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Thoughts on Esperanto?

Submitted by 452 in Anarchism (edited )

I've been reading up on Esperanto and it seems like the perfect language for anarchists to learn, given it's international scope and lack of any nationality as well as an inherent lack of bias (despite being largely based off of European languages)

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8

zashika wrote

I commend the idea behind Esperanto, that it was created to promote international cooperation and is against linguistic imperialism.

I'm not even against it's perceived 'Eurocentrism' - which is a step up from anglocentrism. But a language that is fixed (its community at large is against reform, except for sub-communities like Ido) and not having a cultural context is tricky.

It seems quite difficult to turn the tides against major languages becoming lingua francas. Also remember that learning languages require time, hence not something we can expect from all parts of the working class. But what we can do (IMO) is to promote multilingualism and recognize the validity of variations in dialects (such as African American Vernacular).

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yaaqov wrote (edited )

I think you should take more seriously the notion that Esperanto's eurocentricity is a problem. First, it is not eurocentric just in its vocabulary, which is entirely derived from just a few major European languages; although u/bdbdb claims that

the grammar and syntax has a more global scale

this just is not true. Its syntax is very similar to that of the romance languages, and where Esperanto manages to be the least European, it is just plain artificial, for instance, in some aspects of its morphology (how words are put together from smaller pieces) which do not bear particular resemblance to any known languages at all. In any case, having such a productive morphological system in the first place is far from the norm world-wide; while a Turkish speaker or a Nahuatl speaker would probably feel pretty comfortable with the stacking of prefixes and suffixes, a speaker of Vietnamese, of Mixtec, of any Chinese language, or even of English would find Esperanto's system more unfamiliar.

Also, the consequences of having an Indo-European sourced vocabulary are not limited to, say, more difficult memorization for people who do not speak a European language natively; Esperanto has many sounds that the majority of languages on Earth do not have, while many European languages have them by chance. For instance, the sound written as ‹ĵ› in Esperanto (IPA [ʒ], which is the ‹j› sound in French, or the sound that ‹s› makes in the English word 'vision') is cross-linguistically quite rare.

We know much more about many more languages now that Zamenhof did. We could do better, by a lot, in terms of making a language that is more-or-less equally easy to learn for everybody, regardless of what languages they know. That being said, I'm deeply pessimistic about the idea of any international auxiliary language catching on at all, and I also question whether that's something we should be sad about in the first place. (Now, the spread of some IAL probably wouldn't be worse than what languages like English, Mandarin, or Spanish are doing to minority languages now, but maybe the idea that we should all speak one language at all is something that we should critique.)

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libereco wrote

I think you should take more seriously the notion that Esperanto's eurocentricity is a problem

But if you started to mix all the languages of the world into one, wouldn't it become a mess and not easy at all? At least think the prefix/suffix system is very good since it requires speakers to learn less words (as well as enabling fluent speakers to make their own words). But that might be because my native language also uses suffixes.

I agree that Esperanto's eurocentrism is an issue but I don't think it's possible to create an easy language that wouldn't have similar problems.

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yaaqov wrote

The key to neutrality wouldn't be to mix the world's languages together; there are far too many, and they differ from each other tremendously. Rather, we could look to evidence from child language acquisition, to creole languages, and other sources, to see what patterns are most learnable and universal and create a grammatical system based on that. The vocabulary items themselves are arbitrary; once a sound system is designed, actual word forms could just be generated by a computer. That way, everybody has the same challenge ahead of them. Now, I could imagine an argument for maintaining so-called ''international scientific vocabulary". But you get the idea.

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bdbdb wrote

Sorry if I made a mistake claiming the grammar had a more global influence. I was going from memory of different esperanto books I had read plus the wiki page.

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yaaqov wrote

Don't apologize! I guess, we shouldn't be too surprised to find some sources about Esperanto (or any given thing) would exaggerate the positive qualities of Esperanto (or that thing). Esperanto's influences and structures are certainly international—on the scale of the European continent.


(By the way, you made this post twice.)

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bdbdb wrote

Sorry if I made a mistake claiming the grammar had a more global influence. I was going from memory of different esperanto books I had read plus the wiki page.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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libereco wrote

I love the idea behind it. I've been learning it on Duolingo since spring and recently finished the tree (to be fair, I have made quite a few breaks in this time).

I should probably start listening to some podcasts or reading beginner level books...

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bdbdb wrote (edited )

I would love to talk/shitpost with you. I've been learning it on/off for a while. Even wrote some letters in it to my fiancée.

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libereco wrote

How are you learning it? Did you get involved with your local esperanto association?

Also, I'll try to to post a bit to f/esperanto, hopefully it can be somewhat alive

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bdbdb wrote

I started on Duolingo. Esperanto is simple enough for native European speakers to learn the grammar well and start building a vocabulary. As a supplement and partial dictionary I've been using this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1005837.Esperanto

It had many explanations, pronunciations, and exercises plus a mini dictionary in the back.

Other than that I like to translate small works or speechs and write letters. I'm not really involved locally as the Philadelphia association uses Facebook to coordinate, but I'd like to be.

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jadedctrl wrote

Mi ne estas anarkiisto, sed mi pensas ke Esperanto estas perfekta pro tiuj kialoj. Ankaŭ, ĝi estas tre facila, lernebla, simpla, kaj universa. Ideala! Venu al /f/esperanto, se vi scivolas pri ĝin. Ni ne mordas krokodilojn. :)

I'm not an ararchist, but I think that Esperanto's perfect for those reasons. Also, it is very easy to learn, simple, and universal. Ideal! Come to /f/esperanto, if you're interested. We don't bite! :)

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bdbdb wrote (edited )

Lol @ krokodilojn. Mi sxatas esperantistoj!

Edit: would it be "esperantistojn"?

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indi wrote

I read somewhere that "esperantisto" is wrong in any case because "-ist-" implies it's your job. I think the alternative suggested was "esperantano", to work logically with "Esperantio".

But if "esperantisto" was good enough for Zamenhof, I suppose that makes it legit.

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MrPotatoeHead wrote

It's a synthetic language that will likely never become as popular as it could have.

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[deleted] wrote

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bdbdb wrote

Generally the vocabulary is based upon European dialects, but the grammar and syntax has a more global scale. Even if one was to classify esperanto as Eurocentric it would only ever be very slightly so.

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[deleted] wrote

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bdbdb wrote

Like others said, Zamenhoff was a product of his time. His immediate goal with Esperanto was to rectify the language barriers that existed in the region now known as Vicegrad4. Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Slovakia. This is, again, from memory so it may not be perfectly recalled.

Esperanto is fun, too. Plus there's a website where other Esperantistoj will let you stay with them for free while traveling.

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libereco wrote

There's too much variety in human languages to try and make one language for all. Learning multiple languages is probably a more useful idea.

What if we had easy languages for all the biggest language families? That way most people would probably be able to learn more than one of such languages and international communication would be much easier (fulfilling Esperanto's goal).

Not only that, it would make it easier for example Europeans to learn natural Asian languages by first learning this Asian version of Esperanto. I heard that learning esperanto makes you learn other languages (at least European) way faster so I don't see any reason this couldn't be true.

Of course the complexity of creating such languages well and making them popular enough probably makes this almost impossible :/.

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jadedctrl wrote (edited )

Esperanto is a nice idea, but it's biggest failing is that it is based on European languages. It's linguistic imperialism at it's best :)

Yea, that's a pretty valid point-- but at this point, it's the best option we have for an international aux language. It already has a pretty large following, and splitting from it would further put a stake in the idea of a conlang being a prominent auxlang. (Not that it isn't already dead, but there's no need to kick the horse any further.)