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indi wrote

I'm not a strict anarchist, but I learned Esperanto because it seemed like the best way to foster communication without unbalanced privilege to any party... or at least with with much less privilege than simply selecting an existing language. Of course some privilege does still exist - a lot of its vocabulary is based on Romance languages, and the standard script is Latin-based (though there are alternative scripts - for example, there is such a thing as Esperanto katakana). But, as a matter of practicality, designing a truly neutral language is probably impossibly impractical; even if you could manage it, it would probably be very "unnatural", and in any case, the chance of adoption is functionally zero. I was very enthusiastic at first about the language, and its philosophy and community.

Even if you have no intention of actually speaking it in practice or getting involved with the community, I strongly encourage people to learn it. First of all, it's simple: I've seen boasts that the entire grammar of the language can fit on a 3×5 index card... I don't know it that's true while still writing legibly, but the fact that one can even seriously consider the idea is proof enough. Secondly, it's really easy; I learned the basics of the language more or less in an afternoon - certainly not longer than over a weekend. After that it's just a matter of building up vocabulary... which is a lot easier than in most other languages because you can get away with a lot of "vortkonstruado", or "word constructing" (the canonical example is "hospital": "malsanulejo" = "mal" (opposite) + "san" (health) + "ul" (person) + "ej" (place) + "o" (noun), or "place for persons with the opposite of health").

But the most important reason to learn Esperanto is because Esperanto is so very structured and logical. Wrapping your head around it helps give you far deeper insight into how languages "work" than even total mastery of English (or any natural language). So after learning Esperanto, it is much easier to learn other languages. Also you get better at your native language(s), too, as a side effect.

All that being said, a few years ago I really soured on the Esperanto community.

The start of the conflict was when I recognized that Esperanto is actually a very sexist language. Like older English, male is just assumed as the default. For example, "doktoro" means a "male doctor"... and it also just means "doctor". Because doctors were just always men, by default. "Doktorino" is "female doctor". Most words are assumed gender-neutral and/or male by default, and to make a word female you have to modify it with "-in-". "Father" is "patro" and "parent" is "patro"... but mother is "patrino".

The same problem exists with the pronouns. "Li" is "he", "ŝi" is "she", and if you want to refer to someone in a gender neutral way... you're supposed to use "li". Again, male is the default.

Now, Zamenhof wasn't an asshole - for his time, he was extremely progressive. But he was still a "product of his time", as they say. Which is to say, he was just very casually sexist, without even realizing it. When he was designing Esperanto, he literally forgot to include female gendering in his earlier drafts... a friend pointed out the disparity, so he tacked it on.

But all that's history, and there are efforts to modernize the language. For example, there's a proposal for a "-iĉ-" affix to mean "male". So "patro" would be "parent", "patrino" would be "mother", and "patriĉo" would be "father". And for a gender-neutral pronoun you could have "ŝli".

Unfortunately, at least back when I was involved, the Esperanto community didn't seem to care about the sexism in the language. You'd think that actual asymmetry in the language would bother people who are so very concerned about making the language regular and logical, but no. In fact, all attempts to make Esperanto a more inclusive language were being vigorously rejected... with all the usual "arguments" we are all now very familiar with. Women and non-binary genders didn't really matter to Zamenhof in 1887, which is understandable if not acceptable... but for those things to not matter in the 21st century? I couldn't stomach that.

This was back before GamerGate and all - long before anti-feminism became mainstream - so this was my first clear taste of truly institutionalized, systemic sexism. Now, in the post-GamerGate Trump era, the sexism of the Esperanto community seems even quaint. So maybe my judgment is just skewed by fluke of timing. And hey, maybe things in the Esperanto community have changed now that the problem of sexism and misogyny is so very, very visible. So don't let my own sour experience prevent you from giving them a chance. And in any case, even if you never get involved with the community, the language is still worthwhile to learn.

But I believe that if Esperanto truly wants to be a universal auxiliary language, the community needs to stop wanking off and get serious about gender reform in the language. A language that treats non-males as an afterthought can never be a truly universal language.


libereco wrote

Just a thought... If Zamenhof didn't include "ŝi" and "-in-", would that mean that Esperanto would now be a genderless language? That sounds cool.


indi wrote

There's actually a reform proposal that would basically do that.

The main reason Zamenhof included gendered pronouns and affixes - or at least the reason he spent so much time struggling with them - is because his "test" of the language's practicality was translating texts. He needed gendered vocabulary simply because he felt translating the source texts elegantly required it.