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How artificial is Esperanto anyway? Posted by on Jun 4, 2013 in Esperanto Language

I always find it curious when people say that Esperanto isn’t interesting, because it’s artificial. The most prominent time I encountered this objection was during a visit of the European parliament building in Strasbourg (France), where many interpreter booths are set up to translate between the various EU languages. On the side, the tour guide asked me what organization I represented. I replied that I was with the World Esperanto Youth Organization. At this point, she looked at me in disgust and asked, “What? That artificial language?!”

Now, I don’t blame her; many people think this way. People can’t conceive that it’s possible to speak freely in such a language. At the time, I didn’t have a very good answer for her. Later it struck me. How artificial is speaking into a microphone and having someone in a special chamber translate your speech into another language, which then plays back on headphones to your listeners? Is this more artificial than speaking a planned language?

I remember my first experience speaking a “neutral” foreign language with someone who didn’t speak English. I was staying at a youth hostel in a shared 6-person room in Orlando and was surprised to find someone in my bed. So, I said, “Excuse me, you’re in my bed.” to which he replied something I couldn’t understand. So, I tried out my high school Spanish: “Estás en mi cama.” (You’re in my bed.) He immediately understood and moved to another bed. The next morning, I learned that he’s Brazilian, so his native language is Portuguese. I found it strange that this whole time we’re speaking in a language with all these exceptions, which require extra mental effort to conjugate verbs, etc, when we could be speaking an easier language, which was more logical. It’s amazing to note that I had these thoughts years before I heard about Esperanto!

The more I travel, the more this situation comes up. As a Russian woman recently asked me, “What’s the most spoken language in the world?” to which she answered, “Bad English.” And it’s true. People all over the world struggle speaking with each other in English, which has all kinds of crazy exceptions, which make it harder to focus on the content, rather than whether they should be saying “drank” or “drunk.”

The funny thing is that most people don’t realize what they really want. If you asked someone in the late 1800s, how they’d like to get around better, they’d say they wanted a faster horse! However, when I bought a car, no one objected to my purchase by saying, “What? That artificial horse?!” Now people in most parts of the world would consider you crazy if you bought a “natural” horse to get around town.

People see language as being one of the defining qualities that makes us human. But really, languages are tools for communication. Claude Piron touches on this well in his article: Psychological Reactions to Esperanto. In any case, I’m just as happy to speak an “artificial” language as I am to live in an artificial cave (apartment), fly in an artificial bird (airplane), or look at an artificial window (TV)… so in these cases, “artificial” could also mean “improved.” And after all that, I must say that I still feel pretty human!

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About the Author:Chuck Smith

I was born in the US, but Esperanto has led me all over the world. I started teaching myself Esperanto on a whim in 2001, not knowing how it would change my life. The timing couldn’t have been better; around that same time I discovered Wikipedia in it’s very early stages and launched the Esperanto version. When I decided to backpack through Europe, I found Esperanto speakers to host me. These connections led me to the Esperanto Youth Organization in Rotterdam, where I worked for a year, using Esperanto as my primary language. Though in recent years I’ve moved on to other endeavors like iOS development, I remain deeply engrained in the Esperanto community, and love keeping you informed of the latest news. The best thing that came from learning Esperanto has been the opportunity to connect with fellow speakers around the globe, so feel free to join in the conversation with a comment! I am now the founder and CTO of the social app Amikumu.


Comments:

  1. Malachi:

    Bravo sinjoro!

    I’m just starting into Esperanto and I love it. I’ve been schooled in Russian, German, Czech, Ancient Greek… None have been as instantly rewarding as Esperanto.

    As an amateur radio operator a sense of internationalism and good will prevails I only wish I had this tool in my bag years ago.

    Traveling abroad I landed in Prague with only a superficial understanding of Czech from a Pimsler tape set. I found very quickly that in university hub city like Prague everyone is from someplace else! What a benefit Esperanto would have been.

    It’s as artificial as anything engineered and so perhaps that is a better way to describe the origin. It is an engineered language, for the good of the world.

    Mi estas nova al la Esperanto lingvo.

    Ĝia la plej rekompencas lingvo mi studis.

  2. John SWAN:

    Mi estas malnovo Esperantist due. Mi lernas unue in 1949, kaj mi ankau travivis 86 jarojn. Bedaurinde mi ne havas kontactojn
    ofte kunekun aliaj Esperantoj parolantoj. Do, mi ne estas bone ce auskulti kaj paroladon nian lngvon.

  3. inga johanson:

    I work in a library. Most Swedish library put esperantobooks(if they have any) down and far away with a sign “Konstgjorda Språk”
    that is artificial languages. But you don’t find books about Klingon, Glossa or Europanto there. Not even the good book of Arika Okrent. And if you search in catalogue: Konstgjorda språk you get no hits, but if you search “esperanto” you get what you want, or better what they have.
    I just saw that Toronto Public Library are proud of 449 esperanto-books in their catalogue.

  4. David:

    As an amateur writer, I find it a very strange concept that one wouldn’t be able to express efficiently their full meaning or even express one’s meaning at all. In fact, there are words which exist in Esperanto for which we have no concept in English- not to mention the fact that new words can easily be fashioned.

    Kiel aŭtoro diletanta, estas koncepto stranga ke oni ne povus esprimi sin mem kompetente aŭ eĉ ke oni ne povus esprimi sin mem sen ajna signifo. Fakte, estas vortoj en Esperanto kiuj ne ekzistas en l’ angla- ankaŭ vortoj novaj estas facilfaritaj.

  5. Guillem:

    Vi amuze sed trafe priskribas la aferon: „artificial language, artificial cave (apartment), an artificial bird (airplane), artificial window (TV)”. Tre bona komparo!

    Mi devas tamen averti pri koncepta malĝustaĵo: «People see language as being one of the defining qualities that makes us human. But really, languages are tools for communication» Fakte, lingvoj —ĉiuj lingvoj—estas kaj identigiloj kaj komunikiloj *samtempe* (!). Almenaŭ tion asertas nuntempa lingvistiko. Tio klarigas kial ekzistas fenomenoj kiel raŭmismo kaj societoj kiaj «La Civito», kiuj sin vidas kiel aparta gento kies lingvo estas, precize, Esperanto.

  6. Adam:

    Some authors claim that Esperanto is not more artificial than such languages as Hochdeutch (official literary German), or Bokmal and Nynorsk (two official written veriaties of Norwegian), or (maybe?) Indonesian. The above mentioned languages were most often created in a similar way as Esperanto. One or more people took some most common „staff” from most undestandable or “intermediate” live dialects and created a version for public or widespread, standard (mostly literary) usage. After that the new language has been living and developing (more or less) like other ordinary “natural” languages. But quite often this new language (and in fact many other languages) is “artificially” modified or improved or steered by a kind of “authority body”. Look at French. It has its French Academy (Académie française). The Académie is France’s official authority on the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language. In fact it „artificially” tries to influence the evolution of this “natural” language.
    The same is with Esperanto. It has its founder, who took some natural “staff” from other living languages. Now Esperanto has its community (“natural” and even native users) and its Academy. And it develops through or by daily use of (by?) its community or “public”, and sometimes it is influenced by its Academy.
    With best greetings :)Cxion plej bonan 🙂

  7. Conor Bohannon:

    @ John Swan
    Ĝi estas la sama situacio por mi. Mi lernis Esperanton en 1989 kaj neniam renkontis alian Esperanto-parolanto en reala vivo. Ĉi tio estas vera problemo por esperantistoj en Usono.

  8. jixiang:

    A lot of important languages are more artificial then people imagine.

    What really makes the difference is whether there is a community of people who use the language in their daily lives. Although Esperanto can be used to express anything you want, I would agree that it suffers from a lack of slang and colourful expressions in certain areas, but that is simply because most of its speakers only use the language in certain limited contexts.

    If Esperanto were officially made the world’s second language and became more widely used, it would quickly become just as rich and colourful as any other language.