Saluton! Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? (via Esperanto: Simple, logical and doomed | The Economist)
- Chances are you don’t—speak Esperanto, that is. But a few readers of the last two columns—about the quandary of Europe’s multilingualism, and why enforcing English throughout Europe was a flawed idea—made the case for Esperanto. At a time when ever more countries need to communicate with one another, why shouldn’t Europe, or the world, embrace the simple international language invented by Ludwig Zamenhof in 1887?
- Outsiders tend to scoff at Esperanto as an idealistic waste of time. Esperantists harrumph back: with somewhere between a few hundred thousand and possibly 2m learners, Esperanto is far and away world’s most successful invented language. If that sounds like “Finland’s biggest klezmer band”, it shouldn’t. Esperanto has outgrown quite a few rivals. Dreamers have been inventing languages for centuries, from Lojban (designed around predicate logic) to Ladaan (designed to espouse feminism). But languages like Klingon, Elvish, Dothraki, Navi’i and their kin, created for popular entertainment, are the only invented languages that can muster nearly the enthusiasm Esperanto does.
- One element behind Esperanto’s success is obviously its simplicity. Zamenhof designed it to spread. Roots come from the main European languages. Grammar is utterly regular. (Nouns end in –o, adjectives in –a, adverbs in –e. Plurals get a –j, and so on.) And Esperantists are keen to teach: sign up at Lernu and you will find not only free, decent-quality lessons but free tutoring from experienced speakers. There are few actual “native” speakers, perhaps around a thousand. Many have heard Esperanto since birth by idealistic parents, but Ms Okrent describes just one, Kim Henriksen, who speaks Esperanto as his dominant language.
- Esperanto will probably never become the world’s lingua franca. Why not? Well, one reason is simple: It hasn’t yet, in almost 130 years. Esperanto isn’t quite as old as The Economist, but it’s older than, say, Norway or Stanford University. Yet it remains thin on the ground.
- This is partly because language, more than any other tool, benefits from network effects. The more people who speak a language, the more desirable that language will be. This is of course why Esperanto speakers play up the biggest possible numbers for their community—the hopes that others will join, for the benefit of being able to use Esperanto with more people.
- But beyond sheer numbers, people learn a language in order to enjoy a living and real human culture. This holds Esperanto back. Google “famous Esperanto speakers” and you will find Wikipedia’s list. Many names are not exactly famous. But one jumps out: J.R.R. Tolkien. The novelist (and language inventor) apparently briefly dabbled in Esperanto. But helater wrote to a reader that Volapük, Esperanto, Ido, Novial, &c &c are dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends.”