the world’s problems is another straw man to be ignored.
    Mitch invited comment on his comments:
    Vocabulary–Esperanto vocabulary is much easier than European languages because of the ability to put roots together entirely freely to make other words (e.g. cultery = mangh-il-aro, hospital= mal-san-ul-ejo)
    An non-European does indeed have to learn all the roots from scratch, but there are far fewer roots to learn. This is a very significant difference.
    Grammar–Certainly, Esperanto is not the only language in the world with absolutely regular and simple grammar. For all I know Esperanto may not even be the easiest language to learn (though I would be surprised). It is certainly much easier than all European languages. The ability to change any word from noun to adjective to verb/tense etc. by changing the ending is a source of great flexibility.
    Orthography–Regular spelling is not by any means unique to Esperanto. Esperanto’s system is most similar to the latin script of Serbo-croat. Indeed the use of all 4 versions of the latin alphabet (upper case/lower case and cursive/printed) is a definite flaw from the point of view of users of other scripts.
    Sound– It’s like Italian in that the emphasis is always on the second last syllable. It sounds fine to me but not as nice as Irish 😉
    Mitch: “And if I really want to learn something that has a regular orthography, a European vocabulary, is easy to pronounce, is pleasant sounding, has a managable grammar for comprehension, and covers vast and diverse cultures, literature, and politics, I can continue with Spanish–which can also be used all over the U.S., the supposed bastion of English.”
    I’m certainly not going to argue that anyone should learn any one language rather than any other. That’s your own decision. The benefits of Spanish are obvious. The benefits of Esperanto may not be quite so obvious. They do include contact on a linguistically equal footing with Esperantists around the world, original literature and literature in translation, the pleasure of Esperanto’s very free structure, and the training benefit for learning other languages (which has been demonstrated in various studies.) It was through Esperanto that I learnt Spanish, and at the moment, Esperanto is more useful to me.
    By the way, what makes Culver’s article so astonishing is that I have never heard as much discussion of languages (from Chuvash (if that’s how you say it in English) to Chinook Jargon) in any other language as I hear in Esperanto.

  59. ok, I’m not gonna argue, I’m now occupied with paper-waste separation (in our office), something very similar but much more useful than analysing Kriĉjo Culver’s essay: just please remember that it was this essay (and arbitrary accusations based on half-true distorted arguments therein) what started all the discussion, so it was about Esperanto from the beginning, no hijacking as you may be trying to suggest (or did you imagine to discuss Esperanto without esperantists? I don’t think a discussion about anything without people who have direct experience with it would be of any sence)
    now there is another thing I have tried to explain and I don’t know how to put it more straight: if you say “Slovaks don’t have any real culture” it is for me offensive in the very same way as your actual utterances about Esperanto: it is a sort of cultural identity similar to (but not quite the same as) nationality (=that’s my story==ie. as I feel it, other esperantists may tell you otherwise) (and btw, it’s anything but “church”)
    — so beware of kicking ‘dead horses’, as you may wake up and realise that the horse was living but you did not now; if you think you know everything, I can’t do much about it
    I hope you can imagine that this cultural identity is very well combinable with care for cultural and language diversity and interest in other cultures and languages; ok enough, now I have to carry the papierzak to the papierbak

  60. Magnus Pharao says

    This discussion seems uneasonably entrenched. I cannot understand how a languagelover can ever find it wrong to learn or teach an additional language be it a natural or constructed one: Every language that one learns facilitates the learning of the next,is it not so? I imagine that a mandarin speaker who has learned esperanto would learn spanish or french or other indo-european languages with greater ease than if he had not.
    My own feelings about esperanto are mixed. I like the idea of inventing languages for fun and having people speak with them, but I do not like ideas of world languages: they seem to me to be linked intrinsically to a totalitarian ideology.
    I believe firmly that everything cannot be expressed in every language. The idea of an interlanguage seems to adhere to the (outdated) objectivist doctrine that words are just labels which we put on an already existing world, that in my opionion is clearly not the case: an interlanguage will not make it easier for the native danish speaker to find out what word to use when communicating with a stranger who doesn’t understand the danish concept of “hygge”, or a nahuatl speaker to find out which esperanto word to use instead of “tzipitl”.

  61. You’re a sensible man, Magnus.

  62. It cannot be emphasized enough that Esperanto was NEVER meant to be a “world language”–after all, a “world language” could only be imposed by force of arms (as American imperialism–and I AM an American, btw–has been rather successful in doing…) which of course is contrary to most Esperantists’ ideals. Even if we are to accept the idea of an “international second language”, that would have to be democratic.
    But for me, any eventual role of Esperanto as an “international language” is secondary, at best, and even beside the point all together. Simply put, Esperanto IS a living language with its own living culture (original literature, music, periodicals, phraseology, customs, and native speakers) and world-wide community. Whether people like Mr. Kleiweg want to acknowledge the REALITY (not some theory or ideal) of Esperanto and its culture or not, does not change the fact of what Esperanto really is. I could choose to believe that Flemish is not a real language with a real culture because the Flemish don’t have their own country… but of course every decently educated person knows that Flemish language and culture do exist. So, just as Marteno was saying, it is just as hurtful when people mock and denigrate our language and culture as it is for any speakers of minority languages. I speak Esperanto every day in my daily life, in my family–it isn’t just some casual hobby, but is part of my life, of my identity.
    Just because our language and culture are not as old as some others doesn’t make it OK to treat them with any less respect.

  63. J.P.A., I try it in English: you talk on the one hand about a “social movement” which is going to be slandered here, and on the other hand about a “world-wide community” with an own living culture. In my opinion, that’s the very point what it is about here. You claim respect and acknowledgement for your community and its culture which is part of your identity, and you are absolutely right. (This is to Mr.Kleiweg.) But you can’t claim respect for the social movement, whose (aggressive!) aim is the “final victory”, which means that Esperanto once become the “international second language”, an idea which in my point of view is neither democratic, nor desirable, but severly observed: senseless, because there would by necessity be not the slightest difference to a “world language”, who would of course be nothing less than protect language diversity.
    Du sprichst auf der einen Seite von einer “sozialen Bewegung”, die hier diffamiert würde, und auf der anderen Seite von einer “weltweiten Gemeinschaft” mit einer eigenen lebendigen Kultur. Meiner Meinung nach ist es genau das, worum es hier geht. Du beanspruchst Respekt und Anerkennung für Deine Gemeinschaft und deren Kultur, die einen Teil Deiner Identität ausmachen würde, und Du bist dabei völlig im Recht. (An Herrn Kleiweg gerichtet.) Aber Du kannst nicht Respekt beanspruchen für eine soziale Bewegung, deren (aggressives!) Ziel der “endgültige Sieg” ist, was bedeutet, daß Esperanto eines Tages zur “internationalen Zweitsprache” werden wird, eine Idee, die aus meiner Sicht weder demokratisch, noch wünschenswert, sondern streng genommen sinnlos ist, weil notwendigerweise nicht der geringste Unterschied zu einer “Weltsprache” bestehen würde, die natürlich alles andere als die Sprachenvielfalt schützend sein würde.
    PS: Se mia mala starpunkto chi tie ne tro ofendas kaj provokas vin, vi kaj la aliaj Esperantistoj kundiskutantaj estas invitataj partopreni kaj pludiskuti en la Jahu-rondeto

  64. What is it with Esperantists and culture? On the one hand you have Esperantism that claims it is culture-free. With the dominance of English comes the dominance of Anglo-American culture, and since Esperanto has no culture, the adaptation of Esperanto over English would free us from cultural imperialism. So the Esperantist doctrine goes.
    On the other hand there are the Esperantist who act insulted by the suggestion that Esperanto has no culture, claiming a status of Esperanto culture equal to Flemish culture, as if any group identity can be compared to a full blown national cultural identity. Claiming the existence of an Esperanto literature, that, unlike a real literature, is virtually unknown outside its own group, but still should be considered a real literature.
    Esperantism seems to be riddled with such contradictions. J.P.A. claims that Esperanto was never meant to be a world language. Still, Esperanto, as well as Ido, are called *the* international language by many of its users. (And I have spoken followers who seriously believe all children in the world should be forced to learn Esperanto.) Magnus Pharao says he does not believe in the idea of an interlanguage. I agree in the sense of a single, universal interlanguage. But regional interlanguages seem to function quit well. Bahasa Indonesia is one example. The language Interlingua is suitable as well, but there doesn’t seem to be much need for it. National languages are often a kind of interlanguage. Standard German acts like an interlanguage for many, mutually difficult to understand regional dialects. They are in a sense the regularization of related forms. (I prefer to call these language ‘intralanguage’, because they derive from related source languages, and function within their area.)
    The design of Esperanto tries to be different. It should be “universal” (or “neutral”, whatever that is), not linked to particular languages. It tries to do this by making the relation to the source languages rather arbitrary. The result is a language that is *not* independent from the languages (and its attitudes) it derives from, but still hard to understand even if you are familiar with all its source language. So it fails in its objective, making it harder than necessary as well.
    Interlanguages function if they derive naturally (or are experienced as such) from within a group of peoples who seek contact with each-other. Esperanto does not work that way. It spreads by ideology, and many people will not accept that ideology.

  65. Magnus Pharao says

    Any sociologist would agree that Esperantists of course have their own culture, just like roleplayers, IBM employees, and any other group of people who share a certain interest have a specific culture. But as opposed to flemish which is also an ethnicity, Esperanto is an interest/hobby/ideology/lifestyle that is chosen (except of course for the aforementioned native speakers) and as such different from the ethnically based concept of culture.

  66. Culture, generally speaking, is any behaviour or idea that is transmitted among individuals other than by genetic inheritance. Culture has many levels. Of course, when I say Esperanto has no culture, I am not talking about group culture. I am talking about the culture that is the collective of a people, nation, tribe (German: Volk), a SOCIETY, that is united in its language, a common set of ideas (from behavioural habits to literature) shared and expressed through a common language. Mere group culture is irrelevant to the importance of Esperanto as a language.

  67. Magnus speaks of the “ethnically based concept of culture”. This concept is useless. If you employ it, you can say Brasil has no culture, because it is multi-ethnic.
    Peter speaks of culture as “a common set of ideas, from behavioural habits to literature”, something that the Esperanto community certainly has.
    Just observing the Esperanto-community as it is leads to the conclusion that Esperanto has a culture in the sense in which the German speaking world has a culture or Indonesia has a culture.

  68. Marcos, you forget the society part.

  69. Magnus Pharao says

    I was not defending the ethnical culture concept I was merely pointing out that there seemed to be a discrepancy between concepts of “culture” in the discussion. Esperanto obviously is not a language that is connected to a particular ethnicity so “volk” or similar ideas cannot be applied. To claim that “mere” group culture is irrelevant to the importance of Esperanto a a language seems very oldfashioned to me I would like to retort by asking which other kinds of culture exist? What is necessary to form a society in your opinion, and why don’t the esperantists have it?

  70. Michael Farris says

    So? I tend to follow Geert Hofstede’s definition of culture (paraphrasing madly) “mental programming that distinguishes one group or category of people from other groups or categories”. The nation and ethnic group are just particular levels of culture. In this scheme, every individual belongs simultaneously to several different cultures of varying sizes and duration.
    I think it’s a poor idea for esperantists to argue the culture issue to much, it’s one they can’t win: if a convincing case that a culture exists, then the same people who complain that esperanto isn’t associated with a particular culture will complain that if it has a culture, then it’s just another ethnic language and not neutral at all (completely missing several intermediate points of some importance) …
    The same goes for grammar, language hat can complain that esperanto grammar is bland and deprived of natural quirks, but if you point out the (very real) quirks of esperanto, they suddenly become design flaws and or points of ridicule.
    Finally, the copy of Schubert’s book I read is now checked out by a co-worker (who’s supposed to get it to me Wednesday). I’ll try to find what Mr. Kleiweg finds so risible. I do remember some content that was ripe for critique, how that makes it different from other linguistic texts I’m not so sure.

  71. An odd thing is going on here. I am blamed for denying Esperanto a culture. I don’t really care if Esperanto has a culture. (I don’t see it could have a culture that compares to the culture of a true society. I’m still waiting for someone to come up with an Esperanto writer of literature who is well known among the general public, not just among users of Esperanto.) But that is not something I hold against Esperanto or its users.
    My objection is against the view on culture in Esperantism. I started with this (April 20, 2005 09:12 AM):
    “Esperantism fails because it assumes you can separate language from culture and get people to ‘join’ the language. They try to defeat diverse and influential cultures with no culture at all.”
    The big enemy in the eyes of Esperantist advocates is the English language and its associated culture. They blame the language for its cultural imperialism, and claim that you can beat that imperialism by using Esperanto instead of English. But people are attracted to English for its culture, the movies, the TV series, the pop music, the books. That (and trade in general) is why so many people are very eager to learn and use English. It isn’t about the language, it is about the possibilities it offers. Esperanto cannot compete with that. If anything can compete, it is the national languages.

  72. Michael Farris says

    “people are attracted to English for its culture, the movies, the TV series, the pop music, the books. That (and trade in general) is why so many people are very eager to learn and use English”
    Yes and no. In Poland the main factor motivating people to learn English (a well-marketed product in Poland, much like Coca Cola or Nike) is that it’s strongly associated with money and power. IME the great majority of Polish people who learn English do not do so to be able to access the culture. To the extent that most people are interested in consuming culture in the original, it’s a means to an end – a way to hone language skills in the pursuit of money and power and not an aesthetic end in and of itself.
    Now, I disavow any desire for a finvenko (universal LS esperanto) and will gladly proclaim it to be a daft, wrongheaded idea. But I do think (based on my direct experience with the language) that it could be a valuable resource in certain kinds of cross linguistic communication. Not _the_ solution to _the_ language problem (since I don’t think anything like “the language problem” exists) but a resource that could and should be exploited more.

  73. “The big enemy in the eyes of Esperantist advocates is the English language and its associated culture. They blame the language ” — FALSE
    there’s nothing wrong with the English language(s) or its culture(s)
    there’s nothing wrong with any language or its culture, as far as esperantists are concerned
    the bad thing is the hegemony of English on the field of international communication
    to make the international communication democratic and accessible, you have to use an international language, not a national one
    now, a good question is, what I call an international language: it belongs equally to people from different nationalities;
    “and get people to ‘join’ the language”
    I’m not sure if I get it right, but, yes, this way:
    you don’t have to be ‘born something’ to achieve an equal command of it and an equal influence to its development — I mean, an equal position in the community of its speakers (something I will hardly ever achieve in English and naturally have in Esperanto)
    you may use a national language for international communication, but it just does not work that well; an international language has been constructed and is being consciously developed and cared for with this goal in mind: to be optimised for a non-native speaker
    doesn’t it sound logical, that to warm your supper you don’t use an electric bulb, but a microwave oven — something what was consciously created (and is being cared for, if it needs reparations) to warm meals
    “it assumes you can separate language from culture”
    no, it’s another way: read the Prague Manifesto: the paragraph 2, for the culture issue; the culture of Esperanto is an international culture: it is not supposed to replace your national culture/identity, it occupies other niche; it contains respect to other languages nationalities and cultures as one of its primary features
    “still hard to understand even if you are familiar with all its source language”
    — it is not the main goal to make it understandable to the speakers of a chosen set of national languages; the aim is “easy-to-learn” even for those who don’t speak any of them; it’s its *a-priori* features, what’s cool about Esperanto (=those that were not taken from national languages) as “tabelvortoj” (table of correlatives)
    (replace the “sk” with the code of your language, or change the language with the pull-down menu in the *main* frame)
    and word-formation affixes

  74. “to make the international communication democratic and accessible, you have to use an international language, not a national one”.
    English is an international language. So are Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Swahili, and lots more. These and other non-constructed languages have facilitated international communication for millenia. Esperanto hasn’t. Not on any scale remotely comparable to natural languages.

  75. Magnus Pharao says

    A writer? Why would that be any criterion? I could name the first 500 languages that have no “well known” writers. I believe in Mr. Ferris’ cultural definition as well: homogeneous national cultures and national languages are illusions. That also renders the question of esperanto culture irrelevant.
    I do agree with Mr. Kleiweg that the basic premise for believing in Esperanto as an interlanguage is false: interlanguages, lingua franca (would that be linguae francae?), and other international means of communication are not chosen because of ideology but always from pragmatic reasons. Pragmatic reasons which are also the reason for language death: people don’t speak languages with low prestige and low usefulness, they choose to speak languages with high prestige and high degrees of usefullness (i.e. that can be used in more situations). Esperanto is not currently a very useful language compared to English or Spanish or Chinese etc. And it is not particularly prestigious neither. Untill these chracteristica are achieved I don’t see Esperanto fulfilling the role that it was originally proposed, culture or not.

  76. now, what’s wrong with “Fina venko”?
    I know the name (“Final Victory”) sounds creepy, but Fina venko is not anybody’s defeat;
    that of English? no way; it remains a beautiful national language, as it is now
    what’s wrong with compulsory Esperanto for 2 years (to master it and be an equal speaker)? and a lot of free space to learn national languages of your choice?
    better than learning a dominant national language for 8 years (to still stumble in it, be an inferior speaker, or non-speaker)
    (no “forcing” would be needed for “fina venko”, just if people really could choose, they would choose the easier way by themselves (don’t ask me how to enable it or what kind of “real choice” it should be, if I knew that, fina venko would be tomorrow:))
    (obviously, far not every Esperanto-speaker share this vision, or consider it real, or is in favour of [eo] “fina venko” == [en] “general acceptance of using an international language in international communication”, as I would suggest to translate it 😉
    many Esperantist are happy just that they “share the common international language and culture” in their community)
    in my country we have compulsory English or German (ie. compulsorily electable); if you ask why, everybody tells you that English and German are important languages
    another world is possible: another communication model is possible: with national languages not being classified “important” and “unimportant”
    if it had been to my choice, I would have liked to learn Hungarian and Lithuanian at school; Hungarians are a national minority in Slovakia, but as a general rule there isn’t possibility for Slovak kids to elect Hungarian at school

  77. Mr Kleiweg: “English is an international language”
    You are following your definition and not mine. Now I don’t say mine is correct and yours not, as definitions cannot be “correct”. We may agree to use your definition for “international language”, but then I have to use another term for my notion. Only that I don’t know what.
    English, Spanish and Slovak are not international languages (and hardly ever can be), as “you [HAVE] to be ‘born something’ to achieve an equal command of it and an equal influence to its development — I mean, an equal position in the community of its speakers” — or naturalised
    “facilitated international communication”
    … always serving better to its masters, to the nation who was superior in the international relations at the moment; the communication with an English native speaker in English for me “ne estas facila” — and I learned it a lot!
    “pragmatic reason”
    from whose point of view? to better serve my master, I have to learn their language…
    “high prestige”
    exactly! that is the factor we are trying to eliminate; that’s how I understand “language democracy”; every language deserves respect and attention, regardlessly whether its speakers have a powerful economy or armies or not
    “facilitated international communication for millenia. Esperanto hasn’t”
    — simply untrue!! it is essential for my communication with people from tens of countries and magnificently broadens my horizons

  78. To Marteno: what is wrong with compulsory Romansch for two years? The current population is very small (only 20 to 200 times the number of Esperanto), but there are no second language users to speak of. The language is old, has proven to be resilient, but is now in decline for demographic reasons. It is linked to a regional culture, but none that would be a burden on the rest of the world. This could make an excellent language for international communication. (At least, I see no reason why it would be less suitable than Esperanto.) So, how about it? Every child, in every country in the whole world should learn Romansch. Who is going to make this happen?

  79. Magnus Pharao says

    If Esperanto was created in 1887 how can it have facilitated international communication for milenia? And this Fina Venko thing sounds not very far form “endlösung” to me.
    What I was saying is that Esperanto is fuelled by ideology, real life language choice is not. Mr. farris seems to agree the reasons that Polish youth learn english are apparently far from ideological.
    Also I cannot agree with the idea that “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all talk in a language of which we were not native speakers”
    Not all things can be explained in a non native language: not because there is something wrong with the language but because it is not ours. The reason that I like to learn languages is so that I can talk to people in their language and maybe have a chance of understanding something that they could’t have told me in an “interlanguage”.

  80. “Esperanto hasn’t. Not on any scale remotely comparable to natural languages.”
    sorry for cutting off your quotation in my last post; nevertheless, for me it’s a matter of quality, not quantity, still Esperanto is for me and thousands of other people essential for their communication with people from tens of countries…
    more on that, they do not use Esperanto for some “religious” reason, but just because that kind of international contact would not be possible for them and in their situation by the means of some of the dominant national languages, which you might propose as an alternative

  81. “what is wrong with compulsory Romansch for two years”
    just that you are not gonna master it in 2 years

  82. me: “just that you are not gonna …”
    sorry, maybe you are;
    I maybe not, maybe yes;
    the kids at school that I saw are not for sure

  83. “fina venko” like “endlösung”?
    I’m not particularly good at history, but the latter is something with fascism? something about exterminating a particular nation or a religious group?
    the former is the opposite; it means providing better means for international communication to promote mutual understanding and tolerance

  84. Magnus Pharao says

    I was referring to the obvious semantic link. (final Solution = Final Victory) And yes it does sound fascist to me to have a dream of a world united in the speaking of one single non-native tongue. Just because it is not a national language it can still be used in an imperialist and totalitarian way.

  85. Michael Farris says

    “now, what’s wrong with “Fina venko”?”
    Lots. It’s not democratic and doesn’t respect individual choice. Also, I don’t think there’s any single language _everyone_ (or even most people on the planet) should speak. Languages need non-speakers almost as much as they need speakers.
    The Romansch idea isn’t bad, but a creole would probably allow people to make more rapid initial progress. I’m fond of both Haitian and Papiamento (the latter especially has the advantage of not so many native speakers and a lot of material in and about the language – though there are unfortunately competing orthographies).
    Ankau, Marchjo, bv memoru, ofte tro da fervoro estas malpli efektiva ol iomete da distanco … vi devas lerni kiam ekparoli kaj kiam lasi elpensi.

  86. “fina venko”
    I see the name is “funny”. As I understand it, in the original “E-mythology” it meant victory over “malamikete de las nacjes” (“hostility of the nations”, this one was *not* in Esperanto).
    I don’t think it must be “every” school and “every” kid on “every” tiny island in Pacific; yet, I repeat, “general acceptance of using an international language in international communication” — does it sound better? just if Esperanto were considered as a valid choice by the general public, Number Two or Three, say, as today is French or Spanish; I would be quite satisfied if I could come in a foreign country to a station or shop or hotel and sometimes be lucky enough to meet someone with whom I could speak “the easy way” — the language I learned least and speak best
    the creol idea seems interesting to me: but is not Esperanto something in a very similar way?
    creol languages should follow the pattern (now I may be wrong, still let me try) vocabulary of one language (usually that of the colonising nation) + grammar of other language (usually that of the nation being colonised, but simplified) == pidgin, which later becomes a mother tongue to be called a “creol language”
    the pattern of Esperanto is quite similar, but not the same:
    vocabulary mainly of the dominating national languages (French (the main “source language”) was Number One, that time) + an a-priori grammar (simple yet powerful), and it later did become a mother tongue, though not in a huge scale, and the natives do not form any special group
    kaj mi preferas esti Maĉjo, se vi volas min karesnomi 😉
    eble mi iam lernos; ĉiukaze, nun mi sentas min eterna infano; nur ke mi ne devas frue enlitiĝi 🙂

  87. “What I was saying is that Esperanto is fuelled by ideology, real life language choice is not.”
    Real life? Esperanto is a real language, spoken by real people.
    Ideology? For some people maybe. For almost all Esperantists, a better description of their motivation is “values”. Plus obviously there are those who learn because of linguistic curiousity, because their friends/family have learnt, and in at least one country, because they have to learn a second language at school and Esperanto is the easiest one on offer.
    Comparing “fina venko” with “endlösung” is ahistorical given that it is a term coined by Zamenhof and inappropriate given the extermination of most of his family and many Esperantists by the 3rd Reich.

  88. Magnus Pharao says

    Values, Ideology: whatever. Most people learn to speak second languages only if they have a real necessity or can reap real (mostly economic or prestigious) benefits from learning it. Esperanto can very rarely offer this yet.
    I must also add that the reasons behind the “values” of esperantists seem slightly to my knowledge the two parts speaking the same language has never in world history prevented war or “malamikete”. That part seems to me a very naive, simplistic an unrealistic dream.
    That Zamenhof experienced the dread of a fascist, totalitarian regimen does somehow not suffice to convince me that a related idea does not lie dormant in the concept of “fina venko”. But obviuosly not being esperantist i cannot say what esperantist think that this concept entails. I can only say that its semantics are slihgtly frightening to me.

  89. There is a significant difference between the Endlösung and this final victory thingy. The first cost millions of lives. I don’t see that happening to the other. Why? Because Esperantism lacks power.
    Any “universal” ideology can only be realised through force. There is nothing democratic about a final victory, and endorsing Esperanto as a means for “democratic communication” is a gotspe. Everybody speaking Esperanto can only be realised through totalitarian measures. You should not want everybody to speak Esperanto.
    Peaceful coexistence can only be if you except that not all people share the same values and needs. You should except that in most other countries you will never have complete understanding, and no-one will speak to you in a language that comes easy to you. “If only they would speak like me.” That wish has nothing to do with democracy. It is just selfishness.

  90. Esperanto preventing wars?
    well, for sure not directly; but it may (and in my experience it does) create an atmosphere of mutual respect and understandment; see, English is a foreing language to me, after 12 years of learning; Esperanto is one of my languages, after 4–5 years of learning; if you speak with a national of other nation with a language that is yours and theirs as well, it’s just other cultural experience; before my contacts with the Esperanto community I happened to say utterances like “X are stupid” a few times, where X stays for a name of a nation or a cultural group; now I don’t feel like saying such things anymore
    “a language that comes easy to you”
    you miss the very point; the (absurd, to me) example with 2 years of Romansch instead of Esperanto proves it; it’s like suggesting treating the problem of lifting 1 dm^3 of aluminium the same like lifting 1 dm^3 of iron; however, the latter is 3 times heavier: this is given by the physical properties of the material dealt with and it is an objective fact
    the three tenses in Esperanto can be explained in half a minute (cut the infinitive -i to get the stem, -as for present, -is for past, -os for future), learned in half an hour and authomatised in a week; compare it to when comes Present Perfect, Past Simple and Future Simple in normal English lessons (usually not in the 1st nor 2nd week, in my experience)
    when I meet a person of other mother tongue, we may communicate a way that is (1) hard for you and hard for me (=foreign dominant national language), or (2) hard for you and easy for me (my native language), or (3) easy for you and hard for me (your native language) and (4) easy for you and easy for me (international constructed language)
    I am for (4) and I am not for (1), (2), (3)
    — call it selfish or not
    both-sided deliberate choice of (2) or (3) to speak the other’s native language is another thing; personally I do it often: and it’s like climbing a rock instead of walking a level plain way; some people might like the rocks, and their existence must be appreciated and protected; but don’t make the climbing compulsory: sometimes there is no time or space for that when you just have to get to your destination, and there are people who find it difficult or impossible, rather then enjoyable: ignoring them is what I call selfishness
    no, it is not religious, it is just.. pragmatic; Esperanto is not just “easy for me”: I am not that special; it is easier than national languages: for (nearly) everyone; it is optimalised and being optimalised for international use and non-native speakers
    (and this is not possible to say about any national language)
    if the claims in the last paragraph are not true, then and Zamenhof did not succeed in what he intended; if I get ever convinced about it, I will cease proposing the general use of Esperanto and remain happy “sharing the international language and culture in my community”
    metric system, decimal calculation and UTC “took over the world” (I’m using this expression just to show how absurd it is) not by any “power”, but just because they are logic; no cultural losses and yet every time zone keeps its own time and use UTC only when needed; nobody feels creepy or totalitarian UTC being called “universal”
    the way to “general use of Esperanto” is to examine our claims about technical appropriateness of Esperanto: to set up commissions composed of esperantist and non-esperantist special ists, to carry out experiments in school, to train professional interpreters and carry out experiments with interpreting and translating via Esperanto as a medium language, etc. and to create conditions so that people be able to choose to use Esperanto: it will either show true and everybody will be happy to start using it, as they started using decimal system instead of Roman numbers
    or it will show false, and it will show that it is only a particular group of people that Esperanto is easy for, and I am just happy to have been born with a “special talent for Esperanto” (now, I don’t believe this, yet I can imagine it could be true): if *then* come some esperantists proposing Esperanto for general use in international communication, and you call them chauvinists or ill-religious or selfish, I will not contradict with a tiniest word; (now, what to think about proposing English for general use in international communication?)

  91. “Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”
    — Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy

  92. Magnus Pharao says

    I have heard many times now the claim that Esperanto is easier to learn than any other language. I don’t know whether that is a true or not, but the usual attitude amongst the proffesional linguists that I know are that difficulty of language aquisition are based on the learners abilities, known languages, and learning situation/motivation; not whether the language has few or many tenses or irregular verbs etc. I personally don’t believe that any claims about Esperantos inherent learnability can be stretched beyond literate speakers of indo-european languages. E.g. I would imagine that a non-literate speaker of Greenlandic or Navajo would have nearly equal difficulties learning Esperanto or Spanish or English.
    Are there made any studies (preferably by non-esperantists) that investigate the claim of learnability?
    Also noone seems to be proposing that english be used for international communication but facts are that we use it as such, because it is more convenient and more practical than Esperanto or Romanisch. “Learn your masters language” you say. Yes if I need to speak English to talk to the people that I need to talk to in order to advance to the place in life that I want then I’ll learn it(and I have. Using no particular efforts: Danish youth mostly learn English through English language television/music/movies/internet etc). There is no need to think about proposing english as a global lingua franca. It already is, that is why it is a more realistic choice than Esperanto.

  93. “examine our claims about technical appropriateness of Esperanto”
    That has been done, by people who, unlike Zamenhof, knew about linguistics. They judged Esperanto to be inadequate, and they derived a much better language. They named it Interlingua. It’s been around for more then fifty years now. When will the Esperantists catch up?

  94. Michael Farris says

    “Using no particular efforts: Danish youth mostly learn English through English language television/music/movies/internet etc).”
    Lucky Danes, comparative winners in the prestige language sweepstakes. Poles (comparative losers) have to do the old-fashioned thing of paying (relatively speaking, a lot) for classes, for years, mostly because it’s more convenient for richer countries (like Denmark).

  95. while Zam may have lacked expertise but for sure not a talent for linguistics
    I don’t know about Interlingua, will have to have look at it, but what I heard about it, it tends to be rather a-posteriori, and similarity to natlangs, over logicness of grammar
    now I don’t have any scales and don’t know how much is a kilogram, but I’m holding an aluminium cube in one hand and an iron cube in the other: I think I can tell which one is havier
    going out, it’s Friday evening! 🙂

  96. “while Zam may have lacked expertise but for sure not a talent for linguistics”
    — by “expertise” I mean “formal education”
    (unfortunately I am not Humpty Dumpty who when uses a word it means what he wants)
    but sure he didn’t lacked experience and practice, that’s more important than empty “teoriumado”
    and remember, Titanic was made by professionals and Noah’s Arhx[?godknowshowtospellit] by amateurs

  97. So, Marteno, you don’t realy care about people who “examine our claims about technical appropriateness of Esperanto”, do you?

  98. Magnus Pharao says

    True that danes are relative winners. But it was not a statement meant to show how smart and lucky danes are nor how easy it is learning the english language. It was meant to show my personal view and experience (just as valid an argument as your lead and aluminium)that what makes a language easy or hard to learn is the circumstances of learning and not that languages grammatical properties.

  99. Michael Farris says

    “what makes a language easy or hard to learn is the circumstances of learning and not that languages grammatical properties”
    Well what makes English comparitively easy for Danes is the fact that the two languages are typologically, genetically and historically closely related. Which means that they get a lot more return for effort expended.

  100. Magnus Pharao says

    Exactly. Which is why it is not unexpcted that indo-european speakers might feel that Esperanto is an easy language to learn in a classroom. Other languages may be easy to learn under different circumstances. (also older danes speak english with much greater difficulties than youth: they didn’t grow up immersed in english language culture)
    What I ask for is someone to point to an actual study made investigating esperantos “learnability” for learners with different starting points. I don’t take it “sure feels easier to me” to somebody to be evidence (or even an argument) to its “generally being easier”.

  101. Michael Farris says

    “What I ask for is someone to point to an actual study made investigating esperantos “learnability” for learners with different starting points.”
    Me too. It probably won’t happen anytime soon, since interlinguistics (esp. esperantology) is a kind of young field and most people qualified to carry out the research (who know both linguistics and esperanto) tend to also be either open advocates for or open critics against Esperanto. Not much scientific detachment (if there ever is in applied linguistics).
    “I don’t take it “sure feels easier to me” to somebody to be evidence (or even an argument) to its “generally being easier”.
    Anecdotally, I’ve heard that Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Korean speakers, who represent two typologically different kinds of languages) who’ve spent some time learning a European language (usually but not always English) find Esperanto to be easy and within a year or so report that they know it better than the first European language (even if they’ve had years and years of classes in it).
    On the other hand, speakers of those languages who come to Espranto ‘cold’ without some kind of background in a European language find it pretty difficult (mandatory plurals and adjective agreement especially). This is pretty much what you’d expect (and anecdotal).
    I’ve heard varying reports from pre-teen learners.
    Personally, I’d like to see a long term study comparing the progress of monolingual Chinese (let’s say) start one group with English, one with Esperanto and one with something else … Romansch? Latin? Interlingua? Papiamento? and track their progress for as long as possible.
    I’d also like to see some project that takes (for example) Hungarian or Argentinian (or whatever) teenagers with several years of English or French or German behind them and then start them with Esperanto and see if they can gain the same level in Esperanto in a shortened period of time …
    As non-scientific as those would be, I’d be interested in the results.

  102. Michael Farris says

    Just noticed that this thread officially broke the century mark. I wonder when hat is going to say enough is enough …

  103. Enough is enough. It’s been fun, guys, but you’ll have to take it outside. I’m not going to run up my bandwidth bill for the sake of the Great Esperanto Debate. I hope everyone enjoyed it!

  104. Meanwhile Esperanto speakers are still growing in number (here a am! I learned it 4 fantastic years ago) and promoting language diversity like this

    And now Esperanto is in Google Translate, Facebook, Ubuntu… It’s one of the 14 available languages on Duolingo (currently only for English speakers). Try it and compare with any other language you have learned (and see if the arguments in Culver’s article are lies or not)

    What do polyglots usually say if they once were openminded to Esperanto? Well, this

  105. David Marjanović says

    Ten years after the fact:

    now, what’s wrong with “Fina venko”?
    I know the name (“Final Victory”) sounds creepy

    It doesn’t merely sound creepy. It instantly triggers Godwin’s law, because the literal German translation – Endsieg – is a technical term of National Socialism.

  106. The easiest way to learn a second ethnic language is to first learn Esperanto. Google for “Springboard to Languages” to read up on this concept. (It’s also among the list of links here:

  107. David Marjanović says

    The easiest way to learn a second ethnic language is to first learn Esperanto.

    That rather obviously depends on which language you want to learn. For learning, say, any kind of Chinese, I bet Esperanto is (if anything) counterproductive.

  108. I don’t think so. From what I understand, the most important thing in learning additional languages is to break down the monolingualism barrier, to get speech and understanding partly dissociated from one’s own L1, something I have never been able to do myself. Using a language for that purpose that is “a human language bereft of the inconveniences due to too many successive cooks” may actually be useful, as it lowers the activation energy required. (Tolkien quotes this phrase in “A Secret Vice”, but he does not footnote it, so I don’t know who originally said it.)

    Though he did say in an unconsummated rewriting that he was “no longer so sure that [an artificial language] would be a good thing” and that “at present I think we should be likely to get an inhumane language without any cooks at all — their place being taken by nutrition experts and dehydrators.” (This, of course, is Loglan and all its offshoots.)

  109. marie-lucie says

    JC: the most important thing in learning additional languages is to break down the monolingualism barrier, to get speech and understanding partly dissociated from one’s own L1,

    This is difficult to do when learning on one’s own, especially from written sources only, or in classes where the language is taught formally. Most people learn much faster from being immersed in a language in the country or region where it is spoken, when one can hear and practice the language in natural circumstances and therefore associate it with those rather than with words and sentences of one’s own language.

    I have learned a fair amount of Italian and especially Spanish (and, much earlier, English) from reading books aloud (easy to do with Spanish, which marks unpredictable stress). I find that this keeps me from my otherwise strong tendency to translate into French or English.

  110. There is a technique called Counseling-Learning, developed by Charles A. Curran, that is meant to attack this barrier directly, though it is very labor-intensive. Essentially, students sit in a circle and communicate directly in the L2, but whenever they cannot think of a word or construction, or cannot understand what another student has said, they consult their counselor (typically a somewhat more advanced student), who sits behind them just outside the circle. In this way, the student is constantly supported in the actual L2, is never lost, and feels at all times like an actual participant rather than a merely passive absorber of data.

  111. I am more interested in learning Lingua Franca Nova ( than Esperanto, because I find that it is easier overall, and it sounds nicer as well.There should also be a printed dictionary for the language later this year.

    That is just my opinion, though. Please check out elefen and compare the two.

  112. David Marjanović says

    Ridiculously easy if you already know a Romance language. 🙂 Otherwise, it may not be that much of an improvement over Esperanto (though I’m sure it still is, lacking case endings and stuff).

  113. January First-of-May says

    Semi-obligatory: Ranto (aka “Learn Not To Speak Esperanto”) by Justin Byam Rye (recently refurbished for its 20th anniversary).
    There are other comments I wanted to add, but I’ll probably post them later (when I go through this darn thread again).

    I recommend Lojban for international, incidentally. Never tried to learn it though.
    (Did try to learn Esperanto, once, for a few weeks, about ten years ago, forgot everything since; right now my Esperanto is about as good as, or maybe slightly worse than, my Portuguese [which I’ve never tried to learn at all] – which is to say that I can kind of get the gist once I push myself through the orthography.)

    (Also: I highly suspect that a major fraction of the audience here would have understood me if I wrote my posts in my native Russian. Yet for some reason I feel compelled to write in English. I wonder if that counts as repressive…)

  114. A minority of the commenters, and probably a tiny minority of the readers.

  115. minus273 says

    If we go as far as to Lingua Franca Nova, why not vanilla Lingua Franca? The DOM is really nice, among the lack of other grammatical features (“mi amar per ti”).

    More seriously but always within the frame of thinking that brought us Esperanto and co., I think Chinook Jargon is the ideal international language. It’s grammar is as simple as any other international languages, and its phonology equally difficult for anyone who is neither from Washington State nor Kabardino-Balkaria. “Soft, fine in substance, ground up” is famously t͡ɬʼmn.

  116. David Eddyshaw says

    It was a sad day for the internet when the good old custom of posting in Latin by default fell into disuse.

    Honestly, I think there is little to choose between the various barbarian languages which now prevail. None of them permits profound thought or truly felicitous expression.

    Chinook Jargon does look promising, though.

  117. I may have told this anecdote here before, but I once attended a conference in Brazil, which was organized by a Russian ex-patriot living in Mina Gerais. He had mostly invited physicists from Brazil and the former Soviet Union, and there were several more Russians living in South America among the attendees. Of course, the whole meeting was conducted in English, but I felt very awkward being the only person there who spoke English as their first (or even primary) language, especially since I was also probably the only person who did not speak Portuguese and/or Russian.

  118. Interlingua would be my choice. I think its virtues and vices are largely the same as Lingua Franca Nova’s, with the main difference being that it hews just a little closer to Latin.

    As for Esperanto, I think it was well intentioned and a good step forward, but just has too many flaws and absurdities – as cataloged by our friend JBR – for me to get on board with it. One of its biggest problems, in my view, is that it tries so hard to be neutral that it forgets to be natural: its “clockwork morphology” (love that phrase) produces a mechanical effect not quite like anything in natural language, and preferences flexibility of word creation to a totally undue length. Esperantists often defend this by pointing out the wealth of synonyms that are available for poetic expression, but in doing so I think they conflate the goals of an auxlang with those of an artlang.

  119. Lars (the original one) says

    JC, do you know if AUXLANG is still alive?

    (Anecdote: I was once the list owner for the CONLANG list, and my only major administrative action was to give the auxlangers their own list and ban the subject from CONLANG, because even very technical threads turned into the Esperanto-Interlingua war within about five posts. It is a minor miracle that the hattery has confined itself to discussing international auxiliary languages only in this thread).

  120. David Marjanović says

    My Russian vocabulary is small and rather specialized: нёбо, чешуйчатая кость…

    I think Chinook Jargon is the ideal international language.

    Or a bit easier on the good people of Dagobah we could go and the Mobilian International Language revive as the force the galaxy that together holds.

  121. Chinook Jargon is boringly SOV (despite the fact that most indigenous languages of the American Northwest are verb-initial are the syntactic patterns of CJ are Native in all other respects).

  122. I don’t see that Esperanto’s morphology is any more “clockwork” than Turkish or Finnish, although it lacks the morphophophophonology of the first and the vowol harmono of the second. It is indeed a fairly typical agglutinative language.

  123. Lars (the original one) says

    To me the most non-typical feature of Esperanto is that the derivative morphemes can be used as roots too — eme! (I’m not sure that was Zamenhof’s intention, but it’s in the wild). A natural language usually has at least some closed classes of words that have only one function.

  124. David Marjanović says

    That was his intention. He explicitly wanted every morpheme to be functional as a root in every word class, and all “inflected” words to be actually compounds (all very much unlike an agglutinative language).

    In the words of Blackadder, there was just a tiny flaw in this plan: it was bollocks (points 2 and 3).

  125. Lars (the original one) says

    Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone try to use the word class markers as roots, or the accusative-and-stuff -n. But I admire his ambition — all progress is created by unreasonable people, you just can’t expect all their ideas to work!

  126. Since this old thread has been revived, I would like to note that the ambition of Esperanto, even in the form of the ‘fina venko’, is NOT to supplant existing languages, but to provide the world with a neutral SECOND language.
    Esperantists believe that in the present context, the spread of Esperanto would favor language diversity, because it would free most people from the onerous task of learning English, French etc. and would make it easier for those so inclined to turn their attention to ‘minor’ languages. And even after the ‘fina venko’, i.e. if everybody could communicate in Esperanto as a matter of course, speakers of minority or endangered languages would feel less of an obligation to speak the language of the local majority and would have a better chance of preserving their own.
    May I refer non-Esperantist readers to the Boulogne Declaration, which is still one of the binding documents of the Esperanto movement, and in particular to its paragraph 1:
    “Esperantism is the endeavour to spread throughout the entire world the use of this neutral, human language which, not intruding upon the personal life of peoples and in no way aiming to replace existing national languages, would give to people of different nations the ability to understand each other, and would be able to serve as a conciliatory language of public institutions in those lands where different peoples fight amongst each other over language issues, and in which could be published those works that have an equal interest for all people.”

  127. Thanks, that’s a good counterpoint to have.

  128. Esperantists suffer from narrow-mindedness and a conformist streak. In English I read even from Americans that they dont think or care if the USA is a great nation, but a young esperantist somehow feels obligated to say that the USA is a great nation but Trump is bad. In English people are less conformist. But amongst Esperantists you feel freedom of speech dwindling. I think of it as a kind of foriegn nation where they lack certain freedoms we have in the developed world, like North Korea where you can go to jail for insulting the leader. They are really worried about being “normal”.

  129. someotherone says

    Now, where is it possible to find right now his whole essay? Because it seems he’s just obliterated every single trace of it online – is there any other format of it, like a PDF version, or something, still available to share?!

  130. Christopher Culver has indeed obliterated every trace of everything he’s written online. It pisses me off — I hate people destroying history — but there it is.

  131. David Marjanović says

    So I went to after at least two blogs had vanished.

    The entire page follows below.

    1 <!DOCTYPE html>
    2 <html lang="en">
    3 <head>
    4 <meta charset="utf-8" />
    5 <meta http-equiv="x-ua-compatible" content="ie=edge" />
    6 <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1" />
    8 <title></title>
    9 <link rel="stylesheet" href="css/main.css" />
    10 <link rel="icon" href="images/favicon.png" />
    11 </head>
    13 <body>
    14 <h1>Christopher Culver, linguist and translator
    15 </body>
    16 </html>

  132. David Marjanović says

    …oops, line 17 is empty, I seem to have replaced the angle brackets around the </code> tag…

  133. Fixed!

  134. What an amazing thread!

    I’m sorry, but from a personal perspective Esperanto bores me. The language is European through and through. When the thread discussed how easy it is to learn, or vocabulary choices, it seemed to be discussing it from the point of view of a speaker of a European language (particularly Western European). Maybe it’s easy for a Yoruba or Malay or Chinese speaker — I have no idea. But it’s indubitably a Western language.

    I misspent a good part of my youth learning Chinese characters. It was a hard slog. But it gave me a kind of universal access to East Asian culture, including Vietnamese, despite that language having abandoned Chinese characters. I just have to look at an informal list of grammatical vocabulary that I’ve created to know this is true (just Chinese and Japanese, no Korean or Vietnamese). The vocab is shared to a ridiculous extent. But the moment I entered the world of Mongolian that all disappeared. Vocabulary-wise, Mongolian is totally different, despite its great grammatical resemblance to Japanese and Korean. A universal language based on Chinese characters would be interesting for an East Asian, maybe, but not for a Mongolian speaker!

    To repeat my point, Esperanto is based on a kind of European fellow-feeling. And for me, to venture into Esperanto (or Novial, etc) is really an excursion into boredom. Not something I’d really want to give much time to.

    I have to remind you that this is entirely my own personal feeling, just as the early part of the thread is couched almost entirely in personal feelings. I’m certainly not typical and my feelings don’t constitute an argument either for or against the value of Esperanto. But I’m not really interested.

    (Written in haste; please excuse the logical jumps.)

    PS: I once read Hogben’s book that led to Interlingua (was it?). It was interesting, precisely because it wasn’t just trying to create a simplified supra-European.

  135. “This URL has been excluded from the Wayback Machine.” Well paska.
    And the original URL goes to 410. I have never seen 410 in the wild. Christopher really nuked it from orbit.

    I hate conlangs with a passion which burns brighter the older I get. Not just because of all the true reasons in Bathrobe’s excellent summary, for I hate conlangs that try to go beyond Standard Average European, too. I hate the modern ones especially, those where all pretense of striving to understand one another or whatever is gone and it’s just basic wankery over one’s own creation. There are some minor exceptions, like when Nizar Habash‘s students are tasked with coming up with new languages using scifi scenarios, something like “What if a starship carrying a bunch of Maltese people and was crewed by folk from the Philippines crashlanded and the survivors founded a civilization, what would their language look like?”. Interlingua is also mildly less offensive because it just tries to be Latin without the grammar. But the rest? Nuke it from orbit and then burn the rest.

    Did you mean Interglossa?

  136. If I got this treatment I might go off grid as well.

  137. David Eddyshaw says

    The Hogben one is Interglossa. The idea behind it is similar to Basic English in some ways, pushing the complexity into syntax and composition rather than morpology. The lexicon tries to extract the morphemes familiar from international Latinoid/Greekoid compounds, on the theory that they are likely to be comparatively familiar to a lot of people.

    It’s a good deal more interesting conceptually than boring lowest-common-denominator Romance-like Interlingua.

    [ninja’d by bulbul]

  138. J.W. Brewer says

    Mr. Culver no doubt has or had his reasons which no doubt seemed sufficient to him at the time, however much we may regret that he gave less weight than we might have preferred to the public interest. Maybe a lesson is for the technically competent to make their own offline backup copies of content from folks who might be prone to such behavior rather than relying on the wayback machine to do it for them?

    We of course have natural languages that largely evolved or at least expanded to fill one Esperanto-desideratum niche, i.e. be a “neutral” L2 to facilitate communication between folks with different L1’s. Swahili and Bahasa Indonesia are both good examples, although of course one consequence of their success (plus local political decisions that could have been otherwise) is maybe to increase their number of L1 speakers. But either of those would serve at least as well as Esperanto (maybe a bit trickier than Interlingua, maybe not) as a neutral L2 for communications among e.g. the governments of the EU. Reviving Chinook Jargon for the purpose might be too ambitious?

  139. David Eddyshaw says

    Hausa too.

    And Lingala practically is an African Esperanto made good, though it doesn’t have the transnational dimension of Hausa.

  140. Yes, it was Interglossa. And it was an interesting, perhaps even exciting concept, but probably much harder to learn in practice than all the “boring lowest-common-denominator Romance-like” universal languages that emerged in succession around that era (I’m not even sure what era, but there were a few of them, including Interlingua, Novial, Latine sine flexione (speaking from memory — I’m writing in a hurry)….

  141. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Back in the day when I was postmaster for the CONLANG list, we had to distinguish AUXLANGs (the ones whose creators thought they were creating a common human language and all the other AUXLANGs should be nuked from orbit), and CONLANGs that were created to explore what was possible, in a sci-fi/alt-hist context or just for fun. (The language of Ill Bethisad that JC speaks about belong there, as do Tolkien’s languages). To be exact, we split the list into CONLANG and AUXLANG, and I never read AUXLANG apart from administrative matters.

  142. David Marjanović says



    Maybe it’s easy for a Yoruba or Malay or Chinese speaker — I have no idea.

    Reportedly, the accusative is a major problem. It was among the things Zamenhof himself wanted to get rid of in 1894, when it was too late.

    In a long list of ways, Standard Mandarin is noticeably simpler than E-o.

    Reviving Chinook Jargon for the purpose might be too ambitious?

    “Reviving” wouldn’t be quite the right word; it has creolized and is still spoken in Grand Ronde, Oregon.

    Anyway, it’s up to the task. It’s a large language that was used for decades for pretty much every purpose that languages are put to.

    But more likely we’ll end up with Singlish lah.

  143. Christopher Culver says

    Though some might regret that my content linked to here has long since gone down, the world has moved on so much that it is hardly relevant any more. Today the organized Esperanto movement that I was complaining about seems, from what friends still involved with it tell me, to be but a shadow of its former self.

    Aside from this Esperanto thing, everything actually worthwhile that I have ever written about linguistics has either found its way into a formally published paper or eventually will. So, no big loss to the world; a peer-reviewed journal seems preferable to some guy’s blog as a venue for new stuff.

  144. But plenty of people manage to formally publish stuff without eradicating everything they’ve written from the internet, and even from the archive. You may feel it’s no big loss, but those of us who have linked to it and appreciated it must be allowed to disagree. It certainly seems like overkill.

  145. David Marjanović says

    everything actually worthwhile that I have ever written about

    I told you years ago on one of the blogs you deleted, and I’m telling you again: you underestimate yourself. Of course I believe you that everything you’ve written about that wasn’t already in the scientific literature somewhere is there now, or you’re working on it; but your blogs had value as upper-end popularizations – judging from the commenters, they had such value even for actual specialists in fields of linguistics right next to, just not in, your own.

    …oh, yeah, you also underestimate your commenters. Have all the imposter syndrome you like, but your blogs were not just you.

  146. Christopher Culver says

    I disagree, David. I was told by several linguists that it was a bad idea for me to blog on linguistics under my own name, because when I toyed with new ideas that later turned out to be flawed – and more knowledgeable people could sometimes spot those flaws straightaway – that could only make me look foolish before the community. Unless your name is e.g. Juho Pystynen (who blogs at a much higher standard than I did), it is better to submit new ideas to the scrutiny of anonymous peer review, where a Schnapsidee gets pointed out before it does reputational damage.

  147. David Marjanović says

    I thought most of your posts were not about your new ideas…?

    In my small field, I’d be more afraid of submitting something silly to not-really-anonymous peer review than in an explicitly informal setting. There’d be stories of “can you believe he submitted this for real and wanted it published”… But that probably varies a lot between fields.

  148. Christopher Culver says

    Once I became specialized in Volga–Kama linguistics and competent to produce formal publications, my blogging started to focus on that and became my own sketchbook of ideas like e.g. Marc Miyake’s blog. But, as I said, it wasn’t doing me any favours.

    Another reason my old Esperanto story is no longer relevant is due to how the world outside Esperanto changed. English and Google Translate won to a degree that was unimaginable in 2005. Having been involved in travel communities for long years, I see firsthand that considerably fewer people going to a foreign country, regardless of where they come from, are interested in learning any of the local language whatsoever. Not when they can just speak English or show their phone screen. (Spanish still has appeal due to its utility across so many countries, but it is quite common now to meet backpackers and overlanders who do a year or 18 months in Latin America and never learn it.) When I use even the handful of local phrases for shops or restaurants that used to be regarded as basic politeness, fellow travelers disturbingly often ask me why I bother.

    On the other side, rather fewer local people, now fully proficient in English and impatient with halting speech, are welcoming of foreigners trying to learn their language. Back in 2005, the Netherlands and Sweden stood out for that, but today, I think a young linguaphile like I was then, would face the same discouragement across far more of Europe or the Middle East. Esperanto and anti-globalization sorts once bemoaned that English was an imposition, language imperialism, anti-diversity, etc. But non-native English speakers in many countries today seem to regard English fully as their own; the suggestion that there is anything wrong with it might not even make sense to young people.

  149. When I use even the handful of local phrases for shops or restaurants that used to be regarded as basic politeness, …

    … the locals appreciate it enormously — even if they’d understand perfectly well my saying it in English. Why do you give a fig for ‘travel communities’?

    (My chief objective on arriving in a country is to get as far off the gweilo beaten track as possible. Are there no longer those sorts of travellers?)

  150. Christopher Culver says

    AntC, the context here is that I left the Esperanto movement because it was a bubble, and I instead was attracted to other ways of traveling in foreign countries where travelers were enjoying more immersion in the local language. But over time, due to the societal developments I mentioned, even those travelers became less likely to be immersed. It’s not that I “give a fig for travel communities”, it’s just that other overlanders and bicycle travelers will strike up a conversation when our paths cross, and so I have witnessed firsthand changes in these matters. Plus, I follow related media and the focus there has changed markedly. Ultimately, the concerns in my Esperanto story are from a long-ago era.

    Also, I disagree that “the locals appreciate it enormously” necessarily. I don’t think you’ll have any difficulty finding people in many places today who will tell you that a foreign visitor using a word or phrase in their language does absolutely nothing for them. In fact, it might even be cringe.

  151. David Eddyshaw says

    … the locals appreciate it enormously

    I’ve certainly found this to be the case in France, though I’m not limited to basic stuff there, so it probably doesn’t count as an example. I don’t usually get the discouraging experience of someone replying to my French in English, though I do agree that that is commoner than it once was. (Even my wife, who speaks really excellent French, gets this occasionally from waiters and so forth, but I think waiters tend to get into that kind of mindset these days. Apparently I look German myself, to the point where stray Germans spontaneously address me in German, even in the UK. A mystery. It may be my dress sense.)

    I did find that even snippets of Kusaal went down very well when I lived in Bawku, but then not many people spoke English, so again it’s not really parallel.

    In Burkina Faso, my attempts to speak Mooré almost always got extravagant appreciation even from people who actually spoke French better than I do; on the other hand, when my Ghanaian colleagues, many of whom spoke excellent Mooré, attempted to use it with French-speaking Burkinabe, the latter tended to reply in French (which my colleagues did not speak.) I suppose they didn’t have the cuteness factor of a European speaking Mooré badly.

    My Hispanic son is usually taken for a native speaker of Spanish, so he’s not a good data point.
    Only his wife speaks English to him (at least she used to: she used to object to him sounding so Castilian, but he now seems to have become Venezuelan enough not to be uncanny-valley any more.)

  152. I wonder if people in general tend to appreciate foreigners speaking their language especially if they feel that it is beleaguered and disrespected. Like maybe Québecois French?

  153. David Eddyshaw says

    I think this was the case with Kusaal; not that it’s at all endangered at present, I’m glad to say, but southern Ghanaians tend to have pretty negative preconceptions about the north. I knew southerners who’d been in Bawku for years and couldn’t even manage common greetings in Kusaal. They tended, if anything, to be worse than us actual foreigners when it came to making the effort.

    Mooré is pretty high-status within Burkina, as much the most widely spoken African language; moreover, the Mossi are not subject to any kind of ethnic inferiority complex (well, they actually do have a lot to be proud of.) I do think my efforts there were appreciated more qua performing monkey than as cultural validation for the Mossi. They don’t need no stinking validation.

  154. @Christopher I left the Esperanto movement …

    Yes that I understand: I made a bit of a stab at Esperanto, but found it no more use in Europe than school Latin/French; and utterly pointless in Asia. (There’s a little that’s recognisably Portuguese in Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau — but I suspect more preserved via Japanese influence.)

    @Y especially if they feel that it is beleaguered and disrespected.

    Yes let’s hypothesise that rather than DM’s performing monkeys or CC’s cringe. A ‘good morning’ here in Taiwanese (Hokkien) even with a terrible pronunciation but clearly trying not to be Pǔtōnghuà gets me plenty of Brownie points.

    overlanders and bicycle travelers will strike up a conversation

    If I see another white face in a week, I regard myself as not having gotten far enough off the b.t.

    (And whatever your case with Esperanto, many here have expressed their appreciation of your writings. i’m afraid i arrived too late. If you have misgivings about reputational risk, i’m sure it’s not beyond the interwebs to resurrect them and others’ comments under an alias.)

  155. David Eddyshaw says

    utterly pointless in Asia

    was apparently well into Esperanto, accounting for its prominence in the anime version of 銀河鉄道の夜 Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru “Midnight on the Galactic Railroad.” I gather that Esperanto was quite a thing in Japan in his day.

    And then there is

    There is also (now I think of it) a rather beautiful song (“Lumis eterne”) in Esperanto that figures quite prominently in the altogether-wonderful anime series Aria.

  156. a rather beautiful song (“Lumis eterne”) in Esperanto

    There’s beautiful songs in every language[**]. Italian rates highly for most Europeans, although Russian more amongst … Russians. And in many operatic traditions the idea is more-or-less to obliterate the source language. So this is no argument for any language in particular.

    [**] I have to admit I’ve so far failed to find one in Chinese opera — or even Chinese/Canto pop. Probably on me expecting chord progressions for emotive effect.

  157. while as an inveterate dialectal materialist who dislikes very little in language more than standardization, i have very little sympathy with esperantismo, i have some respect for esperanto through what i understand to be its original subtext (as opposed to zamenhof’s stated aims): “yiddish for goyim”. which is to say, a transnational (as opposed to inter- or super-) means of communication (mainly among multilingual europeans) able to incubate an antinational culture of its own.

    i don’t think english in its (neo?)colonial form is, or can be, that. to my eye, it makes its closest approach when it actively rejects the idea of being properly english at all*, which i think i’ve only seen done in a systematic way in the (sadly, defunct) Abolishing Borders From Below anarchist courier zine from eastern europe, whose editorial collective described their approach like this:

    “As you probably noticed THE ENGLISH which is used in this newspaper is very far from its gramatical and stylistic ideals. It is mostly because this is ENGLISH in which most of our corespondents, big part of our readers and most of us (as the editors) are communicating. So obviously we choose to use ENGLISH which is understandable for ourslves. Secondly, we decided to be rather “BAD ENGLISH REPUTATION” newspaper as to rise a level of language and this way eliminate probably 30-60% of our regular readers, especialy in south and eastern Europe.”

    * in a very different way from the rejection of a standardizing colonial center in favor of a specific local lect or regional cluster of lects, like kamau brathwaite’s “nation language” (it’s his yortsayt, so he’s been on my mind today). nation language is a declaration of equality; BAD ENGLISH REPUTATION is a rejection of the terms of measurement. similarly, the last 150 years of yiddish’s history would have been very different if its advocates had embraced “zhargón” (or even “mameloshn”) as the lect’s primary name**.

    ** is becoming a “language” an aspiration to an army and navy? in esperanto’s case, it seems like for some people it at least includes an aspiration to a repressive state apparatus.

  158. I don’t think you’ll have any difficulty finding people in many places today who will tell you that a foreign visitor using a word or phrase in their language does absolutely nothing for them. In fact, it might even be cringe.

    This has often been my experience in Bucharest lately. Whether the times are changing as Christopher says, or whether people in Bucharest have a chip on their shoulder about foreigners perceiving them as backward is not clear to me. Interestingly if I speak Romanian to Romanians in Vienna they seem very appreciative.

    I certainly agree with Christopher’s larger point – the younger generation increasingly sees learning any foreign language other than English as a waste of time. Especially in the EU. Americans who move to cities like Vienna or Berlin for work still feel an atavistic need to learn German (but usually give up after a year or so). French or Swedish professionals often don’t bother at all.

    In Vienna I occasionally even encounter native German speaking parents speaking accented English to their young children. Sometimes a status thing, sometimes because the children are being raised in a mixed Austrian-Czech/Spanish/Romanian or whatever household and English is the common language. The future of German seems more dire to me than most older people realize.

  159. January First-of-May says

    There’s beautiful songs in every language

    More so if we’re including translations of songs originally written in other languages. One of my favorite songs is in Danish, which one wouldn’t expect to produce particularly good music.

    (I guess some of the more obscure languages get the problem of there not being a lot, if any, music in them at all. Granted, in some cases this just means that such music hadn’t survived – or, if it did, hadn’t made it to the internet yet – rather than having never existed in the first place.
    In particular, the only song in Tangut that I’ve ever heard was absolutely hideous, but I’d be surprised if it is at all representative of Tangut music. AFAIK Tangut’s modern relatives produce quite beautiful music indeed.)

    (…I did a search for Kusaal on YouTube and found quite a few songs in Kusaal. Maybe I’ll try listening to some to check if any sound particularly beautiful.)

  160. Lars Mathiesen says

    Oh, which one? Well, Denmark is a market with 5-6 million consumers, so there’s a lot of music produced. They have to be lucky some times. Also, jazz. NHØP.

  161. January First-of-May says

    Oh, which one?

    Four Jacks – Mandalay. There’s a reason I mentioned translations from other languages…

    (I think I’ve encountered some nice Danish songs that probably weren’t translated, but this was the really nice one. I’ve apparently mentioned it on LH before, in a similar context.)

  162. PlasticPaddy says

    7. Wang Erxiao, The Herdboy《歌唱二小放牛郎》

  163. @Christopher C the world has moved on so much that it is hardly relevant any more. Today the organized Esperanto movement that I was complaining about seems, from what friends still involved with it tell me, to be but a shadow of its former self.

    (But really this is a hook to agree with our host’s pissed-offness at destroying history.)

    Wondering what that ‘former self’ might have looked like, I tried checking up the only Esperanto-speaking Brit I’d heard of: Roy Jenkins, Labour/SDP politician and Europeanist. Only to discover I seem to be hallucinating. Google/Wikipedia have no knowledge, nor of any prominent Brit politician Esperantist. Can the brains trust here confirm or deny?

    I don’t care who thinks the arcane history of Esperanto is not “relevant any more”. I’d rather be able to review that history and its internal debates of the time, and not get told patronisingly what’s relevant. It’s to anyone’s credit if they’ve later changed their mind and can explain why.

    Because even if Esperanto turned out to be the wrong answer, the question is still vital. For the same reason I read LLog avidly, even if vast amounts of it go over my head.

  164. @DE (“Lumis eterne”) in Esperanto

    Thanks but hmm. I think that would get pretty irritating after a few hearings. I see (hear) your Lumis eterne and raise you Lux aeterna setting to Elgar’s Nimrod variation from Enigma. It fits so exquisitely I’d go so far as to say it _is_ the enigma.

    @PP Wang Erxiao, The Herdboy

    Thank you! Mission accomplished. I see also in that collection ‘Yellow river cantata’. I know the Piano concerto adapted from it, whose second movement well qualifies. Sadly the soloist in the Cantata wrecks what could easily be on the list. Damn the propaganda! We need an intimate vocal setting, methinks.

  165. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @F1M, that is indeed very competently done. It’s a bit strange to hear it with a bigband in march tempo. There is only one one Danish version of the text.

    og på mig hun tænker på“. Sometimes the feet win. And when I was growing up, we were all wondering who Kai was who was living by the Bay of China. And how he was blocking the sunrise.

    I’m not going to link the older version with Mogens Wieth and just a guitar, which would be better if the guy could sing.

  166. J.W. Brewer says

    @Lars M.: NHØP *was* Danish, but he didn’t play *in Danish.* Although now I’m curious as to how much conversational Danish the various expatriate American jazzmen who settled in Copenhagen in the Sixties-through-Eighties did or didn’t typically pick up, back when English fluency was I imagine less universal in Scandinavia than it has subsequently become. Which reminds me by free association of one such expat — quondam Charlie Parker collaborator Duke Jordan — and the fact that I’d enjoyed his composition “Night Train from Snekkersten” for several decades before learning that “Snekkersten” was an actual Danish toponym (complete with actually-existing railroad station) rather than a fictitious location in some fictitious fairy-tale land.

  167. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I don’t actually recall any vocal number with NHØP. I’m pretty sure he didn’t sing, at least.

    I would guess the level of Danish among jazzmen would correlate with their being married to Danish women. As it will. My dad was more into the music of younger female singers, and I never got into the scene myself so I never had occasion to speak to any US expats.

    Most of the video of Tom Lehrer on Youtube is from a single 1968 concert recorded by Danish state television. And that crowd at least is laughing at all the right spots, but it’s only a few hundred people.

  168. jack morava says

    @ AntC
    Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, cf Kubrick’s 2001 :

  169. Christopher Culver says

    Indeed, Vanya. Besides the commonly reported examples of the Netherlands and Germany when it comes to foreign residents not learning the local language, already in Helsinki for a few years now it has been acceptable to run a restaurant with wait staff that can only speak English.

    Expats from other European nations content to speak to locals in English is one thing. But even more dismal is people from two dialects of the same European language speaking to each other in English. For over twenty years now, I have occasionally heard Dutch people say they prefer to speak with Flemish people in English. And many Finland Swedes have stories of going to Sweden and the locals replying in English, not because the accent is difficult to understand but solely because an unusual accent seems to automatically trigger a switch to English.

  170. David Eddyshaw says

    Four Jacks – Mandalay

    “Det er hygge musik”, say the comments …

    Now where is my woolly sweater with the snowflake pattern?

  171. David Marjanović says

    Danish, which one wouldn’t expect to produce particularly good music

    One of the more extreme dialects has eliminated most of the remaining consonants; there’s a song out there that consists only of vowels, IIRC. I’ve never heard it, though, and I don’t know where to look for it.

    For over twenty years now, I have occasionally heard Dutch people say they prefer to speak with Flemish people in English.

    That I find hard to imagine. I know a Fleming and a Walloon who speak English with each other, though.

  172. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    One item has been discussed here a few times, but it’s not a song: A æ u å æ ø i æ å æ i å u å æ ø i æ å? I’m sure there are other dialects with purely vocalic multisyllables as well.

    IIRC, I tried to track down the various dialectal features in Southern Jutland that would be needed (A for jeg, æ as preposed definite article _and_ copula, u å for ude på, å for også) and found out that they didn’t quite overlap. Å and ø are Standard, of course.

    EDIT: I also seem to recall from one of the threads that some (non-Danish) musical group had put a similar sentence to music, but it wasn’t quite correct.

  173. David Marjanović says


  174. rozele’s BAD ENGLISH REPUTATION seems to be another incarnation of the march towards “World English”, a type of international English loosened from its tethers to any of the old native-speaker varieties. Linguists have been predicting this for some time now. (Indian English, Philippine English, and of course Singlish are probably prototypes for this.) As a native speaker of English, I am quite ambivalent about this development. On the one hand it is a perfectly natural development. On the other hand I am attached to English as she is spoken as a native language, with all the messy complaints about how standard English should be and how it is as a real language, with regional and social dialects and all.

  175. The distinction between AUXLANGs and CONLANGs is a very real one. AUXLANGs are attempts to create an international auxiliary language based on certain unexpressed templates (i.e., European-type languages, although Interglossa appears to be an attempt to deviate from this) and CONLANGs are whimsical efforts to create languages as an intellectual exercise. I willI agree with bulbul’s characterisation of conlangs as a kind of wankery, but it’s a rather interesting kind of wankery, as you will find with posts on reddit and elsewhere asking how the creator can instantiate a certain obscure feature (e.g. obviatives) in their conlang. There is no pretence that such a language could ever become an international means of communication.

  176. David Marjanović says

    I know CONLANGs as “artlangs”, and “conlangs” as the cover term…

    So far, World English isn’t happening, and claims of Euro-English (as e.g. spoken in day-to-day operation of EU institutions) have all turned out to refer to everyone making their own L1 errors, not each other’s. This is not – so far – like L2 Hausa, or Indian, Philippine or Singaporean English.

  177. artlangs

    “Vanity languages” would seem a more apt term.

  178. @Bathrobe: i see BAD ENGLISH REPUTATION in almost exactly the opposite way, not as “a type of international english”, but as the refusal to be a type of english at all. as communication carried out (out of necessity) using elements pried from english materials but explicitly having no aspirations to put them together into an english.

  179. But even more dismal is people from two dialects of the same European language speaking to each other in English.

    I have met a few Swiss Germans who claim they find it easier to speak English in business situations than Hochdeutsch. That actually makes sense as a strategy, considering Germans may judge them for a “hick” accent in German whereas they come off as educated and polished speaking English.

    What I find more sad are Poles, Slovaks and Czechs communicating with each other in English. Or French and Italians deciding to use English.

    I have to say though, I went to Sweden for the first time this summer after spending 3 or 4 months teaching myself Swedish in my spare time, and I almost always had people respond to me in Swedish in shops and bakeries. Especially outside of Stockholm. It may be I have a better ear for Swedish than Romanian, more likely though so few tourists even try to speak Swedish today that any level of fluency above basic phrases pegs you as a resident in people’s minds.

  180. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Swedes also have a high level of acceptance of other regiolects, even if they don’t know what they are hearing. Some time in my first months of learning Swedish by immersion, someone suggested that I should try to imitate something like FennoSwedish, because it’s an accepted regiolect but no one in Stockholm would be able to tell if I did it correctly. Even other FennoSwedes, because there’s a lot of variation. But I don’t think the latter idea would work, my Danish phoneme inventory would give me away to natives.

    Northern Swedish and FennoSwedish may actually be easier for L2 learners, there’s no diphthongization of long vowels like in Scania, no progressive retroflex assimilation like in Stockholm, no weird palatalization results (looking at you, ɧ) just a merger on /ʃ/, apical /ɾ/–what’s not to like?

    L1 Finnish speakers unapologetically import initial stress to Swedish, if you like that sort of thing, but they probably have other peculiarities that are hard to imitate.

  181. Lars Mathiesen: I once had the opportunity in Stockholm to hear Fenno-Swedish, and I too definitely got the impression that the latter would prove a much easier variety to master as an L2 than the former, for the reasons you give, plus a few others (no tones!)

  182. What I find more sad are Poles, Slovaks and Czechs communicating with each other in English.

    I’ve read an anecdote somewhere (probably here on LH) that on one of the Pan-Slavic congresses of 19c. delegates tried to speak their native languages in the assumption that everyone else would understand them. Didn’t work. Naturally, they switched to German.

  183. J.W. Brewer says

    Turns out that the notion of just making English the universal auxlang was proposed a full century ago by a noted business magnate who maybe had some more eccentric ideas on the side.

  184. Christopher Culver says

    I disagree, Lars, that Swedes are necessarily tolerant of regiolects in the case of Finland Swedish. As I said, Finland Swedes I know have stories about Sweden Swedes switching to English or immediately laughing out loud (“Hahahahaha, va sa du?!”) at the first thing they utter, and the same complaints are occasionally aired in Finland Swedish media. An added challenge these days may be that a lot of customer-facing jobs in Sweden are performed by immigrants who, though proficient in the local Swedish, likely have had no previous exposure to Finland Swedish at all.

    Poles and Czechs communicating in English is more understandable considering that the two peoples were barely even neighbors for centuries until 1945, and both languages diverged considerably lexically and phonologically. Add to this Poles’ attitude that Czech sounds ridiculous. Even today, if one travels the post-1945 borders, it is remarkable how little contact there is between the two sides over long stretches. In the case of Polish and Slovak I have witnessed – or been part of myself, speaking Polish – a lot more convivial everyone-speaks-their-own-language conversations, though who knows how long that will last with the youth.

    It amuses me that Poles seem to understand Slovak, and even Czech, far more easily than their fellow Lechitic language Kashubian.

  185. My own experience is that in Israel, if I start speaking at all hesitatingly (like, it’s early in the morning and I am trying to decide what I want with my coffee), people will often assume that I will be more comfortable in English and start addressing me in same, and will not easily let go of that idea. Something about my personal style, maybe? It really annoys me.

  186. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I’m not a speaker of Finland Swedish myself, of course, but during the 11 years that I lived in Stockholm I never heard anybody expressing that attitude. Maybe people with academic degrees suppress the urge. Nor do I remember anybody switching to English in the face of my imperfectly dedanified version of Stockholm Swedish. (Of course nobody, or near enough, could speak to a Finn in Finnish, so English did happen in such cases).

  187. Poles and Czechs communicating in English
    I may have told this story here before. 20 years ago I was working at the Polish subsidiary of a German company in Wrocław. We were negotiating with representatives of a Czech software company whose boss was that rare bird, an expatriate who didn’t speak English. He was Spanish and had learnt fluent Czech. So their side spoke Czech slowly and our side spoke Polish slowly, and we understood each other. But when the Spanish boss wasn’t around, the Czechs and Poles spoke English to each other – that must have seemed more natural and less forced to both sides.

  188. David Marjanović says

    I’ve read an anecdote somewhere (probably here on LH) that on one of the Pan-Slavic congresses of 19c. delegates tried to speak their native languages in the assumption that everyone else would understand them. Didn’t work.

    I’ve watched it work, among people who were around 20 in 2008, between Polish, Czech and Slovak – but I was told it takes some two days for Czechs to get used to Polish.

    Between Polish and Croatian it ends up one-sided (the Croat ended up understanding Polish but not vice versa).

    My own experience is that in Israel, if I start speaking at all hesitatingly (like, it’s early in the morning and I am trying to decide what I want with my coffee), people will often assume that I will be more comfortable in English and start addressing me in same, and will not easily let go of that idea. Something about my personal style, maybe? It really annoys me.

    That’s how I learned to speak French at Ludicrous Parisian Speed. In Paris, as soon as people suspect French isn’t your native language, they speak to you in English – English in the French sound system, so it takes you half a minute to grasp that that’s supposed to be English, and then you still don’t understand it.

    I have met a few Swiss Germans who claim they find it easier to speak English in business situations than Hochdeutsch.

    That’s easily imaginable if they’re used to international business being in English. A French colleague of mine, who speaks French daily, claims to be an English monoglot in science.

  189. David Marjanović says

    Meanwhile, here’s a blogging linguist getting DOIs for some of his posts (including the one I’ve cited).

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