Since Dr. Berdichevsky’s article on Esperanto in December, 2007, comments continue to arrive. A lengthy excerpt of the article has been translated into Esperanto and will shortly appear through the combined efforts of Vera Barandovska-Frank and Prof. Helmar Frank, Institute for Cybernetic Pedagogy at the University of Paderborn, Germany. Comments range from the use of Esperanto in hip-hop music, an anthology of dirty jokes, where to go on the net to rapidly learn Esperanto by the teach yourself method, important literary translations of works from “minor languages” such as Finnish and Bulgarian (untranslated into any other language), and the experiences of others in the usefulness of Esperanto while travelling…..
1 Dec 2007
Thank you for such a well-written and extensive article - it's not often that one finds something like this in English, actually based on facts, not suppositions, about Esperanto! I think you have dealt fairly with the issues. The only things I would like to add are
1) a mention of the seven points of the Prague Manifesto:
2) a daily calendar of events in Esperanto around the world: http://www.eventoj.hu/2007.htm
and 3) the daily podcasts in Esperanto from Radio Polonia:
(so that one may hear what the language sounds like in actual use).
2 Dec 2007
Thank you for that thorough and informative essay. It is easy enough to ignore Esperanto, and the fact that most people do requires no explanation. Most people ignore most languages other than their own, unless required to do otherwise. Few people are required to learn or pay attention to Esperanto. That some people, mostly intellectuals, feel a need to oppose Esperanto and the very idea of a planned language is something else again.
Why do educated people persist in claiming that Esperanto (and, by implication, any other planned language) "failed" and "cannot work," despite the clearly documented fact that it has been functioning very well, in all the ways described in your essay, for over a century?
Granted, there is a sense in which Esperanto has failed. It is not yet, and may never be, the recognized and accepted interlanguage of the world. Although Esperanto speakers are found all over the world, they are not so numerous that one can plan on encountering them by chance. But that fact doesn't diminish the success of Esperanto as a fully functional language, with its own cultural diaspora. I suppose the peculiar opposition from many intellectuals is based on something like, "If Esperanto had any value I'd already know about it. Since I don't, I should have something dismissive to say." The easiest way to do this is to take the stance that "we" (those in the know about these things) already know that artificial languages are deeply flawed in principle. If pressed to explain that principle, the best tactic is to mutter something about culture, then try to change the subject. Esperanto, whatever its defects, has succeeded to an extent that no other planned language has. That fact is indeed a nugget of cultural literacy that is at least as significant as Humpty Dumpty.
2 Dec 2007
For an alternative - admittedly light-hearted - view, see my December 2006 article here.
I have no doubt that there are many enthusiastic Esperanto speakers around the world. Perhaps their number will increase, and perhaps they will write some wonderful novels, poems and jokes in Esperanto. The problem is, however, that the purpose of this enthusiasm, of these novels, poems and jokes (I find jokes the most difficult to imagine) is Esperanto. Esperanto is an end in itself. Other languages are not.
Artificial languages are flawed in principle, partly because they are an end in themselves, but mainly because they will not be able to cope with language change and still retain whatever it was that made them "better" than real languages. From my article:
Then there is the regularity of the made-up language, a regularity which, according to its founder and its proponents, will ensure that it is successful. This idea is Utopian. It presupposes, as did Communism and Socialism, that human beings will behave in a predictable and ideal way. Neither humans nor their languages have ever been regular. Even if a language has been created regular, to be successful it must cease to be artificial and come alive. If it does so, like all languages, indeed all living things, it will change. Languages always change. It� will develop irregularities, dialects, slang, pidgins or Creoles. Some dialects - those of a� commercially or politically dominant group -�will come to prominence, and perhaps, in time, become�languages in their own right; others will die out. Language change will be seen as decay. Curmudgeons will write to the Daily Telegraph, or Doelligkhyy Tugglibarf, complaining how young Volapukes today say �v�delik� when they mean �nindukol�s�.
5 Dec 2007
Excellent and very honest article, respecting historical facts and also based on the writer's personal experiences.
I really enjoyed reading this historical review about such an important phenomenon, which - regrettably - is untill now unsufficiently known and appreciated in our modern world. This world however is in dire need of such a common, simple, neutral and second language for all its citizens.
Korajn salutojn el Belgio
PS: More information:
5 Dec 2007
I am glad that this very informative article about Esperanto by Norman Berdichevsky has been published in NEW ENGLISH REVIEW. More people need to know about this language for the future.
But in the section on Esperanto culture, I wish that he would have noted that, although Esperanto has no national culture, it does have an international or global culture. Furthermore, that is just what is needed as humanity moves from the inter-nationalism of the 20th century to the globalism of the 21st century. On these points the reader might want to check my articles "La Kulturo de Esperanto" in INTERNACIA PEDAGOGIA REVUO, 2005/4, pp. 3-6 and "Esperanto kaj Mondcivitaneco" in IPR, 2006/4, pp. 7-10.
I also think that Berdichevsky 's references to THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR article (Winter 2006) "Exploring Esperantoland" by Arika Okrent are somewhat misleading. The two sentences he quotes from her (not him!) are her description of the attitude of others, not her own view. The article as a whole is very complimentary to Esperanto and Esperantists as well as being very informative about what it is like for a non-Esperantist to enter the world of Esperanto.
Mary Jackson should realize that some of us Esperantists are motivated by the desire to be citizens of a global community, not just visitors to a few countries, and that we are able to attain that goal by becoming a member of the Esperanto community. Just as national languages are the basis of national community, so we need a global language to become part of a global community. I can do this even if quantitatively there are not that many of us.
Communicating with non-English speakers in English just doesn't do it. What arrogance and unfairness! Native speakers of English are less than 6 per cent of the world's population, and that percentage is declining. Are you ready to learn Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, and Arabic?
There is no way that I can learn even half of the 22 languages in the world which are spoken by more than 50 million native speakers, so the neutral non-national (global) language Esperanto is the realistic solution.
To see how quickly you too can learn Esperanto, go to <http://www.lernu.net>. For children,<http://www.icxlm.org>.
5 Dec 2007
Mary Jackson should realize that some of us Esperantists are motivated by the desire to be citizens of a global community, not just visitors to a few countries, and that we are able to attain that goal by becoming a member of the Esperanto community. Just as national languages are the basis of national community, so we need a global language to become part of a global community.
That's one of the ways in which I differ from an Esperantist or a Volapucian. I have no desire whatsoever to be part of a "global community". The very idea makes me shudder.
I don't like "communities" of any sort. They are the work of the devil.
5 Dec 2007
Thanks to those who have commented on my article. To those who still persist in labeling Esperanto an "artificial" language, please let me explain that although devised, it is a living language as much as modern Hebrew or Nynorsk (one of the two official languages in Norway).
One hundred and thirty years ago there was not a single native, primary or habitual speaker of any of these languages. They were "devised" by devoted linguists and deeply dedicated men convinced that Yiddish or Dano-Norwegian (the languages most commonly spoken by East European Jews and educated urban Norwegians respectively) could NOT serve as "national languages" - the vehicle embodying the culture, future national development and historical literature of these two peoples.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Ivar Aasen, like Zamenhof , struggled to draw upon the legacy of the past to formulate a new modern literary and spoken language. Esperanto differs in that it is not the speech of a distinct nation or ethnic group but a self-chosen diaspora of those who use it for practical utilitarian purposes and for a minority as their chosen vehicle for the expression of a new cosmopolitan culture.
All three languages - Esperanto, Modern Hebrew and Nynorsk are LIVING languages changing as a result of the usage of those who speak and write them. Each has had an "Academy" but it has been the daily decisions of speakers in contact through correspondence, visits, seminars, conferences and the production of a massive literature and cultural creativity, Not the Academy, that have changed and developed each language, its idiomatic expressions and slang.
5 Dec 2007
Mary Jackson's comment here is a good illustration of the lack of informed criticism and analysis of the Esperanto phenomenon by well educated people. She "finds jokes the most difficult to imagine", and she asserts that Esperanto is used solely incestuously, to talk about Esperanto.
There exists an amazing and quite wonderful Esperanto joke book, "Kruko kaj Baniko en Bervalo", which is full of marvelous dirty jokes, marvelous not only in terms of how funny they are but also in giving men and women equal time and status, something dirty jokes rarely do. I've had the great satisfaction of telling some of these jokes to non-Esperantist friends who laughed as heartily as I did. Some of the jokes do refer to the culture and community of Esperanto, to great and hilarious effect, but a) most of the jokes incorporate universal truths, and b) it is a proof of the vitality of Esperanto culture that it IS possible to base jokes on that culture, including dirty jokes. (Years ago Umberto Eco gave a lecture in which he asserted that obviously the artificiality of Esperanto menat that you couldn't make love in it. A lovely young lady spoke up and said that she had. This induced Eco to realize that he actually knew essentially nothing about Esperanto, and he got interested and even wrote a book about constructed languages.)
A recent beautful book is "Bildoj pri Norda Lando", images in the form of short stories, miniatures, autobiographical in nature, about a young Italian man working in Sweden in the 1950's (the author is Sen Rodin, pen name of Filippo Franceschi). The book has little to do with Esperanto, other than being an artful expression of the intellectual curiosity and transcultural searching characteristic of many speakers of Esperanto.
Then there is the rich literature of books translated into Esperanto, which offers vistas closed to most people. I have read with pleasure and profit fine, important works from Bulgaria and Finland in excellent Esperanto versions. Works selected and translated by translators embedded in "minor" cultures have significant advantages over translations from these smaller-scale cultures done by outsiders. Is "Sub la Jugo", a national epic of a failed revolt of the Bulgarians against the Turks, or the comedies of the Finnish humorist Alexis Kivi an Esperanto "end in itself"?
Lack of knowledge of this small but culturally interesting community is understandable, not only because it is small but also because most discourse on the topic has been woefully uninformed or even mindlessly derogatory. But it would be good if people would think twice about saying anything about Esperanto without knowing something of its culture.
5 Dec 2007
Mary Jackson states:
"I have no desire whatsoever to be part of a "global community". The very idea makes me shudder.
I don't like "communities" of any sort. They are the work of the devil."
This can lead me to assume one of the following: she is either joking and horribly self-deluded, or, she's off her rocker.
One thing is clear, she has no understanding of the subject of her article or perhaps SHE is "the work of the devil."
6 Dec 2007
Jokes in Esperanto? That’s a plus. No Esperanto hip hop? That’s a huge plus. Now I’m interested.
Seriously, thanks Norman. I didn’t know all that.
Of course, I still plan to learn Latin and Greek before I learn Esperanto because of there’s much I’d like to read in the original. After that maybe I'll relearn German and add Italian. Any Esperanto Bel Canto? Or do they not call it Bel Canto?
13 Dec 2007
Hopefully this won't dissuade you, Jason, but there actually is Esperanto hip-hop, believe it or not.
One of the better-known bands is the Finnish Dolchamar. You can sample some of their tracks online at Music Express, for example the track Ĉu vi pretas?. Be forewarned, however: it's quite catchy. You may not be able to get it out of your head for a while...
14 Dec 2007
A real hip hop Esperanto group: http://www.myspace.com/lapafklik
More Esperanto music:
19 Dec 2007
William R. Harmon
A comprehensive and well-written article, presenting in an even-handed manner the merits of Esperanto and other constructed languages. This article should be required reading for educators in the field of languages and linguistics.
Reporters have asked me on many occasions why I dedicate so much of my personal time and energy to promoting the international language Esperanto. My answer to them is that I feel obligated to help keep it alive and well until the world catches up to it.
11 Jan 2008
The DATE at the top says December 2008. But that must be a mistake of some inbuilt programme, I presume.
Also, there is an early mention of a Noble prize. Later the real prize, the Nobel Prize, is mentioned.
The whole article was WONDERFUL. Mi lauxdas vin!
14 Jan 2008
Thanks for an interesting and sweeping overview. It is natural that an error or two will creep in to such a work, but I found the facts generally in harmony with other sources that I have read. I will mention a few things that might merit correction or modification.
The 1986 World Esperanto Congress in China was a milestone in many ways, but most Esperantists consider 1987 to be the 100 year anniversary. The largest of the many gatherings that year was the one in Warsaw, Poland, which had more than 7000 registrants.
Couturat launched Ido in 1907, we are told, [in part] because "French nationalists and linguists were beginning to fear Esperanto�s progress and favorable mention might eventually lead to a proposal to introduce it alongside of French and English as an official language in the League of Nations." The League of Nations was founded more than a decade later, in 1919. So while Berdichevsky is probably right about some of the motivations for Couturat and other Ido-supporters, the paragraph seems to indicate that the League of Nations predates the launch of Ido, rather than the reverse.
I believe that Iran/Persia did propose the use of Esperanto in the League of Nations, and that the French government was successful in blocking consideration of that proposal.
11 Feb 2008
Thank you very much for a really interesting article, it is constructive and informative even for us esperantists. I wonder how it comes that I have not seen anything about it in Esperantio. I will now start to make attention to this site... Koran dankon pro bonega artikolo, Norman Berdichevsky!
31 Jan 2009
E James Lieberman
Thanks for this fine essay. I first encountered Esperanto at 19, traveling in Yugoslavia. It has enhanced my understanding and use of my mother tongue, brought me in touch with individuals, groups, and cultures I would not have known otherwise, maybe even kept some neural circuits humming. Esperanto is one of the few subjects that intellectuals are permitted to attack without knowing anything about it.
30 Nov 2010
Mi dankegas, sinjoro Berdycxevsky!
7 Jan 2011
Yes, Esperanto is different, entirely different. Because it was naturally conceived by a child of genius in a proper age under unique coincidence of specific historic-ethnic-familial circumstances. It matured through the initiator's adolescence and survived a unique unsanctioned sociolinguistic experiment through 6 generations. In spite of inadequate approach to teaching, ignoring the very structure and nature of its coherent morphonemic structure, strict division of explicit grammatical markers and lexical items. Zamenhof succeeded in making a genuine genome of language, able to revive from a mere pocket book. He launched it as a working model with transparent mechanism, playable after a short instruction w/o passing through routine graded courses, just reading texts, nowadays - listening to audiobooks. It is a language to be taught by yourself, and it is a pity teachers usurped it as something easy to teach .
Approximately at the same time Tok Pisin origined and evolved to the official language of Papua - New Guinea Republic.
25 Feb 2011
A fine general article, suitable for passing to enquirers. Esperanto is not an end in itself; it was created to help further peace between different ethnic and linguistic communities. I believe that it has yet to prove itself. Its chance may come when dialogue in a common language about an international dispute brings about an understanding that cannot be achieved through interpreters, because the breakthrough requires people dealing with people directly. I believe that such a success will require its inner ideals playing a part.
26 Feb 2011
Messias J Souza
I really appreciated your article about ESPERANTO. I am an English teacher and also an Esperantist in Brazil. I lived more than five years in USA and I have good knowledge of English. Although I like English for the precise meaning in most cases, the English Language has an enormous vocabulary and is of difficult pronunciation. Many people commit the mistake saying that English is easy to learn. The fact is that most people that say that know English to survive as tourist only. No Language that can express a complete meaning in everything can be called an easy Language. At least Esperanto is a Language that can express everything and is much easier to learn. Some people say that Esperanto is six times easier than English. At least for us speakers of direct Latin derived Languages, Esperanto is much easier. I still believe that Esperanto should have more attention.