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An apologia for Esperanto

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Blind hatred or dismissive derogation of Esperanto by people who know nothing about it is a rather odd and common phenomenon. Even ambitious and idealistic new learners often attack or try to modify all sorts of things about Esperanto before they even have their feet wet. I even indulge in this myself sometimes. To inform ourselves I think everyone should read:

Esperanto: A Language for the Global Village by Sylvan Zaft

to get an excellent introduction and justification for all aspects of the language before we go off the deep end in the forums or elsewhere. It is fascinating and compulsively readable. It is also a great document to send to people who think you are an idiot for studying Esperanto.

P.S. It's free!

3 years ago

58 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
seveer
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So... Linking to a long, well reasoned and even handed article about Esperanto in the hopes of encouraging more civil conversation has resulted in an immediate explosion of vitriol, personal attacks and off topic axe grinding. Thanks internet.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
HappyEvilSlosh
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It took me some time to read through it. I ended up skim reading most of it. AFAICT it managed to address none of the issues I have with Esperanto (somewhat of a feat in and of itself), and in fact made claims that I felt were either disingenuous or incorrect. If you would like an actually critical look at Esperanto written by someone with a background in linguistics I suggest reading this (be forewarned it's a bit ranty, even for my tastes).

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
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Interesting article. Thanks for linking. The author's confessed purpose is to entertain but he makes some good points. My response to most of his positions is that he is comparing technical notes on individual features of Esperanto with some theoretically better planned languages, not with any natural language as a whole. No other planned language has garnered more than a handful of speakers. In engineering some theoretical models are used but the bulk of the work is iteration and prototyping until something works. Esperanto works. I have spent one tenth as much time on it as I have on Spanish and I am able to express myself and read probably ten times better. That's enough to make me interested. There are also many natural languages with far fewer speakers than Esperanto which have millennia long histories. To categorize such languages as laughable failures based on the number of extant speakers strikes me as a cheap joke and unsound reasoning. The historical recipe for linguistic success is colonization and conquest.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/pseudocreobotra

There would be little use in comparing Esperanto with any natural language as a whole. Natural languages are not designed, they grew over decades to suit the communication needs of its native speakers. They were never intended to be easy to learn or to be accessible to people from any language. They don't have a vision.

Planned auxlangs such as Esperanto have completely different premises! They have a vision (make intercultural communication easier) and are therefore designed to be easy to learn and appealing to people from any culture without belonging to a certain culture themselves.

The question in the article posted by HappyEvilSlosh is not "Does Esperanto work as a language?" - the answer would be yes because... It does work. There are even native speakers which should be proof enough.

The question is "Is Esperanto a really good auxiliary language for intercultural communication?" and that's why it's compared to values a (yet non-existing) perfect auxlang should possess. Comparing it to natural languages would only reveal that Esperanto is a BETTER auxlang than languages that were never designed to fit that goal... Not really a surprising thing, right? But by comparing it to a fictional perfect auxlang, you can detect certain aspects that coudl've been done better.

Esperanto is a nice language and I honestly like a lot of its ideas. It's decent as an intercultural auxlang, definitely better than most natural languages... But it's far away from being perfect as an auxlang.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ricxjo

If we wait around for the perfect auxilliary language, we'll be waiting a long time. We could spend much time designing a better aux-lang (I say we, but personally I wouldn't have much to contribute) and then undertake the monumental task of getting other people to use it. That option remains open for any individual or group who wants to take it. Good luck.

But Esperanto, for all its imperfection, is available now. It has a community of people using it. It undoubtedly works. Sometimes Good Enough is just that!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
HappyEvilSlosh
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Sometimes Good Enough is just that!

Provided you view Esperanto as Good Enough™.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
seveer
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You are repeating my point. The article doesn't compare EO holistically to natural languages because Esperanto (and, according to the author, other possible auxiliary languages) actually are useful despite all of the technical deficiencies.

I come from a physics background. Things like Feynman diagrams did not develop because they have any theoretical value, but because physicists started using them because they made things easier. Mathematicians (the linguists of physics) poo-poo'd them. Everyone thought they were wacky, until they started using them. But they are here to stay and have resulted in all kinds of advances in particle physics. Annihilating Feynman diagrams because they are not perfect and replacing them with a marginally better system would be counterproductive since few would spend the time to relearn what they have learned and make all the books obsolete. And whereas the basis of linguistics is rather messy, mathematical theory is axiomatic.

I think you are misinterpreting the author if you think he is advocating for a better auxiliary language (perhaps I read this into your comment). My takeaway is that he enjoys tearing Esperanto apart and he is very clever about it. It's fun and there is nothing wrong with it. He is comparing something he hates to some things he doesn't care very much about. But remember that linguists are usually not strong polyglots. They are theoreticians and, at least to some degree, his theory contradicts the reality of Esperanto being used despite almost none of the usual pressures to learn a language. His linguistic arguments are absolutely sound. I just don't think it matters. What matters is empirical data from reality. That is the spirit of science, not theory.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Platypus01

Agreed. His argument boils down to 1) Esperanto isn't perfect, 2) Everyone speaks English now, 3) Get over it.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zerozeroone
zerozeroone
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Let me see if I understand you correctly. You're using an example of a flaw in a language (the way physics was discussed) being corrected by an improvement (Feynman diagrams) as an example of why the flaws in Esperanto shouldn't be fixed?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
HappyEvilSlosh
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Alright, let's see wha we have here.

My response to most of his positions is that he is comparing technical notes on individual features of Esperanto with some theoretically better planned languages, not with any natural language as a whole. No other planned language has garnered more than a handful of speakers.

So I'm going to use this as more or less a summary of what you wrote (although I too found the "laughable failures" comment misplaced).

When it comes to constructed languages I guess there are three comparisons you can make.

  • To natural languages. I kind of think such a comparison is not really comparing apples with apples though and setting Esperanto up for success. I would be extremely surprised if there were any natural language as easy to learn and consistent as Esperanto, however natural languages also have the baggage of being natural languages and encoding all the cultural biases and historical interations that led to their existence. As a constructed language there's no a-priori reason for Esperanto to have those (other than any that creep in due to the biases of the creator(s)).
  • Take individual aspects of the constructed language and identify how it could have been improved. This I guess is where you were going with saying the article was comparing Esperanto with some theoretically better planned language? I can see why this would make someone uneasy, a language with all the improved properties might well be impossible. But in the same breath it does highlight areas in which Esperanto could be improved without drastically reworking the language. i.e. Add a suffix the identifies masuclinity to go along with the in one. I mean it is a language that was designed to be neutral, if you find an aspect of it which isn't (and I'm sure as cultural standards change in the next century more will come up) then IMO either it needs to be updated or it needs to be replaced.
  • Comparing it to other constructed languages. Yeah, I've never seen this done I don't think. I'd find such an article really interesting to read.

In many ways I feel the same way about Esperanto as I do about bitcoin. I really like some of the ideas in them and the motivations that led to their existences but I have a number of problems with how they were actually implemented and because of that I'll wait for the second generation versions. :P If someone knows about all these criticisms and decides to learn Esperanto anyway it's not something I would do but I really don't mind someone else doing it. What does make me quite uncomfortable though is the people who know the language and when the criticisms are brought up go straight into denial. The fingers-in-ears-and-humming attitude rather than the yeah-it's-a-shame-but-that's-what-we've-ended-up-with attitude (let alone the that's-not-a-real-problem attitude that was expressed in the other thread) just really makes me quite uneasy.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
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In every sphere of human endeavor there are loud people who know nothing. If some Esperantists foolishly ignore the truth and do not cast a critical eye on their language it is a reflection of the general tendency of humanity. There are extremely academically distinguished and intelligent people who support Esperanto. There are also idiots who support Esperanto. Bitcoin is another example of something that works. Drug dealers use it. Indian housewife entrepreneurs use it. It doesn't really matter what one's opinion is. Don't use it. If you are a technician intimately familiar with the code, then point out the flaws and it will improve if the preponderance of other highly informed technicians agrees.

Esperanto has plenty of proposals and as its users become younger and less intransigent it will no doubt change just as it has for over a century. But the changes that have been proposed and ignored have occurred democratically. I complain about politics all the time. I vote. But if I lose (temporarily) I am not going to pronounce the peculiar system of the U.S. republic an idealistic failure; that is not consistent with empirical data. This is, at least to some degree, the same situation as Esperanto. Except in Esperanto, compliance is completely voluntary.

If all that is being said is that Esperanto is not the best of all possible worlds, then a lot of breath has been wasted over a tautology. Things that exist are never platonic ideals.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
HappyEvilSlosh
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If all that is being said is that Esperanto is not the best of all possible worlds, then a lot of breath has been wasted over a tautology. Things that exist are never platonic ideals.

Just so we end clearly (I think I've said all that I wanted) this isn't what I'm getting at.

If I were to sit down and identify the minimal standards that I would expect an IAL to meet then Esperanto doesn't achieve those criteria. My complaint isn't that I think Esperanto isn't perfect, but that I think it's not even sufficiently good (YMMV).

Having said that, and to throw Esperanto a bone, I can see genuine uses for it outside of an IAL. For example at the moment English is effectively the center of Duolingo. With the recent exception of Catalan every course on Duolingo either goes-to or comes-from English. I think Esperanto would be a better choice for that position. Because it wouldn't matter that it isn't gender neutral or that it's based on European languages, it only has to be easier to learn than English!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BerberuEsperanto

I skimread your link and found this interesting... http://www.esperanto.qc.ca/html/faq-mensonges-fr.htm#5. Il n'y a qu'un seul anglais

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
HappyEvilSlosh
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Can I have a summary? I don't speak that much French. :P

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BerberuEsperanto

Google translate: some key lies peddled about English(4French):

The English pronunciation is easy.

The English spelling is easy.

The English vocabulary is easy.

The grammar of English is regular

English is a rich language vocabulary. Therefore, more effective.

There is only one English

English is spoken everywhere.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rlsinclair

This post is a classic example of what I call “The Big Esperanto Lie” - the claim that all opposition to the language is motivated purely by blind prejudice and ignorance. They cannot accept that intelligent people genuinely do not like their pet project.

I have studied Esperanto on and off for about three decades. I got to the point where I could read it fairly fluently and have read dozens of books in and about the language, but I never became reconciled with the various features that I disliked from the very beginning ( I will not detail these features here because the original poster is an Esperantist and therefore has no interest in other peoples' opinions ).

If you like the language, that is fine with me. Just show other people a little more respect.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
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I most certainly did not make the claim that informed people do not have good arguments against Esperanto or that all people who don't like it are uninformed. Merely that such uninformed criticisms are common. Actually the main feature I like about the link I posted is the author's healthy skepticism. I find Esperanto evangelism unconvincing and harmful to the legitimate arguments for the language. The author has an entire chapter criticising the kind of behavior you mention. I have no idea what disrespect you are referring to. It is almost as if you wrote this post to prove how much people overreact. By the way I absolutely accept that most people need not have any interest whatsoever in Esperanto. That seems perfectly reasonable and I said nothing remotely related to that. I'm perplexed as to why you would make such an inference.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rlsinclair

You may not have explicitly claimed that people do not have good arguments but you implied it by only listing the negative reasons: “Blind hatred”, “people who know nothing” and “before they even have their feet wet”.

This is all deliberately offensive language, not a neutral introduction to the linked article.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mutusen
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"This post is a classic example of what I call “The Big Esperanto Lie” - the claim that all opposition to the language is motivated purely by blind prejudice and ignorance. They cannot accept that intelligent people genuinely do not like their pet project."

In my experience it's not entirely false. There are indeed people who informed themselves about Esperanto who don't like it, and it's true that most people just don't care about it one way of the other. But many people who dislike it know almost nothing about the reality of Esperanto. It's true that many Esperantists are defensive, and maybe I am too, but hearing people claiming "it's not a real language", "why not Elvish lol", "you can't express feelings in Esperanto", "there are no native speakers", "there is no Esperanto literature", etc., without spending 2 minutes to google it gets old very fast.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/da_funky_munky
da_funky_munky
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I, too, understand your point, if i'm reading it right? but if you are in favour of Esperanto, a way to combat most of these arguments is 1) pretty much anything can be "verbed" in Esperanto, so you could say la cxielo estas blua, which means the sky is blue, but to give more intensity and passion, you could say "La cxielo bluas" which means the sky is bluing. this, in english, is most definatly wrong, but Esperanto can get away with it. This is also the same with crocodile and aligator.

2) Esperanto has very close relationships with french verbs, and german adjictives, along with using things in the negative sense in russian. This argument can be used for people who think Esperanto has no value. However, it can be said that a year of Esperanto and french can equal to two years, and I personally agree as it has helped my with my grasp of understanding.

3) From the book, In the land of invented languages, by Arika Okrent, a quote is given, which isn't normally remebered and never viewed as an argument. I am unable to recall who it was by, but I can give you the guts of the quote: If a korean, Swede and frenchman were to all speak english, they are speaking a language that has been taught to them due to it's rapid expansion. They do not feel a part of that language, nor would they do if they spoke bulgarian to one another, but with Esperanto, there is a sense of fraternity and inclusion, as if they all belong to one culture - Esperanto, and they are all Esperantists

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/KevanSF
KevanSF
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Hi, rlsinclair, your post resonated with me. I too, dislike some features of the language, but I am determined to finish the tree, and once the tree is done, and the language "settles" a bit more in my brain, I plan to "review" Esperanto as a language in a new post here on Duo.

There are definitely some good points to the language, and I would never want to discourage anyone from learning it, but a few aspects of the language leave me cold (and perplexed). Maybe that will change as I become more familiar with the language?

At any rate, I already feel a bit of trepidation about the thought of eventually posting my personal feelings and opinions about this language and certain aspects of it, because I know many people are hard-core fans and might take umbrage or offense at any criticism of the language.

Who knows? I won't even begin to write my review until after I'm done with the tree, and my mind is still open, so I'm not sure how I'll feel then.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/junelac
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I see that you're learning also italian, german french and other languages. Will you also post your personal feelings and opinions and review the language and explain where they suck and how they would be better if they were changed for this or that ?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Platypus01

I did that once in a beginner's Italian course. I learnt my lesson.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/crno_srce
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I did a German course at my company in Germany and most of the people who showed up to the first lesson were not at all open to the idea that another language might be different to their own and constantly said things like "why is it like that?" and "that doesn't make any sense". Our teacher's advice was "don't ask why". It's good advice for learning a language. Sometimes there's a reason that can make sense to you, but often it will just seem unnecessarily difficult and you can just waste a lot of time asking "why?" when the answer will make no sense to you anyway, even if there's a reason.

Needless to say, most of the loudest participants didn't show up to the second class...

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/crno_srce
crno_srce
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Oh wow! I got a downvote! Was that you, HappyEvilSlosh? Not so happy, maybe :-) Is it because I said that not asking "why" constantly with language learning is good advice? I stand by it, totally :-) It's very liberating advice, and learning a language is quite unlike learning maths. You've done both - surely you can see the difference?

If I ask "why does a^2 + b^2 = c^2?" there are lots of different lovely and logical explanations. There are really good reasons.

If I ask "why does German have to have all those genders and cases?", "why is it 'einundzwanzig' and not 'zwanzigein'?", etc, those are pointless things to wonder about. Some things you just need to accept as differences. Perhaps later on you will get an insight to a language's internal logic, but it won't be anything like the logic of mathematics!

Downvote that!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
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Oh wow! I got a downvote! Was that you, HappyEvilSlosh?

Of course. I votes 'em like I sees 'em. :P I voted your posts at the bottom up though so don't blame those on me!

If I ask "why does German have to have all those genders and cases?", "why is it 'einundzwanzig' and not 'zwanzigein'?", etc, those are pointless things to wonder about. Some things you just need to accept as differences. Perhaps later on you will get an insight to a language's internal logic, but it won't be anything like the logic of mathematics!

I still maintain it's an inappropriate answer. The answers I would give based on my knowledge would be:

  • Noone truly knows, but here's some hypotheses... (in the case of genders),
  • English marks case based on position in a sentence or by using prepositions, German has ended up doing it based on declension (in the case of cases),
  • and of course the one that people seem to have massive ego problems with with: I don't know (in the case of einundzwanzig vs zwanzigeins).

One I found myself having to use on occasion was "that will take more time than I have available to explain". I'm sure you can see how that might come up if someone asked a particularly hairy maths question.

Telling someone to not ask questions can make them think they're asking stupid or banal questions and discourage them which is a pretty sure fire way to turn someone off learning. Like those participants who didn't show up to the second class ...

Downvote that!

I wasn't going to but if you insist...

Edit: And actually when I was learning Japanese if someone (i.e. the teacher) had relented and explained the use of は, が and を with technical language (this was in the days before the internet) I would have had a significantly easier time with the language. Another reason to avoid discouraging people from asking questions is because you may be hindering them from a method of learning that works for them.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/da_funky_munky
da_funky_munky
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I find that too in languages. In german, the verb is the second idea, Why? it's just given. In English why do mango, germany and go have different "G" sounds? They just do. In Esperanto, there is definatly a method behind the madness, for all verbs revolve around and "as" ending (or I for infitive, but it rotates around that). My favourite Esperanto discovery was putting two and two together to find out where the verb "ludi" came from. As ludi is to play, ludo is a game. I tried searching everywhere, in french and german, and then I realised it was latin, because there is a game called ludo, and that is so called after the latin word "ludus" which means game. Also, the word Espere is the latin "to hope" which is what Esperanto is called after

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
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Our teacher's advice was "don't ask why". It's good advice for learning a language.

That's terrible advice for learning ... anything, and the sort of out used by someone who doesn't actually know the answer.

I tutored maths at university for about ten years and can pretty confidently say those words never passed my lips.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/crno_srce
crno_srce
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I can see why he would feel a sense of trepidation!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/peter.kristof.hu
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Thank you, it's a very good reading.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/crno_srce
crno_srce
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From the chapter "A Minor Difficulty of Esperanto":

"Claude Piron... gives this example from his days as a reviser of translations at the World Health Organization:

He could not agree with the amendments to the draft resolution proposed by the delegation of India.

At first glance a native speaker of English has no problem with this sentence. However, as Piron points out, the sentence as written is unclear about what the delegation of India proposed...

No doubt the writer felt that he was being clear when he wrote this sentence. If he had written this sentence in either French or Esperanto, he would have had to be clear because in those sentences the adjective “proposed” would have been singular if it modified “resolution” which is a singular noun, and plural if it modified “amendments” which is a plural noun."

And what if there had been only a single amendment? It would then be equally ambiguous in all 3 languages. It's really just luck that this extra compulsory info sometimes helps clarify. I think an IAL should more reliably disambiguate than this. In any case, this kind of random example is a spurious argument. If the Indian delegation had proposed the amendments, then I think it should have been written as:

"He could not agree with the amendments [which were] proposed by the delegation of India to the draft resolution."

Seeing as the phrase "proposed by the delegation" is a relative clause in disguise, as it were. As, essentially, a relative clause it must immediately follow the noun phrase it modifies, in which case there's only one possible interpretation.

This isn't a good example at all and it's the only counter-example. Yikes! Plenty of languages don't have adjectival accord at all (Chinese) and yet contracts are still written in them. Also, some languages have much more detailed adjectival accord (Russian). If you were planning a language, why pick to only mark the direct object and plural through declensions but not any other cases?

I personally look at Esperanto now as a natural language rather than a planned language. In terms of planning, it started with a few good ideas, a few bad ideas and grew from there. I don't think it's ever going to take off as an IAL, but that's a whole different story. If you worry too much about the stuff that doesn't make sense, it just becomes very hard to learn. I mean, colours - griza, blanka, rozkolora, violkolora????. Please :-)

One final comment from the page about pronunciation. The author points out the difficulty for certain east asian speakers of pronouncing "l" and "r" but then just basically says "well, there wouldn't be many sounds if we worried about all that." Oh, well, tough luck I guess! Luckily for western Europeans all the tricky sounds of Chinese (and I'm not talking about tones!) were left out :-)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
seveer
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Some of the issues you mention are discussed obliquely elsewhere in the book, but I think you're right to point out the casual nature of some of the author's assertions.

I think, with regard to there being better options, he has a very simple argument... Let those options develop a community of users and a literature. Let them do the work so that their success can be measured. If Esperanto doesn't measure up to a particular desired standard it is, in part, because it is the only one that can be measured. We don't rely on pharmaceutical companies to tell us the theory behind a drug makes it safe. It goes through clinical trials for years. I welcome the large scale trial of some other auxiliary language so we can measure its success and choose the best. I am not being facetious. Until then an alternate treatment, proven effective for certain indications, is available for those who desire it at no cost.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/crno_srce
crno_srce
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Well, obviously that's never going to happen :-)

But more on the apologia:

"2 The -n ending indicates DIRECTION

Consider this English sentence:

  1. The child jumps on the bed.

In this form the sentence is ambiguous. It can mean either that the child was already on the bed and is in the process of jumping on it or that the child was not on the bed but jumps onto it."

The two correct options are "the child jumps on the bed" and "the child jumps onTO the bed", but increasingly this distinction is being lost in spoken English as the context usually resolves any ambiguity. It's a disingenous example because the author tries to avoid saying "onto" in their English explanation but then gives up and just says it.

So, another incorrect example to justify a compulsory feature. Overall, not a very good justification for the design. Now, if we just pretend that this is a natural language that arose as a contact creole somewhere in central Europe about 100 years ago or so, then we can forget about all the issues and just say "wow, for a natural language it's pretty regular!"

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
seveer
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So your theory is that the author is trying to deceive the reader but can't manage to maintain the deception until the end of the sentence? Is that why he uses the qualifier "in this form?" I read it straightforwardly in the context it is presented: an introduction to the directional behavior of -n to promote reader understanding. Not a micro-defense of the feature as solving an otherwise insoluble problem of English. That's a highly cynical reading.

On your second point, I am perfectly happy to "pretend" it is a very regular creole. Academically speaking that is probably a fine description. But unlike any creoles I know of, it has been shown to take nearly an order of magnitude less time to learn compared to virtually any other major language. Again I have to reiterate that I and most speakers don't care about its provenance but about its utility. This has been demonstrated in a variety of studies and by anecdotal experience. Theory is subject to reality.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/crno_srce
crno_srce
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I don't think they intentionally want to deceive the reader, but they have done a good job of deceiving themselves with strawman arguments about ambiguous sentences in English that are wonderfully clear in Esperanto due to compulsory case and number marking, but the arguments don't hold water. Remember, the article itself is a defence of Esperanto in the face of criticisms over its design and justifications for those design decisions. You don't find similar treatises on natural languages because they weren't designed and to learn them you just have to try to love their wrinkles, which is why I'm trying to pretend Esperanto wasn't designed :-)

What do you mean by "other major language"? How are you defining major? Number of speakers of decent fluency? Utility? And what do you mean "unlike any creoles I know of"? You mean to say you think it's easier to learn than, say Tok Pisin? Tok Pisin is an official language of a country (Papua New Guinea) and has multiples of the numbers of speakers of Esperanto both at L1 and L2 levels. It's even used in their parliament, so it's got to be considered to be at least as "major" as Esperanto, surely! It's not as widespread as Esperanto, but you've got to admit that Esperanto is spread pretty thin, even on optimistic estimates. I don't think Esperanto's grammar is easier to learn than Tok Pisin and creoles beat Esperanto hands down in terms of phonology. For example, I just did a quick search for any language that has a fricative + affricate consonant cluster like you find in "scii" in Esperanto and I came up empty. I can't think of any examples personally, but I'd be happy to hear some.

If by "utility" you mean it might make it easier to learn another foreign language, that may be true. I think the studies so far have only shown that it makes learning another European language easier, and I don't think anyone's tested whether learning, say, Tok Pisin, or some other simple invented "toy" language could have the same effect, but Esperanto does have great free learning resources. So, if you're looking to get over the "learning another language" hump, it's a pretty good place to start.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
seveer
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The primary study I had in mind was that done by the Institute of Cybernetic Pedagogy at Paderborn which found that (according to Wikipedia) “2000 hours studying German = 1500 hours studying English = 1000 hours studying Italian (or any other Romance language) = 150 hours studying Esperanto.” This was to achieve comparable “standard levels.” Other of the propaedeutic studies you mention point to a significant gap in difficulty as well. Obviously this is limited to a particular group of (French) learners and would hardly apply in precisely the same way to Chinese or Arabic speakers. Unfortunately it is hardly the best studied phenomenon in the world, but there are studies.

I will grant you that this (Zaft) document is hardly a rigorous treatise. As you mention yourself, Esperanto faces the unique obstacle of requiring a defense before people will bother to begin learning it. It is already at a PR deficit compared to virtually any natural language. I think this document gives rational people enough information to consider whether it is worth investing a couple of hundred hours in the language, that is all.

This very prerequisite is what makes it all the more odd that Esperanto has at least hundreds of thousands of speakers and likely millions, with virtually none of the usual cultural or economic pressures to learn. It faces all sorts of other unique obstacles that most of these languages do not face (including Hitler, Stalin, and Franco), as well.

I live in a region where dozens of native-american languages are rapidly vanishing. Why should languages with such a far richer cultural history, ritual uses, and still hundreds or thousands of native speakers rapidly decline (while populations of the tribes expand), while sometimes being subsidized by rich tribal governments, at the same time that Esperanto continues to rapidly expand when its name is almost a synonym for wacky failure?

It seems like magical thinking to imagine that it is not, in fact, quite good (if still very imperfect) at what it does in order for it to survive in the manner that it has, with daily international use and a thriving literature.

Is Tok Pisin as easy? And for whom? I don't know. If so, then someone should cultivate some international speakers. My guess is that if such a major language, as you describe it, had the same unique and noticeable ease of learning and recall as Esperanto, someone would have mentioned it. I look forward to such a citation. I would be interested to examine such a language and read its advocates. It's worth noting that the very existence of Tok Pisin is just another example of the colonial power of Enlgish speakers...I can't imagine it being all that easy for non-English speakers since it developed from an unplanned English pidgin... But add it to the list of untested alternatives.

Even if such a language could be found, however, it would have to be easier than Esperanto, since one of the stated advantages (whether you buy it or not) of Esperanto is that it does not have a coincident national government or privileged native speakers who can claim authority on its use in power positions. It just has a few rules in an old book and an Akademio that makes occasional recommendations. If we do find such an alternative language, I will enthusiastically learn that language.

But, to echo like a broken record my earlier posts: pointing out theoretical defects is simply not as scientific as some of those of a linguistic bent are making it out to be. The mark of hard science is empirical verification.

On a personal level that means learn it, use it, and compare it to other languages. My purpose in posting has been to get people up to that point, not to force them to accept any particular view.

This will be my last post here; I do have a life, as unbelievable as that may seem :-)

Best regards.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/crno_srce
crno_srce
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BTW, how come people keep upvoting your responses and I'm getting no upvotes at all even though I'm just addressing the substance of the article that was posted? Total favouritism :-) I might try posting my comments in Esperanto and see if I get a better result!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
seveer
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Here is a pretty comprehensive rebuttal of a lot of anti-Esperanto arguments. Seemed very topical so I just thought I would drop it here for the curious/obsessive.

P.S. the author is not a native English speaker, I believe, but is responding in English since most of the arguments were from English speakers. He remarks that he would be much more comfortable writing in Esperanto. Keep this in mind when judging the quality of his posts.

P.P.S. By comprehensive I mean that the author tries to respond to a LOT of arguments, not that he responds to them in a comprehensive manner. Some answers are very good and some are trite and opinionated. Just thought I would mention this before someone skewers me for linking to a site that doesn't meet their exacting standards of evidence.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/junelac
junelac
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Esperanto is the only language I'm aware with this phenomenon of beginners thinking they are legitimate to not only say crap about a language, but also to insult its speaker and to want to change it, because they don't like some grammar points or think it doesn't fit their ideological agenda enough.

I never saw a beginner in french trying to convince other people to change its gender system and saying that people who don't want to follow them are sexists or whatever. They learn the language as it is. They may of course complain it's difficult and illogical (which is true), but they will not spend their time proposing reforms or using their own version of the language while saying it's still french.

Not giving the same treatment to esperanto is to consider that it is not a real language but just a toy.

As a side note, I kept a eye on the esperanto community for a time long enough to affirm that these people are its most toxic part, and by far, even before the zealot propagandists (who can be quite annoying).

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sinkopo

Vi pravegas.

Mi miras kiom multaj komencantoj kaj dumjaraj esperanto-uzantoj mencias reformojn, ŝanĝojn, ktp.

Esperanto ne plu estas laboratoria sed vivanta lingvo. Do, reformoj rubujen!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Another_Guy

Ankaŭ interesa/also interesting (In English): http://claudepiron.free.fr/articlesenanglais/reactions.htm

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tu.8zPhLw150yTOC

I think precisely because many (NOT all) Esperanto speakers make such bold claims about the language, it is bound to be open to these 'attacks'/critiques.

As a beginner myself, I felt quite surprised to begin with when I encountered difficult aspects, since all I had ever read was "Esperanto is SOOOOO easy!!!" and "It's COMPLETELY logical!!!". Obviously those are never going to be 100% true claims, but as a beginner who's struggled to learn many languages in the past, blinded by idealism, you think "Wow, this must be the one!" :)

Its status as a planned language kind of does expose it to that stuff, I'm afraid.

Often people try and counter the criticism (which is sometimes really just that- a critique, not an all-out attack) with further toxicity, which naturally fuels the fire of people who hate Esperanto.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zerozeroone
zerozeroone
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Even ambitious and idealistic new learners often attack or try to modify all sorts of things about Esperanto before they even have their feet wet.

Sometimes you don't even need to get your feet wet to see the water is polluted.

The question is what do you do at that point? You can go somewhere else (not learn Esperanto), accept that there's some pollution in the water (accept Esperanto, warts and all), or you can try to clean up the water (learn Esperanto, but try to change it.)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ricxjo

Here's the thing: a learner of a language, by definition, has insufficient understanding to be making changes. That's really all there is too it. Learn it, or don't learn it. If you were to move to Wales and began Welsh language lessons, you'd discover very quickly that Welsh spellings mutate according to context. You might well conclude that this feature makes Welsh more difficult to learn (and you'd be right!) But if you got to the end of a beginners course and immediately began a campaign to 'reform' the language, I guarantee you'd be given short shrift. Same goes for any language. Change comes, but it comes through community use over time. What you have to understand is that in the Esperanto community, E-o is a living everyday language not an experiment that can be continually tinkered with. It is what it is. Like it or lump it, as they say round our way.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sierscarf

I am confused by your use of "living language", as I've heard that term in the context of living languages having the ability to mutate and change over time, not "it is what it is" or something not to be tinkered with.

I am the first to admit that I don't have much experience with the language, and that won't prevent me from learning more about the potential problems and solutions with the language to think about as I learn.

I like the analogy of swimming in the water. Personally (to extrapolate on the metaphor), I started splashing my feet in and noticed some questionable things floating around. Those things aren't going to stop me from trying to swim, but I'm definitely taking note of them and thinking about possibilities for the future, though nothing is set in stone. :)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ricxjo

The flaw with the swimming argument is that swimming is a solitary activity. How you swim is not affected by how others around you are swimming. Language is a team game and it only works if we all play by the same rules. Baseball and cricket are both good games on their own terms, but someone at the plate in cricket pads and whites insisting he's going to use cricket's rules against the Mets because cricket's rules are better would just look ridiculous. Change comes to language, but it comes by consensus from within a speaking community as the language is actually used. That's what I meant by a living language: it belongs to a community of real people who are using it in their everyday lives. They don't appreciate having beginners tell them how their language needs reforming, any more than would the French, the Welsh or the Finns. Of course the language isn't set in stone. No living language could be. But to set out learning a language with an eye to improving it is, well, arrogance.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sierscarf

Hmm, I like that analogy too! In the world of that analogy, this is sort of like someone trying to join a game but being hit in the head repeatedly through no fault of their own. Sometimes that means that it isn't the right game for that person, and other times there needs to be a conversation about why the older players are bullying the newbie, and other times it's a misunderstanding that can be fixed. Either way, a conversation needs to happen, which it did, and I think it went pretty well overall. Misunderstandings and confusion are things that happen, even without cultural differences that a new language includes. For me as a nonbinary person, it is pretty likely that any language I start to learn will not have room for my identity in it. Sometimes that could be okay, and sometimes there is already a community of people who have come up with workarounds and new words to describe different types of people in various ways. I was glad to be introduced to so much knowledge to keep in mind as I continue to learn! Also, since Esperanto IS a created language, there is some more flexibility with the "rules" (by which I mean not grammar rules but vocabulary and things) so it's more like house rules for a particular game than anything else. Any group of Esperanto speakers who I end up interacting with regularly (since I have indeed found two rl people to practice with) will learn with me as I find the right words for myself, both in english and esperanto. Who knows where it will go from there?

Thanks, Scarf

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zerozeroone
zerozeroone
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If you were studying American English back in the early 1900s and somebody told you that you never used the word "sir" to refer to anybody except a white man, I would certainly hope you would find that disgusting. But that was how the language worked back then.

But you would need no knowledge of English to figure this out, only a basic human decency.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/orthohawk
orthohawk
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I'm sure in thy study of Spanish thee has found "the water polluted" by essentially unnecessary gender of nouns, 58 different endings on verbs to cover the same ground as 5 in Esperanto, etc. I bet thee learned very quickly that since Spanish is a living language complete with a community of proficient speakers (who would probably take considerable umbrage with a newbie who just started his study of their language and yet started advocating for changes), did thee not?

Well the same goes for Esperanto. It is a living language now. The only two choices are "don't learn it" or "accept it, warts and all" and that's it. There is no third option; the "tinkering" stage was over and done with on July 26, 1887 (or else August 9, 1905, depending on how one looks at it). It's no longer just a "project."

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zerozeroone
zerozeroone
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I'm sure in thy study of Spanish thee has found "the water polluted" by essentially unnecessary gender of nouns, 58 different endings on verbs to cover the same ground as 5 in Esperanto, etc.

I've found English—my native language—to be polluted as well. But I'm trying to clean it up. It's not easy, but I try to use neutral terms such as "police officer" instead of "policeman" or "chair" instead of "chairman"; I try not to use ethnic slurs; I even try to be more tolerant of variants of speech.

who would probably take considerable umbrage with a newbie who just started his study of their language and yet started advocating for changes

Strangely enough, I've already been chided once for not trying to change things by someone who speaks much better Spanish than I. (Disclaimer: They were talking explicitly about El Salvador during an election season, so I have no idea how big of a faux pas it would have been elsewhere.)

The only two choices are "don't learn it" or "accept it, warts and all" and that's it.

If that was true, we'd all still be speaking Latin...well, actually, Proto-Indo-European.

Living languages do change. And every single change was made by people. No cosmic force spoke from on high to English speakers and said "Stop using thee and thou in everyday speech." People decided to do that. And, in Esperanto, if enough people decide to accept foo as valid...it's valid.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/orthohawk
orthohawk
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Thee is just strengthening my argument. what I'm saying is that Esperanto is just like spanish and german and any other language: a person who just started learning it Is. Not. the one to initiate change. That is up to the proficient speakers of a language.
thee is right; nobody issued an edict prohibiting using thou and thee (and the appropriate verb forms), they were dropped in a totally "natural" way by native speakers of English who had spoken english from their mother's knees, not people just starting to learn the language. It is not the learner's place to do that, not like Reformers (try to) do with Esperanto.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zerozeroone
zerozeroone
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It is not the learner's place to do that

Why not?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/junelac
junelac
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because a learner doesn't know and doesn't use the language

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zerozeroone
zerozeroone
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@junelac.

Nonsense. I am perfectly able to see how Esperanto handles word formation in regards to male/female. (Actually, anyone who is taking the course should, because it's in the first lesson!) I'm perfectly able to see that a problem that occurs in my native language occurs in Esperanto as well. And I'm perfectly able to research and see that other people have seen the same problem.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/spenerish
spenerish
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Does anyone else see something suspicious going on with the way Lingots are distributed in the comments? Strange that comments downvoted to the negatives have ~12 Lingots and vice versa.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/seveer
seveer
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Like some kind of conspiracy? Seems unlikely. For one thing, you can give a comment as many lingots as you want, but you only have one vote; sort of like U.S. politics:-)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SilentWolf77

Esperanto is virtually useless but it's easy and fairly popular.

1 year ago