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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mikezzy

facts on esperanto

Hi everyone, I'm doing a small presentation on esperanto for a project, and trying to collect facts. Would appreciate some help!

What is the current most accurate estimate on number of speakers?

How many people are enrolled in the Esperanto course in duolingo and how many people completed the tree?

Any official organizations/locations that use Esperanto?

Any important geographical places/landmarks related to the language?

thanks!

January 13, 2018

25 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

If I answer your questions, who will get the good grade?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eo_
  • Any official organizations/locations that use Esperanto?

Akademio Internacia de la Sciencoj https://eo.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIS

  • Any important geographical places/landmarks related to the language?

Plage Zamenhof Beach, Port Canto :D https://www.seecannes.com/beaches/plage-zamenhoff-port-canto-port-canto-676621


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jzsuzsi

Any important geographical places/landmarks related to the language?

There is a castle in France

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_of_Gr%C3%A9silion

a museum in Vienna:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto_Museum_and_Collection_of_Planned_Languages


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ionasky

A recent interview with duoling staff had them saying that 25% of people who start the Duolingo course finish the tree. While the duolingo course does not of produce fluent speakers it is nevertheless a very good grounding in the langauge and when complete you can do way more than simply order a beer.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

Are you talking about the recent BBC article? I saw that quote and I remember thinking that it was misleading.

[The Duolingo Esperanto Course] is the most effective recruiting tool this language has ever had. The app says that some 1.1 million users have signed up to do one of the Esperanto courses – half of the people who actually speak it. Some 25% of the people who start a course in Duolingo finish it, says Kron.

The opening statement is clearly hyperbole. The "two million speakers" (over)estimate is for "level 3" fluency, which is actually fairly advanced. Certainly in 130 years there have been other recruiting tools which rival Duolingo in effectiveness. People have been learning Esperanto on Duolingo since when? 2014? The result in my area of 3 or 4 years of Duolingo is that there are as many people coming to monthly Esperanto meetings as there were 20 years ago. Our regional event has seen a lot of new people, but has not broken any records for total attendance.

More critically, though, there's a shift of perspective in the quote. They start out talking about the Esperanto course, but end up talking about all courses in general. It's been a very long time since Duolingo has released any data specific to the number of course finishers for the Esperanto course.

Don't get me wrong. I think Duolingo is great and it's a nice addition to the broader set of Esperanto resources. I can tell you as a Duolingo Global Ambassador that programs such as Duolingo Events are doing very well (you guys should look into going to one) - but my sense as an experienced organizer of Esperanto events is that the Esperanto events on Duolingo are performing well under average. I have no inside information about the number of finishers for the course, but I do want to point out that the quote wasn't quite so specific as you suggested.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eojeff

The "two million speakers" (over)estimate is for "level 3" fluency, which is actually fairly advanced.

I'm curious. Why do you think ~2 million speakers is an over estimate? This compares favorably to, say, Yiddish, which has ~1.5 million speakers. That said, Yiddish is an endangered language and I'm not sure Esperanto meets the criteria for endangered. I'd welcome your thoughts on that front, too.

I thought the actual figure was ~2 million speakers at "fluent." If you consider "level 3" to be reasonably fluent in an Esperanto context, then I accept your definition. I thought there were another 2 million or so "less than fluent" speakers bringing the total to ~4 million persons with a reasonable grasp of the language. So, pretty much everybody except eternaj komencantoj that float at the fringes of the speaker base. Am I [very?] mistaken?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

The number "2 million" comes from a table in the World Almanac where all numbers were rounded to the nearest million. Mr Culbert estimate was for 1.6 million, so "2 million" is already an overestimate by 0.4 million simply due to rounding errors.

If we assume these speakers are evenly distributed (a dangerous assumption) or that I live in an area which about average in terms of Esperanto speakers per capita (less dangerous, but far from safe) - then I should expect there to be 100-500 level 3 speakers in and around my city. I'm lucky if I can scrape together 20 for an event - only half of which are level 3 or above - and most of these have come from the region or further away, not from within the city. There's no way there are dozens of fluent Esperanto speakers hiding in my city - from the very fact that it's nigh upon impossible to become fluent by hiding.

Now, I could believe (easily) that there are 100 people in my city who have taken to learn at least a little Esperanto. I could believe (easily) that there are 1000 who know enough about Esperanto to have an informed opinion on it or to know that Duolingo has a course on it. I could easily believe that there are 20,000 people in the city who wouldn't answer "what's that?" when I explain that I teach and do freelance work in Esperanto.

So, while I think Culbert's estimate is the best one we have, it really raises more questions than it answers. I generally do not give a number. When pressed to give a number I say 100 countries. When really pressed to give a number I say that the World Almanac once said that it was around 2 million, and that seems at least reasonable, depending on what we mean by speaker.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DaveRutan

I was wondering if the World Book Almanac still cited that number. Even if it's inflated, it's a citable source. :-/


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

It does not - and has not for many years. I've forgotten the details of when the table was changed over, but the new one didn't include Esperanto.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eojeff

The number "2 million" comes from a table in the World Almanac where all numbers were rounded to the nearest million. Mr Culbert estimate was for 1.6 million, so "2 million" is already an overestimate by 0.4 million simply due to rounding errors.

Wow. And because that number is, by it's nature, not static and because the World Almanac citation is "many years" old we must have every expectation that the true figure has drifted away from 1.6 million. Up or down, who can say? I suspect the answer was gradually downward until recently. Duolingo really has helped us here and Lernu.net did too.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

And speaking of drift, we're experiencing thread drift. Nothing wrong with that, I hope. :-)

What you describe here is what I call the "Dusty Shelf Myth" - the idea that Esperanto was sitting on a dusty shelf waiting for Duolingo to come along.

Wait, this isn't "thread drift". This is "coming full circle." I already mentioned the "Dusty Shelf Myth" in my reply to IonaSky. I don't buy it. I'm trying not to word my next question as strongly as I am about to do - but ... what possible reason do you have to suggest that the number of Esperanto speakers has declined between 1967 and 2014 - other than a belief in the "Dusty Shelf Myth"? This is, of course, an empirical claim and so it may or may not be true - but the thinking here seems entirely circular. Duolingo helped because Esperanto was in decline, and we know Esperanto was in decline because Duolingo helped.

I myself am from the generation which learned Esperanto thanks to the internet -- the internet of text browsers and "personal home pages" - and listserves. We thought we were living the revolution at the time, the same as the Duolingo generation thinks it is now. Nothing has changed.

I am also fond of pointing out that there has been Esperanto activity in my city mostly uninterrupted going back at least to 1946. I have inherited (through an interesting and circuitous route) much of the library and papers of my predecessor as local motor (whom I never met.) This includes information on local courses and lists of names of people who are interested in Esperanto. I haven't done a thorough study and neither have I looked recently, but my sense is that if you compare his notes to mine, we're basically on the same order of magnitude of interest between the mid-80's and today.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eojeff

No offense, kid, but do some research. Lord Google really makes at least preliminary research fairly easy.

What is the current most accurate estimate on number of speakers?

I know for a fact that an estimate is given within the first paragraph or two of the Wikipedia article on Esperanto. Now, Wikipedia, as an encyclopedia, is a 3rd tier source so it's not fit for citation. Don't rely on it.

In order to answer that question well you need to understand a few things:

  1. How many Esperanto speakers there were in the days leading up to the Great War, that is, World War I.
  2. How many Estimated speakers there were at the Esperanto movement's zenith.
  3. How many were killed during World War II.
  4. How many speakers were "purged" (summarily shot, or worked to death in a gulag) in Communist Russia. There is a two volume set that covers this part of Esperanto history (that I'm still in the process of reading) called Dangerous Language by Ulrich Lins translated into English from Esperanto by Humphry Tonkin. You can pick it up on E-bay for about $100 a volume.
  5. The impact of McCarthyism on the Esperanto speaker base in the United States. (It wasn't good.)
  6. The impact the "early" Internet had on Esperanto. There is something called Usenet that can give you an idea of how many Esperanto speakers there were in the pre-Web Internet.
  7. The impact the "modern" Internet is having on Esperanto.

My point is, a current figure of how many speakers there are tells you almost nothing. You need to have some grasp on what it was and why current number differs from the speaker base at its highest point.

How many people are enrolled in the Esperanto course in Duolingo and how many people completed the tree?

To get Duolingo's figures, I'd email support and ask. I wouldn't rely on those figures exclusively. I'd also reach out to http://lernu.net. They predate Duolingo by a long time. You'd basically have to combine those numbers to get some idea of the current crop of "new" speakers.

Any official organizations/locations that use Esperanto?

That depends upon what you mean by "official." If by "official" you mean "baked by a state." None. There are several Esperanto specific organizations, of a private nature, that center either around Esperanto itself or around an theological or political ideology. There are even some (apparently very small) profession specific organizations, such as an Esperanto association for Lawyers.

Google is your friend here, but you'll miss a lot of small organizations that don't have a web presence. Yeah, I know, not being on the web in 2018 is like not existing at all. But, trust me, it's still a thing. For context: some parts of the Esperanto movement are dominated by some very old (past retirement age) individuals. That's not exactly the most technologically savvy demographic.

Any important geographical places/landmarks related to the language?

Look up Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof and his daughter Lidia Zamenhof. Read about there lives. There are a few important landmarks. But, I'm not going to do your homework for you.

Also, look up Esperanto Congress. It moves around year-to-year but is socially and politically important to the movement.

Pro Tip: There are tons of Esperanto related books and things at https://www.gutenberg.org/browse/languages/eo that you might use as a primary source.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

Isn't the answer on how many people are signed up for the course right on the main page of the course?

https://www.duolingo.com/course/eo/en/Learn-Esperanto-Online


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DaveRutan

As of this morning Eo from English has 1,180,000 learners, Eo from Spanish has 280, 000 learners.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Vanege

It was already this number weeks ago. Edit: Not, it was not.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DaveRutan

Um, no. I check every morning. Presuming my image posts correctly, here's my notes for January:


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DaveRutan

Sometimes I think the data lags. There will be several days with no change, then a jump of several points.

I started tracking it basically to figure the rate of growth. Now I just do it out of habit.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Vanege

Right, my bad. Amazing data. Wow, 3k joined the Spanish course today.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eojeff

I did not know that.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DaveRutan

I keep track. Also, the Eo from Portuguese course is at 67% complete. It's been gaining a percentage point about every twio days for a few weeks now. ;-)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jdroege

"What is the current most accurate estimate on number of speakers?" One thing that makes this question impossible to answer is that you have to define "speaker". The fact that you have even found this forum would meet some people's definition of "speaker" of Esperanto. If I can walk into a bar in Korea and order a beer, does that mean I can "speak" Korean? Even if you want to use one of the tests to determine if my Esperanto is good enough, you have to understand that not everyone can / wants to be tested on their language ability. What about the difference between people who "speak" a language from birth vs those who studied it? Your question actually has no single answer! I won't even bring up the concept of "accurate"!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

I'm calling bologna on this line.

The fact that you have even found this forum would meet some people's definition of "speaker" of Esperanto.

Could you clarify which people you mean when you say "some poeple"? Who is saying this? I haven't heard anybody say this. I can find the English-from-Ukrainian forum but there isn't a person on earth who would suggest that this means that I speak English. (I do - but I have another valid excuse.)

If you had said the fact that he's registered for the Esperanto course might meet some people's criteria, I would count that statement as plausibly true but still not very helpful.

You are absolutely correct that the question "how many speakers" is complicated by the fuzzy definition of speaker and the difficulty to count anything on a world-wide basis. I don't think it's fair to trivialize the question, though.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jdroege

The line IS bologna, but bologna of the finest kind! It clearly illustrates the point that there is no official, or even generally recognized, definition of what you have to be or do to be considered a speaker of Esperanto. I don't mean to trivialize the question; just want to point out that there is no true answer to it. People seem to just accept whatever numbers they read about the number of English speakers without even thinking about what constitutes a "English speaker". I knew I had "made it" as a German linguist when a guy in Leipzig refused to believe me when I told him I was from Texas!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/salivanto

I do generally like bologna. As I said, I agree on the point that answering the question "how many speakers" is complicated by the fuzzy definition of speaker and the difficulty to count anything on a world-wide basis. Still, with a reasonably well-defined definition of speaker, there is for sure a "true answer" to the question, even if it's hard to pin down.

In other news, are you any good at estimating fluency level? I'm looking for a teacher to advise me which Goethe Institute exam I should aim for.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jdroege

I have absolutely no idea how to estimate fluency. I have never taken any of the Goethe exams. Looooong ago in Germany, I knew I was the best linguist around since I was ALWAYS the one called to go and rent apartments, buy cars, deal with disputes in stores, etc.

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