AMA with the Esperanto voice, Francis Soghomonian
To start our Esperanto AMA (Ask Me Anything) series, we have Francis Soghomonian with us now, better known as the voice of Duolingo's Esperanto course! Here you can learn more about him:
Biografio en Esperanto
Mi estas armenido, kiu naskiĝis en Parizo en 1962 kaj mi ankoraŭ loĝas tie. Mi eklernis Esperanton okaze de ĝia centjariĝo en 1987. Mi estis dungita de agentejo por la registrado en profesia studio de la sondosieroj de la Esperanto-kurso de Duolingo. Tiun profesian studion mi ankaŭ uzas por registri miajn kantojn, ĉu originalajn verkojn ĉu alilingvajn adaptojn, kiujn mi proponas al profesiaj artistoj. Mi mem emas kanti miajn kreaĵojn, precipe franc-lingvajn kaj internaci-lingvajn. Mi pretas respondi demandojn en Esperanto, la franca aŭ la angla.
Biography in English
I am of Armenian heritage, but was born in Paris in 1962 where I still live. I started learning Esperanto due to its 100-year anniversary in 1987. I was hired by an agency to record the sound files for Duolingo's Esperanto course in a professional studio. I also use that studio to record my songs, both original and adaptations in other languages, which I propose to professional artists. I personally like to sing my own creations, especially in French and Esperanto. I am ready to answer questions in Esperanto, French or English.
Note: All first-level messages must be questions, otherwise they will be deleted. The AMA starts at 21:00 Paris (15:00 New York), but you can go ahead and write your question now. Enjoy!
You can see the last AMA with Duolingo's Esperanto team here: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/9121337
AMA has now come to an end : thank you for all your questions ! Feel free to message me in private if you forgot to ask me something. It was an honour for me to become the Duolingo Esperanto voice and I hope it'll always help you in your learning process... Vivu la Internacia Lingvo Esperanto !
Francis, not only is your pronunciation exceptionally clear and beautiful, your voice is also a pleasure to hear. The Duolingo Esperanto course is tops in no small part because of this.
Mi pensis pro tio. Je la barbo de Zamenhof, mi esperas ke Duolingo uzos vian voĉon en futuraj versioj de la kurso (versio 3, 4, 5, ktp).
Ne nur por kohereco, ne nur por resti la plej bona Esperanta-kurso, sed ankaŭ per daŭri de ĉi tiu alta kvalito nur via voĉo povas provizi vin povas helpi al plej multaj lernantoj.
Eble ne estis facile fari ĉi tiun laboron. Sed ni ĉiuj havas devon: kun granda kapablo, granda respondeco.
Thank you so much, ahblair! I feel honoured to get such compliments! I'll unfortunately disappoint you regarding my collaboration with Duolingo because it seems that they no longer have any budget for human voices for their courses, so it's unlikely that the agency that hired me on behalf of Duolingo will contact me for that purpose again. Sed vi pravas pri la malfacileco de tiu laboro : tio postulas longajn horojn en profesia studio dum kiuj bezonatas senĉese koncentriĝi, ne nur por bone prononci sed ankaŭ por iom aktori kaj igi la tuton pli natureca... Mi esperas ke mia laboro iel helpos la lernintojn, la lernantojn kaj la lernontojn!
My motivation to learn Esperanto was purely linguistic at the beginning but I progressively appreciated the philosophical essence of this outstanding language. I'm interested by many languages (of different families) but I sometimes feel ashamed not to speak fluently Armenian, the language of my 4 grandparents, so I'd be happy to have it on Duolingo someday :-)
Since Esperanto is an international language, there cannot be a native accent. One can pronounce all the phonemes correctly, but there will still be differences in rhythm and intonation depending on the origin of the speaker. I'd like to hear your thoughts about this. Do you believe the voice will have a "Parisian twang", and is there any possible solution to this issue?
Thank you for this very interesting question. I'm not sure I can answer it though. I suppose that as a native of Paris, I'll never be able to avoid some "Parisian twang" but I've always tried to diminish it when speaking Esperanto, because I think that the French accent isn't adapted to the stress on the penultimate syllable in Esperanto.
I read this conversation only now. Oops. As a linguist I'm very interested in different accents, also in Esperanto, and I have a fine ear for phonetic differences. Before we knew who the voice of Duolingo Esperanto was, I tried to make some guesses as to where the voice might be from. My guess was Polish or perhaps Croatian. I could hear absolutely no hint of an accent whatsoever. So I don't think I hear any "Parisian twang". :)
That's good. I haven't looked at the course and I have too much on my plate to start it. Could you tell me whether the "r"s are alveolar taps or uvular fricatives/trills? Is there an official guide for the phonetics of Esperanto which might say, "r"s should be alveolar taps, for example?
Other than this I would assume that sentence intonation would be fairly variable across native languages and very difficult to legislate for.
In my (admittedly limited) experience of Esperanto, I have never heard the letter 'r' rolled or as an uvular fricative/trill. It's always an alveolar tap. Then again, an important axiom of Esperanto is that 'neniu estas fremdulo' ('no one is a foreigner') so my understanding is that alternative pronunciations are tolerated.
Esperanto should be pronounced with an alveolar trill [r] although a tapped r is understood. This is detailed in all the grammar books I've read, however it is often referred to as simply a trilled 'r' or a rolled 'r'. (For example, Helen Fryer, an Esperantist who wrote a grammar book published in the early 20th century, advised that the 'r' "...must be well rolled".
Incidentally, it is often said that L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of the language, suggested Italian as a model for Esperanto's pronunciation but I haven't found the source for that yet and it's not listed on Wiki either. Nonetheless, the Wikipedia page below has an overview of Esperanto pronunciation which may help you.
As long as the phonemes are easily recognizable, there's no problem.
If you think people with wildly different accents can't communicate in the same language, look at the English language! You've got Australian accents, British accents, Northern US accents, Southern US accents, Canadian accents, even Scottish accents!
I think if you're at the point where the thing you are worried about at all isn't your pronunciation, your grammar, or your vocabulary, but actually your accent, then you're worrying over something very small. You're probably only adding 10 or 20 ms to the processing time of the other listener. Just speak clearly, loudly, and slowly enough if you're still unsure.
I like hearing all the different accents. It reminds you how big the world is. It gives people identities. There's no need to 100% completely abandon your national pride/identity just because you're speaking an international language. In fact, I think the cool thing about international things in general is that you get to learn about all the different countries of the world.
I’ve said it before, but you did an amazing job. When I talk to people about Esperanto, for example staffing the Esperanto table at local language festivals or literary fairs, the public often asks “What does Esperanto sound like?” I can say something with my mediocre accent - I can’t yet do an alveolar trill, for example - or refer them to the hodge-podge of Esperanto videos on YouTube, but I’ve often wanted to be able to showcase you speaking in Esperanto. Frankly, your pronunciation is beautiful and it puts the language in the best light.
Mi kredas ke uloj aŭdos la estetikan belecon de la lingvo kiam ili aŭdos vin, kaj iomete pli instigos lerni Esperanton.
I was living in Paris last year (kvankam, antaŭ ol mi komencis lerni Esperanton) and I am disappointed that I didn’t meet you. However, let me know if you will be at the Univesala Kongreso in Montreal 2020, and perhaps you might be interested in taking 10 minutes to be interviewed for YouTube? Or reading a poem to inspire others.
Hi! I have a grammar question:
The word order in Esperanto is flexible and free, which is cool! But when it comes to indirect objects used in a sentence, how flexible is that?
Let me give an example (in English, Spanish, and Esperanto). The direct object is italicized, and the indirect object in --:
English: He gave it -to me- / Spanish: Él -me- lo dio / Esperanto: Li donis -al mi- ĝin
Where the Esperanto sentence is in the style of which I see a lot. But is it possible to match the Esperanto object order like the Spanish word order, as in:
Esperanto: Li al mi ĝin donis
? I ask because I would like to flavor my Esperanto to closer resemble the Spanish order. Thank you for reading!