Why I Won't Learn Esperanto

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
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Why I Won't Learn Esperanto

From time to time people ask me about Esperanto.

Is it worth learning?

What are the benefits of being able to speak it?

Will it help me learn another language?

Well… I’ve decided to answer these questions finally.

I’ve gone into quite a bit of detail on the main reasons why I have absolutely zero interest in ever learning it and why I would not recommend it to anybody inquiring about its ‘benefits’.

Now, I know this will probably stir up a beehive (I wish I could say I’m sorry but facts don’t care about hurt feelings) though I do want to make it clear that if you do love Esperanto and it’s something you’re passionate about, I’m not trying to shoot you down in flames or discourage you here.

It sounds like I am but believe me I’m not.

By all means, pursue what you love.

While I’m personally not overly interested in constructed languages generally (conlangs for short), I do understand how they’re a fun hobby for many people and I find a lot of the work put into their creation seriously impressive.

As you’ll see here, my reasons for having no desire to learn Esperanto have very little to do with it being a conlang per se (or pointless arguments about its vocabulary or syntax).

Ready?

Let’s get started.

1. Esperanto has always been a means to a political end

I always say that if you want to get to the bottom of what any movement is all about, look at its founder and origin first.

Who developed Esperanto and why was it developed?

If you think that Esperanto is just a basic constructed language put together by a language nerd back in the 1800’s that went viral, you’re wrong.

I also made the mistake of thinking its purpose was that simple.

Unlike other conlangs, Esperanto is 100% ideologically motivated.

It was made with a serious political objective in mind which still drives its propagation even today.

The language has always been used as a means to a political end (which is why dictatorships actively sought to suppress it in the early 20th century).

The bloke who created it, Ludwik Zamenhof, developed a political and religious philosophy (a cultish offshoot of Judaism that looked more like something straight out of The Communist Manifesto).

It’s clear that Zamenhof envisaged his made-up, simplified language as facilitating the breaking down of national and religious identity which he despised in his own community (including patriotism which he regarded as something evil). He also quite intolerantly spoke of free religious expression as a “barbarity”.

It’s this ideological baggage and taint that’s attached to the language that turns me off it completely.

Esperanto is the glossolalia of the faithful.

It also explains why so many dedicated Esperantists are by nature politically extreme.

Which gets me to my next point:

2. Esperantistan is an ideologically homogenous landscape

Wherever you travel, you meet people of all different persuasions.

No matter what language you learn, you’ll meet speakers all the time from the far left to the far right of the political spectrum. You’ll also meet non-believers, nominal believers, the devout and the extreme.

This is a normal thing.

This is a human thing.

The most crucial kind of diversity is the diversity of thought and opinion.

When you lose that, society’s in big trouble.

Communities everywhere around the world are filled with people who think very different things to each other and it’s this freedom that defines a healthy society.

Esperanto, being the ideological tool that it is, opposes this.

Even with constructed languages like Tolkien Elvish or Na’avi for example, if you look at the enthusiasts, you’ll find a wide array of people from all sorts of ideological backgrounds. They might be completely opposed to each other as far their opinions of the world are concerned but they come together for a common passion that they both share.

Now, I’m not saying that there absolutely aren’t any learners of Esperanto who don’t care about its politics or aren’t part of the status quo (see this depressing Reddit thread for example).

I went to NASK [North American Summer Esperanto Institute] a couple of times and felt totally isolated politically, and I’m not even the farthest right person I know. There are some great people at NASK and a lot of people willing to argue without getting offended, but a whole bunch of extreme far leftists who are OF COURSE politically correct (correct in their political views, as well as being PC beyond all reason).

I’m sure you could quite easily learn Esperanto without ever losing your mind as someone on the periphery of acceptable thought.

But since languages exist to enable us to communicate with a wider community of speakers, it’s imperative to ask yourself what kind of community are you restricting yourself to exactly?

Where’s the fun in spending time with ideological clones?

3. Not only does it have no culture but its adherents are delusional

Without doubt the most common and sensible reason why myself and so many others are turned off Esperanto is that it has no authentic culture.

Esperanto has no country or geographical ties to an ancestral homeland.

Unlike natural languages, you don’t learn Esperanto because you’re fascinated by a country, people group or location.

Outside of a few crackpots who decided to turn their kids into circus acts by raising them with Esperanto as a first language, it has no inter-generational identity or national/tribal history.

It’s therefore the same as any other conlang in this regard.

But…

Esperantists always and predictably fire back with:

“Umm… you’re wrong. We do have a culture. We have Esperanto music, food, events, literature… etc.**”

To which I reply that this shows an incredibly shallow and poor understanding of what culture actually is.

It’s exactly this kind of ignorant interpretation of the term ‘culture’ that I denounce in almost everything I do and write.

And it’s not just me:

…culture is defined as the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.”

This:

“Most social scientists today view culture as consisting primarily of the symbolic, ideational, and intangible aspects of human societies… The essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, or other tangible cultural elements but how the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them.

And then this:

“Culture: learned and shared human patterns or models for living; day- to-day living patterns. these patterns and models pervade all aspects of human social interaction. Culture is mankind’s primary adaptive mechanism.”

These are just a few of the excellent definitions of ‘culture’ on this page for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition.

Look at the terms used to describe culture here.

Intangible aspects of human societies, patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs.

Culture is an incredibly deep and multi-layered phenomenon.

To limit it to things like music and cuisine is insanely ignorant and unfortunately indicative of how a lot of modern progressives treat culture even outside the Esperanto community.

These people limit culture to things like food, clothing and performances which means that ironically the people who are often the most vocal about cultural diversity are also usually the most culturally naïve.

Culture is infinitely more complex than kebabs, concerts and grass skirts.

The original goal for Esperanto in fact conflicts with the very nature of human cultures as defined above which serve to separate and distinguish humans as unique groups.

4. Esperanto evangelists aren’t just passionate – they’re fanatical

So yeah, the extreme thing.

Discussing Esperanto with an Esperantist is like discussing theology with a Jehovah’s Witness or animal rights with a PETA activist.

They have every single response memorized to the letter and argue until you give up.

They’ll try to convince you that even the gods themselves speak Esperanto.

It’s this extreme zeal that makes everything online written by Esperantists about Esperanto so horrid and unbearable to read.

But again this comes back to the ideological motivation that drives it.

We’re not just talking about a language here but a political movement.

As you probably know by now, I’m passionate about Arabic.

I like to tell people about it and share my experiences.

But if somebody gives me a reason why they don’t like it or have no reason to pursue it, I don’t go on the offense to try and convince them that Arabic is the greatest linguistic achievement in the history of mankind.

I frankly don’t care if you hate it.

Most Esperantists however are self-appointed evangelists.

5. It might help you learn other languages but at the expense of time best spent on the language most important to you

Any third language you learn is going to be easier than your second language.

Your fourth language is going to be a little easier than your third.

In fact, the more you learn, the easier it all becomes because (a) you become familiar with various language families and a wider range of shared vocabulary and (b) your metalinguistic awareness increases.

This means that the more grammatical concepts you get your head around, the easier it becomes for you to recognize them in other languages.

So naturally, Esperanto is going to make you more aware of how, say, agglutinative languages work.

But it won’t necessarily save you any time and in fact is more likely to delay your real goals of learning the language you actually want to learn.

It would be like learning the guitar because you really want to learn the violin.

Sure you’ll learn about music theory, get a bit of familiarity with a string instrument that’s kinda similar but at the end of day, if you spend 6 months learning the guitar, that’s 6 months you could have been investing into the violin.

More importantly this is time you should be spending with your target language community.

This is the time that you should be using to acculturate.

My first language took years for me to pick up serious momentum and I was really slow at first but those first months and years were the most important, formative years for me in terms of acculturation.

The whole process of spending time with the target language community even though you’re grappling with difficult, new language concepts, is so incredibly important.

Not just important. Crucial.

And instead you want to hang out with a political cult and learn a practically useless conlang?

Talk about epic time wasting.

6. Esperanto has failed – not that we needed it anyway

Zamenhof and his followers envisaged a world where Esperanto was the global second language; the lingua franca with no baggage or bias.

It’s so easy that even an illiterate peasant could pick it up quickly, bridging the communication gap and ultimately breaking down hostility between all peoples.

A true international language.

The common argument against this of course is that we already have that.

It’s called English (and to a lesser extent languages like French and Spanish in the former colonies).

Esperantists are uncomfortable with this fact.

They’re uncomfortable with the reality that one of the natural byproducts of colonialism was the very thing that they’ve been trying desperately to achieve. Yes, English is a “harder” language grammatically but despite its relative difficulty, it’s still accomplished what Esperanto could not.

We no longer talk about England as being the final authority on what constitutes correct or incorrect English either – there’s American English, Australian English, South African English for example.

Linguists now agree that there are many other varieties such as Indian English and Singaporean English as well which are an authority unto themselves.

The Internet is basically unusable without English too.

The Esperanto dream has been fulfilled naturally whether they like it or not and people in every corner of the world are under increasing pressure to learn English simply to function in the 21st century.

English has succeeded where Esperanto failed miserably.

Now, I’m actually opposed to having a global language personally. This includes English.

We’re rapidly losing endangered languages and more than half of them will be lost forever by the end of this century.

For that reason combined with the fact that we already have an international lingua franca whether we like it or not, a constructed medium like Esperanto is absolutely unnecessary.

So now you know why I won’t learn Esperanto.


Disclaimer: All points shared in this article are my own opinions, perspectives and reasons for choosing not to learn Esperanto.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
Greek

COMMENTS

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Robert

Robert

I don't mind if people dislike Esperanto or want to criticise it. All I ask ia for them to be fair. Unfortunately you were anything but. I'm not sure why, but for some reason you felt it necessary to throw an insult into every paragraph you wrote. You couldn't just say that you dislike Esperanto, you had to do your best to imply that everyone who does is some weirdo.

Secondly, you make a lot of claims and have nothing to back them up. Where did you get the idea that Zamenhof disliked religious tolerance? The whole point of Homaranismo is to promote religious tolerance. The only link you do provide is to a reddit thread where many conservatives show that Esperanto is not composed of left wingers (how is that depressing?).

What makes you think all Esperantists are the same and they're all extremists? Have you personally met some? Have you gone to meetups? Have you read online forums? Where is this coming from?

There are valid criticisms of Esperanto that can be made, but unfortunately this post doesn't contain any.

Mut

Mut

I entirely agree with what Robert said. I'm always surprised to see people wasting so much time writing long articles against something that harms nobody and I find this rant particularly arrogant and disrespectful. If you think Esperanto speakers are "ideological clones", you really should ask people who use it. Esperantists disagree about everything, including Esperanto itself. And, believe it or not, Esperanto is not "100% ideologically motivated". Many people learn it and use it for the community, to travel, to learn about other cultures, to make friends, not for an ideology. The "cultish offshoot of Judaism" you talk about is, I assume, homaranismo; the huge majority of Esperanto speakers don't care about it at all.

I find this part particularly offensive: "Outside of a few crackpots who decided to turn their kids into circus acts by raising them with Esperanto as a first language." I have met quite a few native Esperanto speakers and calling them "circus acts" is really insulting. One of my best friends speaks Esperanto as a first language (as well as the language of her country) and she's very happy her parents made this choice.

You apparently do not want to understand that Esperanto is a language. A real living language that people use to talk, sing, tell jokes, gossip, love and argue, not for an "ideology" or a "cult".

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

You're surprised to see people writing long articles expressing their opinion and responding to questions you mean.

I get asked what I think and here are my thoughts on the matter. If that offends you, I wish I could say I'm sorry.

Raising your kids to speak Esperanto as a first language is cruel. How are you benefiting their future by doing that?

It's a sad case of crackpot parents forcing their political beliefs on toddlers (no different to parents who involve their young kids in anti-abortion rallies or gay rights protests for example). No advantage to the child whatsoever other than to show the world how devoted they are to a movement. Very unfair.

First language development is such an important period of a human's life and to deprive somebody of natural language development for incredibly selfish reasons disgusts me.

Mithridates

Mithridates

Well, sometimes you luck out when you're the child of such a fanatical parent.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itamar_Ben-Avi#Childhood

Mut

Mut

"You’re surprised to see people writing long articles expressing their opinion and responding to questions you mean."

What is surprising is that many rants about Esperanto are surprisingly angry and rarely well-informed. You have a very warped vision of "the community" that doesn't match anything I've seen in real life.

You apparently don't want to understand. Esperanto is not just "a movement", it is first and foremost a language.

"First language development is such an important period of a human’s life and to deprive somebody of natural language development for incredibly selfish reasons disgusts me."

It may be. But it's irrelevant, because nobody is depriving anyone of "natural language development". 100% of native Esperanto speakers are at least bilingual.

Harriffan Conshertini

Harriffan Conshertini

We need more native Esperanto-speakers - parents who create them are to be honoured, not shot down. Esperanto is the best language for a child to speak.

Frederik

Frederik

The more comments like this I read, the more creeped out I become by the Esperanto community. It's downright cultish.

Chris

Chris

Are you saying that Esperanto couples with different native languages should not reproduce? Wouldn't it be natural for the children to acquire their parents' common tongue?

Mike Jones

Mike Jones

It is perhaps a generic response to obvious superiority. The Polgar sisters were similarly pilloried for their prowess in chess.

DryCilantro

DryCilantro

Found the lefty ☝️☝️☝️☝️

Brett

Brett

I can’t say I disagree with anything in the post -good work!

The principle behind the language and culture seems self-defeating - it tries to be unique, yet is based on existing languages, along the lines of saying something like “let’s separate ourselves from other languages and cultures by borrowing things from the languages and cultures we’re trying to separate from.” Or “we want a ‘politically neutral language’” - this implies there’s a political motivation for making the language, not to mention it’s made up of languages that have political ideologies attached to them.

“I wish I could say I’m sorry but facts don’t care about hurt feelings”
You’ve been following Ben Shapiro lately, no?

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Good point.

A truly neutral constructed language wouldn't selectively borrow the way that Esperanto does.

Natalie K.

Natalie K.

Wow, you certainly don't mince words, do you? ;) I totally agree with what you're saying and the little I knew about Esperanto matches up with what you've said here. I find conlangs to be fun in theory (for example, I have a good time looking at some of the Slavic-based ones just for the fun of it because I'm a total language nerd), but not something I'd ever want to speak in practice. In real life, I want to speak real languages with real people. :)

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Thanks Natalie. :)

Martin B

Martin B

So you two finally agree on something?! Most amazing discovery of this whole article. Lol.

Actually this was a good read. I love romance and slavic languages. So I personally find Esperanto to be a kind of mental challenge and a little bridge between the languages in my mind. I enjoy it and will continue to pursue it.

Culture is an interesting word. How do we define it? Well, Donovan as a fellow vagabonder, I think at least we can both appreciate the idea of staying for free with hosts willing to meet us only for having a sharred passion -in this case, Esperanto. I.e., Esperanto can save us money. English is good for making money. But if I can save with Esperanto and meet locals, I can only say this : I'm down. That's American for yes. ;)

Love the articles sir. Please more on Arabic, Russian, Hebrew (still waiting for a how to Hebrew article by the way) and using Audacity and other tools. I read em all.

Alex

Alex

I have actually been debating with myself on whether I should focus on Esperanto or French. I have experience in both of them. Which one do you think I should focus on?

Guille

Guille

if you are bilingual: Frech, but if you are monolingual: Esperanto.

Jody

Jody

I agree Guille. I’m struggling to learn to speak Spanish. (I speak only 1 language.) Esperanto was suggested to me, as a learning tool. After reading this article I feel a little better about Esperanto. I’ve decided to learn it. Thanks.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

French absolutely.

Randall Burns

Randall Burns

I'm not especially interested in Esperanto as a movement. However there are two issues that you do not address.

a) there are only a few languages that have very much track record as a pivot language for purposes of translation: English,French, Russian, Arabic. Esperanto has been researched for that purpose.

None of the existing pivot languages are really all that good for that purpose, Including english. is being built for the ground up for that purpose to facilitate automatic translation.

What we know right now: the google translate team found it much less work to get Esperanto working than ANY other language they put into their list of supported languages. As someone that has played with this: Esperanto to English works much better there than English to Esperanto even though there has been _much_ more effort to get English to go to their intermediate working well.

Automatic translation is a hard problem. I think we are still ways from getting this working as well as human translators and it would be much easier to use Esperanto as a front for UNL than English. English is just too ambiguous for that purpose.

This may generalize to human/machine communications

2) Yes, folks are attempting to use english as the lingua franca and it has gotten further than others prior to english. There are about 1 Billion folks attempting to learn english right now. How many will ever get to B2 fluency even after lots of work?

The research suggests your claim that esperanto is a diversion is not true, at least for folks wanting to learn a language close to esperanto(English, spanish or french say). That effect was strongest for the folks that have the most trouble learning languages. I do not think that research is yet compelling but it at least needs more study. what I found: There was a lot about english grammar I just didn't get until I learned a bit of esperanto. In my case, I studied German and Russian and got to where I could read them a little but never had any luck with listening/speaking skills. I am attempting to learn spanish now and saw the same pattern emerging. Using esperanto as a tool to help me learn spanish seems to be working. Do I think that is ready for prime time or for everyone? No. Do I think all the research that needs doing in that area has been done? No. Your unsupported claims are NOT helpful though.

c) right now there are over a billion folks that speak a minor language and have no access to the web via automatic translation(they speak a language with no support in that area yet). I think a niche the esperanto community has not yet developed is being a language that can be learned with fairly language neutral tools and used to learn a world language like English, Spanish or French.

Ryan Lam

Ryan Lam

To me, Esperanto is still heavily biased towards the western world. Since it is based on Latin Alphabet, it is still heavily suitable for speakers of alphabetic languages to learn then the others. I myself is Cantonese, and in Canton, and other parts of the world languages are character based no alphabet based. you cannot separate ”文字” into alphabets, it is 文&字. If a language is really universal, it should take consider of all the written and spoken form of language, not solely based on a contain area. Or else it would only be a tool to conquer other cultures, as a tool of politics as you said.

Chetan

Chetan

Bismi-Esperanto-al-rahman-al-rahim!

As the Great Iman of Esperantistan, I issue a fatwa against you. From this moment, you are condemned to a life in Phobistan among barbarians—people who do not speak Esperanto. You have one chance to ask for forgiveness. Do not delay, for Zamenhof is merciful. Amen!

Enough of jokes. Let's return to your post. (It is going to be fun!) :D

Claim 1: Esperanto has always been a means to a political end.

Supporting evidence: The bloke who created it, Ludwik Zamenhof, developed a political and religious philosophy...Zamenhof envisaged his made-up, simplified language as facilitating the breaking down of national and religious identity which he despised in his own community...It’s this ideological baggage and taint that’s attached to the language that turns me off it completely.

My comment: First, I fail to understand, how does it logically follow that Esperanto is a means to a political end just because its founder—who has been dead for nearly a 100 years—had some strange ideas? A more convincing case would be to come up with some numbers or cases where a majority of Esperantists were witnessed actively espousing the Doctor's philosophy?

Second, Russian and Chinese were two popular languages among communists during the Cold War. Will you say they are still a means to a political end? How about English?

Claim 2: Esperantistan is an ideologically homogeneous landscape.

Supporting evidence: An anecdotal claim on Reddit.

My comment: I am sorry, mate, but you are wrong here. Big time. I can go on and on, but two cases will suffice.

Anecdotal evidence: I am private to leftist ideology. I have a paper copy of Quotations of Chairman Mao and I like Marxists.org. (Wait, wait! Do not laugh!) But my girlfriend, whom I met through Esperanto, has clearly told me: “I will never talk to you, if you keep on attending meetings those with your comrades.” An Orthodox Christian taking her revenge on a poor, third-world communist. But she is an Esperantist and a vehemently anti-communist one.

Lernu Formus: Are you aware Lernu? When you have time, kindly have a look at their forums. You will find plenty of right-wingers there. Really. And that is not all. You will also find discussion on language, grammar, IT, science, the recent decision on same-sex marriage in the U.S. and many other subjects. And in many of these debates, participants show their typical online behavior are virtually at each other's throats. (http://eo.lernu.net/komunikado/forumo/forumo.php?f=1) People from across the ideological spectrum learn and speak Esperanto. The only issue is their numbers. There must be a few dozen die-hard Buddhists, or a few dozen white supremacists, and a few hundred leftists. These numbers are pathetically small compared to what you will find in a natural language.

Claim 3: Not only does it have no culture but its adherents are delusional.

Supporting evidence: Several heavy-weight definitions of culture.

My comments: I am not in a position to say anything because I do not much about culture, anthropology, and society. :(

Claim 4: Esperanto evangelists aren’t just passionate – they’re fanatical.

Supporting evidence: Some anecdotes.

My comments: You are probably right here.

And before I run out of space, I will say I somewhat agree with your claims 5 and 6.

So it is 4-2. You win hands down.

(Sorry for typos. I typed like crazy!)

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

You've rebutted my anecdotal evidence with your own anecdotal evidence. :)

Yes the founder has been dead for a century but the point of what I wrote is that his ideals live on in the community to this day. In fact, if its ideological motivation was gone then I don't think Esperanto would continue to survive as strongly as it has.

Russian and Chinese were popular among communists true but they're natural languages not created for the sole purpose of fulfilling a political vision. Not really fair to compare them to Esperanto.

I don't disagree with you at all that there are right wingers who learn Esperanto. I mentioned that in the post. I wish there was an international survey of all Esperanto speakers done so we had actual data to talk about instead of anecdotes but I'm not aware of any.

If you can link to studies that would be awesome.

Thanks for keeping the response positive! :)

Chetan

Chetan

Do not overlook Lernu!-forums.

Russian, Chinese, and many other natural languages have been modified to support a political agenda. Turkey changed it script to signal a break with the past. (political) Hindustani was artificially divided into Hindi and Urdu to please some zealots. (political) Mandarin characters simplified because someone thought it would increase literacy. (political) The way people in the U.S. spell (realize, color, plow) is clearly political.

I think, anything that is not in vogue is classified as political. Being a gay right activist in the U.S. was a political act before the Supreme Court's decision there. Now, being an anti-gay is a political act and homosexuals are normal.

Finally, I will have to look up some studies. Wish me luck!

And Happy Friendship Day.

Douglas Mosier

Douglas Mosier

Lernu's forums are a joke. The self-important Queen of Lernu (my title for her) and her Minions are some of the most intolerant thugs i've seen in online communities in a long time. Erinja (the QoL) HERSELF is responsible for over a dozen people dropping off Lernu, and 3 of them were so disgusted with the attitudes they met being "right-wingers" they have abandoned Esperanto all together. She belittles, condescends to, and is hateful to anyone who expresses conservative (especially Christian conservative) viewpoints. And if that doesn't work, she just deletes posts she doesn't like and as last resort, deletes accounts of people who won't bow to her will.

Geo

Geo

She not only deletes the accounts, she also blocks access to lernu.net. I was one, who was banned there for I don't even know what. I only defended myself against some offenses from other members - they were not banned, though it was them who had started it all. I don't regret this site at all.

La Fia Malesperantisto

La Fia Malesperantisto

I'm a member of Lernu.net for long time. I'm there really intolerant rigth-winger (at least I hope so).

Christopher Lapinel

Christopher Lapinel

The funny thing about peoples who care more for people’s political alignment than people themselves is that they have an obsessive-compulsive tendency for cynicism. And cynicism is gangrenous. It allows one to repudiate small-mindedness without challenging one’s own. Such is the poverty and shortsightedness of modern liberalism and conservatism, the great yin-yang of the status quo. Be that as it may, language is inherently political. There’s no getting around it, any of it. Culture is political. Living and breathing is political. It’s everywhere so how can communication be anything but? Politics is still however only scenery. A distraction from whatever it is one truly cares about. The main thing, regardless, is just to be a better, kinder, more knowledgeable (aware) person from one day to the next. Nothing else matters. Not learning Esperanto because other people weird you out defines your life along the very lines you reject. Don’t succumb to such cynicism.

PS: Right-wing and conservative are not synonymous.

Jardar

Jardar

A few years ago we asked Esperanto speakers online about their primary reason to learn Esperanto. Most of them (68%) answered friends and an interest for language (ideology 32%). For people born after 1970, friends and fun was the most important reason to keep using the language. Much has changed since 1887.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Thanks for chiming in.

In the case of your survey, even 32% of people learning Esperanto for ideological reasons is still a huge number.

Chetan

Chetan

In South Asia, people learn English to earn a living, support their families, and be a part of the consumerist culture. (Is not it ideology?)

Back in the 1970s, many people learnt Russian because they sympathised with the USSR. (Ideology pops up again!)

I want to learn Sanskrit someday because I believe learning is good. (Ideology strikes again.)

Fukuyama was wrong. We are not in some post-ideological world. Slavoj Žižek (he is no longer a hero of mine) is right. Ideology is not the color on the glasses through which you see the world. It is the glasses you have already put on. You may like listening to him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk8ibrfXvpQ (Do not worry. It is short, less than 3 minutes long.)

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

I used to read Žižek back in college.

The difference between the examples you listed here and Esperanto is that people in South East Asia don't learn English to further a political cause. They learn English as you say, to earn a living.

And same with the Sanskrit example. Unless you've converted to Hinduism and want to convert people, then I doubt you're learning it to further a political cause.

Richard Tkatch

Richard Tkatch

I learned esperanto to further my studying of languages. I don't have a political agenda and as an engineer think of the language as a possible tool for efficient communication. How much money is wasted at the UN for translators? This language could at least be used for diplomatic purposes. Not sure why culture matters with this language as if I want that I can immerse into the country language of my choice. The culture aspect of esperanto; I think is more to show the ability of the language to express the same concepts of an organic language while still being simpler to learn.

Jardar

Jardar

Yes, 32% is relatively much. Still, for something (here: a language) that exists for ideological reasons, and whose loudest and most annoying proponents constantly preach ideology, 32% may also be regarded as relatively little. Especially compared to your claim that 100% are “ideological clones”.

My bet would even be that the 32% also disagree upon which ideology is the best one. Even the president of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio talked about esperantists as a group of disagreers in his closing speech at this year’s World Congress. And he applauded that situation, as do I and presumably you as well.

Today, many Esperanto ideologists focus on every language’s right to exist. In our survey, the respondents on average spoke close to 3 languages in addition to Esperanto and their native language. (This is also somewhat different from your implied claim that learning an additional language is all about “restricting” onself to one community). There is also an ideology about simply using Esperanto without any traditional goals. Anyhow, the Esperanto community is far less uniform than you seem to imply.

My impression, though, is that most speakers of Esperanto don’t really care that much about the issue of ideologies, they just want to meet friends. The traditional goal of making Esperanto the dominant second language, by the way, seems to be considered unrealistic by most speakers today. (And the religious philosophy that you mention, plays no role in the Esperanto speech community.)

Still, I assume that most people, Esperantists and others alike, also those who learn languages because they are interested in grammar (that’s why I learnt Esperanto), can sympathise even with the more traditional “regard other humans as your equals” ideology and the “something is unfair” ideology. And yes, there are situations where it is very frustrating for some of us non-native speakers to use English when dealing with native speakers.

Neil Blonstein

Neil Blonstein

Generally well said. a) I have many ideologies (Judaism, Unitarianism, Gardening, Bicyclist and Singing) and push Esperanto in all those groups. Am I diverse? b)Esperanto survived as the sole "artificial language" because of thousands of people like me. b) Other great language are great because of their great ARMIES. Nigel denies the ideologies that keep Esperanto down and Keeps Russian, English, French and German up. c) Esperanto is for those who understand history. The author is unlikely one of them.

Adorufu

Adorufu

You epitomize the very people he's talking about. Arrogant and ideological. And surprise surprise, you're a "globalist".

Joey Stagatonni

Joey Stagatonni

Depends on how many people were actually asked buddy

Danny

Danny

Just for anyone passing by: “globalist” is anti-semitic speak for “Jew”. If this is the kind of shit that “Esperanto intolerance” keeps out, then good riddance. Learning a language invented by a Jewish person has the bonus advantage that you won't have the unpleasant surprise of having to interact with one of those assholes at Esperanto meetings.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

"Everyone who disagrees with me or offends me is literally Hitler."

- Guys like Danny.

Nicki

Nicki

get outta here, mussolini! don't you know that there's is only one type of opinion and it's mine and it's the right one?

lmao, its wild to me that almost five years later people are still coming on here to argue with an opinion. it definitely was/is an interesting take.

in terms of cults, imo, esperanto is definitely further down on the extremist list. scientology vs esperanto, i'd go esperanto each time (but maybe thats just because scientology has a whole bunch of criminal activity behind it)

Bergino

Bergino

I am one of those who LOVE Esperanto and it's community. I actually love it so much that I hope we never achieve the original gol. If Esperanto gets as widespread as English, we'll loose a unique community of tolerance and diversity.
Your article is well written, you have thought things through!

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Cheers, Bergino!

That's an interesting perspective I hadn't looked at too - wanting Esperanto to remain a minority rather than widespread language.

Douglas Mosier

Douglas Mosier

Tolerance and diversity????? I call BS! a more intolerant community will not be found, especially if the person who's looking for this vaunted "tolerance" happens to be a conservative, especially a Christian conservative. They will be sorely disappointed. and as for diversity, again, I call BS. When right-wing or conservative Christians are RUN OFF OF the largest online learning site by ONE PERSON*, this is not a recipe for tolerance OR diversity. You are fooling yourselves.

*So far, over a dozen people have contacted me saying they have been run off of Lernu.net by the megalomaniac administrator, Erinja, because of her bullying and heavyhandedness and double standards. Three of those people were so disgusted, they abandoned the idea of Esperanto all together. Maybe if you all would admit TRUE tolerance and TRUE diversity in your so-called "community" you'd grow a lot more and a lot faster.

Jan

Jan

Douglas, I certainly agree with you. I spent a lot of time learning Esperanto up to, perhaps, an intermediate level. I was a member of Lernu for many years. And I remember Erinja, and not with any particular favor. She knew the language and she could teach it. But she was a typical liberal idealogue who preached diversity and tolerance, but did not always practice it. Worse than Erinja were some other Lernu members. I enjoyed posting comments in Esperanto for the practice it gave me. I had no desire to impose my religion, my ideology, my worldview on anyone. And I didn't really give a damn whether I was conversing with an atheist, a Catholic, a Jew, an American, a Brazilian, a Japanese, or any one else. I was in it for the language. I wanted to learn Esperanto and learn it well. Eventually I decided that Lernu was a poisonous environment and a losing cause, and I left it. I did not get "kicked" off the site. I left it because I became disgusted with it. But here's the thing: I still like the language and if I could find some like-minded people, I would return to studying and learning it.

Yes, I feel that as a right-winger, I was run out of Esperanto. I wasn't ostracized. I wasn't run off. I -- and I see that I have a lot of company -- was just made to feel unwelcome. Maybe we could get together and form our own group and begin again with Esperanto. Let me know if you have any ideas or any interest in doing this.

douglas mosier

douglas mosier

Hi, Jan!
I'm glad it wasn't just me! LOL. I used to avoid the word "mojosa" for "malacha" but since I learned that "she" hates mojosa, I've pretty much abandoned 'malacha'. Ha.
anyway, not sure how a conservative group on Facebook would go, either.

korvulo

korvulo

Exactly my own experience too. At the time I was apparently extreme right-wing (really just pretending for the purpose of my own research into mass mind-control) and all sort of nasty-peculiar things happened to me. Real ugly online persecution.

Mike Jones

Mike Jones

Why be tolerant of falsehood?

Jesus never existed. The New Testament if a complete fabrication, from start to finish. It was written by Josephus Flavius, a Jew who went over to the Roman side, in order to undermine Judaism, Judaism being a thorn in the side of the Roman empire. This makes Josephus Flavius the best-selling fiction author of all time.

Rui Andrade

Rui Andrade

My experience with Esperanto was very different. I was always struggling with English, could not learn it, despite everybody saying it is an easy language. After I've learned Esperanto, self-taught, I was able to open my mind and learn English. I am not using Esperanto as much, because I am busy working, but I miss eat a lot, especially reading the books from Hungarian author Istvan Nemere and some other books. I wish it could be wide spread to replace English, I don't like the idea of English being the dominant language. English speakers are total jerks when they think everybody should naturally know to speak it. I live in the US, I am Brazilian, I know that is true.

Livonor

Livonor

I thought that Esperanto was bad because it`s just Polish with an Italian make up and it`s grammar and phonology are just unfit for a real international language, but boy the issue was deeper than that. Thanks for letting me know Donavan.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

You're welcome.

Thanks!

John

John

I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of Esperantists are on the political left, as you say, and I agree the movement is political, that's not a secret. But neither point is objectively bad, nor a good enough reason to dismiss the whole project as you seem to have done.

For most of this piece you imply Esperanto is aimed at creating a monoculture. As far as I know it's quite the opposite. It was always intended as an auxiliary, not a replacement primary language. You do say as much towards the end of the piece, that Esperanto was supposed to be "the lingua franca with no baggage or bias", and then claim that English serves this role. So there is no bias involved in the massive advantage handed to native English speakers at birth over the rest of the world? What percentage of non-native speakers that you have met in your life do you think actually achieve the same level as a native, really? Very very few. The rest are at a disadvantage for life in education, travel, career, culture, personal prestige, you name it. Those that do attain a good level have to invest a great deal of time and resources into acquiring it. Simply put, that's not fair.
And then there's the baggage. I would argue Esperanto's lack of culture is precisely one of it's main strengths. When used as auxiliaries, languages with cultures are inevitably assimilators. If you don't like monocultures or the death of minority languages, then the growing dominance of English should be a cause for concern. Nothing against the Anglophone culture, but I don't want it to be the only one alive in Europe or the world in 200 years time, and I think there is a genuine risk of that happening. Just look at the history of Irish, or consider the near future prospects of Dutch.

Esperanto offers an alternative that is at the very least worth talking about - you are doing that here, but really not in a way that objectively weighs its pros and cons. I get it that people telling you that you have to learn a language are just as distasteful as people telling you to practice a certain religion or dress a certain way. And I can also agree that claiming Esperanto will save the world is probably a bit over the top. But I think the core principle of the movement is eminently good - a level, easy to reach playing field for all in international communication. If you think that's far left extremism then I don't know what to say.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

You'll never have a truly fair lingua franca. There will always be people who are at an advantage in the world. Completely unavoidable.

Any attempt to stop this will just result in new advantages and disadvantages.

And as I've alluded to in the post above, Esperanto (like all far left political movements in general) claims to be all for cultural and religious diversity and yet is totally, culturally ignorant and intolerant of non-conformity. Looking at the vision of Zamenhof himself, he only valued diverse identities where they aligned with his warped beliefs and you see this 'fake tolerance' alive in their community today.

So yeah, it is extremism.

Chris

Chris

I enjoy Esperanto as a language and am learning it because it interests me but I reject its political aims and, frankly, have no real interest in the beliefs of Zamenhof or the man himself.

I think if there is one good thing about Esperanto it is that it is a great confidence booster for the aspiring language learner, like myself, who had previously believed that they would never be able to pick up any other language. I specifically picked it up because I had an interest in Agglutination and Agglutinative languages, specifically Basque, and Hungarian, but also Quechua, Nahuatl and others as well, and wanted to get a grasp on how they functioned, while Esperanto is certainly more liberal in it's rules than these I found that I very much enjoy this aspect of the language and my interest in natural agglutinative languages has only grown.

As an aside, I actually like Esperanto's lack of culture or ties to a culture, this may be something that isn't even a peripheral concern to most people, but I feel more free to use Esperanto for my own purposes (in music/art or whathaveyou) without fear of being accused of "cultural appropriation" than I would if I were to try to learn and subsequently use Navajo or another Indigenous North American langauge. That could just be a side affect of the culture of my own country though.

I'll grant that many new Esperanto learners (Komencantoj) are likely drawn by Zamenhof's utopian ideas and overall the Esperanto community may lean left, even strongly left. I'll also grant that in any group you'll find those who wish to exist in something of a personal ideological echo-chamber but in my own, albeit somewhat limited, experience I've not encountered this intolerance for ideological non-conformity that your anecdote describes. I've seen the recent ruling on gay marriage in America debated vigorously, and more or less civilly, by both sides of the issue on Lernu.net without the those who oppose gay marriage for any reason being ostracized or banned from posting on the forum, when I last checked it was 14 pages long. I suppose any anecdote could have an anecdote to the contrary, though, so I certainly won't discount another persons experiences.

Jamie

Jamie

Wow, I didn't expect to see so much vitriol coming from Donovan.

I can see your points, and clearly you've put a lot of time into them, but your arguments are undermined by insults. Sometimes you might not be aware that you're making them:

> Esperanto (like all far left political movements in general)

So, conlang Esperanto is a "far left political movement"? Come on; the majority of the 1.2 million Esperanto learners on Duolingo, for example, are not ideologically motivated. Talk to them and see:
https://www.duolingo.com/course/eo/en/Learn-Esperanto-Online

> is totally, culturally ignorant and intolerant of non-conformity.

If Esperantist speakers are really so similar, have so many shared values, customs and ideas because they are "ideological clones" etc, you are undermining your own argument that there is no Esperanto culture. But I don't really understand your point about culture anyways: everyone already has a culture, why would I *have* to learn another language for another culture? Even if Esperanto had no culture with it - not knowing much of Esperanto, I don't know if this is true or not - I don't see why this would be an impediment to learning it, or not make it a "real" language. Not sure why you think "natural languages" are the be-all and end-all in language; there is no reason why a conlang can't be fun or useful.

> So yeah, it is extremism.

Hmm, so you've described its learners as "fanatics" and now the language itself is "extremism"? It's just a language, Donovan. Do you even recognize how irrational you are being - and maybe a little fanatical about this yourself? Maybe check your hatred at the door next time before publishing a blog post.

Best thing: go out and meet some Esperanto learners, like I did. In my experience they are a diverse bunch, even ideologically.

I normally appreciate your blog, just had to come out of the woodwork to say something here. With love,

Leon

Leon

Interesting that you say that being a native speaker is an advantage. I'm not so sure - I know a number of non- native speakers who kinda like having a "home" private language and a language of work and commerce.

Unless you believe that learning languages places you at a disadvantage- in which case you might be on the wrong forum...

Neil Blonstein

Neil Blonstein

I have never felt a greater desire for mutual respect/multiculturalism than at the 50 or so larger Esperanto events with about 20.000 participants that I was present in. Well said John.

Bill Chapman

Bill Chapman

I don't mind at all if you don't learn Esperanto. You are the one missing out. You remind me of a man who said he would never use a mobile phone / cell phone. On the basis of dubious principles he turns uo to meetings which have been cancelled.

I suspect that you are intelligent enough tom see the flaws in your own arguments, and I wish you well.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

I'm intelligent enough to see the flaws in Esperanto and its politics.

Thanks for the well wishes.

Ex-Esperantist

Ex-Esperantist

Well, there are good things about Esperanto. So it's not as negative as you wrote. I studied Esperanto and got a basic level until I went to an Esperanto meeting. It seemed like a religion to me.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Yep. I think a lot of people get the same feeling that it's like a religion.

Mithridates

Mithridates

Something tells me that if you had to choose one IAL to support (hypothetical situation so no picking 'none of the above') it would be Novial.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Why Novial?

Mithridates

Mithridates

Reading your reasons for not liking Esperanto I get the feeling you would be somewhat drawn to its lack of a political goal and inter-IAL bad blood, and that it was developed by the linguist Otto Jespersen who I'm sure you're familiar with.

He wrote the following about the concept of an interlanguage in general:

"An objection which is often raised against constructed languages is that they can never be as good as natural languages. It is true that our Interlanguage is not as rich as English, not as elegant as French, not as vigorous as German, not as beautiful as Italian, not as full of nuances as Russian, not as "homelike" as our mother-tongue. But note this well, that all these good qualities, which one appreciates and praises in the national languages, are found only when they are spoken or written by natives. And the Interlanguage may very well be richer than the English spoken by a Frenchman, more elegant than French as spoken by a Dane, more vigorous than the German of some Italians, more beautiful than the Italian of the English, more full of nuances than the Russian of Germans, and more homelike than my own tongue spoken by Russians. And as our language is an auxiliary language, it can only be compared fairly with natural languages as spoken by foreigners; and then neither Ido nor Novial need feel ashamed of itself."

Med

Med

Esperanto is available on Duolingo :p

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Indeed it is :)

Guillermo

Guillermo

And the issue of discrimination, equal opportunities, economic cost, etc?
Esperanto is the tenth expensive in time and money to learn. It is far less discriminatory by nationality and income, language immersion in a particular culture is not necessary.
Who will pay me 60,000 euros for a monolingual English private school with native teachers for each child? Will you be?
Read "Rapport Grin" and "Propaedeutic value of Esperanto". You have a new course of Esperanto in Duolingo, it is free.

Benson

Benson

I'm a little unclear on what's so bad about Zamenhof's (and thus Esperanto's) "ideology". People getting along, talking to each other? (Cats and dogs living together?) It just doesn't seem like something to be feared.

Ben

Ben

While on the topic of constructed languages, do you have any opinion on Toki Pona?

Anthony N

Anthony N

I really disagree not giving Esperanto a chance based on its old political agenda. I've met many people who speak Esperanto because they are language learners and it is in fact a language. As far as culture, I hope it's known that there are people in this world who's first language is Esperanto and to say they have no culture is uncalled for. Comparing its origins from the 1800's to today is wrong on many levels. If the language doesn't interest you- or if you cannot learn it in a month or so, say that. But don't poke at issues which go much further than needed.

Ben

Ben

"He also quite intolerantly spoke of free religious expression as a 'barbarity'."

Citation needed. If you're quoting his homaranismo work, he actually said:

"Every offense or persecutions of people because they belong to a different ethnicity, with a different language or religion, I regard it as a barbarity."
"Every attempt of a person to impose their language or religion to other people when it is not absolutely necessary, I regard it as a barbarity."

The quotes make it clear that the barbarity is the interference with the free expression of religion, not the expression itself.

Your characterization of Zamenhof is exaggerated but not wrong for the most part. You are wrong, though, to suggest that modern Esperanto and its community (let's avoid the loaded word "culture") exists wholly or even mainly to perpetuate his homaranismo ideals. His religious thinking died with him and barely any Esperantists follow it sincerely.

There is certainly an ideological agenda in Esperanto that cannot be separated from the community as a whole -- that the language can in fact be used to cross cultural and lingusitic barriers. A lot of Esperantists speak it for that reason. Others, like me, use it for personal amusement and to make friends without having any interest in some kind of political movement.

Finally, I'm not sure which Esperantists you've been talking to, but I have no trouble believing that you heard crazy claims about it from the most zealous of the zealous. They don't speak for all of us. We're weird, but not crazy.

Discover Spanish

Discover Spanish

I had no idea Esperanto had such deep religious and political roots.
As far as a constructed languages is concerned I think that it's a nice idea to have a language without all the inconveniences which have little value, such as gender and the subjunctive. However, I think you're right that any such language will never naturally become widely spoken due to it being artificial. There's an interesting story of a man who taught his son Klingon as his first language. They spoke it exclusively at home but after a few years his son stopped using it and eventually lost fluency because English was such more useful and widely used.

Kieron

Kieron

I've really enjoyed learning Esperanto and meeting other Esperanto speakers. It has also giving me the confidence to start to learn other languages.

Toño

Toño

You make one or two good points, but I'm afraid most of the text is based in preconceptions.
Yes, Esperanto originally had a political end, to facilitate fair and easy communication between pople of different cultures and native languages, and that's what attracts some of us to it. But that's a large enough point, as to attract people of very different backgrounds.
In fact, that happened from the beginning, and the first International Congress already emphasized the difference between "Esperantism" (a political end) and the language itself, so that it defined that "Esperantist" is the speaker of the language, independently of their motivation.

I have many Esperantist friends, and they come of the whole political spectrum. Perhaps in the Western countries there is a majority of left-leaning tendencies, but this is by no means the whole picture.
I always emphasize this pluralism and even wrote a bog entry about it: http://www.delbarrio.eu/2005/08/el-pluralismo-del-esperanto.htm (in Spanish) to break that myth.

No, not every Esperantist is an ardent supporter. You will find the most passionate and fanatical in a discussion, just because the ardent supporters are the ones that enter the discussions! (including those of us that take the time to respond to your article :-) ) So, non-Esperantists do not get to know the vast majority of Esperantists. It's obvious.

Yes, Esperanto has created its own culture, and not just music and literature. I've been at an international gathering two weeks ago, with Esperantists friends from a lot of countries, and we get the inner jokes, we understand some internal references. It's just that non-Esperantists do not have the means to appreciate and even understand it.

I do not understand your objections about native speakers. None of them speaks Esperanto as their only language, and the picture is quite similar to those children of immigrants that learn the languages of their parents and of the surrounding community at the same time. Do you still think (like people used to assume not so long ago) that this poses a problem for the kids? Actually, it's just a very enriching experience. I know some of those boys and girls and they are a quite normal group of people (and I know their parents, and your characterization of them as crackpots is indeed not just unjust but quite insulting)

Finally, as to the failure of Esperanto, it depends on the perspective. Every Esperantist agrees that we have not attained the ultimate goal that everybody would speak it, and that governments would use it at their meetings (in the same sense that you can say that the pacifist movement has failed, because there are still a lot of wars). But the very fact that there's still a large community of speakers, that the language has created a wealth of culture, and that this has been attained just with the contribution of volunteers, without the support, or even against the will, of governments and big corporations, says something positive about the language itself, and perhaps even deserves a bit of respect

fabian le petit

fabian le petit

I agree on the violin analogy, but about esperanto being used for political agenda is just not true. All the esperantists i know are just hippies who want a world without language barrier.

Frederik

Frederik

So then it is true.

renato

renato

This is the first time in my life I read something like this. My father, in early 50's was esperantist, he spoke the language fluently, had friends all over the world, and he hated communism. He learnt it, nos for ideological purposes, but for easier access to a language, and cheaper way. I speak Esperanto not for political purpose either, but because I love all languages. I already speak Portuguese (native language) English, Spanish, Esperanto; and I'm learning Catalan, Papiamento, Italian, Swedish, German, Dutch, Albanian and Romenain. I want to learn more in future. Zamenhof wrote the first Esperanto book in 1887 before, communism, before the wars, as Jew, it would be easier for him to create an easier version of Hebrew or Yiddish. What you are saying is: I will or not will learn Arabic because I want to be or not Muslin; I want or not learn French because I love/hate French wine. If my father loved the communism, he would not learn Esperanto, but Russian. Nowaday I should be learning Chinese or North Korean. Your iten 4 is completely non-sense (sorry) I speak Esperanto as I said, and I'm also evangelist, but I don't know any single person who uses Esperanto as religion, and none who uses the Religion to pray in Esperanto. I have been seen fanatical religious people in all religions, but never heard about a fanaticial religious esperantist/esperantist religious.

Andrew

Andrew

1. A means to a political end

"Esperanto was created to create peace and harmony on Earth. This is deeply sinister and divisive. What if you wanted war and destruction? Esperanto is bad because it would be intolerant of that."

(As for "a cultish offshoot of Judaism that looked like something straight out of the Communist Manifesto" -- congratulations on cramming so much anti-Semitism between a single pair of parentheses.)

2. Ideologically homogenous landscape

"So-and-so went to an Esperanto event, and not a single person agreed with him that Agenda 21 was created by the UN in order to build a giant highway from Mexico to Canada and force us all to learn Arabic and gay-marry. This proves that Esperanto is just a bunch of identical people who won't listen to different ideas, including such valuable and interesting ideas as 'All international cooperative projects, like Esperanto, are secretly Communist.' "

3. No culture

"People say that Esperanto allows them to meet people from different cultures. But, Esperanto is just a bunch of people at meetings who WANT to meet people from different cultures. Does that constitute a culture??? Obviously not!"

4. Evangelists are fanatical

"People who are keen on an idea, are keen. Too keen! So emotional, sometimes, that they write poorly-researched blogposts with dumb blanket generalizations in boldface type. Therefore they are emotional, which proves that they are wrong. Therefore the idea is bad."

5. It might help, but at the expense of...

"I have never actually looked at any of the scientific studies."

6. Esperanto has failed

"Esperanto would mean that people wouldn't be forced to learn the language and culture of their conquerors to get educated, and thus become alienated from their own culture. However, now that they have learnt the language of their conquerors, and all their kids are forced at great expense to speak it haltingly, that means that the conquest wasn't really that bad and it doesn't matter now, LOL."

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

“a cultish offshoot of Judaism" = anti-Semitism?

Wow. Congrats on making the most moronic comment here.

I didn't waste time reading the rest of your comment. I'm sure it was a great read though.

Thanks for stopping by.

Benson

Benson

A pity you didn't read further, because it *was* a great read. However, you're right that it's unfair to level the charge of anti-Semitism against the phrase “a cultish offshoot of Judaism that looked like something straight out of the Communist Manifesto”, when it's clearly a comparison to early Christianity.

Douglas Mosier

Douglas Mosier

About the ideologically homogenous landscape, boy there is no truer complaint! As a long time speaker of Esperanto, I was constantly telling myself that I just hadn't yet met any of the right leaning (or conservative Christian) Esperantists that just HAD to be out there somewhere.

But in my latest foray into the "community" (a term I use very lightly now) has proven this idea to be a fantasy:

(The following is my latest blog post on this subject)
I will probably be an Esperanto speaker for the rest of my days. I will continue to attend our local meet-up, as long as it continues, if only in support of the others that come.

I will not be burning any of my Esperanto books, but I will also not be renewing my membership in any Esperanto organizations; I will do no more "varbing," and my will has been changed to divert all the assets that I had originally steered toward the Esperanto movement (the mid-5-figure range if anyone is interested; sorry, Esperanto-USA and Radio Verda) and give them to other, more worthy, causes.

You're probably asking why the sudden attitude change. Well, yesterday saw more knife blades to my back from so-called "samideanoj" and I'm sick of it. The totalitarian attitude of one of the administrators of Lernu.com, and the slanderous language, mockery, and bullying I have received (especially the ones that were posted after yesterday's blog entry) from other Esperantists around the globe has shown me that the "community" (a term I now use very lightly) is not worthy of any more of my time or money. I wash my hands of it.

Esperanto had such promise, but alas, the spirit of "more Zamenhof than thou"(no pun intended) not to mention the hypocrisy, arrogance, bigotry, slander, and condemnation I have received in the past few months over a perfectly correct, Zamenhofian, Esperanto word (albeit one that is rarely used, even though it is used in the Ekzercaro and also defined in the Universala Vortaro) has shown me that my time and energy can be put to better use elsewhere.

I wonder, though..........would the reaction to my use of that perfectly correct Esperanto word have been different had it not been out of religious obligation but out of a sense of equality and tolerance and other such nice liberal buzzwords? I guess that will never be known for sure.........however, based on some of the more outrageous comments I read yesterday, I really think it would have. It's sad, really, that a community of people that touts itself to be oh-so-liberal and tolerant would allow such hatred and intolerance (no matter what the cause) to go unchallenged within its ranks.

tab

tab

I think you have some good ideas here and seem to have thought through your feelings on the matter. I am not fluent in Esperanto, but I feel there really is a benefit for the language as a tool for shaping the brain toward multilingualism, or boosting confidence for someone who doesn't believe they can learn languages. It is a tool that would be better used if classroom instruction were more immersive, but that is another issue.

I can say that when I studied Esperanto I spent one week on it (I was really just satisfying my curiosity more than anything) and was able to muddle through simple stories and some of the threads on the Lernu forum at the end of that time. I did spend about 60 hours that week working on it, since I tend to go all-in in an obsessive manner on projects like that, but the rate at which I was able to progress was mind boggling. Having simple, unscripted email conversations in a language you knew nothing about a week earlier is a bit of a rush for a language nerd. Admittedly, chasing that rush is probably what allowed me to have such ungodly focus during that week.

For that reason and that reason alone; the fact that I could literally mop up the details in my spare time within a few months; I may return to it one day. Also for that reason I might would suggest its use as a first acquired language for a child if there was any anticipation of them being a polyglot. That said I would never encourage them to speak it natively, since that negates the benefits I see in it, and I would never encourage anyone to learn it if they had no interest in continuing with other languages.

But yes, the history and grand claims made by some of the more fanatical should be separated from the language itself, and I feel that as time goes on that is slowly taking place. Internet culture has really started to wash into the online Esperanto communities and dilute some of the ideaology. It is only these communities I have experience with, so your milage may vary if you go to a physical meet up.

As an add on, I hardly ever participate here but I have been casually following this blog for at least three years or so now. Keep up the great work!

Guille

Guille

There are other reasons to defend Esperanto: 1-leave a better world to future generations, 2-eliminate discrimination by nationality and family income. English as other national and irregular languages, is a factor in employment discrimination, it is proven that the level of English depends on the country where you live and the money spent on learning.
There is so much to learn Esperanto for its advantages, but put a grain of sand against serious losses of time and money, inefficiency, imposed with other irregular languages. Is fanaticism defend non-discrimination regarding the international language?

Olga

Olga

Hey Donovan,
I don't know much about Esperanto nor have I ever met someone who spoke it, so I am not going to comment on this particular subject.
I wanted however to thank you for coming out so bluntly and strongly with your opinion. It made me think about what I do and how I do it. At first, I thought "Yeah, but he already has a well-established website, so of course he can speak out like that, it's easier for him", but then I was still quite bugged by the fact that I would not allow myself to write my opinion as openly as you did yours. That's not how I see myself. Thinking that I should wait before being able (given the permission ?) to better own my voice / territory / keyboard just isn't right. Of course, sometimes, it's wiser to shut up and sometimes it's just impossible to speak out one's truths, but most of the time otherwise ...
So again, thank you for the frankness of your article. I am not going to go into details, but you made me decide to "own my voice/territory" much more not only on my beginning website but also in my life in general.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Hey Olga.

Thanks for the comment.

You should always write your opinion openly and honestly, and not care if it bothers some people. Staying blunt and honest is why people enjoy following my blog.

At the end of the day, people will respect you for it. Some may hate you (who cares really?) but others will love you.

Here's a good quote for you:
"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Churchill

Greg Meadows

Greg Meadows

Well, Churchill would have been proud of you, taking on the Esperanto establishment.

Lucas Barbosa

Lucas Barbosa

When Dr. Zamenhof first thought about creating a language, Poland was inhabited by russians, germans, jews, gypsys, polish, and all of these groups had their own language. He was always concerned about the situation of the jewish people, and an early proponet of zionism, but then he realized that the problem was not about the Abraham's seed, but instead about the whole of humanity.

In Germany, Esperanto was the jewish, in Russia the burgueois, in America the communist, and in Iran the baha'i language. Nowadays, the Esperanto Movement fights against a process that will kill, until the end of this century, around 3k languages and dialects, and consequently, myths, native religions, medicines, perceptions about God, the universe, and mankind, "untranslatable" things. Is it about politics? Oh yes, definitely! Is it ideologic? Well, maybe, but what isn't?

And, I must tell you that we actually have an authentic culture! It was constructed after many decades of international meetings. We have a vast original literature, rewarded authors and musicians. We have an anthem that glorifies the whole of mankind, and its necessary future of unity and peace (I hope it will come, because if my hopes fail, there's only one alternative future left, and it is terrible!)

And and last, you say that "Esperanto has failed and English has succeed". Well, I think 200 years is not time enough to construct a lingua franca. Specially we lack some kilotons of good arguments ;-)

Elhana Starwind

Elhana Starwind

I cannot see how Esperanto can help with saving the dying languages. Esperanto is a destructive totalitarian pseudo-religious sect. It is evil, and it is a common knowledge that Evil cannot create. Esperanto itself it not a fair creation, it is a perversion of European languages.

The real languages, such as English, give you tangible (and also real) benefits. Esperanto just kills your soul.

Osef

Osef

Hi Elhana, congratulations for being several orders of magnitude more idiotic than this article!

I mean, seriously, "Esperanto kills your soul" is brilliantly insane.

Heinrich

Heinrich

Funny how that's what strikes you as crazy, and not "Esperanto will unite all of mankind in everlasting harmony".

Osef

Osef

The difference, Heinrich, is that nobody says “Esperanto will unite all of mankind in everlasting harmony.”

Gonzalo

Gonzalo

I speak Esperanto, I´m not an Esperantist, the same way that speaking italian doesn´t make you an Italianist or whatever. it is just a system you use to communicate with others. A very efficient one btw. (It took me 3 months to get fluency back in 2001 and it allows me to say everything I could think of).

I love Esperanto being the size it is right now, if it goes mainstream, it would loose all the good things it provides today: free accommodation in pretty much every country in this planet; annual meetings where you re encounter old friends. Yes!! you are able to ignore people you don´t like, you know that?.

My point is that after 15 years I have encounter NONE of the situations that you mention in your post. I never had a religious based conversation in Esperanto, not even once. I actually never heard a religious conversation in Esperanto. I´m not jewish and actually I think I don´t know more than 10 jewish guys within Esperanto and if they are, I guess I´ll never find out, (if that somehow makes a difference to you).

It´s just people like you and me who have interests, hobbies, jobs, very different backgrounds and most probably are into languages.
Me and my friends created the Esperanto football team 3 years ago, I´m the captain of the team and we play official international matches once a year with other teams related to the NF Board, it´s so much fun. What I´m trying to say is that you can do pretty much what you want to do with it and no one will ever say anything to you.

I don´t know, your post is all wrong, man. And if I didn´t know about Esperanto, I would probably agree with you, you write well and I guess no one could really tell about your ignorance about the real facts of Esperanto because it does look like you know what you are talking about.

I mean, that´s ok, people will hate things without really knowing the details, I´m ok with that, I´m not trying to convince you to change your mind, actually you do look like those fanatic "esperantists" but the other way around.

You just have a very negative vision of something you don´t really know, I think that´s not the first or last time that´ll happen. But the fact that you actually wrote a super extensive post to explain why you DON´T want to do something, doesn´t make much sense to me. I would never spend an afternoon gathering information to inform people why I won´t get into a specific activity. Lol!

Therefore, my impression is that you are just like the guys no one likes within Esperanto, you try to convince others that Esperanto is evil and not good for anybody, that´s the exact same thing fanatic esperantists do but the other way around, they try to convince people to learn esperanto.

Do you see how this is hilarious? a neutral guy who doesn´t give a damn what you do with your life would never try to convince anybody to make a particular decision. If you did speak Esperanto you would be the kind of douche that would write a super extensive post to convince you to learn Esperanto. lol again!

Conclusion:
You are just an extreme Yin , being a fanatic esperantist an extreme Yang.

That´s all it really comes down to.
I´m sorry, mate.

Good luck!

Charled

Charled

Well said, Gonzalo ! What you wrote pretty much sums up my feelings on this post. Thanks!

Heinrich

Heinrich

"You spent a long time writing a negative article about something I like? Well that just proves you're stupid. Here, let me write a long rambling comment about how you're wrong. Self-awareness? What's that?"

Enjoy your cult. And making up stories about how great your life is on the internet.

Scout

Scout

Excellent points Gonzalo!

Nomota

Nomota

I'm just worried about two things.

Such bad ideas are uttered by someone who majored in Applied Linguistics. Seemingly you have no idea what a language really is.

Your lack of critical thinking might severely affect your relationship with those Arabic speakers or those who listen from you about the Arabic world.

Please don't learn my language, Korean. I don't want my language ruined by such a horrible mind.

Guille

Guille

For an Arabic or a Korean learning Esperanto is easier to learn English, from any point of view: time, money, neutrality.
What could be more neutral and use words still Arab and Asian languages (and Americans, Australians, ...)? Yes, but we are comparing existent languages are: English - Esperanto with and behind a culture, literature, translation, music, etc.
Esperanto is better than English in all respects but one: number of speakers. But it takes longer and costs more money than they all learn English than they learn Esperanto all. Moreover, all new born human from now do not know English or Esperanto, and costs everyone less time and less money to learn Esperanto than English.
Esperanto discriminates more to Korean than to Western European, but English discriminates much more, 10 times more than the difference in time learning from each other. Please, read in Wikipedia the Propaedeutic value of Esperanto.

Vincent Oostelbos

Vincent Oostelbos

Not an uninteresting article, but I do agree with most of the points you raise.

It might just be that my personal experience as an Esperantist (have just been one for a little over a year now) is limited, but I have so far found very little ideological fanaticism. Instead I've found friendly people sharing a linguistic interest, more than anything. I haven't spoken to anyone so far who even believes in the "fina venko" (final victory; when the whole world speaks Esperanto as a second language—I do admit that term sounds a bit cult-like and I don't like it very much but I think it is misleading and perhaps mostly used ironically); certainly not its likelihood, and probably not its desirability.

And I do think English has not yet succeeded as a lingua franca in the sense that, as far as I can tell, it has not given equal opportunity to all. When you speak to, for example, many Asians (let's say speakers of Mandarin Chinese or Japanese), you will find that their English is usually very limited. I've met several Chinese people who have such a hard time with the language, that they just cannot keep up in western international settings. It's true that Esperanto probably also is less easy for people with linguistic backgrounds other than Romance, Germanic, and to a lesser extent Slavic languages, but it is still easier than English, for them too.

Anyway, those considerations—allowing everyone to have equal opportunity in the internationalized world—are why I am in favor of a universal lingua franca. I understand your argument that we're losing languages, and that is unfortunate (although I personally tend not to feel as bad about it so long as they are first described scientifically/linguistically), but that's another aspect of the story. The idea of Esperanto, at any rate, is of course that it would merely be a second language—peoples would still have their own primary language(s).

I will have to think a bit more about your arguments about culture. I agree that there's more to culture than food and clothing and music. Personally, my argument would sooner be that the lack of culture can be a selling point for Esperanto, but this depends on each person's individual perspective, of course. I myself learn languages out of linguistic and esthetic interest, not for cultural reasons. Not even to talk to people, per se.

As for your fifth point about it not saving time... for me the most valuable thing Esperanto did in my language-learning pursuits was that it showed me that it is indeed possible to learn a wholly new language from scratch to a conversational level. Sure, it won't be this quick again with other, more difficult languages, but that's just a quantitative difference. I was getting a bit frustrated and demotivated by my lack of success after many years of trying to learn, for example, Japanese. This feeling has been diminished by my success at Esperanto, and I feel more confident now. The same is true for my fear at actually starting to speak a new language. I am looking forward to getting back to other languages once I feel I am sufficiently fluent in Esperanto.

I might be confirming your idea that Esperantists are argumentative etc. (I do hope you weren't trying to poison the well), but I hope it's alright in this setting for me to speak out a little, given that you yourself were making arguments in your post. Of course, I do think it's fine if you're not interested in learning the language yourself; I'm just sharing my personal opinions.

Even though, as I said, I don't agree with most of what you wrote, I'm still appreciative of (most parts of) your post. Thank you for writing it.

Vincent Oostelbos

Vincent Oostelbos

Oops, I made a critical typo in that first paragraph. It should have been "disagree". I apologize.

John King

John King

I agree with many of your points on Esperanto but I've never really understood why it gets criticized for not having a culture? If a language was invented as a easier means of international communication, then shouldn't it try to be culturally nuetral?

Dr Amanda Markham

Dr Amanda Markham

You do realise that sooner or later, you were going to get a real anthropologist here who COULD and would critique your cherry picking and non-contextual use of definitions of culture.

So here I am.

PhD from ANU in Canberra. Been working as an anthropologist (paid) for almost 20 years. Oh, and I speak an agglutinative Australian Aboriginal language. Something most 'language' enthusiasts wouldn't dare to try - they can't be bothered living in a remote area.

I can accept that you don't want to waste your time learning Esperanto. No qualms there.

However, I do want to take exception with your use of the term 'culture' to advance your argument.

You appear to be attempting to claim two things: that esperanto has no 'culture' and that it is suspended in some kind of cultural vacuum.

Really?

Esperanto is both a product of culture AND a sub-culture. How can it be anything else? It arose at a certain point in time, was 'authored by' and informed by the culture in which it arose. It is a cultural artefact that does not exist in a vacuum, but, like other forms of cultural knowledge, interacts with, negotiates and operates within tropes, flows, rules and norms of the cultural contexts in which its speakers/adherents are situated.

That is still exists today means that it is negotiated through the contemporary cultural contexts of its speakers/fans/adherents. It is, like any other language, EMBEDDED in culture.

I would argue STRONGLY that there is a culture associated with it (PhDs have been written on this) using the definitions you've wheeled out.

The definitions themselves are broad. Think about that. Re-read the quotes you've used then go away and think a little more deeply about this.

Let's think about what culture is and how it is used politically at many levels by THE SAME individuals who claim membership to multiple cultures. Am I Australian (yes)? Am I female (yes)? Am I a Northern Territorian (yes?) am I an atheist (yes)? Do I identify with these groups who have readily definable "...shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.” Yes

Can we identify those groups to which I have said I am a member using the definition you quoted?

Yes, of course we can.

The ultimate use of culture by humans (feel free to read Geertz or whomever) is say who is IN and who is OUT. No big deal. The things (the artefacts) are those unique properties that give a particular culture its uniqueness.

Sorry, but Esperanto HAS a culture. You've actually identified some of the unique parts of it in your critique. I'll leave you to figure it out. Like culture itself, they're slippery. They're not 'in your face'. They're subtle and sophisticated.

But they ARE there. You've actually spelled a few of them out.

There is one other point that I'd like to discuss. The dominant political/ideological force in the west is 'right' wing conservatism. You seem to be a little upset that in one subculture, there are people of the opposite ideo-political position. Apart from overlooking that this is indeed an artefact of Esperanto culture, I find it amusing.

True 'right' wing conservatism does not exist. It cannot exist. It's a fallacy, antithetical to human culture, and antithetical to one most important reason that humans exist today: cultures change. Always. Every day.

To be human is to adapt and change.

If we were truly social and political conservatives, we would all be extinct.

Ken

Ken

You aren't obligated to learn any language. I just wonder why you felt it was necessary to defend your personal choice. Some of your arguments are accurate, but most are only approximately true, but it really doesn't matter. It's your thought process, to which you are entitled.

Esperanto has not and probably will not achieve the goal that Dr. Zamenhof had in mind, so you are partly right that it is a failure in that sense. However, making up a language that actually has native speakers is quite an accomplishment. There are more Wikipedia pages in Esperanto than in Danish, and there are more books in Esperanto than in Icelandic. William Auld was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, 2004, and 2006 for works in Esperanto.

To borrow a turn of phrase, Esperanto failed at being a floor wax, but it turned out to be a great desert topping. So it is not only a failure, it is a huge success. However, you don't want to learn it, and that's okay.

Guille

Guille

"You aren’t obligated to learn any language." FALSE, If you want to work in education, tourism, culture, ... you do not hire if you do not know English at high level, that is discriminatory by nationality and income. In the EU it goes against the fundamental rights of citizens (art. 21 and 22). Esperanto language helps reduce all these drawbacks to impose English, French, Spanish or Chinese.

Ken

Ken

You said, "If you want to work in…" and that's what I mean. Essentially, you said that the requirement to learn any given language is contingent on other choices. If he chooses not to live in Punjab, he doesn't need to learn Punjabi. If he chooses to live in Esperantia [grin], or if he chooses to do things that require Esperanto, then he needs to learn Esperanto. Otherwise, it's just his personal choice. One of the nice things about Esperanto is that as an auxiliary language, unlike national languages, you don't have to learn it if you don't want to.

Harold

Harold

Mi tre amas Esperantan lingvon. Mi ankaŭ legis viajn vortojn kaj kredas ke vi havas vian kredon.

Mi ne estas la unua ulo kiu esperantiĝas sen kredi la tutan filozofion. Fakte, Esperanto estas lingvo. Vi ne devas akcepti nenion se vi vere volas uzi la lingvon.

Mi uzi kaj tre ĝojas la lingvan sperton. Mi nun faras la multanojn kurso de Boris Kolker kaj estas tre kontente kun la libro kaj lecionoj.

Ĝis.

raydpratt

raydpratt

As a native speaker of English, I learned to read, write and speak English at a fairly high level as a maximum-security prisoner by doing pro se legal work in federal civil-rights actions. (See, e.g., Pratt v. Sumner, 807 F.2d 817 (9th Cir. 1987).) I studied classical logic for the sake of analyzing and tearing down the arguments of my opponents' government attorneys. I am not impressed by ranting. As a form of argumentum ad hominem, the argument that I am not worthy of the laws of the group, of the country, and that I am only worthy of the exceptions to the protections of the law, was the constant drivel that I heard leveled at me and at all members of my class, both then and now.
I have given up on law. I understand that no law book ever jumped off a shelf and stopped anyone from doing anything. I understand that the law only takes on its life through people. There are good people who do good things, and there are bad people who do bad things, and the law is largely irrelevant.
I was raised in Nevada near Las Vegas, and I am very aware that I lack a culture. I have visited some culturally rich cities and lived in them for a while (such as the Bay area in California), and I am very conscious that the culture that I grew up in--with its casinos, cops, mobsters, whores, politicians and Mormons--is not much of a culture.
I am interested in learning foreign languages like Mandarin to get a better understanding of China's rich and ancient gems of internal martial arts. I am interested in learning Spanish as a matter of personal mobility in a world where one sixth of the world speaks Spanish. I am interested in learning Russian as a growing and important force in international commerce and personal opportunities. I would even give Hindi the same consideration.
However, I am interested in Esperanto for a very practical reason: it is the only language with high-level speakers, readers and writers in virtually every corner of the globe. Although Esperanto does not have the same large number of functionally illiterate native speakers of English that can be boasted of in the United States, any good speaker and writer of Esperanto is going to have a better conversation. English may be more useful, in a practical sense, but a conversation in Esperanto, especially in writing, may be more enjoyable.
Hundreds of thousands of new Esperanto speakers, readers and writers are being hatched right now. It is an exciting time to learn Esperanto.
Ironically, I have entertained similar negative views about a language as the blog author has of Esperanto -- but precisely about the language that he loves: Arabic. I have violent feelings about learning or respecting a language used by mass murderers of Christians. (As a white maximum-security ex-con, I am no stranger or saint in the world of racism, even though I now disavow racism as a Christian.) I do not know that I will ever learn Arabic. But, most likely, I will do so a little when I meet my first Arabic friend who converses in Esperanto.

Mike Jones

Mike Jones

Hans Kelsen, in his classic
book ‘Pure Theory of Law’
says something similar to
what you say, namely, that
a community cannot act
except through an organ.

Here is the link to the purchase option of his book on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Pure-Theory-Law-Hans-Kelsen/dp/1584775785

raydpratt

raydpratt

Mi estas komencanto, sed mi povas legi vian poŝton.

Elhana Starwind

Elhana Starwind

I cannot see how Esperanto can help with saving the dying languages. Esperanto is a destructive totalitarian pseudo-religious sect. It is evil, and it is a common knowledge that Evil cannot create. Esperanto itself it not a fair creation, it is a perversion of European languages.

The real languages, such as English, give you tangible (and also real) benefits. Esperanto just kills your soul.

Benson

Benson

The idea of Esperanto "saving" small/dying languages is based on the premise of enough people speaking Esperanto as an auxiliary language for it to be usable worldwide, which I certainly grant is not very likely. If people could learn Esperanto instead of being pressured to learn (say) English, then English-speaking culture wouldn't come to dominate and eventually erase local cultures and languages....that's the thought, anyway.
Naturally, since Esperanto doesn't aim to *replace* anyone's "real" language, it won't steal your soul or deprive you of the nourishment you get from English (personally, as a native English speaker, I love our crazy language and the etymologies and histories of the words and sayings, etc.)
I won't address your claim that Esperanto constitutes a "destructive totalitarian pseudo-religious sect" because it's too far from what I recognize as reality for me to be able to say anything meaningful to you about it. Historically, it's been Esperantists who have died at the hands of destructive totalitarian regimes, not the other way around.

Heinrich

Heinrich

And die again they shall if they ever try to impose their ideology en masse. Communists were also killed by totalitarian regimes. But look at the regimes the communists themselves created when they got into power. You'll get no sympathy from me.

Vincent Oostelbos

Vincent Oostelbos

Nice to read a thought-out, nuanced opinion for a change.

/sarcasm

Ken

Ken

This statement is too extreme to be true: "Esperanto is a destructive totalitarian pseudo-religious sect. It is evil, and it is a common knowledge that Evil cannot create. Esperanto itself it not a fair creation, it is a perversion of European languages"

It can't' be evil, because it created. William Auld was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his Esperanto-language works.

I think someone needs to cool down and meet some real esperantists.

Roger

Roger

Well it's up to you. The problem is your diagnosis of its political motivations are hopelessly outdated. Like everything else in culture almost all political content (or political content that doesn't reflect the currently dominant ideology) has been almost entirely stripped away. There was indeed a time when Esperanto had even been adopted by a worker's movement, though that was not part of the regular Esperanto movement which was about as political as a harvest festival.

Your 'many Englishes' argument is spurious too. I hear this so often and from so many alleged 'linguists' who ought to know better. In truth English only functions as some kid of bloc when the differences are skated over. The places where it is a first language have quite a few differences, but not enough to create a barrier. On the other hand in places where it has fairly deep roots and is spoken relatively well, like India, there is still too much difference for it to be comparable to standard English. The grave mistake so often made is in accepting as the truth the myth that the world speaks English. The standard of English throughout Europe (the usual example given of 'good English' as a second language) ranges from good to fair to chronic to non-existent, at 5%, 45%, 25%, 25% respectively. The brute lies repeated about the level of English competence throughout the world sometimes beggars belief. The situation currently gives native English speakers the whip-hand in so many international arenas. Anyone promoting this situation is really a menace to international development. Particularly since its basis is utterly false.

Personally I'm not all that interested in the alleged 'special culture' of Esperanto, but what you've missed is that Esperanto somehow manages to allow you to speak with many people in a way that helps you see their cultural position, without having to learn ten or more languages. You won't get to see this because you're too afraid to have a go at it. That watery McCarthyism of yours, which makes you see the word 'Esperanto' as 'Communist' (not that the latter is particularly if a person is not drenched in 90 years of U.S. propaganda) does you no credit.

Vincent Oostelbos

Vincent Oostelbos

Strongly agreed! Well stated.

Antony

Antony

Totally ill-informed diatribe. Almost every assertion quoted as "fact" has no basis other than the writer's personal prejudices. What is there to say in reply?

The biggest error is the frankly ludicrous claim about "Esperantistan" being "ideologically homogeneous". By his own admission, Donovan has not learned Esperanto and will never learn it. How then can he make a judgement about the Esperanto community and its imagined "ideology"?

Of course, there are a minority of fanatics and proselytisers among Esperanto enthusiasts, and presumably Donovan has met some of them and based his views on his dealings with them. He quite obviously hasn't met the majority of enthusiasts - particularly from other countries who don't have English as a language - who have no interest in ideology of any kind, but simply enjoy being part of a world-wide community.

Esperanto speakers are the most diverse group of people you could wish to meet, united chiefly by an acceptance of diversity. That is something that Donovan Nagel could learn from, before criticising something of which he clearly has a poor knowledge.

Roger

Roger

I agree. He may as well have addressed the local trumpet club about why he isn't going to learn the trumpet, without even knowing anything about trumpets or trumpeters. The entire concept of the article is foolish beyond belief.

Bernd Wechner

Bernd Wechner

Sorry, I take no offense to these views, nor am I a passionate believe in Esperanto as a solution for anything but here are my blunt words in response too: A childish rant that confuses a language with a political movement, and culture that it denies exists.

So to clarify:

1) By all means, don't learn it. Heck don't learn Klingon either. Or Swahili. Who really cares? And who, do you need to inform about the grand decision not to learn something? Just curious.

2) I can guess at answers to 1, and they suggest soapboxing in response to a lamentable culture behind Esperanto, the thing in point 3 you deny exists. Phewey, it has one, and yep it's full of extremists and nutters and it sucks. Just get your message clear. But you don't like it and are railing against it. Fair enough. That says nothing about learning the language, and is like saying I won't read that danged bible because Christians are all nutters ... a fair comment and not one I'm inherently critical of, just unrelated issues is all. Who really cares? Read it or don't, but you might choose to read because Christians are nutters ...

3) Point 5 is just wrong. Ill conceived and foolish and not at all what experience suggest what research suggests. You seem literally to be unaware of the fact that you can speak this language (and any constructed language) with what, two weeks invested effort. If you think you can't you haven't really tried. In fact when I discovered a strong interest in language and wanted to learn one, I had Spanish or French or Chinese or Japanese in mind, and someone told me about Esperanto, promised in 10 lessons I could read with a a little help form a pocket dictionary for vocab and rapidly be consulting it less and less so that withing 2 months you could mostly do without it. 5 hours invested effort? I though, heck, if I can't do that, I'm gonna drown in French ... so I gave it a shot. And it delivered. So, now I can speak Esperanto? Do I use it, not much, hardly ever. Do I care? Not much. Do I socialise with it? Not much, I mean as you observed the culture is dominated by oddballs and extremists. But was it a waste of time? Get real? The ignorance of that claim is so deep it grates. All you judgments are fine, but this is just plain wrong.

There is simply a lot to be said for learning to crawl before you work and I would seriously recommend any constructed language to anyone as a second language to help them let go of monolingualism, exercise new grammar and vocab all in context without exceptions, idioms, centuries of nuancal rhetorical meaning layers and soon. The reward is fast, rapid and you learn that you can learn, and discover that communication can work in weird and wonderful ways after and it's not possible. Most flounder and fail at any natural second language, drowning in the complexity. If you don't kudos to you, but then you're probably be speaking Esperanto in a week if you pulled your head out of your ... and tried, but hey I am not attached and I don't care if someone chose to learn Klingon, as long as they a) try, b) get reward and c) have a community of people to exchange with (without some practice you won't learn it at all, that is the way the human body and mind work).

And that said, the culture seems to be shifting with the internet as most are, and I suspect as the old guard slowly die off and the new enter it becomes a little less aberrant, more "ordinary" people learn it and in total opposition to your faulty conclusion in 6 - again nonsense, not an opinion or judgment a claim and the claim is utter nonsense because any language with speakers has a use. Which brings us to one of the dominant uses of Esperanto. Seriously explain to me how you can give my children this:

A few months casual lessons and exercises, watching some videos, and then pen pals in Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, France, wherever with whom you can exchange in a language that you are peers at? Not yours.

This is one of its greatest gifts to English speakers. I bummed around Japan for two months in my 20s visiting among many people Esperanto speakers, and these were among my most valued relationships, because I spoke with peers, we both struggled with a a simpel toy language gifted to us, that cost us very little and neither of us owned or mastered,. With this I could and di stay with a Japanese family help them harvest their rice, played Go with Grandad, and I stayed in a monastery and wend mountain climbing and all with people who I had no access to with English and if I did, I was always the mentor, not the peer. And that distinctly changes our relationship.

And the same was true in China, and in Russia ... and and and ...

There is no better language to learn for a world vagabond as I was, that comes as cheaply, and opens as many doors, in ans many nations, as does Esperanto.

But if you're not a globetrotting young vagabond, who cares? I mean I don't preach it in the street, in fact rarely if ever mention to anyone socially that I can speak Esperanto. Why not? Because unless I see some reason they may be interested, why would I raise it? And I see only two real plusses at present maybe three:

1) Want to see the world and a globetrotting vagabond? Hitchhike and speak Esperanto. No two things will open as many genuine friendly doors for you as those, nope not even couchsurfing.com. These two things will offer far more spontaneous and genuine relationships I promise you, having done just that for a decade.

2) If you want to learn a second language, try Esperanto first. We'll manage a simple conversation in a few days and you'll be able to browse and understand websites in a week or two. You can of course potter around like any language and not get there, and not be progressing with it, but I promise you this, if that's the case, you probably would not be different with another natural language only slower, and more frustrated. But crack this nut and feel the reward, and learn above all, about your learning skills and passion.

3) If you're socially isolated, a tad eccentric, believe in world peace and the unity of mankind, well, there's probably a local club that will take you in and entertain you for a weekly or monthly meet ...

Unless though I think you're yearning for one of tose three things, you will probably never learn (form me) that I speak Esperanto.

Which is what takes me back to your motivations. Namely the lack of grace. An almost childish tantrum against a pile of eccentrics you don't like, confusing that with a language.

But each to their own. You had your rant, and no I mine ;-).

And likewise, no disrespect intended at all! I totally get where you're coming from and have felt similar and much of it resonates with my personal experience of the Esperanto world. Just in places you are plain wrong is all.

Heinrich

Heinrich

See, this kind of crap really pisses me off.
I would stake my life that not a single word of your globetrotting adventures is true. Not one.
I live in Japan and the people that are actually interested in Esperanto are so far and few between as to essentially be non-existent. One of the major exceptions is a fringe Shinto-based cult that sees the language's founder as some sort of prophet. And you've apparently met a whole monastery full of speakers? They had no access to English despite it being a mandatory subject all through basic education? Look, if you're so confident in the worthwhile nature of Esperanto, why do you have to make up stuff like this? It seems like a sad attempt at tugging at people's heartstrings to win them over to your side - AKA propaganda.

English alone gives you far more access to people in all the countries you listed, and also ensures you're more likely to meet people who aren't fringe weirdos. It's a far better tool for globetrotting than Esperanto could ever hope to be, because people are naturally attracted to a real language that lets you express all the intricacies or your feelings, and not just your most basic thoughts. It would be a better use of time learning International Sign.

Scout

Scout

Well Heinrich, welcome to the internet because you know, using your viewpoint, absolutely nothing you say is true either.

Michel Verrier

Michel Verrier

First of all thank you Mr. Nagel for your comment. The beauty of that world is that we, for many of us, still have the right and the liberty to express our opinions !

Also, I'm begging your pardon for all the mistakes I'll may do. You'll understand here that English is not my native language.

That said, let me explain :

Why I Learned Esperanto !

1- I'm using Esperanto just because there are people around the world who doesn't care about politic bounds to any ideology or anything else. There are people out there who sees Esperanto as a tool. NO MORE, NO LESS.
And that's fine ! :) Besides that, I'm a fervent capitalist, I'm an atheist, and ... WHO CARES ! It's only related to my native culture ! Nothing to do with the fact I use Esperanto ! So, what's the matter with the politic !

2- I'm using Esperanto as a vehicule in order to become more open-minded towards other cultures in order to improve and increase my knowledge of the other cultures. Just for that, it wins my favor. Openness is one of the key for improving our intelligence (Just a little research on the web concerning FFM (Five factor model) and OCEAN (Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) should convince you of the benefits of it ;) )

3- I'm using Esperanto for its CULTURE. (I won't debate anything here, you have excellent comments about it on your own blog... I read them all)

4- I'm using Esperanto to counterbalance the fanatical English Evangelists who try to convince us, non-native English speakers that : "Hey just accept it as a truth. English win. It's everywhere"
Wrong !

First thing first : It is NOT everywhere.
If you traveled a little bit, you will admit that outside the hotels and outside the highly touristic sites, you' will find no one to help you in English. And those who will help, will do with a barely understandable English !

Second, the vast majority of the people who use English as a working language will :
Have a decent to poor vocabulary in English. Often it's just enough to do the job but nothing more. I know what I'm talking about, I classify myself in that category. Actually it requires from me an effort to write this comment ! Thanks to my programmers job, otherwise I would probably not writing this comment.

5- I'm using Esperanto because it help me learn other languages. Surprisingly, learning Esperanto opened doors for me to access other languages resources : the Esperantists native languages. Exchanging with them allow me to learn their language and in return I have the opportunity to help the other learn my language. And all the exchange is done with the bridge that represent Esperanto.

6. Finally, I use Esperanto because it gave me tools I didn't have before. I use it for all the reasons mentioned above and the most important thing, I use it because I don't feel that I have to make excuses in advance for the possible mistakes I may do when I speak or write to someone else just because I'm pretty aware that my interlocutor is by far more agile with the language used. I feeling that I don't get when I speak to someone in Esperanto !

Michel Verrier

Michel Verrier

An error in my final sentence, it should have been :

"A feeling that I don't get when I speak to someone in Esperanto !"

Thomas Yale

Thomas Yale

Alternate title: "Here are my widespread anti-Semitic generalizations based on my own cherry-picking logic about the people speaking this language and how I hate them and how English is a such better language there's no point."

Edith Aint

Edith Aint

He likes Arabic too. You know Arabic is a Semitic language, yes? No?

Heinrich

Heinrich

Alternet comment: OH VEY!

Jerry Bear

Jerry Bear

Donovan, are you a Brit by any chance? I have noticed that Brits have a tendency to falsely present themselves as experts and pontificate endlessly on subjects they know nothing about. This is what you have done here. At best, you are describing Esperanto as it was more than a hundred years ago and has no relevance at all to the very different Esperanto world of today. The language is far different today too and has effectively become a natural language complete with native speakers and evolving according to the laws of natural languages.

Zamenhof spent his whole life starting from puberty developing his international language project, a total of perhaps 15 years. He had a strong knowledge of linguistics and would have been delighted to become a professor of philology in a university but such an aspiration was impossible for a Polish Jew born in Czarist Russia and he had to make do with becoming an eye doctor to earn his living. He originally developed a complicated language with a big vocabulary and an elaborate grammar but came to realize that no one man could create a whole language by himself. He spent many years stripping down his language to the bare bones, creating the sketchy, schematic version he published as the "International Language Project of one Doctor Esperanto. He decided not to create a whole language but instead a sturdy framework that the users of the new language could use to construct a full language on. This is roughly what happened but it was a long and often stormy road. The Esperanto that Zamenhof used 30 years later at the end of his life was far more elegant and polished than the early version he published in the First Book. Since the beginning, it took more than a century to fully develop Esperanto and create the living language of today, a language you know nothing about.

But you Sir, know effectively nothing about the real Esperanto. You basically accuse it of not being a national language, which Esperanto was never intended to be so you are belaboring at great length a complete irrelevancy. I am amazed that you feel qualified to pontificate at length on a subject you are so obviously abysmally ignorant of, but that seems to be a thing Brits do nowadays. The same point holds true of Justin B. Rye's silly rant.

I am sorry to have to confront you with this Donovan but ignorance does not constitute knowledge and never will. You are no expert on Esperanto and your ill-informed opinion has no relevancy and substance. You seem to regard English as the great solution to International communication. I have a Master of Arts in Applied English Linguistics. I spent 7 years teaching English as a Second Language in the United States, Taiwan, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Based on my experience, if we try to base the International Language on English, it will be some debased kind of pidgin English. Such a language is already forming and is called "Globish". It is an awful travesty of the noble English language, the language of Shakespeare, Shelly and Hemingway. I fear it will eventually contaminate the English of native speakers if it gets too widespread. The fact is, English was never designed to be an international language and it is too difficult for the great majority, with the exception of native speakers of Germanic languages. To master English requires studying it or practicing the language for several hours a day for ten full years and you need to live at least a couple of years in an English speaking country. This is well beyond the means of most people. The result is that English is and will doubtless remain the ;language of big business, finance and diplomacy, the language of a privileged and much envied elite but will remain inaccessible to the great majority.

Esperanto was designed from the ground up to be an international language and it works brilliantly for this purpose. It is the international SOCIAL language, the language of those who want to make friends across language barriers and enjoy the culture of others. It is the language of the rest of us, those who are not of the elite.

Another useful purpose for Esperanto I think would be to help stabilize and define English. Esperanto fully has the precision and logical rigor of the Classical languages and is well suited for this purpose. Latin used to be used for this purpose, but it is so intractably difficult that hardly any ordinary student gains any real mastery of the subject and it has been abandoned for the most part. An English speaker who has never learned another language is as unaware of the soft mushy walls of the English language as a fish in an aquarium is aware of the water it swims in. If you study Esperanto seriously on the other hand, you become vividly aware of the foggy, ambiguous nature of the English language, It will force him to recognize the need for