Sunday, June 29, 2014

Newspaper Misses the Whole Point of Esperanto

Against Esperanto?
How can you be
against Esperanto?
The Fulton County News of McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania seems to have missed the entire point of Esperanto in a June 29, 1911 piece titled “Against Esperanto.” One of the general requirements of suggested for an international language in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was that the language should be more easily learnt than any of the national languages. This rules Klingon right out.

But the Fulton County News made the claim that
time is value, and the time employed by an English-speaking person in learning Esperanto might be better employed in learning French or German or both.
The effort needed to learn Esperanto is pretty minimal, particularly when you compare it to German, a language with declensions, conjugations, and a surprising number of plural forms. A year’s study of German is pretty minimal. A year of French is somewhat better, but will still leave you fairly stranded in Paris. You could master Esperanto in a year.

If “the time employed by an English-speaking person in learning Esperanto” is only going to be a year, then you might get in four months of French and eight months of German, meaning you have no skills for communicating in either Paris or Berlin. Oh, you’ll know “ou est la gare?” and “wo is der Banhof?” but you’ll probably be lost when you get an answer.

They do concede at the beginning of the article that the artificial nature of Esperanto is not a problem. The article begins:
Against Esperanto
Of course it is no answer to the arguments of the Esperantists that languages have never been made deliberately, but have been of natural growth. The fact that there is no precedent for Esperanto does not detract from its possible merits, argues the New York Times.
So far, so good. Now I’ll have to repeat the piece a little:
But time is valuable and the time employed by an English-speaking person in learning Esperanto might be better employed in learning French or German or both. With command of one of those two languages in addition to English he could made his way with little trouble in all civilized countries; with both he would be in touch with the whole world.
The paragraph continues, but before I get to it, I should note here that my French skills are quite good. They were useless in Italy. I found that outside major cities, not knowing any Italian was a bit of a hindrance. I suspect the traveler with a command of English, German, and French visiting Italy in 1911 would have had an even worse time. They continue:
Then new avenues of culture would be open to him, and the world’s literature would be at his command.
“The world’s literature”? Please. This is bullshit. Hey, I’ve studied French for years, I guess I could go and read Don Quixote in the original Spanish, no problem! Are we to assume that "world's literature" only comprises works in English, French, and German? Some might think that way, but not me.
In time the whole world may have one language, but it will never be Esperanto. The more fervent advocates of the new and agreeable jargon claim too much for it. Its modern upholder do not convince us of its utility.
The Esperanto movement has never sought to be the world’s one language. In the view of the Esperanto movement it would be a horrible thing to lose the beauties of Catalan in a rising tide of Esperanto. The vision has always been of preserving local languages while providing an easy way to communicate.

The reality for minority languages and dialects is that they are increasingly subsumed by the majority languages in their countries, and faced with the task of learning (complex) majority languages, speakers of minority languages are dropping their ancestral tongues.

On the other hand, Esperanto still has a network effect problem. If more people knew Esperanto, it would be worthwhile for more people to learn Esperanto. Esperanto has never hit that mark where there are enough people to speak to, and I think it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime, if ever (happily, I take other pleasures from knowing Esperanto).
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