Esperanto Language Blog

Purism or Pluralism? Posted by on Jun 24, 2009 in Esperanto Language

Based on an insightful comment from Pascal Blondiau in regards to “krokodili” the other week, I find myself asking whether or not I want to see Esperanto evolve or not. Moreover, if the language needs to change, I wonder how we should go about changing it. Before you read any further, I highly recommend reading Pascal’s commentary. It is well argued, and I hadn’t considered many of his points before.

All set? Then let’s begin a new discussion!

We all want Esperanto be an international language, something that everyone can speak so that everyone may be heard and understood. Under the most ideal circumstances, people the world over would speak, use, and comprehend Esperanto. However, if the entire world spoke Esperanto, I can only assume that various native languages would creep into the vocabulary, producing words like “krokodili.” With this as the case, it isn’t a far stretch of the imagination to think that Esperanto would develop regional words that are spoken only in select places. After further divergence, one would end up with essentially different languages – thus defeating the purpose of a universal language!

The alternative would be to keep non-Esperanto words from entering the Esperanto vocabulary. This solution would ensure that Esperanto remains neutral (in theory) among the world’s native languages, and that new words wouldn’t be too cryptic for Esperantists. Unfortunately, I can see this approach having its own drawbacks. A rigid, purist method like this one risks stagnating the development of the language. Imagine how limited poetry would be, for example, if word usage was completely set in stone!

I can’t say there’s an easy solution to the problem of pluralism versus purism. Perhaps a balance between the two would be best, but I cannot say for sure. What do you all think? Where do you stand on the issue?

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  1. Johano:

    Of course a balance is what we’re after. Thanks to the Akademio and standard works like the Plena Ilustrita Vortaro, we have a standard to go by. The two aforementioned are conservative and are only likely to add a word if it gains significant, worldwide usage.

    Esperanto is unlikely to evolve, due to its being predominantly spoken as a second language—rarely as a first, and never (as far as I have seen) as the only first language of a child. And even native speakers will have to conform to be understood.

    People are free to use idioms that they or their native language use, but always at the risk of not being understood. If people want others to understand them, they better learn the language better! Since Esperanto is logical, it is not much of a problem to form expressions oneself to replace these idioms; since they are logical, they are liable to be understood.

  2. MJW:

    Nicely put, Hoss!

  3. Stilvoid:

    I think you’re forgetting that esperanto was designed to be everybody’s /second/ language. If everybody spoke esperanto, regional languages would still exist much in the way that professionals who learn english for international relations don’t drop their native tongue.

    Additionally, even if local vocabularies came about, that is no bad thing. That kind of thing happens in languages across the world. Take english for example, a scotsman and a texan could express the same idea without using any of the same words. The point though is that both would still understand the BBC world service 🙂

  4. Hoss:

    There are really two separate issues here: one is the question of influence from national languages; the other is the problem of dialect formation.

    Lexical influence from national tongues has never been a problem in Esperanto. After all, the entire lexicon of Esperanto is borrowed from other languages, and it has hungrily assimilated new words for over a century. In fact, most of the lexical entries in today’s dictionaries came into use well after Zamenhof’s death.

    New words are adopted according to need, and less useful words disappear. This evolutionary process only makes the language more useful. Even if we wanted to, there’s no way we could stop it.

    Does this evolution create dialects, however? No, not really. Dialects form in isolated communities; Esperanto, by contrast, is a global phenomenon.

    Think about modern English. New words are coined all the time in out-of-the-way places, but if they’re sufficiently catchy, they’ll spread. Kids in Lahore know hiphop slang coined in Los Angeles, for example.

    Esperanto works the same way. Local groups have their own slang, but for international communication, new terms either spread because they’re internationally useful, or they die out because they’re not.

    So it’s reasonable to think that there’s nothing to worry about; the more widespread Esperanto becomes, the less significant the danger will be of dialecticization. If a group of Esperantists were to go live on a remote island, however, without communications with the rest of the world for a century or two… then their descendants might have some problems communicating with the rest of the world.

  5. Goberiko:

    There is a wrong assumption at start: Esperanto is a living language, hence it evolves. For instance, pioneers said “lingvo internacia” on the basis of French while nowadays people say “internacia lingvo” on the basis of English. If you are fluent in Esperanto and you read Zamenhof’s writings or any writing before the Budapest epoque, you will find some archaisms – a good reading about this is the first issues of La Esperantisto, before 1905. The evolution of Esperanto is a matter of fact.

    Of course, there is a very conservative bias among the community of speakers, which acts as a language planning force of stabilization. Furthermore, Esperanto is a language of a minority, so the risk of falling into non-mutual dialects is really fictious.

    No one knows what would happen to a human language spreading as a the official auxiliary L2 for mankind. However, the spreading of English now gives us some cues. Essentially, there are two norms, the General American and the Standard British, for semplicity the CNN and the BBC norms: even so, English speakers can understand one the others, more or less. Why should the situation be worse of Esperanto, which does not have any army (i.e., state) behind?

  6. inga.johansson:

    I think you now and then could read and enjoy this blog:

  7. Zein:

    Somebody wrote this about Esperanto