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Klingon Versus Esperanto: A Lesson in the Spontaneous Order

So the Wall Street Journal has one of their legendary "B-heds" on the front page today about a drama troupe that has produced a version of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol . . . in Klingon.  The story is full of fun tidbits such as how the Klingon Dictionary produced as a promotion for the 1984 installment in the Star Trek movie series has sold 300,000 copies and gone through 20 printings.  There's even a Klingon Language Institute in Pennsylvania.  (Does the civil rights community know this?  Another faction in need of affirmative action?--Ed.  Don't give them any ideas. . .)

Contrast the durability of Klingon with the other famous artificial language: Esperanto.  Back in my California days I liked to drop in on Earth Day fairs just for grins, and you could always count on the most forlorn table--even less traffic than the tables for home-made, hemp-related cancer cure remedies--was the table for the World Esperanto Association (which apparently doesn't even have a website).  Esperanto was one of those Progressive enthusiasms that made perfect sense to the "rationalists"--a universal second language that everyone could learn easily.  Well, it never caught on, and English has become the universal second language of the world.

So what to make of a language that caught on and has popularity without ever intending it, while the "rational" project of Esperanto got nowhere?  Another lesson in the unplanned, spontaneous order, if you ask me.

The other lesson here is the towering genius of William Shatner.  As connoisseurs of Star Trek IV know, he spoke a line of two of Klingon in the film.  But recall, too, that the only feature film ever made in Esperanto, the 1965 shlock-horror film Incubus, starred . . . yup, William Shatner.  Which means Shatner is the only actor who has ever starred in movies with two made-up languages.  That is true greatness.
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Discussions - 38 Comments

I'm sorry. There are some errors of fact here. Klingon is a tiny insignificant speck compared to the giant of Esperanto.

The story of Esperanto is a remarkable success story. Despite being used by a grass-roots speaker population with no state or big-business support, this language continues to be used for a whole range of purposes, attracting young learners.

And of course Universala Esperanto- Asocio (the World Esperanto Association) with full time staff based in the Netherlands does have a website. Go to:

http://www.uea.org/

It's quite frightening that people want to promote ignorance of Esperanto.

Esperanto has representation at the United Nations. Does Klingon ? That's not a rhetorical question btw.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMArwK3-eJg&p=7F2FB4FDD88F12CF&index=4&playnext=5

Mr. Chapman, that is fascinating. Do you have any statistics on how many speakers of the international language, Esperanto, there are in the world? As opposed to, say, English-speakers? I see that your website says "the number of people with some knowledge of Esperanto is in the hundreds of thousands and possibly millions. " and I wondered how you know?

Wikipedia has a Wiki based on Esparanto:

http://eo.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikipedio:%C4%88efpa%C4%9Do

And according to Wikipedia, the number of articles authored in Esparanto is 22nd on the list:

http://eo.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikipedio:Internacia_Vikipedio

I find creepy most efforts to create some man-made device to promote universal harmony. I find the intent naive to begin with. And I can't help but believe it will, sooner or later, become a control mechanism.

The U.N. being one such device that has morphed into something quite different from its original intent. All government bureaucracies do over time. The Catholic Church in many ways fits that mold. So too do many Protestant churches, including evangelical and "mega" churches.

The urge by man to control his fellow man is universal and sweeps across all time. The Pharisees corrupted the Mosaic Law into a set of stifling rules. The utopian vision of communism never lived up to its hope. A persistent problem in churches today is strife over control of such mundane things as the choice of music.

Is Esparanto an evil plague upon mankind? No. Do advocates of Esparanto harbor in their minds a desire to see it used for purposes of control? Yes, I believe they do.

Curious about the giant Esperanto, which of course we cannot compare to Klingon; even on a day of forced rest, I do not want to spend a lot of time investigating this question. I went to Wikipedia which puts the not-particularly-international-language, Hungarian, at 13 million speakers.

Wikipedia puts the low-ball estimate of your language at 10,000. Even that seems high to me. "Native speakers: 200-1000." I am actually impressed that there are native speakers. Who the heck do you guys who run the website speak besides each other?

Damn, people, we already have a universal language -- ENGLISH! It's the new Latin, and everybody who's anybody in business, government, or science speaks and writes it (Putin and the French Prime Minister de jour excepted, I guess). Honestly, it is the world's overwhelming second language. Mevyap!!

It's good to take part in a healthy debate. Kate asks about the number of Esperanto speakers compared to the number of English speakers. There is no way to know precisely how many speak Esperanto. We can arrive at estimates based on membership of associations and subscriptionsto publications in the language, but it is possible to use Esperanto without joining anything or subscribing to a periodical. By the way, even official estimates by national governments of speakers need to be examined. There are sometimes speakers of a language outside a national boundary, as is the case of Hungarian, for example. There are residents of the USA and the UK who live out their lives without using English.

Esperanto hasn't yet gained the recognition it deserves. However, all things considered, it has actually done amazingly well. In just over 120 years, it has managed to grow from a drawing-board project with just one originator in one country to a complete and living natural language with around 2,000,000 speakers in over 120 countries and a rich literature and cosmopolitan culture, with little or no official backing. It hasn't taken the world by storm - yet - but it's slowly but surely moving in that direction, with the Internet giving it a significant boost in recent years.

Kate also asked: "Who the heck do you guys who run the website speak besides each other?"

You can speak Esperanto with anyone who wants to speak it to you. Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I've made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there's the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. Over recent years I have had guided tours of Berlin, Douala and Milan in this planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I've discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. There's nothing "creepy" about it. I recommend it, not just as an ideal but as a very practical way to overcome language barriers.

Back to Wikipedia, which describes English the first language of 309–400 million people. To Redwald's point, it is the second language of somewhere between 199 million and1.4 billion, with and overall speaking community of between 500 million (surely too low) and 1.8 billion people. Why wouldn't we simply expand on that base and use English all over the world?

Hello again, Kate

I'm not opposed to anyone learning English if they want. It is fairly widespread but far from universal. However, Esperanto was specifically designed as a second language and lacks the irregularities (geese / goose, go / went, bough / cough ...) which characterise English. The success rate of learning English is fairly low. Someone who says "I learn English seven years" cannot tell me the way to the bus station. Indeed, most foreign learners of English would not be able top contribute to this discussion.

There seems to be an incredibly large number of English-speakers in the world for the language to be so difficult to learn. I am not saying that all who speak the language speak it well. George Bernard Shaw complains about that in Pygmalion; even native speakers can be limited and get by. Most people in America get by with very limited vocabularies; I have met young men whose most-used descriptive is the "f" word, which they apply to everything.

Therefore, I suppose the success rate depends on what you mean by "success." Somehow, people all over the world get by with what English they have. Is there a nation in the world where English is not spoken?

English has an ever-expanding vocabulary. It absorbs other languages' words into its vocabulary and neologisms bloom by the season. I learn new words all the time, without even trying and teach them, too, accidentally dropping words other people don't know into conversations and I am referring to conversing with native-speakers.

Oxford dictionary says it currently has about a quarter of a million distinct words. No wonder people have a hard time learning the whole language. The variety of words we have available to us offers a great flexibility of expression for those.

How flexible is Esperanto? You mention a rich literature in that language. Is any of it in English translation?

Well, here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5swk95Fg1fM

It sounds like a mishmash of Spanish and German

Any language can be called a mishmash.

Why pick on Esperanto ?

Hitler picked on Esperanto speakers as well, as you probably know. He sent speakers of the language to the gas chambers, for no other reason other than they spoke Esperanto.

I tnk txtN wl outpace esperanto.

but...Agrabla estas gasto, se ne longe li restas.

I don't really know esperanto but I like translating it and then seeing how close I am.

I actually translated:

Agrabla estas gasto, se ne longe li restas. (from Lernu)

Agreable is he who is guest, for he no longer rests.

Then translate for common sense....It is agreable to have a guest if he does not overstay his welcome.

If you know english, used to be fluent in french, know a little spanish, can do a bit of texting, then I think you can translate esperanto.

Also as an inside tip I think folks who want to do boarder patrol but do not know spanish should learn esperanto.

Before going to law school I considered it, but did not know how to study for an artificial language. I stayed up all night screwing around with esperanto on Lernu and scored a 99 on the boarder patrol exam despite being sleep deprived (I figured I had butchered the entire test, because I was out on my ass guessing like mad, and eliminating the most improbable answers...I completed the test in 30 minutes then from reading english context I reversed engineered the least likely answers at the beginning.)

Also from French and Iraqi experience(people trying to communicate in english) I think you can communicate with facial expressions and hand gestures.

So I am not sure it wasn't test taking skills, or possibly even an insane dabbling with symbolic logic that helped me.

Then again after taking the test and they dismissed everyone who failed I was sitting talking to someone whose english was weaker, but who was hispanic and who spoke spanish fluently, and somehow his score on the spanish test (the other option other than artificial language) gave him a lower point total.

So I wondered how does this test measure the ability to learn spanish without becomming an independent measure of how well it can be spoken?

Then while studying law for exams, I noticed a chinese engineering major neighboor, who wasn't actually studying engineering or math, but who was simply using a computer to translate chinese into english.

So I asked him: What is your major?

Engineering (so stereotypical, but true...it was either that or pharmacy.)

What are you doing?

Studying for Exams.(duh)

Now granted my studying was more Hornbook than statute or caselaw...but this seems more law related than studying English(essentially) is to engineering.

So I asked him if he knew how a catalytic converter worked.

Yes.

I asked him, if Chinese was like Oxygen.

He looked at me weird.

Too much Chinese is bad, means lost horsepower. English is like fuel. If you have strong enough English you can combust your Chinese knowlege, then your exaust is carbon dioxide and water and this means an A.

Your degree in Enginnering, but you learning English!

Reductio ad Hitlerum! It's been weeks since we had a good one. No, I didn't know that Hitler sent Esperanto speakers to the gas chambers. Was it a crime? We can hardly call it genocide.

Brian Barker, no one wants to send you to gas chambers. We just don't understand the appeal of Esperanto. It seems to me the Velveeta of languages and I just don't see the appeal.

Klingon? Meh.

Now Romulans are a different matter.

http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/memoryalpha/en/images/thumb/a/af/RomulanCommander2268.jpg/789px-RomulanCommander2268.jpg

Don't really care what language she speaks.

It should be remembered that the Esperanto Movement was not just about a universal language. It was (is?) a globalist concept which also embraced, as a central tenet, a Buddhist style "religion"... also tinkered together from this and that. It's true that, in its early days, it had a number of adherents. It's also true that the language is much less inflected than English and easier to learn. For that same reason, however, it lacks the expressiveness and flexibility of English, both in terms of communication and literature. English is not the language of Shakespeare for no reason! For strictly communicatory purposes (such as in air travel) Basic English exists. Personally- rather than having to accept the paganism and globalism inherent in Esperanto- I'd prefer Klingon! It carries over well into "Hamlet"!!

So, 2 million Esperanto speakers compared to 1.4 billion English speakers. Yea, that's a horse race!

Language can't be planned, anymore than religion or custom can be planned -- shouldn't conservatives above all people know this? Esperanto is a mere dalliance of overly-educated people compared to the robust, red-blooded story of international English. And the reason English is the globe-striding giant it is stems from 1) its easy incorporation of vocabulary, 2) the tolerance of its native speakers, and 3) the heritage effect of the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire. Bill Gates knew this lesson -- if you get there first with something that works, it doesn't have to be the best. Ultimately, it will crowd out most competitors through the sunken investment effect. English is very much like Windows in this regard. 'Taint perfect, but it'll do, and it sure beats the hell out of Chinese (or German, or French) for borrow-ability.

Why pick on Esperanto ?

Parce que si vous avez les heurs, vous deviez etudier le francais.

and it sure beats the hell out of Chinese (or German, or French) for borrow-ability.

Dunno. It seems to me we've been borrowing an awful lot from China and Germany in recent years.

Wait a minute...

Kate claims that Wikipedia enumerates "native" speakers of Esperanto. So, from what part of the world do the Esperantans come? Is there a nation (Esperantonia?) where these "native speakers" reside?

Even more interestingly, for all the riled-up Esperanto supporters who arrived here, how come none of you actually commented in your "native" language?

Gort...Klaatu barada nikto!

Joe Doughtery, check my claim! Don in AZ offers the link to the Wikipedia article, above. Don't you wonder who the contributors are? I just couldn't help pointing it out, wondering, as you do, who the "native speakers" might be.

There was a thread on here some months ago wherein we were discussing how language works; does it use us or do we use it was (briefly) the argument.

I am wrong. I went to this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

Steven: Let me point some slight errors.

To speak Esperanto has nothing to do with embracing a special religion. There are Esperantists from every religion and without one. Zamenhof's religious views were a bit more complex, than my command of English allow me to explain, but that has never been a component of the Esperanto movement.

Esperanto is indeed very flexible and expressive, for the possibilities to form new words from basic roots. There is a very interesting original literature in Esperanto. Obviously, having less speakers and less age than English means that there are less possibilities to have a Shakespeare, but Esperanto literature is comparable to that of less spoken languages.

I've read Shakespeare in Spanish and in Esperanto, and, believe me, I prefer Zamenhof's translation of Hamlet (in verse!) to the two in Spanish I read

I would just like to point out that after the allies liberated Nazi-occupied Europe in 1945, the number of Klingon speakers in the liberated areas was zero.
All you closet neo-Nazi sympathizers may belittle Klingon, but history has shown that Himmler, Eichmann, etc couldn't kill it

Swahili anyone?

I responded to your comment, with a link about native speakers of Esperanto. It seems that it is still awaiting moderation. You may copy this URL: http://bit.ly/denaska

Why haven´t we written in Esperanto? Nu, mi ja povus tion fari senprobleme, sed vi komprenus preskaŭ nenion, kaj ni ne povus diskuti kun vi ;)

Steve,

Your comparison of Klingon and Esperanto contains... well, a few misconceptions. Allow me to address them.

Contrast the durability of Klingon with the other famous artificial language: Esperanto.

Esperanto has been in continuous and constantly growing existence for over 123 years; Klingon, for 26.

Klingon is the epitome of artificial, in intent, design, control and usage: its movie-studio sponsor commissioned its creation to serve as the fictional language of a fictional race in a fictional setting; its Ph.D.-linguist creator deliberately bucked the trends in natural languages to make it patently alien; its sponsor holds the copyright to the language, while its creator remains the sole recognized arbiter of Klingon linguistic canon; and except by literally a handful of speakers, it is used essentially as role-playing decor, not primarily as a linguistic communication vehicle. Esperanto is quite the opposite: its oculist inventor meant for it from the beginning to be used the way other natural languages are used; he borrowed its features from the several ethnic languages he knew, both grammar and vocabulary; shortly after publishing the language, he set it free, relinquishing all claims to and control over it, making its community of speakers its sole proprietor and arbiter and the sole director of its evolution; and it is actually used, today, in every facet of human life in every way one would expect a real, living natural language to be used.

Back in my California days I liked to drop in on Earth Day fairs just for grins, and you could always count on the most forlorn table--even less traffic than the tables for home-made, hemp-related cancer cure remedies--was the table for the World Esperanto Association (which apparently doesn't even have a website).

A valid comparison would stack apples against apples, not oranges. As defense exhibits for Klingon, you put forth a drama troupe, a classic heart-warming play, a dictionary and a language institute; for Esperanto, you advance one forsaken stand in a marginalized exhibition. Esperanto has everything you attribute to Klingon, and more, so why not compare those? It's easy to rig an argument if you compare the best of one thing against the worst of another.

"Apparently" should be a hint that you might want to verify your information before publishing it. By the way, the URL of the World Esperanto Association is http://www.uea.org .

Esperanto was one of those Progressive enthusiasms that made perfect sense to the "rationalists" -- a universal second language that everyone could learn easily.

"Esperanto is one of those Conservative enthusiasms that make perfect sense to the "pragmatists" -- a common second language that everyone could learn easily."

Esperanto is a language, not a political party or a philosophy. Political affiliation and philosophy are those of its speakers. Yes, it has attracted and continues to attract those with a more liberal bent, but it has also attracted and continues to attract those at the other end of the spectrum. Movements - yes, plural - have risen and fallen or continue to exist around Esperanto, with a wide range of philosophies. A common, easily learned second language can be seen as a boon by those who dream of a perfect, egalitarian world, but it can also be seen as a boon by those who dream of a world that frees each person to pursue his or her dreams and realize his or her own potential. An interesting factlet from early Esperanto history is that when it started to catch on in France, its main philosophical draw was as a boost to capitalism. Its inventor and many east-European Esperanto speakers, while not opposed to using Esperanto for financial gain, felt that it would be a tragedy if it were limited to lucrative ends, and insisted that the nascent Esperanto community not lose sight of loftier humanitarian ideals such as communication, brotherhood, unity and peace. The World Esperanto Association grew out of a compromise between these two poles of Esperantodom. Today, the Esperanto community, a couple of million speakers and growing from over 120 countries, is as diverse politically, religiously, culturally, linguistically and philosophically as the world itself.

Well, it never caught on, and English has become the universal second language of the world.

But it hasn't failed, either. Esperanto is a work in progress. Since being set free, it has evolved and grown through constant use in every facet of life into the real, complete, living natural language it is today. The conservative forces of international usage and non-isolation have kept it easy-to-use, stable and unified. It has a solidly established community of competent speakers to prove that it not only is capable of serving as a low-cost international auxiliary language, but that it actually is so used. What Esperanto has succeeded in doing is to show that it works. The remaining step is to expand the user base, which is currently under way. If it continues to grow long enough, a critical mass will be reached where people will start to learn Esperanto simply because enough other people already know and use it, and widespread knowledge of Esperanto would not be far behind. Will that point ever be reached? No one knows, but it is currently headed in that direction. Both Arabic numerals and the metric system took much longer than 123 years to catch on, let alone become universal. It's just too soon to tell.

No one knows for sure exactly how many people in the world speak English, but estimates seem to put it at somewhere between 20% and 25% of the world's population. The corrollary is that 75% to 80% of the world speaks no English whatsoever - hardly a universal second language. And among those who do speak it, most speak it poorly - not really a glowing endorsement for a "universal" second language.

So what to make of a language that caught on and has popularity without ever intending it, while the "rational" project of Esperanto got nowhere? Another lesson in the unplanned, spontaneous order, if you ask me.

Regarding Klingon, what has gained popularity is the role-playing subculture that has grown up around the language, not the language itself. Very few people actually speak it competently, let alone use it for day-to-day communication. The Klingon speakers capable of maintaining an intelligent conversation on a wide variety of topics number in the couple of dozen.

The objective with Esperanto was not a rational, philosophical, perfect language, but rather one that works both as an international auxiliary language and a regular, run-of-the-mill language, and is easy to learn for everyone. This it has achieved, with ease of learning extending to all, even non-Indo-Europeans (China, Japan and Korea, for instance, are current areas of high Esperanto growth). As mentioned above, very early in its existence, it was set free, left to the sole whims of the community of speakers, from which point it was subject to the forces of spontaneous order in all their glory.

Kate,

You ask some excellent questions and make an honest attempt to understand Esperanto. Please allow me to address your questions here. Although I appear to respond to your most recent comment, I am responding here to all your questions.

The Wikipedia article on Esperanto lists various number-of-speaker estimates, differing in both their types and their reliability. The two types of estimates are number of native speakers and total number of (competent) speakers, native or not. Native Esperanto speakers are people who learned it as their first language at home, with parents who either have Esperanto as their sole common language, or who have another common language but choose to speak Esperanto at home out of principle. There is not a huge amount of variation in the estimates of the number of native speakers, which fall between 1000 and 2000.

The estimates of the total number of Esperanto speakers, however, has a bit more variation, and their reliability varies just as much. The most scientific estimate to date was put forth by the (late) Sidney S. Culbert, sociolinguist from the University of Washington, Esperantist, and longtime supplier of language number-of-speaker figures for the World Almanac and Book of Facts. We don't have all the details on his methods, but we do know they involved tracking down Esperanto speakers, visiting the countries in which they lived and interviewing them in person. We also know he had a well-defined measure of "competent speaker": FSI level 3, roughly "able to function in a professional environment". The first figure he submitted was published by the World Almanac as 1,000,000 (the World Almanac rounds number-of-speaker figures off to the nearest million). The latest figure published in the Almanac before he passed away was 2,000,000 speakers. Other figures in the Wikipedia article are rougher approximations; for instance, the set of figures that increase by a factor of 10 from one level of competence to the next are finger-in-the-wind estimates - informed by experience, but not backed up by rigorous scientific investigation (I know because I contacted the author of these figures about them). While, as mentioned here before, no one knows for sure exactly how many Esperanto speakers there are, I usually put forth the 2,000,000-speaker figure, as it is the most scientific one currently available. If that seems high to you, ask yourself this question: how would you estimate the number of speakers of any other lesser-spoken non-national language about which you know almost nothing except the name - say, Chuvash, Gbaya or Occitan? If someone advanced a number, on what grounds could you object?

Esperanto was meant to serve primarily as a second language, and that is certainly the case today. If you read the preceding paragraphs, you'll see that the vast majority of Esperanto speakers are non-natives, on the order of 99.9%. Esperanto is easy enough to learn and master that you don't have to be a native to be a competent speaker, of whom there are more than enough with whom to speak in Esperanto. It's also easy enough, without sacrificing expressiveness, that non-natives are more than competent enough to write and maintain articles for the Esperanto version of Wikipedia.

Nobody has claimed that 2,000,000 speakers is a huge number. Compared to the number of competent Klingon speakers - who number in the very low dozens - yes, but compared to the population of the world, or the number of English speakers, no. As I mention in an earlier comment, Esperanto is not a failure just because it hasn't (yet) taken the world by storm. It hasn't achieved its final success of ubiquity yet, but it is (currently, at least) heading in that direction. Where Esperanto is at now is that it has proven and established itself; it has shown, beyond a shadow of doubt, by actually functioning like every other living, natural language and actually being used as an easy-to-learn yet real and working international auxiliary language, that if called upon to do so, it could function as such for the entire world. Not as a replacement, but as a common second language. In that, it has succeeded admirably. What remains is to expand its user base, which is currently happening, probably at a few percent per year.

The problem with English as an international auxiliary language is its difficulty. Yes, its grammar is relatively simple, but there is much more to a language than just its grammar. Where English gets hard is in just about everything else. Its spelling system is anything but a system. Even if spelling were phonetic, its sound system is extremely complex, with a multitude of difficult-to-distinguish and difficult-to-reproduce vowels and diphthongs. The worst, though, is the vocabulary, actually the vocabularies of two languages irregularly cobbled together and chock-laden with idioms at every turn. English starts out easy, but gets progressively more difficult, as idioms start to kick in, becoming very difficult to master. So why do so many speak English? It is because English has become, not just in Europe, but worldwide, a language of prestige and necessity. Unfortunately, the numbers say nothing of the cost of getting there. Apart from a very small minority of gifted students and students fortunate enough to immerse themselves in English, three results tend to predominate: the student obtains satisfactory results after thousands of hours of study and the expenditure of large sums of money - time and money that could have been spent on other endeavors; the student makes the same investment, for only mediocre results; or the student does not make the investment, for very meager results. People who learn English are either being saddled with huge opportunity costs, or are being excluded from the world economy. Expanding the base only accentuates this trend.

Where Esperanto differs is in its simplicity, logic and regularity at every level, without sacrificing expressiveness. The grammar has no exceptions. Spelling is completely phonetic, and the sound system is relatively simple, especially the vowels. The vocabulary has almost no idioms. And all rules are completely generalizable. For instance, in English, a number of adverbs can be formed by adding -ly to an adjective; in Esperanto, any word can be turned into an adverb by adding -e, even if the resulting adverb has no direct equivalent in English. Another example: in English, compound words can be formed with a certain degree of ease, but with poorly defined limits and often unpredictable results; in Esperanto, anything can be compounded, and the resulting word means exactly the sum of its parts. The elements of Esperanto grammar and vocabulary can be assembled like Lego blocks with almost total freedom; words can literally be created on the fly with total confidence. This makes Esperanto both easy to learn and use, and very flexible and expressive. English has a total vocabulary of around a million words, of which even educated natives know in the neighborhood of 40,000 or 50,000; Esperanto has about 20,000 roots, which can be combined freely to form far more than a million words, and of which just a few thousand roots will give the same expressive power as 40,000 or 50,000 words in English.

One thing I hope comes through in the above is that Esperanto is anything but Velveeta. It's the real thing, a full, complete, expressive, living natural language. The world's literary masterpieces have been translated into Esperanto, and thousands of original literary works have been written. People use Esperanto for everything one would use any other language - they just do it at a lower cost. The best way to understand that is not to take my word for it, but to see for yourself by learning Esperanto. A good starting place is http://www.lernu.net .

Even more interestingly, for all the riled-up Esperanto supporters who arrived here, how come none of you actually commented in your "native" language?

Mi ne ĉagrenas pro la malveraĵoj diritaj ĉi tie, sed mi ja deziras ĝustigi, pravigi kaj komprenigi. Se vi preferas, ni povas respondi ĉilingve, sed kiel rimarkigis Tonjo, vi komprenos iometon aŭ nenion, do kia utilo estas fari tion? Mi ankaŭ preterdiru, ke mi ne estas ĉilingva denaskulo.

Man, that even looks ugly...as ugly as Klingonese! Give me good ol' English, mate!

La beleco enadas la rigardantan okulon, belfarado estas belestado, montranto per fingro montras sin per tri, ktp.

It should be remembered that the Esperanto Movement was not just about a universal language. It was (is?) a globalist concept which also embraced, as a central tenet, a Buddhist style "religion"... also tinkered together from this and that.

Esperanto's inventor had certain ideas that could be perceived as having a globalist leaning, but he wasn't as globalist as many seem to think he was. He stated in no uncertain terms that people should speak whatever language and profess whatever language they pleased. What he opposed was defining nations as belonging to this or that ethnic group, language or religion - instead, he felt nations belong to all their inhabitants, not just the proprietor ethnic group, language and/or religion. He never said anything about dissolving borders, or about one world language or religion, or about elevating the status of government in any way.

He codified his ideas into a philosophy - some might call it a religion - based on the teachings of 1st-centrury Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder, that he first called Hillelism then, when it failed to catch on, later rebranded as Homaranismo (roughly translated, "Mankindism"). It still didn't catch on. While some elements of his language philosophy are part of the Esperanto movement(s), Homaranismo remains little more than a footnote of Esperanto history.

The language Esperanto and the philosophy Homaranismo are two very distinct things.

It's true that, in its early days, it had a number of adherents.

Again, Homaranismo is very distinct from Esperanto. If you're talking about Homaranismo, it never really caught on. If you're talking about Esperanto, growth was brisk in the beginning, then tempered down somewhat. While it has had periods of persecution, notably in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Franquista Spain, for a while in Maoist China, and even under Joseph McCarthy in the U.S., it has continued to grow since the beginning. Growth has picked up again since the advent of the Internet, and is solid in places like China, Brazil and parts of Africa.

It's also true that the language is much less inflected than English and easier to learn.

Agreed...

For that same reason, however, it lacks the expressiveness and flexibility of English, both in terms of communication and literature.

Utterly baseless conjecture. Simple does not imply simplistic; Esperanto is as full and expressive as any other language. Anything you can say in English or any other ethnic language, you can say as clearly and easily - often more easily - in Esperanto. One of the first things its inventor did with his new language was to translate masterpieces of world literature into Esperanto to root out and correct flaws and shortcomings. That tradition continued unfettered, with tens of thousands of Esperanto books, equally translations and original works.

English is not the language of Shakespeare for no reason!

Uhh... because Shakespeare was English??? :-)

Esperanto has its stars as well. You are just not aware of them.

For strictly communicatory purposes (such as in air travel) Basic English exists.

As a lobotomized form of the language, unsuitable for real communication. Esperanto can be learned much more quickly than even Basic English, but you get a complete language.

Personally- rather than having to accept the paganism and globalism inherent in Esperanto- I'd prefer Klingon! It carries over well into "Hamlet"!!

I gather from your comment about Hamlet that you are a fluent reader of Klingon and therefore qualified to comment on the quality of the Klingon translation of Hamlet.

There is no paganism nor globalism - or any other kind of -ism - inherent in Esperanto. Opinions and convictions are those of each one of the couple of million Esperanto speakers, not the language. Those opinions and convictions span the gamut in all dimensions.

So, 2 million Esperanto speakers compared to 1.4 billion English speakers. Yea, that's a horse race!

See my comments above. Esperanto started with just one speaker 123 years ago, English has been around for much, much longer and (to the extent you can apply the term) started with far more than on speaker. Esperanto started far behind English but is running a strong race (for now, at least).

Language can't be planned, anymore than religion or custom can be planned -- shouldn't conservatives above all people know this?

Esperanto is far from the only successful planned language. Modern Hebrew, Nynorsk Norwegian, High German and Bahasa Indonesia are all examples of modern ethnic languages that started out as the language projects of an individual or a planning committee. What all these languages - including Esperanto - have in common as a crucial element of their success, is that at some point in their development, they were set free to their respective communities. It wasn't until then that they became bona fide living languages.

Esperanto is a mere dalliance of overly-educated people compared to the robust, red-blooded story of international English.

Esperanto is a full-blown living, natural language used by real people (not just intellectuals) for real communication in real life (not just dalliance). Esperanto is just as robust and red-blooded as any other language. Learn it (http://www.lernu.net), use it, and see.

And the reason English is the globe-striding giant it is stems from 1) its easy incorporation of vocabulary, 2) the tolerance of its native speakers, and 3) the heritage effect of the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire.

English is a globe-striding giant because circumstances have endowed it with prestige and indispensibility. People outside the Anglosphere learn it becausse they have to. The swelling of English's vocabulary is making it harder to learn, not easier. Native English(es) and International English are distinct dialects; native speakers make few concessions to non-natives. The Industrial Revolution as a heritage is not specific to English.

I agree about the effect of the British Empire.

Bill Gates knew this lesson -- if you get there first with something that works, it doesn't have to be the best. Ultimately, it will crowd out most competitors through the sunken investment effect.

Only if the cost-benefit ratio is relatively similar for all competitors. But what happens when a competitor comes along that offers the same features at a much lower cost? Eventually - perhaps after much time, but eventually - the much higher cost-benefit ratio catches on. There's more to it than investment, though. Languages are also subject to the network effect - the perceived value of the network is proportional to the size of the network - and what is currently holding Esperanto back is the small size of its network. It's growing slowly but surely, though, and as long as it continues in that direction, it will reach a critical mass where the network attracts people by its sheer size. Will that happen? If so when? Nobody knows, but Esperanto is currently going that way.

English is very much like Windows in this regard. 'Taint perfect, but it'll do, and it sure beats the hell out of Chinese (or German, or French) for borrow-ability.

You were comparing English to Esperanto until now, and you suddenly switch to Chinese, German and French. How does it compare to Esperanto for... "borrowability"? Not sure what you mean by that, but Esperanto does offer all the power of English as a vehicle of thought and emotion, at a much lower cost.

Nothing much more pathetic than the zealot. Let's face it, Esperanto is a hothouse language. It will never be scientifically, commercially, or socially important. And if the cost/benefit ratio leans so heavily toward Esperanto as you claim, one wonders why it hasn't been more successful. The sad fact is, the verdict is in, and Esperanto is out, relegated to the level of curiosity.

And if you think that planned languages are a rousing success, you simply aren't a very scholarly observer of human history.

You mistake verbosity for zealotry. If you actually knew me - which you can't, so no blame - you'd see that my interest in Esperanto, while non-negligible, is far from excessive. All I have done is to answer each question and error about Esperanto with, to the best of my knowledge, experience and ability, a dispassionate response to the question or explanation of the error's falsehood. Given their number, that makes for a lot of writing. Where I do tend to excess is in verbosity, but I am working on it, promise (got a way to go, though).

The "it" in "Let's face it" refers to obvious, irrefutable evidence. What little "evidence" you and other non-Esperanto-speakers do present is either pure opinion, or conjecture at odds with what I know and have experienced about Esperanto, which I'm not going to rehash. Where I will agree is that Esperanto may very well never be important on a large scale in the ways you state (it's already important on a small scale). However, for reasons I explain above in (perhaps too much) detail, it could also go the other way. I cited Arabic numerals and the metric system as examples of great ideas that lay dormant (or apparently so) for much longer than Esperanto has been in existence, only to finally catch on and then become (quasi-)universal. It's just too early to tell.

What held them back? What's holding Esperanto back? I have already mentioned a couple of things, but two that I have failed to mention so far (but hinted at in the previous paragraph) are ignorance and error. When people have even heard of Esperanto, what they "know" about it is almost always the same stew of misconceptions that "explain" in a (seemingly) plausible fashion why Esperanto isn't this or can't be that - plausible, that is, until you have experienced it. Esperanto speakers are much to blame; we could be doing a FAR better job of advertising, both in quantity and in quality. But the current small size of the community is also a cause, both because two million is a scrawny David compared to the current Goliath of misinformation, and because of the aforementioned network effect. You haven't expressed your ideas on this topic, so I can't comment on you, but in general, anyone who would discount the power of ignorance and error to hold a good idea back is, I'm afraid, not a scholarly observer of human history.

The jury that rendered the "verdict" you mention is made up entirely of non-peers of the defendant. Please read what I wrote above for something closer to a verdict rendered by the Esperanto community. But Esperanto speakers are biased toward Esperanto, you say. Are they, in fact, so biased? Absolutely. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Depends on what it is and why the bias exists. When I was a kid, I had a negative opinion of blacks, Jews, Arabs and the French. I actually knew none, but I "knew about" them. Was I biased then? Absolutely. Later, when I actually got to know real-life blacks, Jews, Arabs, Muslims and French, and took classes on Judaism and Islam and learned French, Arabic and Hebrew, and lived in France for a while, and even married a French girl, my opinions changed, and I see them all now in a very positive light. Am I now biased in my current opinions? Absolutely. Are there are times and places when the vast majority of people held extremely negative opinions of all these groups of people? Absolutely. Are or were they wrong? Absolutely. Now, I'm not putting misinformation about Esperanto at the same level as racism and bigotry. If Esperanto turns out to go the way of the dinosaurs, it won't spell the end of the world, and nobody's eternal soul will be in jeopardy. I'm only saying that a) the same mechanisms are at work, b) that it helps, and is often necessary, to have an insider's view to really understand something, and c) having only an outsider's view is not necessarily reliable or unbiased.

About the success of planned languages: If you're including planned ethnic languages in the mix, Modern Hebrew, Nynorsk, High German and Bahasa Indonesia have all been wildly successful (perhaps Nynorsk somewhat less), because they all moved off the drawing board and into the lives of entire peoples. Esperanto has done the same, for a community of a couple of million; worldwide use as a common second language is far, far away, but it's currently slowly moving in that direction. If you're referring specifically to constructed languages, you're making a hasty generalization. Constructed languages are all unqualified failures as auxiliary languages - all but one, Esperanto, which has achieved a measure of success. Why? You can read above, or for a much more interesting account of the history of constructed languages, including Esperanto and Klingon, you should read the book by Arika Okrent, Ph.D. in linguistics, entitled In the Land of Invented Languages. I highly recommend it.

I come a bit tardily to this discussion, which was just mentioned on a couple of San Diego-based Esperanto email lists I subscribe to. Has anybody mentioned the DoD's use of Esperanto in the sixties as the "enemy"'s language in war games? The US Government publication that was used to teach Esperanto to the "enemy" is called "The Aggressor Language", and yes, I have met people who actually learned to speak Esperanto in the rather odd context of military orders, counter-orders, and pompousness. The phrases learned in the early stages of this course included useful tidbits like
* Officers and enlisted men wear identical uniforms.
* Downstairs we have the supply and weapons rooms.
* Colonel Smith, is it time for a coffee break? Would you like a cup?
I assume that the blogpost that all this verbiage was sparked by came about in reaction to a couple of mentions of Esperanto and George Soros in the same paragraph (one by Glenn Beck, the other in connection with New York Esperantists' recent Zamenhof's Birthday "symposium" as reported on in the NYT and (more interestingly) by an editor of the Yiddish Forverts in his blog).
I won't reenumerate and refute the numerous misstatements of fact in the original post. I must say, though, that the idea that Klingon (which is actually copyright property; you can't legally "be spontaneous"—innovate—in it without the owner's consent!) is somehow "grassroots", while Esperanto (which anyone can, and millions do, actually use for any purpose they wish and in any way they wish—even as a tool of the United States armed forces—or to greet the city and the world (both the current pope and his immediate predecessor have spoken Esperanto prayers in public on a semi-annual basis in connection with the Urbi et Orbi addresses)—with no one's permission) is somehow the enemy of human freedom and spontaneity is just amazingly Newspeaky. I can only assume that it is motivated (probably subconsciously) by "guilt by association" with Soros.

> So, 2 million Esperanto speakers compared to 1.4 billion English speakers. Yea, that's a horse race!

Maybe 1.4 billion learn english, but only 328 million speak it, behind spanish and far behind Mandarin.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers#More_than_100_million_native_speakers.

So 94.5% of the world does NOT speak english. This is the reality. If you believe that everybody speak english, take a trip to Latin America, Southern Europe, or Asia.

For example I leave in Santos, (Sao Paulo-Brazil). This is a big city, with the biggest harbour of Latin America, and the tourists that come here have big difficults to find someone that speaks english.

It is beeing very hard try to teach english to 94.5% of the world. It would be much easier, faster and cheaper teach esperanto as second language to 99.9% of the world.

Sorry for my bad english

Please watch:
The language challenge -- facing up to reality
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU

Ndiyo, mimi. (Jes, mi.) (Yes, me.)

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