Global Voices in Esperanto

It was the Global Voices summit in London (Dec. 2005) that inspired me to start blogging. I attended the summit to mention Esperanto to people, as one way to breach the huge language barriers that block the free flow of information between peoples, countries and continents.

As the Esperanto-language blogosphere keeps on growing, it has had a mention or two on Global Voices in the intervening ten months, with the latest (“A trip through Esperanto-land“) appearing today. Hopefully, on Esperanto Day this year (December 15th) a good number of blogs across the world will be posting bilingually about language issues.

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As I said at the summit last year, I believe the use of English as an international language to be ultimately incompatible with the aims of Global Voices. The use of any national language in an international role blesses the native speakers of that language with a large, perpetual, but often overlooked advantage over the other 90-odd percent of the global population — hardly conducive to a free, two-way flow of information between all world citizens, when participation in most countries is restricted to a small, highly educated elite, and even then only as second-class participants behind the native speakers (in terms of power of expression, ease of participation and risk of looking foolish through making mistakes).

The fact that English also happens to be the language of the USA also makes many people uncomfortable. Without getting into a debate about US foreign policy, I don’t think it’s too contentious to say that the US is currently regarded by many across the world as at least in some way threatening — some would go further and say “bullying”, “aggressive”, and worse — and having their language imposed in international relations is, I believe, resented by many.

However, even accepting all of the above, it’s undeniably true that many more people speak at least some English today than any other language, and that situation’s not going to change this month or next. Given that as a starting point, it would be somewhat foolish and counter-productive for any international project to do anything rash like banning its use on purely idealistic grounds. We have to start from somewhere.

Looking to the future though: translation certainly has a valuable place, but it is famously labour-intensive; English as a second language will undoubtedly play a large role for some time to come, possibly being threatened by Spanish and/or Chinese in the not-too-distant future; but Esperanto is also a solution that is currently in use on all continents, has a growing number of speakers and readers, and presents a much more egalitarian, neutral (not to mention significantly easier to master) complement to national languages.

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4 komentoj to “Global Voices in Esperanto”

  1. Marina Says:

    Good Lord! Esperanto looks more intricate than Euskera, which, as everybody knows, has no identifiable roots and it is believed to have sprung from nowhere like the people who speak it. Other theory sustains that since its beginning cannot be traced, then it must have been (yes, you’ve guessed right, like the people who speak it) always there….

  2. timsk Says:

    Hi Marina!

    Does Esperanto really look that scary to you?! It’s got a very high proportion of Latin, German and Greek roots, so many of them should look familiar. There are of course the accented consonants, which look a little bizarre to Western Europeans, but the way it all fits together — the grammar — is beautifully simple.

    Thanks for passing by anyway. 🙂

  3. Alan Says:

    Tim — I am interested in the comment that you left at
    http://www.pledgebank.com/esperanto – a pledge to learn Esperanto if 20 million other people promise the same. You wrote: “I ought to add, though, that I believe the pledge was created with good intentions, just not much by way of forethought.”

    You are, of course, right. But did you know that in the “First Book”, Zamenhof tried almost exactly the same? He invited readers to fill in and return a coupon saying: “I, the undersigned, promise to learn the international language, proposed by Dr. Esperanto, if it shall be shown that ten million similar promises have been publicly given”. (See: http://www.genekeyes.com/Dr_Esperanto.html)

    It is interesting that the idea of collecting any really significant number of pledges to learn Esperanto seems doomed to fail today as it did in the 1880s.

    In same book, Dr Zamenhof wrote the following about Volapük:

    “But the number of enthusiasts, after having risen to a certain number, will remain stationary, and as the unfeeling and indifferent world will never consent to take any pains in order to speak with the few, this attempt will, like its predecessors, disappear without having achieved any practical victory.”

    Ask yourself whether he has not in fact unintentionally described the situation about Esperanto itself. The numbers have risen to “a certain number”. For Esperanto, that number is probably one or two million, which is many more of course than for Volapük, but nonetheless a number at which it has stagnated, and at which the “unfeeling and indifferent world” has little reason to pay notice.

  4. timsk Says:

    Hello Alan, and thanks for your comments.

    First of all, I think the pledge that you mention at PledgeBank.com is wildly unrealistic, as I say (in Esperanto) in the comments on the pledge page.

    I am of course aware of Zamenhof’s effort to get 10 million people to commit to Esperanto, and you’d be right to point out that there have never been 10 million speakers of Esperanto throughout its 120 years of existence.

    I also have to confess that I’ve never actually taken the time to read La Unua Libro, so thanks for the link to an online translation!

    However, I certainly retain confidence that Esperanto is far from a lost cause. There is much apathy and resistance to overcome, certainly, and the critical mass that would make Esperanto the “obvious” choice to language learners (the position currently enjoyed by English) is still a long way off.

    However, when I see the number of students enrolled at http://www.lernu.net, projects like http://www.Springboard2Languages.org, events like the Nitobe Symposia, and the increasing visibility of the language to young, active people on the internet through Skype, LiveJournal, PledgeBank, and many other places (including of course OpenOffice.org)… well, I like to believe that the idea is still spreading, and gaining adherents faster than they’re dying off or quitting the movement.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure of your identity, Alan, but I’d be interested to hear more about you, if you’d like to share. You can obviously write in Esperanto quite compentently, but appear very disillusioned with the whole idea. I’m not so blindly devoted to the movement that I can’t imagine how that might have happened, but I’d be interested to hear your story, either here or by private email.

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