Tuesday, November 18, 2008


When I penned my blog yesterday on Spanish and English my hand hesitated over the keyboard as I debated on whether to include Chinese and Esperanto.

Well I did the former and not the latter. I promptly received a comment from Brian Barker which can be read in full below yesterday’s blog. He stated: “There is an alternative to English (or Spanish) as the dominant World Language, and its name is Esperanto.

Esperanto is now within the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and in use by Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

Native Esperanto speakers, include George Soros, Ulrich Brandenburg the new German Ambassador to NATO, and World Champion Chess Player, Susan Polger.”

I have known many people in my long life and only one of them was an Esperanto speaker. Indeed he was a fanatic but apart from those people he conversed with at meetings in London he was unable to communicate with any of us around him in that tongue as we only spoke English.

There are an estimated 1,500,000,000 English speakers world-wide and some 417,000,000 Spanish speakers. For Esperanto I found estimates of between 100,000 and two million speakers with only up to 2,000 “native speakers”.

What Esperanto lacks and both English and Spanish have is a solid culture behind the language. In both cases you do not just speak English or Spanish for by being able to do so you open up a rich heritage going back hundreds of years and that is being added to all the time. In addition the two languages gave to the world both Shakespeare and Cervantes – debatably the world’s two greatest writers.

In the unlikely event I have ever to speak to George Soros – I can do so in English. I suspect that apart from his native Hungarian and of course Esperanto, this high cultivated man also has other linguistic strings to his mighty bow.


Bill Chapman said...

You're right to compare the speaker populations of English and Spanish with the number of people who speak Esperanto, but I still think you're being rather unfair to the latter.

Esperanto has been in continuous use for over a century, and is spoken by a diasapora. Whilst the numbers may not be enormous, the language has a well organised network of speakers who make travel, for work or pleasure, so much more intertesting and profitable. I have used Esperanto in Sofia, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Zagreb in the last couple of years. Life is too short to learn every language on the face of the planet, and is a practical solution to a very real problem.

You mentioned an eccentric and over-enthusiastic Esperantist. There are a few eccentrics who don't speak Esperanto, you know! Incidentally, you may have met more Esperanto speakers than you know. When I am at a conference in London, I don't announce that I speak Esperanto and Welsh. I'm not ashamed of either tongue, but it is not always appropriate or relevant to mention them!

Remush said...

Cervantes and Shakespeare, and lots of other well known writers have been translated in Esperanto. Esperanto has also its own literature.
You can spend your whole life reading interesting books in Esperanto.
If you have the occasion go to an Esperanto World Congress and visit the library, you may then adjust your opinion and realize that Esperanto is truly multicultural.

mankso said...

It is not the number of Esperanto-speakers that really concerns me (a speaker of Esperanto for some 58 years now), but the reasons for learning Esperanto. Nobody has addressed any of these yet. Seven of them can be found in the Prague Manifesto:
The whole point of 'universal bilingualism' [YOUR ethnic language + non-ethnic Esperanto for all] is to get away from the cultural and linguistic colonialism which, if I understand correctly, you seem to be espousing.

Miĉjo said...

Actually, your fanatic Esperanto speaker is able to converse with more than just the attendees at his London meetings: he can talk with any of the two million or so Esperanto speakers scattered around the globe. He can also read any of the countless original literary works, translations, and web pages in Esperanto.

If the number of speakers of a language is sufficient to offer the kinds of opportunities that speakers of that language desire, then what does that number matter? Esperanto speakers typically seek each other out for international friendship, acquaintance with other cultures and cultural heritages or exposure to a fascinating language in its own right, at low cost and with a high degree of fairness. Two million, even scattered worldwide - or perhaps especially scattered worldwide - is plenty for that.

Esperanto also has a solid culture. It may not go back as far as English or Spanish, but it has been building for 120 years and is being added to all the time. Esperanto's unusual ease of learning and flexibility also make it possible for ordinary Esperanto speakers to write, translate, read or converse in Esperanto almost as well or just as well as in their native language. Other cultures become nearly as accessible through Esperanto as one's native culture does through one's native tongue.

By dropping those names, I think Brian was trying to point out that Esperanto includes people of exceptional ability or renown, not that you can communicate with them only in Esperanto. But that's OK - there are plenty of non-English-speaking Esperantists out there with whom you can communicate only in Esperanto.

PROSPERO said...

A question from a non-Esperanto speaker or reader whose mother suggested he learn it 50 years ago and to whom he never listened: Has Google got an Esperanto translating facility? It doesn't look like it - so Esperanto ceases to exist forthwith. Shame!

Miĉjo said...


1) If Google's translation facility is to be the primary gauge of a language's importance, then conspicuously absent from the 34 languages supported are ones such as these:

* Bengali (> 200 million)
* Turkish (> 70 million)
* Pashto (> 60 million)
* Farsi (> 40 million)

while these make the cut:

* Catalan (< 7 million)
* Danish (< 6 million)
* Lithuanian (< 5 million)
* Latvian (< 2 million)

Obviously, "language importance" doesn't correlate 100% with "supported by Google's translation service".

2) Esperanto's primary purpose is as an effective, easy-to-learn second language for all. You're supposed to learn and use Esperanto. In a way, it is when you have to run it through an automated translation service that it has failed.

3) Google's is a written translation service only. What do you do when you need to talk to someone?

Remush said...

"translation facility"
See traduku.net
(you may also listen to the pronunciation of an Esperanto text)