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Esperanto wasn't born yesterday (was: Esperanto is old)

On one hand, of course it its. Everybody knows it was published first in 1887 - so 129 years ago. On the other hand, I've seen a few comments here and there which make me think that maybe this hasn't quite sunk in. For example:

  • I was forwarded a message in which a person asked whether any Esperanto groups were "starting" in my city. He didn't know that there has been (almost) uninterrupted Esperanto activity in my city since at least 1946.
  • Somebody asked whether anybody listening "plans" to speak Esperanto with their kids. The first reply mentioned Klingon and that he "wouldn't be surprised" if someone has "tried" it with Esperanto - adding "maybe they left a journal." In fact not only are there many people who have been exposed to Esperanto since birth, there are (in rare cases) even fourth generation speakers of Esperanto.
  • In a discussion about the utility of Esperanto, one person commented that the number of speakers is currently growing "and soon there will be speakers everywhere." If we accept the (credible but far from definitive) statistic that there are 5 times as many learners in 2016 than in the 1980's (which even before my day), we still don't know how many of these people will go on to actually use the language, and while very exciting for all of us witnessing it, it's still a drop in the bucket compared to a 129 year history.

So, I would encourage you to look at the Esperanto history - recent and not-so-recent and try to draw from it.

Edit: Based on some of the reaction to the phrase "Esperanto is old" I quickly switched to saying "Esperanto wasn't born yesterday." Perhaps these posts that I've written in the meanwhile will also be of interest.



March 28, 2016



Kolego diris al mi ke ŝi pensis ke la Esperanta kreiĝis dum la jardeko de 1970. Ŝi pensis tiel ĉar tiam estis kiam ŝi unuafoje legis pri tio, en artikolo kiu taksis Esperanton kiel lingvon kiu povus unuigi la mondon. (La monda unueco estis populara ideo tiam.) Ŝi neniam aŭdis pri tio antaŭe, do ŝi supozis ke ĝi devas esti juna, nova lingvo!


A co-worker told me that she thought Esperanto was created in the 1970s. She thought that because that's when she first read about it, in an article that touted Esperanto as a language that was meant to unite the world. (World unity was a popular concept at the time.) She had never heard of it before, so she assumed it must have been a young, new language!


Nu, mi devus diri ke cxiuj kiuj lernas gxin scias ke gxi eldonigxis en 1887. Fakte, ankaux mi havis kolegon kiun "klarigis" al mi ke Esperanto kreigxis en la sepdekaj jaroj fare de George Bernard Shaw. :-)


I'm eager to see how the internet changes this language, how it's propagated, how it's spoken, and how many people speak it. I've only heard stories of before and after as I've only been a part of this community for a few short months. But it seems like it's rapidly changing for the better, who knows what tomorrow will bring?


I'm an Esperanto child of the Internet, but that was in the days of Lynx text browsers, as I said in my #EsperantoLives video.



Here's what I think will happen. [disclaimer]Of course I don't really know[/disclaimer]

The Esperanto community will get more diverse and less overviewable. Already today there are parts of the Esperanto community that don't have much interaction. The more raumistic Esperantists, that more focus on the value adding use of Esperanto on the one hand and the more finvenkistic Esperantists who focus on propagating Esperanto on the other hand. Still there's not a real separation between these two flavours of Esperantism, there are platforms where both of them actually do somehow interact, at least from time to time. So we can still speak of one Esperanto community.

I think we will see that change with the Esperanto internet activity coming up in the slipstream of Duolingo. There are many new Esperanto speakers, for whom -- as @salivanto is also observing -- Esperanto and the Esperanto community is a new thing. They don't stick that much to the existing Esperanto structures and thus won't that much into the existing Esperanto community. So they will make up their own communities with their own structures, which will likely be more online rather than face to face. The interaction of those communities with the existing Esperanto community will be very limited. You can already see that in the upcoming Esperanto gaming community.

So what does this mean for the language? It will get more diverse and less overviewable, too. We will see things like community specific slangs. Actually slangs are nothing new in the Esperanto community but we will see more of them and they might be more separated from "standard" Esperanto.

What I don't think will happen is that Esperanto will be the new language of the internet. For that to happen Esperanto is still way to small and also the 1e5 new Duolingo Esperantists will not change that significantly. For a language to gain significant influence in the internet you would need something like 1e8 speakers.


My reaction to all that: Esperanto is old.

That is, my prediction is that whatever happens, it will be in scale with whatever has already happened.


As the great american philosopher, Yogi Berra, said: "Predictions are hard, especially about the future"


Whoever does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it. Whoever expects history to repeat itself will be disappointed. How will the future turn out? The answer is the same as "what is the correct way to write a resume?"


Predicting the future is really just fun game.


I love your last point about the fact that it has grown 5x in the last 40ish years. Someone should draw a chart on that and start doing forcast.


That's not quite what I said. Certainly that's not quite what I intended to say. What I did was quoted a statistic put forward in a recent article about Duolingo. The claim appeared to be that thanks primarily to Duolingo, that there are 5 times as many people learning Esperanto now than there were in the 80's. This isn't quite the same thing as growth, and it's growth in a very specific area -- people talking courses.

I didn't look too closely at the statistic, but I have no idea how it was calculated, so I remain skeptical of the details. For years, people have asked me how many students I have for Esperanto, and I never could answer them because I had no way to determine whether any of my students actually were still students. Are they students after they finish my course? Are they students if they've gone six weeks since submitting a lesson? Six years? Are the Duolingo statistics drawn from people starting the course or finishing it?

It's also clear that at least a good number of participants in the Duolingo course are experienced Esperanto speakers trying it out. I took the course as did my wife. Now my children are as well. Where would these five learners fit on the graph in terms of what decade they learned in?

Very recently, I exchanged messages with someone I've known for almost two decades. He's convinced that there has been zero growth in the last 20 years. I don't know that I agree with him, but at the very least it shows that reasonable minds can differ on these points.

Finally, as I said elsewhere, Esperanto is old. This is kind of my point. Like many other people, I'm very excited about seeing many new learners on Duolingo. Otherwise I wouldn't be here trying to make sure people are getting good answers to the questions (and quickly enough for them not to lose interest.) Still, even if we accept the statistic in the article that there are five times as many learners now as in 1985. All that means is that in 2016 there is the potential for five years growth in 2016. That's the boldest prediction I'm willing to make, and while that's very exciting, it's also just half a decade compared to 129 years.


My YouTube channel is constantly filled with comments from people new to Esperanto. I'd say over 70% of my viewership have only started learning Esperanto in the last two years. There is without doubt massive growth but how big no one can know. I've also noticed a lot of people returning to Esperanto after being dormant for 10 - 20 years. I've got a few people who have said that due to there being interesting content and or an influx of new faces they are returning to the movement.


I'm not sure how this is relevant. You've got a new channel geared toward new users. Of course you're going to have mostly new people (or am I missing something?)

In other news, you asked me a question a few weeks ago and I asked you to contact me off Duolingo so I could send you the information. Not sure if you missed my reply (Duolingo is notorious) or whether you're no longer interested in the reform project of 1894.


Not hammering you :) I'm just providing further context and stats to others. I see from the traditional movement a lot of negative feedback on Duolingo and although we don't want to perpetuate false stats on learners we also don't want to under value what the team here has done.


So... is anybody going to start an Esperanto group in your city? :-)


It's relevant because you said, "He's convinced that there has been zero growth in the last 20 years. I don't know that I agree with him, but at the very least it shows that reasonable minds can differ on these points." This guy is clearly wrong as even yourself have stated that my channel is geared to new users (not really geared, just the traditional movement is generally old and doesn't enjoy my content). Which means that the majority of my viewers are new learners and users of the language from Duolingo. I would say based on statistics of my channel that we have experienced at least a growth of 500 new / active learners since the course launched. Although small compared to the number of people taking the course you have to factor in (1) not everyone likes my content (2) not everyone knows about my content (3) not everyone feels comfortable enough to follow my content and thus engage and (4) not every course sign up is new to the language or really learning it actively. Duolingo is without doubt one of the greatest things to happen to Esperanto since I first learned it (6+ years ago).

Also I ran Esperanto-TV with a team of 5 people for two years before Duolingo launched and engagement was never more than 300 people a day. I actively get 600 - 1,000 a day now.

Regarding your previous comment. Contact me at www.facebook.com/evildeagaming as I don't always get notifications here.


I see. I guess it seems to me that you're hammering home a point that I already conceded in two different comments up-thread from yours. It's also, as I said, not my point. My point is: Esperanto is old.


Lu wrote about this on Wikipedia, but it's since been deleted. You can see the content on Wikipedia.


I thought it was Lu. Thanks for the link.

Did you mean to say Wikipedia twice?


Thanks! But it is nearly 10 years out dated.


Looking at the history also gives its raison d'etre which was to be a common language allowing Countries to be able to communicate with other countries using a common language but this has never been achieved by Esperanto and in my view never will be, (after all it has had 129 years to achieve that aim).


The raison d'etre of Esperanto is: sur neŭtrala lingva fundamento forigi la murojn inter la gentoj kaj alkutimigadi la homojn, ke ĉiu el ili vidu en sia proksimulo nur homon kaj fraton.

Mine is of course just one opinion, but IMHO it's done a pretty good job at that.


But it does give an ability to communicate across cultures for those that know it. Just like English is also not yet a complete success for an international language if you think that it has to be a common language for all (it is only a smallish fraction of the world that speaks English). The goal is not all or nothing. It is to give people a neutral way to communicate. Perhaps one could say "the more the merrier", but for the speaker community (which is quite large and quite spread out over the world) it already works that way. So while it is not a complete success, it is not a failure either, far from it. In fact it is incredibly impressive how resilient the community is: Even Hitler and Stalin couldn't kill it and they tried very hard. So having a large and vibrant community for well over a century that is very international and hence helping in bridging of cultures IS a huge success.


If you're interested in interviews with native Esperanto speakers, you can read one with a 3rd gen native speaker here: http://blogs.transparent.com/esperanto/3rd-gen-native-esperanto-speaker-nils/ (and there are links to my other interviews with native Esperanto speakers in that article).


If I'm tracing this back correctly, this looks like a reply to my OP, in which case "you" might seem to refer to me specifically. I suspect your intent was "If anybody is interested in interviews."

As for my own interest, I suspect you know that my children are native speakers of Esperanto, and that my family has spent a lot of time - especially when the kids were younger - hanging out with other families who speak Esperanto at home - in Europe, as well as Canada and the US. I've always been a little uncomfortable about the attention given to denaskuloj and how they're often treated as "kuriozaj skaraboj". Cases like Nils's, where grandparents learned Esperanto and then it became a family thing for three generations, are not all that rare. I can think of at least two cases just among those whom I've met personally.


The "you" in my sentence would be translated to Esperanto as "oni," but English isn't as expressive, I have to admit. ;) Of course, while I'm posting links about native Esperanto speakers, I should also link to the YouTube video Esperanto: Like a Native

Also, yep I'm aware that you're raising your kids native and I remember meeting them at Okemo when I met you in 2002. I also remembered hearing a lecture from [I believe] Normand Fleury's native daughter [I think her name is Mira?] and being shocked by how fast she spoke and I could hardly understand anything, because I was definitely still a beginner at the time. lol (For reference, Mira speaks way faster than Evildea.)


I'd like to see someone speaking faster Esperanto than Evildea. No videos of Mira's?


What's odd to me about this comment (and quite a few similar ones that I've seen elsewhere) is that "Evildea" sounds like "just another dude speaking Esperanto" to me. So many people seem to miss his other talents because they're distracted by the fact that he speaks Esperanto at all.


Same. I've only watched a couple of videos, but he didn't seem particularly fast to me - "just another dude speaking Esperanto", as you said.


I understand that it is old and there are tons of speakers already. But don't you think that Duolingo will have a significant effect? Not just on the speaker numbers but spreading knowledge of the language and creating an interest. It seems to me that there is a large community but people outside of it don't often seem to know of it's existence.


I am not sure what effect Duolingo will have -- although I will point out that I've said in this thread that I am excited to find out. At the same time, it seems that so much has been on what Duolingo will bring to the community that many new learners have lost sight of the history behind it. I listed some specific examples above. Just today, I saw some more. Here's one that jumps out at me.

>> As a beginner in Esperanto as well, I am hopeful, that it will gain new momentum due to Internet! I think E was close becoming a dead language, but Internet (and duolingo) will make it a new big hit! <<

Esperanto has been on the internet as long as there has been an internet for Esperanto to be on. It was certainly not a "dead language" even in 1985. I won't get into a discussion about what it means to be a "big hit" - and I enjoy the optimism. Still, it's worth pointing out that there are 129 years of history to tap into. Sometimes it's fun to reinvent the wheel, but it's not always necessary.


Interesting! Thank you. - Peter Neal

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