Tuesday, November 27, 2007

#15. Esperanto

Is there a universal language?
Nowadays, knowing English helps a lot in communicating with people from different countries. Even if two people's native languages aren't English, it's likely that they can only communicate in English. I think I feel this especially more at Stanford. There are many kids who speak another language fluently. A lot of the time, this is due to their ethnic background and the language their family uses at home. When I talk with my Thai or Chinese friends, I can only communicate with them in English. We can't use Thai, Chinese, or Korean. So English seems to be taking the place of the universal language, but it's still very far off from actually becoming such a language. I don't know if we can ever reach that goal. However, many years ago, there was an attempt to make such an international language: Esperanto.
When I first heard about Esperanto, I was intrigued. I'd never heard of it or heard anybody speak it, but supposedly, it was the international language. Obviously, it failed, but I thought it was topic worth researching a little bit more into, so it's the topic of my blog entry for today. :)

Esperanto was invented in 1887 by Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish eye doctor. He published the first book in Esperanto, Unua Libro, under the pseudonym "Doktoro Esperanto," which is where the name of the language comes from. Contrary to my initial conception of it as a language made to unite the world under one universal language, Esperanto is an international second language that helps promote peaceful communication between people of different countries. Nobody has an advantage to Esperanto because it’s not a national language, so everybody is “equal” when they speak Esperanto. It’s a neutral language which theoretically protects minority languages because they have a better chance of surviving in a world that has a universal second language rather than in one dominated by a few “strong” languages. According to most of the sites I found on Esperanto, there are approximately 1,000 native speakers of Esperanto, 10,000 fluent speakers, 100,000 active speakers, 1 million who understand a lot of Esperanto, and about 10 million who have studied it to some extent. These numbers are much higher than I’ve expected because I’ve never met anyone who had even attempted to learn Esperanto. But apparently, Esperanto is “the most widely used international auxiliary language” today and particularly popular in Eastern Europe and China. There is a whole world of literature and music in Esperanto; there are more than 25,000 books in circulation written originally in Esperanto, many others translated from other languages into Esperanto, Esperanto songs, and radio stations that broadcast news bulletins in Esperanto.
The roots used in Esperanto are mostly derived from Latin and some of its vocabulary comes from modern Romance languages, English, German, Polish, and Russian. The alphabet is basically the same with some new additions (Ĉĉ, Ĝĝ, Ĥĥ, Ĵĵ, Ŝŝ, Ŭŭ), and the pronunciation is phonetic. It has few grammatical rules. Words are made by combining prefixes, roots, and suffixes. The word order in a sentence is pretty much free, so for example, Japanese speakers and French speakers can just say the words in the order that their languages use respectively. There aren’t irregular forms when forming plurals, different tenses of verbs, etc. Therefore, Esperanto is supposed to be pretty easy to learn. I don’t know what the standards are for this measurement, but according to my research, for a native English speaker, Esperanto is about 5 times as easy to learn as Spanish or French, 10 times as easy to learn as Russian, 20 times as easy to learn as Arabic or spoken Chinese, and infinitely easier to learn than Japanese. People generally seem to find they learn Esperanto much more quickly than other languages. In fact, some studies say that learning Esperanto before learning a foreign language helps you learn that language faster because it gives you a good base.
There are many places and sources you can use to learn Esperanto, including this site: http://www.cursodeesperanto.com.br/bazo/index.php?en. I don’t know how practical it is to learn Esperanto, but the goal of Esperanto is to facilitate communication between speakers of different languages, so if you learn it, you can find other people who speak it to help you when you visit other countries.

For me, I think Esperanto would be interesting to learn, but I would choose to learn French or Spanish instead because I can easily find a lot more people who speak French and Spanish than Esperanto. However, if anybody wants to, there seem to be a wealth of resources out there, and I encourage you to make use of them and wish you luck!

If you want to hear Esperanto being spoken, here is a link that has a sample sentence: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/esperanto.htm



Steve said...

Really great post, i actually learned a lot about esperanto that i never knew. that said, do you think esperanto will ever become the universal second language it was supposed to become? why or why not? what are some reasons english seems to be outperforming this "simpler" language as a global second language?

Alexandra Slessarev said...

Great, informative post!

I wonder if a simpler language is necessarily better. Sure, it may be easier for us to learn, but aren't the nuances of a language which make it complex are the results of a natural evolution? Do you think that there may be a benefit from irregularity?

Mizz Hur said...

this is an interesting topic Zenas...
but why do you think esperanto failed to become an international language?
If it was created to help the continuation of the minority languages, I don't really see the reason why it was shut down by others ..