Why I Won't Learn Esperanto

Why I Won't Learn Esperanto

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

COMMENTS

Comment Policy: I love comments and feedback (positive and negative) but I have my limits. You're in my home here so act accordingly.
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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

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

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

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

"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

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

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

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

Good point.

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

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

Thanks Natalie. :)

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

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

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

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

French absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Guys like Danny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

You're welcome.

Thanks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the well wishes.

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

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

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

Why Novial?

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

Esperanto is available on Duolingo :p

Donovan Nagel

Indeed it is :)

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

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

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

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

"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

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

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

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

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

So then it is true.

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

1. A means