esperanto

Remember that the sole means of achieving peace is to abolish for ever the main cause of wars, the survival since the most distant pre-civilization world of antiquity of the domination by one people of other peoples.
– Zamenhof, 1915

Even though I’d heard about Esperanto several years ago, I dismissed it at the time because I was more interested in what I thought of as “real” languages – those spoken natively by many people. I’ve also had a passing interest in learning Lojban, another constructed language, but I lumped them both into the same category.

Recently, however, I’ve become much more interested in Esperanto due to what I’ve read about the philosophy, politics, and culture surrounding it. It seems like much more than just someone’s constructed hobby language, or an intellectual curiousity for language nerds. I’ve discovered lately that there’s a strong sense of equality and justice associated with the language (for example, in the Prague Manifesto). Thinking back, almost all of the Esperanto speakers that I’ve personally met have been Anarchists (edit: this is quite possibly due to the fact that I tend to hang out with lots of Anarchists). I even read about an Esperanto League in China in the 1920s (continuing today) which was promoted by Chinese Anarchists as a way for the Chinese people to communicate with the worldwide working class in order to promote social justice. (There are apparently still some radio stations in China that broadcast in Esperanto, and I’ve found that Japan apparently has one of the highest densities of Esperanto speakers.)

Here’s a description from Dr. Ludovic Zamenhof, a Jew from Poland who created Esperanto in the 1870s:

The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Bialystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind, although many people may smile at such an ‘anguish for the world’ in a child. Since at that time I thought that ‘grown-ups’ were omnipotent, so I often said to myself that when I grew up I would certainly destroy this evil.

One of the important ideas behind Esperanto is that as an auxiliary language, everyone comes to it on level footing, with no hegemonic economic or political power enforcing or benefiting from its usage. Learning Esperanto means that you are willing to take a step towards the middle, to spend the same amount of effort as everyone else, rather than expecting everyone to accomodate you and learn your language. This is particularly relevant to me, as a native speaker of English in an imperialist country.

Relatedly, the League of Nations debated several times about whether to use Esperanto as its working language, only to be denied by the more powerful member countries.

The possibility of the League of Nations encouraging Esperanto and even adopting it as a working language was considered seriously, but met fierce resistance on the part of France. Esperanto was discussed several times between 1920 and 1924, and consideration was given to reports of the experience of learning the language in 26 countries. Delegates of eleven states (Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Haiti, India, Italy, Persia, South Africa) recommended in 1920 that Esperanto should be learned in schools “as an easy means of international understanding” (Lins, 1988, 49-61)

As for resources, there’s a book available in the “Teach Yourself” series, and many more. There are also dozens of websites with free lessons. Here are some interesting sites I’ve found lately:

For now, I’m still concentrating my studies on German, but I’ll probably switch over to full-time study of Esperanto in January or February of next year. According to wikipedia, there was a study of French speakers who learned Esperanto and compared it to the time taken to learn other languages, and it was about 150 hours – around 10x less than the time required for them to learn German (2000hrs), English (1500hrs), or Italian (1000hrs). Given this extreme ease of learning, I expect I’ll be able to move quickly up to a decent level within maybe 2 months. I’ll be sure to post more info here once I start seriously working on it.

To begin, I’ll probably read through some descriptions of how the language works, and what types of structures to expect. Then I’ll move on to rapid vocabulary building, probably through Anki flashcards. Once I have familiarity with several hundred words (which should be easy to learn because of their etymological basis in mostly european languages), then I’ll move straight into trying to read books and poetry, of which there is apparently a lot of.

In the mean time, please let me know if any of you are interested in learning it with me. I’d love to have some study partners, especially once I get up to speed and start looking for Skype practice partners. Now, let me just end with a quote from the Prague Manifesto:

Any system of communication which confers lifelong privileges on some while requiring others to devote years of effort to achieving a lesser degree of competence is fundamentally antidemocratic. While Esperanto, like any language, is not perfect, it far outstrips other languages as a means of egalitarian communication on a world scale. We maintain that language inequality gives rise to communicative inequality at all levels, including the international level. We are a movement for democratic communication.

Ĝis la revido!

10 Responses to esperanto

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    Thanks for this! Multan dankon!

    You wrote, “almost all of the Esperanto speakers that I’ve personally met have been Anarchists.” It should be said that that the Esperanto-speaking community isd extremely diverse – although I have yet to meet a fascist. There are church-goers and agnostics, country people and townspeople, sports-lovers and sports-haters. The number of different life priorities of Esperanto speakers is reflected in the range of specialist publications and associations. There are groupings of Catholics and Protestants, and scientists, for example.

  2. doviende says:

    Ya, I guess I should specify that this outcome was highly likely because I personally tend to hang around with a lot of Anarchists. Thanks for pointing that out🙂

  3. Lune says:

    I would say, “Bonvenu al la esperanta klubo!” but since you prefer anarchy, that seemed self defeating.

    Best wishes for your esperantic studies!

  4. Brian Barker says:

    I do not think that Esperanto will be “the sole means of achieving peace” 🙂

    However I do believe that Esperanto is an anarchic language. The less rules society has, the more anarchic it becomes.

    Esperanto has less rules, than any other language !

    Confirmation at http://www.lernu.net

  5. doviende says:

    Anarchism doesn’t mean that there can’t be clubs, it just means that there’d be no single person making the club rules. And you could have as many (or few) rules as you wanted, but you’d all have to agree on them.

    Anarchism = an (against) + archy (hierachy / rulers). It’s a philosophy that proposes that hierarchy and authority are detrimental and unnecessary for having a good society. In my mind, Esperanto can fit into this idea quite nicely, because an anarchist would say that it’s unjust to have some people gain special privileges because of their location of birth (or language that they learned there). Communication will be more equitable if we can all move toward a middle-ground where we are all on the same level.

  6. Lune says:

    You mentioned that most of the esperantists you know are anarchists, and it was pointed out that since you mostly hang out with anarchists, this is a likely result.

    This overlap does not happen universally, though. There are damn few esperanto speaking archers. I think there might be three others besides me, world-wide.. There aren’t any obvious overlapping philosophies between the two disciplines. However, I can see commonalities that would attract people who are inclined to anarchy to esperanto, and vice versa.

  7. WC says:

    I’ve actually been considering learning Esperanto, but the lack of materials to enjoy the language is a negative for me. I don’t really want to talk to people… I’m willing to do so to learn the language, but to keep practicing after I’ve gotten good, I need media that isn’t interactive. TV shows, movies, books, comics… Anything. There just isn’t much of that out there that I can find.

  8. doviende says:

    A big motivation for me is the ease with which I could communicate with other speakers, so I guess we have different motivations in that respect. For reading materials, I’ve been using mainly 3 sources: wikipedia (120000 articles), project gutenberg (free books), and some stuff that I found at this new site: http://libraro.co.cc/. That last one has nice dictionary lookup features…it seems promising.

  9. WC says:

    I didn’t realize Gutenburg had any… And that libraro site looks promising as well. Okay, that should be enough motivation for me to learn. 🙂 I’m sure once I learn then I’ll have enough confidence to try to communicate as well… Eventually. 😉 Thanks!

  10. Lune says:

    WC, There is a huge selection of esperanto material both in books and DVD. You just need to know how to find it.

    http://esperanto-usa.org/retbutiko/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=20&zenid=779678b17f542d1f03096862f72da5e4

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