Esperanto Language Blog

Linguistic Relativity and Esperanto Posted by on Jan 29, 2010 in Esperanto Language

Have you ever heard of the philosophical concept of linguistic relativity? If not, there’s the possibility that you’ve already thought about it yourself! Come to think of it, according to the theory, you’ve been thinking about it your whole life, probably without realizing it. According to the theory, the thoughts you are capable of thinking are heavily influenced by your first language. It’s a rather intuitive concept, in my opinion. If you were to compare the way color is expressed in English and in Russian, for example, you might notice an extreme difference in phrasing. In English, we say “the sky is blue.” In Russian, the literal translation of the Russian equivalent is to say “the sky blues.” That is to say, there is a verb devoted to being a particular color. Imagine how much either language alters your perception of the world!

It makes me wonder what implications Esperanto could have as an artificial language. Since most of us learn it as a second language (or so I figure), we already have our own linguistic biases when we turn to Esperanto. What of the person who learns Esperanto as a first language? How profoundly must it affect someone’s way of thinking, to think in a manner that is constructed – planned, in effect – by another human being?

Thinkers have already judged Esperanto in regards to linguistic relativity. The brilliant George Orwell was said to have drawn the inspiration for the totalitarian language “newspeak” in his novel 1984 from his experiences with Esperanto. Clearly a pessimistic interpretation, wouldn’t you say?

What do you think? How could Esperanto as a native language influence one’s thinking? Could it? Does it perhaps defeat the purpose of Esperanto to learn it as a first language?

Keep learning Esperanto with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Transparent Language

Transparent Language is a leading provider of best-practice language learning software for consumers, government agencies, educational institutions, and businesses. We want everyone to love learning language as much as we do, so we provide a large offering of free resources and social media communities to help you do just that!


  1. garic:

    It’s an attractive idea, and it really seems to appeal to non-linguists, for some reason. Within linguistics, however, it’s rather controversial, and I’m afraid that the majority view (backed up by empirical research) is against there being any significant effect of language structure on cognitive structure. That said, there’s been a renewal of interest recently, and a few figures claim to have found evidence for an effect, albeit in a rather weaker form than was once believed. You may find the work of Lera Boroditsky interesting ( A particularly good place to start is this one:

    As for Russian, by the way, both ways of saying things are actually possible, as they are in Esperanto (la cxielo estas blua; la cxielo bluas). A perhaps more interesting fact about Russian in this regard is that it divides up the colour spectrum differently from English (and Esperanto), since it has two words for blue. There’s a relevant paper – on which Boroditsky was one author – here:

  2. WC:

    I once read that someone said ‘Anyone who speaks Esperanto has taken the trouble to learn at least 2 languages, so you’re meeting that person half-way.’ Obviously, native speakers are the exception to this. So if you think that is the Esperanto philosophy, then yes… It does violate it.

    As for Newspeak, when I started learning Esperanto, it was one of the first things I thought of. I suppose you could look at it negatively like that, or you could see that Newspeak was designed to dumb-down the masses so that their first language was so simple they couldn’t think what the government didn’t want them to, and that Esperanto was designed to educate the masses enough to speak to people they couldn’t otherwise. They both use a simplified language, but as they say ‘form follows function’ and each was shaped to their specific purpose and couldn’t be used effectively for the opposite purpose.

  3. Gunnar Gällmo:

    Orwell may partly have been inspirated by Esperanto (he was related to Lanti), but probably more by Basic English, which he had himself promoted 1942-1944; see

  4. inga.johansson:

    I once heard about a man who grew up with both esperanto and english and when he came to school he spelled the english words with the rules of spelling esperanto and surprised his teacher.

  5. Andrew Beals:

    No, not Esperanto, but Basic English.

    “W.J. West has uncovered a great mass of Orwell material–long suspected but never confirmed to exist–filed under wrong headings in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Archives. Besides providing us with an intriguing story of literary archaeology, West’s find does add significantly to our knowledge of the conditions Orwell worked under during the three years he spent at the BBC.


    West usefully confirms that Basic English influenced the creation of Newspeak in 1984; […]”

  6. Andrew:

    I often wonder if latin was originally a planed language.

  7. Penny Vos:

    Thanks for the Russian example!
    Isn’t it cool that Esp-o allows for both:
    “La ĉielo estas blua” and
    “La ĉielo bluas”?!