12 answers for those wishing to find out more about Esperanto
1. What is Esperanto?Esperanto is a useful means of communication for people who speak different languages.
The world is becoming more and more international. People, money and goods move more and more freely. However, because people speak different languages that are difficult to learn, thoughts can not move completely freely. Esperanto is a solution that bridges across language barriers very well. In learning Esperanto, a person is saying, "I am open to the world."
2. How many people speak Esperanto in the whole world?Enough that one is already able to feel the "flavour" of a real international community today. Unfortunately there is no way to know how many people are able to speak Esperanto, in the same way that there is no way to know how many speak Latin or, outside China, Chinese. The number is probably somewhere in between 50,000 and two million. In any case, the speakers of Esperanto are sufficiently numerous and sufficiently widely distributed across our planet that a growing international culture exists.
3. We already have English as an international language - do we really need a new language?New cultures give rise to new languages. The international culture is no exception.
English is an amazing language, just as every other language is amazing within its own culture; however, is it really "international"? Here are three things to think about:
A) None of the many international or intergovernmental organizations (such as the UN, the European Union, or Interpol) use only English, and the same is true of most of the international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In fact, the UN and the EU had to increase the number of their official languages several times.
B) The opinion that you can use English everywhere in the world is a myth. A visit to South America, regions in Africa where French (or other languages) are spoken, Russia, China, Japan etc. clearly shows that this illusion is simply not true if you try to speak with anyone outside of the larger hotels, the airports and large tourist attractions. Even in Europe it isn't always possible to use English, and when it is possible, the range of topics that can be discussed is generally limited.
C) Many Japanese and Chinese study English for ten years in school, but the majority of these students are not capable of speaking it. And very few Europeans, even after many years of study, can reach the level of a native English speaker. After a relatively short period of study and practice, Esperanto can become a language which the student feels to be his or her "own language".
4. Is it possible to have a living language without a nation or a national territory?Yes. What is not possible is a living language without a community of people who use, love, and take care of it, but that community can be something other than a country or ethnic group, and can be found scattered across the whole planet. During the Middle Ages, Latin was a living language without a people: it was considered normal and unremarkable for a professor from Cambridge, Cologne, or Prague to teach in Latin in Paris. The community of users of Esperanto is in some respects similar to a people composed of men and women from all peoples and countries, who preserve their own identity but give their community a new, "human race" identity. One might say that Esperanto has a "people" which is potentially the people of the entire Earth.
It's not skin color or breakfast customs that give life to a language, but the desire to communicate. The Internet, which has grown explosively in the past few years, clearly shows that this desire exists. This evolution is possible because of the fact that people from different countries agreed that computers would use the same code (that is, a language) when they communicate among themselves, no matter whether they are from the worlds of Macintosh, Windows, or Unix/Linux. This evolution is logical. Why shouldn't the same logic be true of people with different cultures and languages?
5. Is it intended that Esperanto should replace all existing languages?Absolutely not. Esperanto is one way of defending the right of all languages to exist.
One of the greatest advantages of Esperanto is that it is not a national langauge, but a language which speakers of different languages use to exchange opinions or thoughts, or to express their opinions. Esperanto, therefore, doesn't compete with national or local languages, but contributes to stopping the suppression of languages which happens worldwide, in various forms.
In addition, the ability to have direct personal contacts with people from other cultures is likely the most effective way to experience and be enriched by the cultural and human diversity that surrounds us. These kinds of experiences often increase the desire for knowledge about and interest in other languages and cultures.
After learning Esperanto, many people begin to feel confident in themselves - "Yes, I can learn a foreign language!" and many of them begin to study another national or local language later. Many Esperanto speakers are interested not only in Esperanto, but also in foreign languages and cultures in general.
6. Wouldn't widespread introduction of Esperanto be utopian? The idea seems unbelievable.All important and useful progress is the realization of some sort of utopia. Only those who already know the future can say if something is a utopia or not. But for example, who could have foreseen in May 1989 that the Berlin Wall would fall and the USSR would collapse? In fact, humans can't predict everything. In many science fiction novels, complicated situations wouldn't even exist if only the characters had a cell phone. Cell phones are something normal today, but most authors couldn't predict them. Isn't the technological evolution of the world a great 'utopia' which has become a reality, and progresses every day?
Today, Esperanto is much more than a utopia. It is a proposal that worked, a result of 120 years of use, in all continents and in all situations found in life.
The linguistic communication problems that we experience today in international situations have an urgent need for a solution. Some people think that "it has always been a problem and it always will be a problem", but in history, we can find an abundance of examples of solved problems. Is it really so incredible that it would be possible to solve this problem as well?
In fact, for many Esperanto speakers, it isn't important whether Esperanto is ever spoken on a large scale. They simply enjoy the language and the worldwide community that surrounds it, through correspondence, travel, and music - among other things.
7. There is growing interest in dialects nowadays. Isn't that incompatible with the idea of Esperanto?Paradoxically, the new interest in dialects is leading in the same direction as interest in Esperanto.
Dialects are often more capable of expressing feelings and describing relationships that are specific to local communities, which are sometimes very small. In the same way, the international language Esperanto is better adapted for expressing thoughts that belong neither to a national, nor to a dialectical culture, but are common to all people. It would be ideal if all people had three languages and three identities: local, national/regional and worldwide. Experience has shown that people can identify with multiple groups without a problem. An inhabitant of Colmar (France), who speaks a Germanic Alsatian dialect at home, speaks the national language (French) and uses Esperanto in their international contacts, will feel that he or she is, at the same time, Alsatian, French and a world citizen, and that he or she probably has a richer cultural life than a Frenchman who speaks only French.
8. Wouldn't every nation use Esperanto in its own way, such that the language would separate into dialects?When languages diverge, it is an indication that the people either don't want or can't have reciprocal contact. Latin was used in a vast territory for many centuries, during which the territory remained united. It broke into dialects and gave birth to the Romance languages only after the Roman Empire fell and contact between regions largely ceased.
Technical progress has already solved the issue of reciprocal contact - satellites, computer networks, cellular phones, mass communications, trains, airplanes, automobiles... and Esperanto is, in itself, a strong indicator that people truly want direct communication with one another.
9. Isn't Esperanto an artificial language, and unnatural because of that?Every language is a product of human creativity. Many things or objects that we consider to be natural - like bread, roses, pigs, dogs - are actually results of the application of human creativity to nature.
The basic structure of Esperanto was formed by selecting and refining traits that had already evolved in various "natural" language. Therefore, Esperanto feels completely natural to those who speak it. This natural impression is also due to the fact that Esperanto, more than many other languages, respects the natural inclination of the brain to generalize patterns to the entire language. For example, in many languages, there is a special word for the concept of "better", rather than saying, for example, "gooder". But children learning those languages as they grow up begin with the two-word expression "more good" or a logical (but wrong) word like "gooder", because they have already noticed the pattern in expressions like "younger", "more beautiful", "stronger", etc., and they generalize this pattern to the idea of "good". Only corrections from parents and teachers, or the inclination to better imitate those around them, cause the children to substitute the grammatically correct form for the form that feels natural. The same situation happens with other irregularities. In some English verbs, we change the tense by changing the middle of the word rather than adding an ending (take - took). In these cases as well, children and beginning non-native speakers naturally apply the usual -ed ending ("taked") because they are not aware of the irregularity. These kinds of difficulties are much less common in Esperanto.
The wonderful thing about the "birth" of Esperanto was that the creator of the language (L.L. Zamenhof) was successful in creating conditions to make Esperanto come alive, if people would take it and use it for practical communication. That happened, and the use of Esperanto transformed the project into a living language. What an unknown eye doctor in Warsaw, created in the form of a small brochure in 1887 was, in fact, not more than a seed. A seed which found fertile ground (people who dreamed of a language for easier communication across linguistic boundaries) and which naturally grew out of that ground into a living language.
Although the 'seed' of Esperanto was sown by just one person, the language evolves just as other languages evolve, through use. Although the basis will always stay the same (It is presented in the book Fundamento de Esperanto), the language now has many words and expressions that didn't exist a hundred years ago. Consequently, Esperanto has already been enriched through use, and continues to evolve. The evolution of the language is followed and documented by the Akademio de Esperanto (Academy of Esperanto).
10. Why is it that eminent linguists express negative ideas about Esperanto?Those who best understand the complications of language are linguists. Perhaps it is exactly for that reason that many of them, otherwise very competent people, can't believe that Esperanto could function as a full, living language, and therefore be worth paying attention to and studying.
A language is something so complex and delicate that the appearance of a true, rich, living language based on a project of a young man (Zamenhof was 27 when he presented Esperanto after working on it for more than 10 years) is improbable. Therefore, it's natural to feel skeptical. But if you look at reality, you will notice that Esperanto works wonderfully well for international communication.
11. Can you use Esperanto for high-level discussion, poetry, or expressing your feelings?Yes. Poetry was included in the first short booklet on Esperanto, which appeared in 1887. New collections of poetry appear regularly, in addition to many famous classic poems that are translated to Esperanto.
The simple fact that there are good Esperanto translations of Leibniz's Monadology, Shakespeare's sonnets, several Tintin books by Hergé, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the Hungry Stones by Tangore, Lu Xun's Diary of a Madman, the Bible, the Quran, and the Analects of Confucions, and that many works of poetry are published, proves Esperanto's suitability for works of literature.
A discussion will gain much in clarity, resolution, and quality when everyone can express themselves directly in a language that they feel they have mastered, and when the listeners can immediately understand what is being said, since they, too, feel at-home in the language being used. This feeling of easy communication has been amply shown by the annual worldwide 'Universalaj Kongresoj' ('Universal Conventions') and by the many international meetings, seminars about scientific topics, summer programs, etc. which take place every year, and where teaching, discussion, and hallway conversations all happen in Esperanto
History tells about many people from different parts of the world who expressed their feelings using Esperanto. They expressed themselves equally well, whether in books, songs, and poems, or in meetings with other people. Anyone who has participated in the life of the Esperanto community knows that in Esperanto, you can insult someone and argue bitterly, but also express your solidarity; you can participate in the suffering of another person, but also in the deepest love. Esperanto can be used for the whole range of possible human interations.
12. Why learn Esperanto? How can I use the language?If you are interested in Esperanto and would like to learn more about how you can use the language, please visit http://lernu.net/enkonduko, where you will find answers to questions like "Why learn Esperanto?" and "How can I use the language?", and so forth.
The translator, psychologist, and writer Claude Piron formulated these answers, working together with the team of lernu.net.