Followers

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why didn't Esperanto ever catch on?

Esperanto, the most famous and widely spoken auxiliary (or constructed) language in the world, has for over a century been popular amongst a very small but global subculture. Speakers and proponents of Esperanto say that it's simplicity and universality could allow speakers of two unrelated languages to speak to one another on equal footing; instead of a French speaker learning German to speak to a German speaker (while the German speaker can enjoy a state of linguistic superiority and speak in his native tongue), they both could learn Esperanto in very little time and then speak as equals.

Esperanto has very simple grammar; the endings of syntactic categories (parts of speech) are all uniform, so things like conjugating and making plurals are easy to do. The writing system uses a modified Latin script (familiar to much of the world), and the pronunciation is regular. Furthermore, a great amount of world literature has been translated into Esperanto and conventions are held worldwide to unite speakers.

But, honestly, very few people know about Esperanto and even fewer speak it. Schools are afraid to teach children a 'pretend' language, and since there is no notable country that has Esperanto as an official language, going abroad isn't a viable option (expect maybe using Esperanto to speak with someone you are visiting one on one). Not only that, but the claim that Esperanto is regular and easy for everyone to learn is false advertising; people used to tonal languages, non-SVO word order, people who have a different consonant/vowel inventory, and people unfamiliar with the sources for Esperanto's word base won't have a particularly easy time picking up the language. In fact, there are far more languages in the world that are dissimilar to Esperanto than those that are similar. And, as time goes on, more and more exceptions are emerging in Esperanto (so one of its main selling points is in a state of degradation).

What would happen if a language like Esperanto did catch on? Dialects. As soon as people had the ability to speak Esperanto in everyday exchanges, they would begin to make it their own and create local variations. Unless some particularly militant prescriptivists took over, we would have multiple Esperantos in a century or less; when no foreign people are around and you're just with friends, there's no reason to speak in a universal way.

The ambition is a good one: unite people and speak as equals. The reality is, though, that artificial languages are unpopular and will remain unpopular. And even if people did pick them up, they would change them so quickly there's almost no point.

23 comments:

  1. Hm, why have I never heard about this?! Awesome post man as are all your post, very insightful stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting, I love learning about languages.

    ReplyDelete
  3. it looks like you have a good thing going here... keep up the great work on your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  4. it just wasnt bold enough, good write up though :D

    ReplyDelete
  5. yea definately have to agree with above

    ReplyDelete
  6. Esperanto is quite a beautiful language, my aunt speaks it fluently

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nice thanks keep up the nice work
    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love this blog.
    seriously my fave because I fucking LEARN something.
    Keep it up plz.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Nice blog. Very insightful. I am glad you're digging my Yé-yé girl blog. Drop by anytime. I will swing by and show some support daily.

    http://ye-yepop.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Anti1337, wow! That's really cool that she speaks it fluently! I agree that it is a very beautiful language; it's been crafted to sound appealing in several senses, so that's no surprise, either. Your aunt is a real minority, but if I had a speaking partner, I'd love to be able to speak it as well.

    Thanks for all the positive comments everyone! Reading these are the light of my day, really.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Commenting back and showing support!
    View my blogs again sometime bro!

    ReplyDelete
  12. hmm, not sure what to think about this

    ReplyDelete
  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Fuuuuuuuu, what do you mean? I'd be glad to answer a question or hash out an issue.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Very insightful. Makes you imagine if Esperanto did catch one. Like, what would the implications be and all.

    ReplyDelete
  16. can't ever be truly equal in this world.

    ReplyDelete
  17. i would love to learn some random language like that

    ReplyDelete
  18. Nice blog i enjoy reading your posts!

    ReplyDelete