How artificial is Esperanto anyway? Posted by Chuck Smith 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!