Claude Piron

An interesting case of bona fide prejudice


This paper analyzes replies given by linguists to questions about Esperanto in the framework of "Ask-A-Linguist". A number of common features are noted :

- the replies never refer to the language as actually used,

- they betray a lack of knowledge of its linguistic traits and of the community which uses it,

- they ignore the link between language design and ease of use,

- they fail to compare Esperanto with rival options (especially English) in its function as a bridge among people with different origins, and

- they give the status of obvious premises to theoretical conclusions that are contradicted by field research.

After giving a few examples of the kinds of contexts in which Esperanto is used day after day, the article deals briefly with the question of whether Esperanto is a language or a code. The remainder is mostly devoted to examples that give the lie to specific claims made in the replies. It ends with an analysis of the mental processes that underlie the discrepancy between the resource persons' statements and reality, and suggests that mentioning Esperanto activates an unduly emotion - laden response that interferes with normal mental functioning.

Eight linguists answer questions about Esperanto

People who have questions about languages can send them to "Ask-A-Linguist" (, a service provided by The Linguist List, on-line forum for professional linguists (, "the world's largest online linguistic resource", as stated in the homepage. "Ask-A-Linguist", it says, "is designed to be a place where anyone interested in language or linguistics can ask a question and get the response of a panel of professional linguists".

Project or reality? Language or code?

It is interesting to see how these professionals answer questions on Esperanto. Several points draw our attention at once. For instance, their answers never describe the language as one that is actually used. Yet, Esperanto is a language intensively spoken and written in a worldwide network of people who constantly use it in travels, visits, meetings, correspondence, discussions by computer (Skype is quite popular among them), in reading and writing books, in listening to radio programs (there are daily programs from Beijing and Warsaw, a few programs a week from Vatican Radio and a host of other stations), etc. Motivations for learning Esperanto are varied and intermingled: they range from an interest in intercultural environments to a desire to take part in a global political initiative designed to promote fairness among peoples, through the pleasure of having contacts with people from all over the world and of discussing subjects of interest without being hampered by language. Whatever their various initial motivations, Esperanto speakers meet and communicate a lot. Indeed, since 1986, there hasn't been a single day without an Esperanto convention, encounter or session, somewhere in the world. (1)

Just to give an idea, here are a few events occurring at the time this paper is being written (May 2006):

May 6-13 : Convention of the International Federation of Esperanto-speaking Railway Workers, Shanghai, China;
13 : Open Day, World Esperanto Association Headquarters, Rotterdam, Netherlands;
14 : Regional Conference of the International Catholic Esperanto Union, Poibyslav, Czech Republic;
13-17 : Post-Convention week in Beijing, China, for participants of the railway workers world convention;
17-20 : Seminar on the application of Esperanto in science and technology, La Havana, Cuba;
19-21 : International Esperanto Youth Conference, Kostrena, Croatia;
20 : Spring Conference of the North Western Esperanto Federation, Preston, England;
20-21 : 18th Esperanto Conference for Rio de Janeiro State, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;
20-21 : Esperanto Tour to Mount Yatugatake, Japan;
20-22 : Tourist Conference for Central Canada, Ottawa, Canada
May 22 - June 1st : Discovering South Carpathians, a trip for Esperanto speakers through Valachia and Transsylvania, Rumania.

The seminars in which young Korean and Japanese Esperanto speakers confront what they have been told of their respective histories, meeting in a framework that helps them discover the origin of their prejudices and better understand what happened between their countries, could also be cited here. (2) Since these encounters demand a real mastery of the linguistic tool, so that participants can express their feelings spontaneously, they could not have been held, at this social level and in this world region, in any language other than Esperanto.

Whoever attends such events immediately realizes that Esperanto is not an abstraction or a project. It is an actual language, like any other tongue used in international gatherings. It is a language applied in practically all fields: people use it to try to convince a political opponent, to exchange recipes, to discuss philosophy or religion, to confront social conditions, to explain technical matters, to express their love, to find a commercial partner, to give a poetic outlet to their feelings or to make their songs known in other countries (Esperanto is probably the language into which the largest number of songs has been or is being translated), etc. It is a full-fledged language.

However, several linguists contest this fact. In a private e-mail, one of the "Ask-A-Linguist" specialists told the author of this paper: "Esperanto is not a language, it's a code". Of course, it all depends on how you define language. If you use Martinet's definition, Esperanto counts as a language, but many other definitions have been put forward and accepted by linguists. Even on one of those other interpretations of the term "langauge", however, it is difficult to see in Esperanto a code rather than a language when you consider the following quatrain by Henri Vatré:

Nu, Ariadna, ĉu la modo-mastron
ni fadenfine pinglos en Panamo?
Siren-logite li ĵus el Havano
edzecon fuĝis kiel fidel-kastron.

It would be impossible to explain the background of these four verses, with all the allusions they contain. Let us just say that they refer to an elusive Panamanian Esperanto poet who worked for a while in the world of fashion, of haute couture. A rough translation would be:

'Well, Ariadne, this fashion master,
will we eventually (literally: at the end of the thread) pin him down in Panama?
Seduced by sirens, he just ran away from Havana,
fleeing from marriage (lit. `husbandness', `husbandhood') as from the castration that faithfulness is'.

[It so happens that in Esperanto fidel-kastro means `the sort of castration called fidelity' or `faithfulness in marriage felt as castration'].

Does a code allow such wordplay, such allusions? Does a code have connotations? Does a code have a community of users with a sense of humor and with the kind of shared cultural traditions that enable its members to understand such a piece? Let the reader decide.

Traits common to most replies from “Ask-A-Linguist” about Esperanto

In any case, if one is conversant with the Esperanto world, one is struck by a number of other traits that are common to most "Ask-A-Linguist" replies:

1. They fail to view Esperanto within the general framework of world communication. In other words, they sidestep the fact that Esperanto was designed as a solution to a real problem that has important consequences for a considerable section of humankind.

2. Most manifest an almost complete ignorance of what Esperanto is, from a linguistic as well as from a sociological point of view. (Only one of the repliers has studied the language).

3. They lack historical perspective.

4. Their assertions are purely theoretical: they consist in mere deductions that have not been checked against reality.

5. They avoid evaluating how Esperanto functions as compared to the other means adopted to address the same problem.

6. Many are situated on a "superior" / "inferior" axis, having a paternalistic, condescending and judging tone, as well as giving advice.

These characteristics - especially points 2, 4 and 6 - are particularly astonishing in the case of the question which triggered off the majority of replies considered here. This question, which asked about the attitude of linguists towards Esperanto, included the following sentence: "I have traveled in many countries like Hungary, Finland, Denmark, Russia, Iceland and everywhere my stay was made extremely pleasant thanks to people who speak Esperanto". It also mentioned the opinion of Japanese users of the language. Isn't it intriguing that specialists who obviously have not had the slightest experience of the Esperanto world - several replies suggest they don't even know it exists - do not hesitate to pass judgment on the language and to pinpoint its alleged deficiencies, without apparently realizing that the person they're replying to is an insider who could teach them a lot about the subject?

Let's consider each of these points in more detail.


1. Disregard of the general context.

One of the results of globalization and of the overall development of international relationships is that situations in which people from different origins need to communicate are more and more frequent. People in such situations try to solve the language problem through various means, which range from gestures accompanied or not by some vague smattering of a foreign language to the excellent English of people with a business school education; other points on the spectrum include broken English, simultaneous interpretation and Esperanto. The latter is thus one of several means of overcoming the language barrier. To criticize it without ever referring to the problem it addresses is just as absurd as to criticize a drug used in the treatment of a given disease considering it only in itself, without paying attention to the medical problem for which it has been developed, and without comparing it, on the ground, with the other drugs used in similar cases.

Advocates of Esperanto base their position on the fact that the lack of a practical and democratic system for communicating across language barriers results in severe difficulties in all sorts of situations, far too numerous to be listed. Just think of the misunderstandings that occur when you travel in a foreign country, of the problems encountered by CEOs of small or medium size businesses when they negotiate with overseas partners, of the plight of a foreman who cannot get his point across to his team of foreign workers, of the stress a government representative is under when he has to express himself in a language he does not fully master in an international gathering, etc.

Irritations, frustrations, suffering, injustice due to the language barrier are common experiences. They can have tragic outcomes, as in the case of this African who in a Geneva police station signed a statement implicating him in a theft he didn't commit because he didn't understand properly the French text he was presented with, or in the deaths, in Germany, of a number of Turkish workers who, having undergone organ transplantations, did not understand the instructions given by the nursing staff when they left the hospital. If we add to these concrete or psychological difficulties the poor efficiency of the enormous investment made, in terms of hours and effort, into the study of English by millions and millions of young people all over the world for six years or so, for rather disappointing results, (4) as well as the huge sums pumped into translation and interpretation in intergovernmental institutions, professional conventions and trade operations, then we're bound to conclude that the language barrier is not a trivial matter.

If the various means adopted to overcome it are compared in the field, evidence shows that the least costly system is also the system which gives the best results for the least effort: Esperanto. (5), (6) Prof. François Grin, an economist commissioned by the French Government, concluded from a recent research that if Europe were to adopt Esperanto, it would save 25 billion euros (US$32 billion) per year. (7)

Isn't it interesting that none of the replies given in the framework of "Ask-a-Linguist" places Esperanto in this context, where it really belongs? They give the impression that everything is perfect in the realm of international communication and that looking for a means of improving the situation simply doesn't make sense. They also imply that working for Esperanto has no relationship with the political, economic, social and cultural realities of our planet, that it can help nobody and that those who promote it put themselves at odds with reality. The message underlying these replies is: there is no problem, or, if one exists, it is solved by English. Never do they discuss what the use of English implies, in terms of fairness and rationality, for the 95% of the world population who speak other languages.


English is a very difficult language for most people. At first, it seems simple, because there aren't many grammatical forms to memorize. But the more the students progress, the more they realize that this initial easiness is fallacious, till they understand that they will never reach a perfect mastery of the language, a mastery that would allow them to place themselves on an equal footing with native speakers. "So much that is being said is correct, so little is right", said George Steiner about foreign students supposed to have reached an operational level in the language. (8) Indeed, a mastery equal to that of a native speaker can be attained only if you live for a long time in an environment in which everybody speaks English. Consequently, any relationship between a native speaker of English and somebody with another mother tongue is biased: one is superior, the other is inferior, the first one has a perfect mastery of the language tool, the second is less well armed to defend his ideas.

Another aspect of the unfairness concerns the time and mental energy that non-English-speaking people have to devote to studying the language, whereas this loss of time and this considerable effort - between 4000 and 8000 hours to reach a good operational level - represent an investment native speakers do not need to make, for they have acquired the language by the simple expedient of living with their families and going to school in the area in which they live. The following remark, made by a Korean scientist replying to a survey by the BBC, emphasizes the importance of this effort: "Korea invests a lot of money into teaching English. I could have obtained five PhDs with the years I had to devote to studying your language." Britons, Americans, Australians and others can use this time and energy to further their professional training or just relax, a luxury denied to the rest of the world. Is that fair?


The difficulty of English for non native speakers is due to a large number of inconsistencies that contribute nothing to communication. In the majority of languages written with an alphabet, if you know how to pronounce a word, you know how to write it. In English, spelling is notoriously opaque, you have to learn the pronunciation of every new word you run into. The letter a is not pronounced in the same way in nation and national, nor is i in wild and wilderness, although in both cases the second derives from the first; -ict is pronounced with /i/ in depict, with /ai/ in indict. The reason why most non-English-speaking Westerners err in their pronunciation of sweatshirt and Reagan is that nothing gives a clue about how to pronounce ea. The effort needed to memorize how each word is to be pronounced and written absorbs for each student a considerable amount of mental energy. Since most languages work very well without such a complicated system, the adoption of English for international communication appears absurd to a large number of people: why select a language with so many extra difficulties when it is so simple to avoid them? Especially at a time when economists emphasize the advantages of rational procedures and a rational use of resources, promoting a language so manifestly non-cost-effective seems quite bizarre.

Absurdities abound in English. In most languages, negation follows a regular pattern. In Spanish, if you can say 'I don't know', no sé, you can apply the same pattern to 'I haven't' : no tengo, 'I can't': no puedo, 'I am not': no soy. In English the I do not know pattern cannot be applied to a significant number of high frequency verbs - you can't say I do not be, I do not can - and the spelling of these negations is puzzling here as well. I must not has to be written in three words, I cannot in two. As for the procedure for negating adjectives and nouns, in most languages it involves just one prefix: in- in French, un- in German, ne- in Russian, bu- in Chinese. In English it may be in- (injustice, invisible) or un- (unjust, unpleasant). Memorizing that though you say unable you have to say inability, whereas in the case of unpleasant the prefix doesn't change from un- to in- when you switch from adjective to noun - the noun is unpleasantness - demands a major mental investment that people learning most other languages do not have to make.

And then again, there is the enormous vocabulary of English. On the one hand, it has synonyms that other languages avoid without the slightest drawback. You cannot master English without learning that, alongside read (9) you have peruse, alongside inevitable unavoidable and alongside menace threat. On the other hand, in very many cases English shows no formal relationship between a word and what would, in most other languages, be a derivative. Compare tooth / dentist with French dent > dentiste, German Zahn > Zahnarzt, Arabic asnân > tubîb al-asnân, Persian dandan > dandansaz, Japanese ha > haisha, Malay gigi > doktor gigi, Chinese ya > yayi. Compare arme > désarmement, Waffe > Entwaffung, oružie > razoruženie to weapon / disarmament. There is no similarity of form between year and annual, city and urban, moon and lunar; these discrepancies are especially hard on non-Westerners, who have neither the Germanic nor the Romance root in their languages (compare with Esperanto: jaro > jara, urbo > urba, luno > luna). Hoarding all those inconsistencies in one's brain represents an effort which is all the more discouraging since the student cannot refrain from comparing with his mother tongue and realizing that a language does not need these inconsistencies to perform its function, which is to ensure proper mutual understanding. Moreover, they make the task more complicated for the memory. Conditioned reflexes dissolve if they are not constantly reinforced: after you have spent one or two years away from an English speaking environment, the forms that are not associated by some mnesic link dissociate and much of what was acquired becomes difficult to retrieve, which has a negative impact on fluency.

At no point do the resource persons of "Ask-a-Linguist" consider that aspect of the problem, as though there were no relationship between coherence and mental comfort, between regularity and convenience. The idea that English might not be user friendly does not enter their minds. Nobody would dare assert that all numeration systems are equivalent. The superior efficiency of the Arabic numerals, as compared to the Roman ones, is acknowledged by all, and nobody denies that this greater efficiency is a result of design differences between the two systems. The handling ease of a tool or a software depends on its design. So is it with a language. But this aspect of reality is entirely neglected by the resource persons.

2. Lack of knowledge of Esperanto

2.1 Linguistic aspect

As in the case of any other language, Esperanto does its various jobs in a certain way. This overall style of functioning, as we might call it, is the impression we receive as the composite result of several analytically distinguishable traits, among which the following are particularly important:

a) absolute invariability of morphemes, which can combine without restrictions;
b) possibility of placing any lexeme - any concept, as a matter of fact - in any grammatical role by marking it with a precise sign (usually a final vowel);
c) generalizability of patterns;
d) freedom of construction;
e) possibility of formulating a thought either synthetically (as in Latin) or analytically (as in English).

a) In English, the morpheme corresponding to the concept of 'vision' appears under at least three different forms: v (view), vis (invisible, visual), s (sight, see, saw, seen). Its Esperanto equivalent, vid, never changes. You say vidinda 'worth being seen', nevidebla 'invisible', vida 'visual', vido 'sight', mi vidas 'I see', vidita 'seen'. For the same reason, mi ' I ' can be found, faithful to itself, in mia 'my', 'mine', and min 'me'. This invariability is a trait that Esperanto shares with Chinese.

b) In Esperanto parts of speech are replaced by functions: the ending -i identifies a word functioning as a verbal (an infinitival), -o marks a nominal, -a marks an adjectival, -e marks an adverbial. As a matter of fact, the adjectival function often corresponds to what is called genitive in other languages, and the adverbial function to what is called adverbial complements. The vid morpheme quoted above can be used as vidi 'to see', vido 'sight', vida 'visual', vide 'visually', 'by sight'. Similarly ebl give rise to ebli 'to be possible', eblo 'possibility', ebla 'possible, eble 'possibly', and, thus: videbli 'to be able to be seen', videblo 'visibility', videbla 'visible', videble 'visibly'.

c) If you have learned that 'he doesn't see' translates as li ne vidas, you can be assured that 'he is not' will follow the same pattern: li ne estas. Similarly, once you've learned that senvidulo (sen-vid-ul-o < sen 'without', vid 'see', ul 'somebody characterized by...') means 'a person without the ability of seeing' ('a blind person', a synonym of blindulo < blinda 'blind'), you know that you'll have the right to insert any root into the sen-X-ulo pattern: sen-religi-ulo 'a person without a religion', sen-mon-ulo `somebody deprived of money', sen-pov-ulo 'a person who has no power whatsoever'.

d) Word order is very free. 'He looks at me' can be li rigardas min as well as li min rigardas; 'an ironical glance' can be ironia rigardo as well as rigardo ironia. And the way a complement is linked to a verb or a noun is also much more free than in Western languages. While li rigardas min is quite correct, you can also say li rigardas al mi.

e) Esperanto offers a much wider range of possibilities than most languages for expressing a given thought. To say 'he plays the guitar with enthusiasm' you can say, in the analytical mode, li ludas gitaron kun entuziasmo or, in the synthetic mode, li entuziasme gitaras. 'To translate into English' can be traduki en la anglan lingvon, traduki anglen or simply angligi.

None of the resource persons takes these facts about Esperanto on board. Yet they have extremely important consequences.

2.2. Neuropsychological aspect: link between structures and ease

Jean Piaget established the term generalizing assimilation for the tendency of the brain to generalize an action scheme, once assimilated, to any comparable situation. This tendency plays a significant role in language acquisition. You see its presence everywhere in the language of small children and of people attempting to express themselves in a foreign tongue. In many languages, correct expression demands a repression of forms which come up spontaneously through the action of the first degree reflexes created by generalizing assimilation. To say my feet or he fell involves repressing my foots and he falled. When we speak our mother tongue (unless it is one of the few formally consistent languages like Chinese), we become acrobats who make unnatural movements with the greatest ease because, repeated day after day for many years, they have become second nature to us. But the small child and the language student are far from this training level: they repeatedly fall into the traps that these inconsistencies represent.

Free of traps, Esperanto is learned more quickly and is handled with more ease than any Western language. It respects without exception the natural propensity towards generalizing assimilated patterns: it lacks second degree reflexes. Not only is grammar acquired in a modicum of time, but developing one's vocabulary is easy because of the high degree of consistency of word formation patterns. Ask any French speaking person what the word is for the 'cub of a camel'. Most likely, they'll tell you they don't know (it is chamelon). Ask a young child with a few weeks of Esperanto, he'll answer at once, by reflex: kamelido. He's learned that 'kitten' is katido, 'kid' ('young goat') kaprido, 'calf' bovido and he knows that he can generalize the same form to all animals.

Similarly, the transition from verb to noun is totally consistent in Esperanto. In English, you can't generalize the pattern in he loves / his love, he falls / his fall and say he lives / his live; he sells / his sell; he suggests / his suggest. You have to learn separately life, sale, suggestion. In Esperanto you don't hesitate: li amas / lia amo; li falas / lia falo; li vivas / lia vivo; li vendas / lia vendo; li sugestas / lia sugesto. What is a gain for memory at the time of learning-which means more time available for other pursuits - represents also an important saving of nervous energy at the time of expressing oneself. To speak fluently is to speak by reflex. If you have to constantly scan your memory for the right word or the right grammar rule, you have no fluency. A language without any second degree reflex to input into the nervous system in order to inhibit the first level reflexes is a language you can speak with much more ease than a language which doesn't have that advantage. It is also a language in which real fluency can be attained in much less time. Esperanto is such a language.

2.3 Social aspect

None of the resource persons discussing Esperanto appear to know that the majority of the people who have learned that language are motivated by a desire to promote justice among peoples and to give better chances to the underprivileged of global society. The resource persons of 'Ask-A-Linguist' have no idea about the politico-social history of Esperanto, about its links with trade unions, about its participation in political action, nor about the persecutions that its users have undergone under most dictatorships.

One of the replies considers that Esperanto cannot be a world language because, it says, it is Indo-European and as such associated with colonialism and Western imperialism. Esperanto's rapid progress in sub-Saharan Africa and its success in such countries as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China and Iran are evidence that this objection has no basis in reality. There is no evidence that a correlation appears in the public mind between linguistic traits and political position, to say nothing of the fact that Esperanto's structures make it a non-Indo-European language. The European aspect is limited to the vocabulary. Haitian Creole has a lexicon that is clearly more Western than that of Esperanto. Do its speakers feel compromised with imperialism? To ask the question is to perceive its absurdity.

In any event, persons who start studying Esperanto soon learn that the language was born in a marginalized country, occupied by an imperialist neighbor, and that all through its history it was on the side of the weak, the powerless, the exploited.

Finally, this objection makes all the less sense since those who produce it suggest nothing to solve the problem, apart from English. Only a person detached from global reality can imagine that English is, for most peoples, devoid of imperialist and colonialist connotations.

3. Ignoring the historical perspective

The replies contain judgments on past and future which are much more categorical than objectivity allows:

- "The real reason for the language not to have taken off further than it did is (...) that it is artificial",
- "Since Esperanto was not associated with politically-influential currents, it did not get very far",
- "An international language will be influenced by the linguistic company it keeps [and will dissociate into dialects, as Latin did 1000-2000 years ago]. Keeping a language (...) from changing is like herding cats".

3.1 The pace of history

Nobody can tell if Esperanto will still be around in fifty years from now, but nobody can be certain that it will not. Esperanto may be progressing at the slow pace of historical phenomena of a cultural and politico-social nature. This is at least as probable as the assertions quoted above, which are mere hypotheses, although not presented as such.

If we refer to the switch-over from Roman to Arabic numerals or, in other fields, to the abolition of slavery or the promotion of women in political and economic life, we realize that history progresses at a very slow pace if human minds have to adjust to something that they had not thought of. Measures in favor of greater justice always oppose the interests of powerful groups which do everything to keep their privileges. Moreover, humankind always resists non-technical, non-material innovations that make everyday life easier and are the fruit of human creativity, probably because people do not easily change deep rooted habits.

The metric system is a typical example. It was proposed by Gilbert Mouton in 1647. In 1767, 120 years after its publication, it was nowhere in use and was known only by a few marginal scholars. In comparison, Esperanto has been remarkably successful, for today (2006), less than 120 years after it made its debut on the world scene, you can find people who use it in a large number of cities and towns of more than a hundred countries. Such being the case, we may wonder if we are perhaps at the beginning of an exponential curve, the stage at which the curve still looks flat. Answering negatively, as our linguists do, is no more scientific than answering positively. Historical comparison with such cases as the development of the metric system indicates that it is far too early to tell.

3.2 Artificiality

The linguist who attributes Esperanto's limited diffusion to the fact that it is, in his view, artificial does not explain the causal link between the two observations. Arabic numerals and the metric system are no less artificial. Like Esperanto, they are the fruits of human creativity.

What does 'artificial' mean in the field of languages? For an Asian, and maybe for an English speaking child, it is more natural to say childs, he knowed, the sheeps than to use the normatively correct forms. The latter are imposed by the human environment. In nobody's speech do they appear naturally. If a bilingual child speaking both Esperanto and French uses standard correct Esperanto but a version of French still quite remote from the standard, doesn't that suggest that Esperanto is more natural? The author of this article once had the opportunity to observe the language of such a child, a five year old boy, and was struck by the perfect correctness of his Esperanto, as compared to his French, full of grammatical and lexical deviations from the standard - a contrast that was all the more interesting since he lived in an entirely French speaking environment.

3.3 Future developments

Nobody can predict future developments. Maybe after a number of decades or centuries Esperanto will split up into a series of dialects. But the opposite is also possible. A comparison with Latin is of little help. Latin remained a unified language throughout the many centuries of its use over an extremely vast territory. What causes a language to dissolve into a number of mutually incomprehensible dialects is neither distance nor the passage of time, but the lack of communication. Latin morphed into daughter-languages only when the Roman administration collapsed and the various Latin speaking communities became mutually isolated. Moreover, this diversification affected only the language of the populace. The intellectuals went on practicing a unified Latin, different from the classic form, but quite effective. In the 14th century, a professor from Cologne, Louvain or Cambridge could teach in Paris, absolutely certain that he would be understood. In any case, when the density of contacts increases, languages become unified. Such is the case of French, as spoken in France, Belgium, Canada and Switzerland: differences are less marked today than they were a hundred years ago. The phenomenon of converging languages is as well-attested in history as the trend towards dissociation. Modern Italian, spoken by well-to-do classes, is much more widespread today than in the 19th century, when standard Italian was practically restricted to the written form.

Diachronic study of Esperanto reveals the same development. This becomes clear from a study of documents. Guessing the mother tongue of an author of the first decades poses no problem. It does in the case of recent texts. Over the first few decades, the language acquired a unity it did not initially have. E-mail communication, a very widespread practice in the Esperanto world, has been exerting a unifying influence. The same evolution happened at the level of pronunciation. In the 1950s Esperanto radio programs from France and Sweden were characterized by quite marked local accents. Today, most young French Esperanto speakers roll their r's and correctly stress the last but one syllable, which was far from being the case even twenty years ago. And you no longer hear Swedes pronouncing the final e as a shwa, the way the announcer of the Swedish radio used to in the 1950s. The will to understand one another triggers linguistic mechanisms that ensure the elimination of misunderstandings. (10)

Esperanto has proved that a language born from a published project can grow without losing its unity: if the desire to be mutually understandable is strong enough, evolution follows the same lines everywhere, and deviant developments are discarded, often unconsciously, because of the simple fact that the community of users feels them to be incompatible with its spirit.

4. Unverified deductions

The resource persons at 'Ask-a-Linguist' make many statements they did not check against reality:

- "Esperanto is (...) not (...) any easier than any other European language for a speaker of a non-European language".
- "The big drawback of Esperanto is (...) its lack of a community of speakers (...). Consequently it isn't really a living language".
- "It (...) lacks the richness and vibrancy of a living language."
- "It also has a rather monotonous vocabulary, since a single stem is typically used to derive a whole host of words of related meaning."
- "I regard Esperanto as an almost total waste of time."
- "Since there aren't any real native speakers, it tends to be pronounced with the phonetic patterns of the native language of the people speaking it."

Such statements are theoretical conclusions which were not put to the test of reality. The conclusions may seem evident. But if you check in the field how matters stand, you notice that none of them is valid.

a) "Esperanto is (...) not (...) any easier than any other European language for a speaker of a non-European language".

To make such an assertion you have to be unaware of what makes a language easy or difficult. In Switzerland Italian speaking children write correctly at the end of the first grade, whereas their French speaking comrades are not yet able to spell right at the age of 12-13 years. Why? Because Italian poses almost no spelling problem, while in French relying on pronunciation is often misleading. The fewer the details to memorize, the swifter the progress. Esperanto is acquired in less time than any European language, whatever the learner's mother tongue, simply because it is far more consistent. The reader will find in "Asie: anglais ou espéranto - Quelques témoignages" ( a number of testimonies of Asians who have learned both Esperanto and English and who compare them as to ease of acquisition. Only a person who has not checked the facts can say that the two languages are equally difficult. True, Esperanto can be three or four times more difficult for a Chinese person than for an American, but this has to be set against the fact that he will find it thirty times easier than English.

b) "The big drawback of Esperanto is (...) its lack of a community of speakers (...). Consequently it isn't really a living language".

What are the criteria of life for a language? This subject has been dealt with on pages 237 to 242 of Le défi des langues, (11) as well as its application to the particular case of Esperanto. Here is a quotation from this book:

In Switzerland nobody doubts that Romanche, the fourth national language, which is spoken in several valleys of Grisons (south-eastern part of the country), is a living language. But compared to Esperanto's vitality, it is almost moribund. Esperanto has more speakers, it produces more books, more songs, it is used by more radio stations, it is constantly in use in all kinds of sessions and, especially, the will to maintain it alive in the community which uses it is infinitely greater than the will of the Romanche population, especially the young generation, to keep it living. All Esperanto speakers are bilingual, but so are all Romanche speakers (...).

People who have learned Esperanto have done so in order to communicate with persons from all countries. There are thus constant interactions among quite varied ways of thinking, feeling, expressing oneself. Cultural references are quite different as well. All this creates an uninterrupted movement of actions and reactions that makes Esperanto a language as lively as French in Rabelais' time.

As to the existence of a community of speakers, it can be doubted only by somebody who fails to research the actual situation. Documents abound to prove its presence in the world. Readers will readily find a confirmation of this fact if they use an Internet search motor. They can also be referred to Richard E. Wood's article "A voluntary non-ethnic, non-territorial speech community". (12)

c) "It (...) lacks the richness and vibrancy of a living language."

A simple analysis of literary texts shows how invalid such a criticism is. Esperanto is a rich language because nothing restricts the linguistic creativeness of the speaker or writer. Let's consider the following sentences from a novel typescript due to a Bengali Esperanto translator: (13)

Ĉu kun la aliloĝiĝo oni alipsikiĝas? [ch. 4, p. 6]
'When one moves from one address to another does one also move from one psyche to a new one?'

Ŝi senŝvitigadis la frunton per la rando de sia sario. [ch. 5, p. 5].
'She was constantly removing the perspiration from her forehead with the border of her sari'.

La subita ekkolero iom malordas ŝin, belen [ch. 6, p. 2].
'Her sudden anger creates in her features some kind of disorder, that enhances her beauty'.

Ŝi iel senpeze lanĉas la vortojn el malantaŭ la dentoj - kaj ili disvojas nebulen [ch. 6, p. 5].
'Somehow, with weightlessness, she launches words from behind her teeth - and they go their separate ways as in a mist'.

Se bati la propran edzinon kaj devigi servon estis la feŭdismo, ĉu batminace perterori la servon de aliulaj edzinoj do nomiĝu la socialismo? [ch. 5, p. 8].
'If beating one's own wife and forcing her to serve was feudalism, should obtaining the services of the wives of others by terrorizing them with threats of beating be called socialism?'

It is unfortunate that the reader who doesn't understand Esperanto won't feel the evocative power of the many untranslatable words appearing in those sentences. Not only is it impossible to give an accurate translation, but it is difficult even to transmit their meaning, which is obvious to anybody who's learned Esperanto. In the first sentence, ali-loĝ-iĝ-o [ĝ is pronounced as /g/ in gin, so loĝ as in English lodge; vowels as in Spanish] is analyzed as ali 'other', loĝ 'lodging', , a morpheme with a vast semantic field including concepts such as 'becoming', 'changing', 'being switched to', -o, a marker indicating that the word is used as a noun. The word alipsikiĝi 'to change one's psyche' follows the same pattern: ali-psik-iĝi (the final -i means that the word is used as an infinitive; the noun alipsikiĝo means 'the fact of moving from one psyche to another'). What cannot be communicated is the vibrancy of the word. The echo in the reader's mind and heart of such a word is quite different from a literal, flat translation of 'changing one's psyche' which would be ŝanĝi la psikon [ŝ is pronounced as /sh/] or 'to move to another psyche' transiri al alia psiko or transiri alipsiken.

In the second sentence, the word sen-ŝvit-ig-ad-is is analyzed as sen 'without', ŝvit 'sweat', 'perspiration', ig 'make such and such', 'cause something or someone to. . .', ad repetition or imperfective aspect, -is verbal function in the past tense. A literal translation would be 'repeatedly she rendered [her forehead] perspirationless'. Such a word may appear long and barbaric to a non-initiate. However, experience proves that little practice is needed for eye and brain to perceive the elements that make up such words and to make automatically, unconsciously, the synthesis that delivers the meaning. Senŝvitigi 'to make perspirationless' is part of a well known series that comprises sen-arb-igi to 'clear of trees', 'to deforest', sen-kolor-igi 'to discolor', sen-vest-igi 'to undress', sen-kulp-igi 'to excuse', 'to exonerate', sen-hered-igi 'to disinherit', etc. Such series are infinite.

Anybody who knows both Esperanto and English and compares the above sentences with their translation immediately feels that English cannot render the impact, the resonance, the connotations of the Esperanto words. This does not mean that English is poor, but that its richness is different. That Esperanto doesn't lack richness and vibrancy is a verifiable fact.

d) "It also has a rather monotonous vocabulary, since a single stem is typically used to derive a whole host of words of related meaning."

On what is such a judgment based? Not, to be sure, on an analysis of texts or recordings of conversations. If any language with a large number or words derived from a given root were monotonous, Arabic and Hebrew would be extremely monotonous languages. While the latest edition of the monolingual Esperanto dictionary Plena Ilustrita Vortaro (Paris: SAT, 2002) contains 16780 roots, the Arabic-French dictionary by Daniel Reig (Paris: Larousse, 1999) contains only 6089. The Hebrew Bible was written with 2055 roots. Latin reached its cultural apogee in Cicero's time, when its lexicon was limited to 2500 words.

Esperanto is not monotonous because synonyms are especially numerous. A linguist who researches this aspect of the language will easily be convinced if he considers simply how the words 'translated by' are rendered in published texts. The variety is greater than in any other language. You find, of course, tradukita de, but this phrase is less frequent than words like elangligis 'has translated from English' followed by the translator's name, or esperantigis 'has rendered into Esperanto', etc. You can also replace the verb traduki with synonyms like translingvigi 'to transfer from language to language' or alilingvigi 'to render into another language'.

In an Esperanto novel, the sentences are all the less monotonous since the author exploits the innumerable modulations to which each root lends itself. The fact that 'without flames' can be sen flamo, sen flamoj, sen flami, senflama or senflame already enables the writer to avoid a phonetic monotony. And the word 'burn' has more synonyms than it has in many languages, since, apart from bruli, you can say flami and fajri (< fajr 'fire').

Many other features make Esperanto a language particularly pleasant for a writer who hates monotony. Let's list three:

1) the ul morpheme, which enables the writer to refer to a character by one of his characteristics: pipulo 'the man with the pipe', 'the pipe smoker', kisemulo 'the guy with a craving to kiss', zigzagnazulo 'the one with the zigzag nose';

2) the em morpheme which expresses a tendency, a desire, a craving: li rigardis vin foteme `he looked at you as though he wanted to photograph you';

3) present, past and future participles, often used as nouns: sekvoto 'the one who will be followed', celato 'the one aimed at', minacinto 'the guy who threatened', or in adverbial form: ridinte 'after having laughed', batote 'on the verge of being beaten'. The monotony that the cited linguist ascribes to Esperanto is a theoretical deduction which is not borne out by reality.

e) "I regard Esperanto as an almost total waste of time."

The linguist who expresses this opinion is of course entitled to it, and it may be valid for him. However, it does not take into account the fact that there are people whose tastes in various fields are better satisfied by learning Esperanto than by learning another language. Apart from this subjective aspect, the judgment quoted above fails to take into account the many advantages that having learned Esperanto entails, as well as the significance of the politico-social engagement it may be part of. It also ignores the fact that Esperanto offers an excellent preparation to the subsequent study of any particular language (since learning it amounts to taking a concrete course of general linguistics).

The Esperanto community is numerous enough and widespread enough for the language to be useful in all kinds of circumstances and to give interested people contacts without language problem with ordinary citizens of most countries. The pleasantness of Esperanto as a means of exchanging ideas in a relaxed, non-self-conscious way, without feeling alien, is also an important factor, apt to afford great satisfactions. With Esperanto an exchange of ideas or experiences is characterized by a completely different atmosphere from the one created by any other language used among diverslingvanoj ('people with different mother tongues'; English may well have a word for this, but I have been unable to find it). Original literature in Esperanto is no less interesting than that of any language in the first century of its existence as a written language, and translated literature is also to be taken into account, since Esperanto is better adapted than other languages to the requirements of exact and lively translation, as can be seen when comparing several versions of the same work. (14)

f) "Since there arent any real native speakers, it tends to be pronounced with the phonetic patterns of the native language of the people speaking it."

While it is true that many Esperanto speakers follow the phonetic patterns of their own language, there is also a large percentage of users who have no particular accent. However, what is important is that those differences do not keep people from understanding one another perfectly. This is probably one of the ways in which Esperanto turns out to be superior to English in actual practice. If you observe international Esperanto meetings or conversations, you realize that accents have no importance. They are simply variations in the manner of speaking that remind you of particular regions but do not hamper mutual comprehension. The linguist quoted above criticizes Esperanto because, he says, some peoples tend to pronounce /k/, /p/ and /t/ with a slight aspiration, as in German or English, while others tend to pronounce them without it, as in French or Italian. Indeed, if you listen to the Esperanto programs of Beijing Radio, you'll notice that those consonants are pronounced with aspiration, whereas this is not the case at Vatican Radio. But you would be unable to cite a single case in which this difference has an impact on understandability. All Esperanto speakers are used to those slight variations.

If oral communication is compared in the field in international groups, it soon becomes obvious that understanding is far better with Esperanto than with English, for a number of reasons, among which are:

- Esperanto's small number of vocalic phonemes: 5 clear ones with a broad spectrum of realization possibilities, vs 24 in English: differentiating between socks and sucks, sucks and sacks, sacks and sex, sex and six, six and seeks is difficult for most inhabitants of our planet. Since practically every word is part of a similar series, the problem is repeated from word to word in any sentence. Confusions between thirty, thirteen, forty and fourteen are frequent in many regions since these words add to the vowel problem the difficulty of the /θ/ sound, which many people find it hard to distinguish from /s/, /t/ and /f/ (or /d/ and /v/).

- the invariant location of the stressed syllable;

- the average length of words, slightly greater than in English, which gives the brain more chances of analyzing properly what is being said (this longer average is compensated by the grammar: compare English system, systematic, systematically with sistemo, sistema, sisteme or translates into English with angligas);

- the fact that in Esperanto almost all words in any sentence end in a vowel, a semivowel, an s or an n. Pronouncing a word ending in a cluster of consonants like /kts/, /ld/, /ndz/, etc., frequent in English, is far from easy for many people, especially those who do not belong to the Western world.

Logic is an excellent thing. But it should not be substituted to observing reality. It is regrettable that, surely with full bona fide, our linguists have engaged in that substitution with such impressive unanimity.

5. Failure to compare

5.1 Failure to compare the various systems used to overcome the language barrier.

The only comparisons that the resource persons do make refer to linguistic traits, never to the working of a language as a means of communication or as a possible solution to a worldwide problem.

Thus, they ignore a capital aspect of the question, namely that Esperanto has a function: to offer a communication bridge to persons from various origins. Evaluating it without taking this function into account makes no more sense than evaluating a tool without considering the use for which it was designed.

In such a function, as noted earlier, Esperanto is one means among others, to be compared with English, broken English, interpretation, etc. Those means are equivalent neither from the point of view of the investment in time, money, material, personnel or nervous energy, nor of the efficiency of the investment. Our linguists never compare Esperanto with the other options. In their minds, apparently, once a number of deficiencies have been attributed to the language, the question is settled. After rejecting Esperanto, they suggest nothing, apart from English, without dealing with the latter's drawbacks. For instance, Esperanto is criticized for being spoken with the phonetic patterns of the mother tongues, but the fact that English used in international settings is also marked by people's phonetic habits is never mentioned. Yet it is an objective, easily verifiable fact that misunderstandings due to phonetics are more frequent with English than with Esperanto. A simple comparison of the phonetic traits of the two languages, with reference to the various languages used on our planet, shows that Esperanto has more in common, phonetically speaking, with the majority. What sense is there in eliminating one option if you don't propose an equivalent or a better one?

5.2 Failure to compare relevant elements.

The disregard for comparison is found at times for particular traits. One of the linguists stresses the risk of certain persons, under the influence of their native language, replacing unstressed vowels in Esperanto with a shwa when the system of derivation adds a syllable and displaces the stress, which is always on the last but one syllable. Hasn't he noticed that the same phenomenon appears in English, in which passing from economy to economic or from product to production entails the loss, in the first o, of the clear sound it has when no suffix is added? If this doesn't keep English from being operational as a world language, why would the effect be negative with Esperanto? A conclusion is drawn, but not checked in actual situations. A researcher who observes Esperanto in the field soon realizes that Britishers, Portuguese and Bulgarians often substitute shwas for clear vowels. But he notices also that this doesn't interfere with listeners being able to understand perfectly what is being said.

Anyway, the main error of this linguist is that he generalizes to the whole planet a case relatively exceptional in the panorama of languages. "Shwa-ization" is a feature of English, but not of German or Dutch, it is found in Portuguese, not in Spanish, Italian, French or Romanian; in Russian, not in Czech, Polish or Slovene. It is absent in so many languages - Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Persian, Swahili, Lakota, Hungarian, Finnish, etc. - that it would be impossible to list them all. Shouldn't a language meant to be used worldwide follow the system used by the majority of the inhabitants of our planet?

6. Superior-inferior relationship.

6.1. Advices

It is quite normal for a professor consulted by a non-specialist to assume the tone of authority that corresponds to his or her competence. But what if the competence is missing? "Suggest your Japanese friends think of Esperantism as a kind of Messianic or pan-European nativistic movement and study it as a quasi religion but learn English, French, Chinese or the like as a viable second language", says one of the resource persons. Anyone having found Esperanto extremely useful in their international life can but be shocked by such advice.

Is it fair that persons who have no idea of the practical advantages of Esperanto and whose picture of its linguistic characteristics, its diffusion in the world and its politico-social function is clearly mistaken exert such a pressure on the askers? If they feel bound to give some advice, wouldn't it be better to say: "You know, you can be a linguist and have no competence in the field of Esperanto. I advise you to research the subject. With Internet it should not be too difficult."

One of his colleagues adds: "What's your goal in learning another language? If you want to learn a language to allow you to travel or live, then learn a language that is used in the region where you'd like to travel. If you enjoy the sound of a language, learn that one. If you want to read the literature in the original, learn the language of your favorite authors. And so on." This person doesn't seem to conceive that many students, indeed, many people want to travel all over the world and get in touch, everywhere, with local residents without language problems, and that one resource enabling them to do this is the worldwide hospitality network of Esperanto families. (15) She doesn't imagine that the sound of Esperanto may be appealing. And she doesn't realize that you can enjoy very different literatures and wish to read works from various countries in translations made by fellow-citizens of the authors in a language better adapted than most to the demands of literary production. This inability to imagine the frequent motivations of persons who start learning Esperanto is intriguing.

6.2 Tone

A number of replies have a paternalistic, condescending or judging tone, at times tinged with a measure of irony or sarcasm which is unjustified.

What sense is there in speaking of the "High Priests and Evangelists of the Esperanto Movement" or of the "True Believers, most of whom are rather naïve about the range of variation in human languages"? True, the users of the language include people whose behavior is bizarre or fanatical, as is bound to happen in any human group. They also include some individuals who have no idea of the structural diversity of languages, although these are less numerous in the Esperanto world than in the world at large, since many users enjoy discussing and comparing their respective mother tongues. Maybe the linguist who uses such phrases has met a few of those "High Priest and True Believers". But is that a reason to consider them representative of the whole? Sociologist Peter G. Forster has concluded from his research among the British Esperanto speakers (16) that that population was in all respects comparable to the general population of the British Isles except on two points: they are slightly more likely to vote Labor and to be vegetarians.

The Esperanto world is quite varied and the atmosphere in a given country should not be generalized to the whole world. In Brazil, for instance, many Esperanto users belong to the spiritualist movement (or it may be the other way around: maybe members of the spiritualist movement are more prone to learn Esperanto), but such a case is unique in the world. It would be a serious mistake to imagine that Esperanto is, per se, linked to spiritualism. The Esperanto community numbers a dozen Nobel Prizes. The author of the phrase quoted above would find it hard to quote from their papers a passage that would allow him to class them as "High Priests" or "True Believers". It is easy to use such expressions, that insinuate more than they state. It is less easy to justify them on the basis of documents or testimonies.

Besides, there is no connection between an ideological choice and the aptitude of a language to facilitate international relationships. As any linguistic entity, the English speaking population is marked by a number of traits that differentiate it from all others. Nobody has ever deduced from this fact that English was not effective as a global means of communication. We're thus bound to conclude that the quoted phrase only expresses a contempt that no argument acceptable in an academic setting could justify.

As to the linguist who says: "I will not try to conceal my contempt for the basket cases who teach their unfortunate children Esperanto as their first language. Why not Klingon?", the least that can be said is that he is far from manifesting the spirit of tolerance and objectivity that should prevail in academic circles. Do the bi-national couples formed during an Esperanto conference, or while traveling abroad, and who have no other common language, so that it becomes the mother tongue of the children, deserve such scorn? And even if a couple in a given linguistic area decides to bring up its children in Esperanto because the parents are thankful to that language for the human and cultural riches they received from it, and because they know from their own experience that acquiring Esperanto as a child is a great advantage for the later acquisition of other languages, is it right to use such a tone? I leave it to serious readers to judge for themselves.



Among the twenty replies considered in this paper, only three express positive judgments about Esperanto. One says: "Esperanto is a natural language, even though it originated in an artificially constructed language in late 19th century Poland." Another: "If your only global contact is travel abroad, then Esperanto may indeed be the perfect language to learn. I can see that it has worked well for you." After suggesting, nevertheless, that it would make more sense to learn other languages instead, this reply ends with: "However, I am glad to hear that the Esperanto community is vital enough to allow you to travel around the world and communicate." A third reply states: " If there were ever to be an artificial universal language, I think Esperanto would have been a very good one to choose: as someone with a fair knowledge of it, without being in any sense a partisan supporter, I don't see major failings to it." These are the only three answers that treat Esperanto as something at least potentially useful.

Pre-operatory thinking

All the other replies form a consistent picture. They manifest the typical traits of what is called, in Piaget's parlance, pre-operatory thinking, i.e. the thinking mode of a child, say, less than five years old. This diagnosis may seem surprising or even shocking. So it is important to emphasize that in all adults a large part of the mental activity follows that mode. The mind always matures only partially. Fully adult thinking, which appears when mental development reached what psychological jargon calls "the stage of formal operations", is in constant use only in the fields with which one is familiar or which are not blocked by emotional factors. In all kinds of fields - technical or other subjects which are poorly understood, art of living, social life, politics, religion, judgments on others or oneself, judgments on large categories and the like - the average adult's mind works like that of a five year old : it doesn't use the "inclusion" function and tends to reason on a binary mode reducing a matter to two opposed, extreme and symmetrical terms.

The lack of the inclusion function

One constant feature of the linguists' replies is the absence of the mental function "inclusion". They talk as if Esperanto had no relationship with society's normal processes and with world problems. It is looked at in a vacuum, as an element without a framework, without a context, as though it had no link with what happens in life. Never is it considered as a possible solution to an actual problem, to be compared with other options offered to overcome the same difficulties.

There is a large body of research available on Esperanto, including PhD theses and other dissertations, as well as many articles in specialized journals. The replies of "Ask-A-Linguist" mislead readers by giving the impression that such a specialized literature does not exist. Similarly, none of the arguments inviting the asker to reject Esperanto is based on a study of the actual language, as it can be evaluated in international meetings or through linguistic analysis of texts. For Esperanto to be treated as a sort of project with no concrete application in social life, the "inclusion" program in the brain must have been disconnected. Even the idea that before giving an opinion it would be wise to have a concrete knowledge of the subject fails to be included in the reasoning. The resource persons are unaware that something is amiss, since none of them begins his or her reply saying, for instance: "To tell the truth, I don't know much about it, but I think I could say that..."

This lack of the inclusion function, which characterizes the small child's mind, can be observed even in details. The argumentation about unstressed vowels morphing into shwas is typical in that respect. Its author isolates the case of a few languages from the majority, and doesn't realize that his argument applies much more to English, which he advocates as a real solution to the language problem at the global level.

Binary thinking

One of the characteristics of binary thinking is that the mind works according to the "all or nothing" system. This functioning is also apparent in the replies analyzed here. Several imply that Esperanto is an exclusive option. They formulate the question as "either Esperanto or another language" and do not visualize it in terms of "both Esperanto and another language" or "both Esperanto and other languages". This is all the more inappropriate since many persons who learn Esperanto have studied at least one other language or consider learning one later, since they know that the study of Esperanto will leave them ample time to engage in such an undertaking. As a matter of fact, knowledge of several languages is more frequent in a random sample of Esperanto speakers than in a similar sample from the general population.

With binary thinking you can't consider all possibilities. One resource person insists that it is impossible to keep a language from changing, so that Esperanto can but dissolve into a series of different dialects, as happened to Latin. Reducing the question to two exclusive and symmetrical terms - either the language is artificially kept from changing, or it dissolves into daughter-languages - she fails to consider what has been actually happening: Esperanto did change, but without diverging. This is all the more astonishing since this is what happens to most languages: they evolve, but they maintain their unity. So has Esperanto, as revealed by its diachronic study : it has evolved considerably since Zamenhof's project, but it has not been the object of dissociating forces. Neglecting the possibility that unconscious regulating mechanisms may maintain unity while accepting evolution is an example of how binary thinking limits the number of developments that can be visualized.

The flattening effect

At the pre-operatory level, thinking is "flattening". All elements the mind considers are on the same level. That's one of the reasons why a small child feels guilty so easily; a small mistake doesn't have less prominence than a horrible crime. Several replies manifest this trait. For instance Esperanto is criticized for its diacritic signs. Let's leave aside the fact that the linguist who raises this point misrepresents reality. (17) The important point is that alphabet has only secondary importance in a language in which spelling is coherent. The way such a language is written is the garment, it's not the body. Esperanto would not be so much used on Internet, in sites, forums, chats and e-mail exchanges, if the problem was serious. Anyway, Zamenhof had explained how to solve the problem: you just replace the circumflex by an h written after the consonant. (18) If the problem arose at the beginning of word processing (just as it did for most languages which have diacritic signs), it has long been solved.

The matter can also be viewed from another angle: if Esperanto has never ceased to spread in spite of that handicap, real at first, and still real under certain conditions, isn't that the best evidence that it meets a need to which no other system of international communication gives such a satisfactory answer? If the problem was that important, Esperanto would have died long ago. Making of this small detail "the most unwise feature" is an example of the flattening effect of pre-operatory mental functioning.

The complex

Most of the replies dealt with in this paper answer a rather lengthy question asked by one person who has had real-life access to Esperanto as it is used. The discrepancy between the wording of her question and the content of the replies suggests the presence of an underlying complex. Not only do the replies (with one exception) never refer to the experience of the person asking the question; furthermore only one reply addresses her very precise question: "I'd like to ask (...) how many hours it really takes to learn a foreign language like Japanese, Russian or Hungarian?" And even the exceptional reply, although it does approach the subject, does not really fit the question, since it is restricted to the field of traveling, whereas the question deals with the possibility of discussing all kinds of topics. None of the linguists explains why he or she fails to address the question asked. It would be easy to say: "It's impossible to answer such a question, too many factors are involved", "We have no data on the matter" or "This has nothing to do with linguistics", but the resource persons do not do even this. None of them notices that the person asking the question mentions the native languages - two of them non-Indo-European - of the people with whom, according to what she says two sentences later, she has spoken Esperanto. (The implication in her question obviously is: "You can devote ten months to the study of Esperanto and be able to discuss pleasantly the most diverse questions with such people; how long would I need to study to have the same conversations in their own languages?").

The impression the reader gets from these exchanges is that the mere appearance of the word "Esperanto" touches a raw nerve. It keeps the resource persons from taking an untroubled look at the details of the question and trying to find an answer. It blurs the distinction between objective knowledge and unreliable guesses. Indeed, it triggers off a whole host of defensive responses whose gist is "Drop it!", "Tell your friends to forget it", "It doesn't work", "Go and learn another language", etc. Something akin to a censorship impulse appears to be what drives those reactions. If a person asking the question does not already know from experience where the truth lies, her or his burgeoning interest in Esperanto would thus be cut off at the stem, by means that are objectively dishonest, since they deceive on the basis of arguments that distort verifiable reality (actually, while the persons are not dishonest since the replies are certainly made in good faith, any court of law would categorize their statements as contrary to facts and prejudicial to the Esperanto community if a libel action were filed against them). In any case, among the linguists in our sample, the subject has a taboo smell to it. Surely there is no other explanation for the fact that all the replies disregard another important part of the question: "If you want to travel to only one country or get to know only one culture, you may learn one foreign language, but what if you are interested in several countries?" The wording here is very clear. Isn't it strange that the only answer such a sensible question gets is: "Learn the language of the country you want to visit"?

Etiological hypotheses

How is it possible that university professors specialized in a rigorous field and certainly trained in critical analysis reason like four year olds when they discuss Esperanto? To answer that question with some credibility it would be necessary to have with them long interviews or to engage in a study based on detailed questionnaires devised to elucidate the psychological mechanisms which, deep down, trigger the deviations from normal adult thinking.

Of course, as said earlier, sane adults manifest this kind of mental functioning in many fields with which they are not familiar. So there is in the linguist's replies nothing astonishing, much less anything that should lead to blame or reproach. But this doesn't mean that it's not worth our while to try to understand what caused this particular shift from adult to childish thinking.

As a rule this occurs in fields linked to emotional life. Indeed, some emotional implication appears in a number of replies, for instance in "an executive MUST", in the "High Priests" of the Esperanto "Messianic or pan-European nativistic movement", in "I will not try to conceal my contempt for the basket cases who...". But why would the name "Esperanto" trigger off, among such specialists, emotional responses that distort intellectual functioning? Again, this is a common phenomenon. It is a fact that the mention of that language, or explanations given about it, often has this effect on adults, so much so that the sober, objective attitude is in fact the exception rather than the rule. (19) In a surprisingly high proportion of people, as soon as Esperanto is mentioned, it unleashes the classical defense mechanisms for protection against anxiety. (20) Regression towards childish thinking processes can be assimilated to such a mechanism: it allows the subject not to see the problem as a whole and thus to avoid facing up to it in all its complexity.

By suppressing the distinction between part and whole - which is typical of the binary, 'all or nothing' thinking - it allows the resource persons to ignore the fact that they don't have all the elements required to give an adequate response. They combine "I know really many things about the working of languages" with "I have a vague idea of what Esperanto is" into "I know all there is to know about Esperanto to answer with self-confidence". The vague consciousness of partial competence is felt as a certainty of full competence. If that mistaken judgment were not present, the replies would not have the paternalistic tone of a specialist giving advice to unknowing people and formulating categorical assertions concerning unchecked facts. The gist of the question most resource persons dealt with was: "What linguists say about Esperanto doesn't fit my experience of it, why is that?". For some reason, the linguists manage to repress the implications of the testimony the asker produces ("I have traveled in many countries like Hungary, Finland, Denmark, Russia, Iceland and everywhere my stay was made extremely pleasant thanks to people who speak Esperanto").

Of course, these are English speaking linguists. Several replies reveal the underlying presence of a binary mental structure "Esperanto vs English". The former is positioned as a competitor of English, intent on taking its place. The need to fight it might be a way of defending English. Human beings easily identify to their mother tongue. For Anglophones, defending English is defending themselves. To state, or to imply: "English is the world language", "English is the unavoidable language", "English is far superior to this Esperanto, plagued by such and such and such deficiencies" is to say "I am the winner". Isn't this a common human failing? Let the first stone be thrown by those who have never identified with an entity which gives them a reassuring feeling of superiority.

As a young language, Esperanto may also awaken deep down feelings similar to those that invade an adult when he risks being thrown aside by a less experienced, less wise, but more vigorous youth.

Other factors may intervene. For instance, if Esperanto is a language which functions just as well as the others while being more coherent and thus easier, this can challenge a number of ideas generally admitted by linguists as to the nature of language. Nobody likes to question their basic ideas, because it is human to identify with them. This need to not change one's fundamental outlook on language might be one of the factors that explain the lack of objectivity in the linguists' responses.

Finally, for these specialists to come up with an adult response would involve confronting two propositions they don't want to face up to: "I don't know" and "I haven't researched". Both those negative statements mean "I'm not competent". How could you expect a linguist (unless he or she is, not just a competent linguist, but a hero or a saint) to agree to notice his or her incompetence in a field which obviously belongs to linguistics? It is simpler and more pleasant to repress those thoughts and to ascribe oneself a competence, which, objectively, is missing.


The questions and the replies


1. When I submitted the text of this article to the resource persons, I asked them if they wanted to be quoted by name. Since only one answered that it was OK for him, I guess most preferred that the quotations remain anonymous. This is the reason why their names do not appear in this appendix.

2. The texts have been copied electronically. The spelling and grammar are thus those of the respective authors. The only change has been to substitute initials for names of resource persons when quoted by a colleague.

Question 1:

Many people say that Esperanto is an easy language to learn and that this is one of the main advantages of learning it.

I'm wondering about a couple of things.

Obviously it is going to be easier for people who speak languages with simillar grammar/vocab , so it automatically favours those speaking Germanic and Romance languages. But the fact that it is competely regular should make it easier. For someone who only speaks Japanese, for example, to learn Esperanto would be easier than learning English.

I'm wondering though about the pronunciation. To me the pronunciation of Esperanto is quite difficult and doesn't really roll off the tongue in the way that the other languages I've tried to learn do. It seems to me as though simplicity of grammar takes precedence over ease of pronounciation in this language. And maybe in terms of pronunciation, languages that have evolved over time by speakers, might be easier (even if more complex grammatically).

Just wondering what your opinions are.

I'm also interested to find out about change in Esperanto. How do Esperantists deal with creating new vocab (I've heard that borrowing from other languages is a strict no-no with some), and how do they deal with phonological change?

Replies :

1.1. Well, I personally regard Esperanto as an almost total waste of time for almost all conceivable purposes. As to the pronunciation, since there arent any ''real'' native speakers, it tends to be pronounced with the phonetic patterns of the native language of the people speaking it. So while unstressed vowels arent supposed to be collapsed into [a] or [ə], in fact when Esperanto comes out of an English, German, or Russian mouth, those vowels tend to become neutralized. So 'parlas Esperanton'' tends to become [parləs espərantən], whether Dr. Zammenhof and the current High Priest - Esperanto-Evangelists want them to or not. And whether stop consonants are aspirated or not, and whether [t} for instance tends to get palatalized or not is going to depend largely on what happens in the speaker's native language. And while those things can be kept to a minimum as long as most Esperantians are conscious of their speech, if it were to get really many speakers using it a lot, these things would become nonconscious and totally out of anybody's control.

Suggest your Japanese friends think of Esperantism as a kind of Messianic or pan-European nativistic movement and study it as a quasi religion but learn English, French, Chinese or the like as a viable second language.

1.2. Hi,
Although I quite agree with my colleague F., I just want to point out that the whole notion of ''difficulty'' is highly controversial. ''Difficulty'' is a psychological issue not a linguistic one, even though linguists have mistakenly (in my opinion) used the term abusively. Generally, linguists have considered ''linguistic distance'' between the learner's L1 and the L2 being learned as a source of difficulty. Problem is of course that linguistic distance is difficult to define unambiguously and secondly that no one has ever shown how such a ''distance'' (once it has been defined) can be psychologically linked to the concept of ''difficult'' (to learn? to use? to learn AND use? to remember?).
Hope this helps!

1.3. What's your goal in learning another language? If it is to say you have learned one in record time, you could learn Esperanto and it might be faster, as Professor F. suggests, because there is no community of speakers to determine how accurately you've learned it, nor how creative or fluent you are. ''Easy to learn'' is one criterion, and as Professor P. suggests, ''easy to recall'', ''easy to read'', ''easy to use'' are several others. If you want to learn a language to allow you to travel or live, then learn a language that is used in the region where you'd like to travel. If you enjoy the sound of some language learn that one. If you want to read the literature in the original, learn the language of your favorite authors. And so on...

1.4. I think you'd find a lot of information relevant to your questions by reading The Esperanto Book, by Don Harlow, which is available online. You can find it by a Google search. If you have trouble, type ''constructed languages auxiliary languages'' in the search box and follow the links. A number of the larger conlang/auxlang sites have a link to the Harlow book.

Question 2:

Is Esperanto considered a natural language, assuming there are children who acquiered her as a mother tongue?


2.1. It can't be considered a natural language, since its construction by Zamenhof is a matter of historical fact. There have been a few examples of children who learned Esperanto as their first language because it was the only language their parents had in common, but that in itself is not sufficient to make it a natural language.

2.2. Esperanto is a natural language, even though it originated as an artificially constructed language in late 19th c. Poland. According to the Ethnologue (, it is used by about 2,000,000 people, mostly in Europe, and is spoken natively by somewhere between 200 and 2000.

2.3. Esperanto would normally be regarded as a clear case of an artificial, not-natural language, because it was invented rather than evolving through natural processes. You ask an interesting question: if sufficiently many individuals were brought up with Esperanto as their first language, so that they formed a speech community, would we eventually cease to think of Esperanto as belonging to a separate category from natural languages? It is a hypothetical question, I believe; there are said to be some individuals who are children of Esperantist couples and raised using Esperanto as their first language, but these are surely so few that there has not been a practical possibility for them to form an ordinary speech community. If that were to happen, we might want to find ourselves thinking of the language of such a community as a natural language -- but I suspect also that it would start deviating in one way or another from the pure language defined by Dr Zamenhof.

2.4. If it is true that there exist people who have Esperanto as their genuine mother tongue, and not just as an auxiliary to another language, then, yes, the Esperanto spoken by these infortunates must be counted as a natural language -- but not the Esperanto spoken by other prople.

I will not try to conceal my contempt for the basket cases who teach their unfortunate children Esperanto as their first language. Why not Klingon?

2.5. I do not regard Esperanto as a natural language, but as a fabricated one. It has some characteristics that I think unlikely to have developed in that way had it not have been artificially fabricated by a person with an agenda but a limited understanding of how languages work. A linguist knowing nothing of the historical particulars of its fabrication would conclude in about 15 minutes that it is a strange aberrant Romance language with some odd loanwords. For instance, the word for 'and' is kai, taken from Greek. But there is almost nothing else in Esperanto that is Balkan Eastern Romance (i.e. characteristic of Dalmatian or Rumanian). That alone would have made me suspicious of the authenticity of Esperanto.

It is an interesting question though. How many native speakers must a fabricated human language have before in ''naturalizes''? We dont know, but as my colleague Dr. S. suggests, the controlling factor here is probably that of whether there is a regularly conversing -- not emailing -- conversing community. The ''native speakers'' of Esperanto are going to have for the most part grown up with parents who are not native speakers and consquently there will be a German Esperanto, French Esperanto, and so forth. So native Esperantists with German and English speaking parents will have aspirate voiceless stops, and those with French speaking parents will have unaspirated voiceless stops. What did the original Esperanto have? We dont know. Dr. Zammenhof didnt know languages could differ in that way so he didnt bother to tell us.

So, no, even in the case of most native speakers, Esperanto is not a natural language. Note also, that it is perhaps important to ask how many of those alleged native speakers also grow up fluent in the national language of their country. My bet is nearly all. So how many really truly native speakers of Esperanto really exist?

Question 3:

I've seen how esperanto is to be a "universal language" by being simple and having non-irregular verbs and such alongside with word formations of identicle base roots and such to create words of the same idea. it seems simple enough, but i am more than sure that esperanto has (or has had) several negativities being that it's an artificial language afterall. what downsides does esperanto have?

Replies :

3.1. The major difficulty with proposing Esperanto as a universal language is that it is based exclusively on the Indo-European language family, especially the Romance languages. To a native speaker of Chinese or Swahili or Navajo, Esperanto is no more "universal" than English is. A minor difficulty: Esperanto has diacritics ("accent" marks of various kinds) that
make it somewhat cumbersome to keyboard, and that would slow things down; the current solution of the problem -- inserting an "x" for the accent when keyboarding -- is almost as cumbersome, and very awkward.

3.2. Chomksy's "linguist from Mars" would conclude in about ten minutes that Esperanto is an unusual Romance language, possibly a Romance pidgin. They wouldnt conclude it is a Romance creole because there arent any native speakers (Oh, you may find three.). Thus everyone who speaks it speaks with a foreign accent and there are no native speakers whom we can turn to for issues about whether some utterances are grammatical. We dont know whether it has aspirate or unaspirate stops since Dr. Zammenhof, its fabricator, didnt tell us. Thus it will and does take on the phonological characteristics of the native language of a given speaker. Even when it has nonRomance words, they are virtually all from some other European language. And Indoeuropean to boot. It is Subject Verb Object which means it is easier for someone whose native language is SVO or VSO to learn than for someone whose native language is SOV or some other order. It's deictic (or demonstrative system) works like European languages'; native speakers of some subsaharan African languages will then have a more difficult time. It has a base ten number system, thus discrimminating against Maya, Ainu, and Welshmen all of whom have base twenty number systems. And so on...

Esperanto was touted as "linguistically and culturally neutral". That was a silly Eurocentric touting even for people who didnt know how very different languages can be and are. They might at least have borrowed the definite and indefinite object verb conjugations from Hungarian. Or gotten rid of all agreement and case affixes (Esperanto has a direct object case suffix.) and made it like Chinese languages. Moreover it has relatively few speakers and my impression is that they tend to be either gathered in a few enclaves where they mostly talk to each other or else are extremely isolated.

3.3. Aside from the fact that it is strongly Euro-centric, Esperanto's main disadvantage is that it has few, if any, native speakers. It and languages like it illustrate the fallacy of assuming that a language is something that one, anyone, can consciously design. Language, in the wild, is mostly tacit knowledge resulting from the operation of mostly unconscious mental processes. Language is an instinct, not an artifact. One might go further and argue that "universal languages" tend to further inclusiveness and mutual understanding--and that inclusiveness and mutual understanding are not all they are cracked up to be. Again in the wild, language can serve to obfuscate and exclude--which might not always be the bad things we take them to be.

3.4. Structurally, Esperanto is a rather typical European language, apart from its lack of irregularities and grammatical gender. It is therefore fairly easy for a speaker of a typical European language to learn, but not necessarily any easier than any other European language for a speaker of a non-European language.

Otherwise, the big drawback of Esperanto is its lack of a community of native speakers, or indeed its lack of a community of speakers at all. Consequently, it isn't really a living language, and it accordingly lacks the richness and vibrancy of a living language, the variety and the elaboration of function.

It also has a rather monotonous vocabulary, since a single stem is typically used to derive a whole host of words of related meaning. While English, for example, has wholly distinct words for, say, 'learn', 'student', 'teacher' and 'school', Esperanto derives words for all or most of these senses from a single stem -- rather as if we were to use 'learn', 'learner', 'learnist' and 'learnery'. Tedious.

3.5. If there were ever to be an artificial universal language, I think Esperanto would have been a very good one to choose: as someone with a fair knowledge of it, without being in any sense a partisan supporter, I don't see major failings to it. Probably the most unwise feature, in hindsight, is that its alphabet uses several special letters (consonants with circumflex accents, that don't exist in any other language), which made for problems even with old-fashioned typewriter technology and are even less compatible with typical present-day word-processing.

The real reason for the language not to have taken off further than it did is precisely that it is artificial. What decides whether a language is widely learned and used has much more in practice to do with political and social considerations about its existing use than with abstract factors such as how simple it is; so, since Esperanto was not associated with politically-influential currents, it did not get very far.

Nowadays some people might argue that it is not as "international" as claimed because its vocabulary is "Eurocentric", being based on roots of various European languages but not at all on Asian or African languages, for instance. On the other hand, it is only European languages of which people in distant parts of the world tend to encounter a smattering, so for practical purposes this is probably quite a sensible feature even though it might not seem thoroughly "international".

Question 4:

I am amazed at what I read about Esperanto. Learning a foreign language is very useful, but unfortunately it is so time consuming. First I'd like to ask linguists how many hours it really takes to learn a foreign language like Japanese, Russian or Hungarian? If you want to travel to only one country or get to know only one culture, you may learn one foreign language, but what if you are interested in several countries? You need an international language, but English is too hard to be an international language. I have travelled to many countries like Hungary, Finnland, Denmark, Russia, Iceland and everywhere my stay was made extremely pleasant thanks to people who speak Esperanto. I was able to discuss lots and lots of things with them in Esperanto which I never would have been able to do in Russian for example. On the Internet you certainly can find many reports about people writing about their trips and how useful the knowledge of Esperanto was for them. Esperanto is a beautiful language that really works very well, so what do linguists really have against Esperanto? When I speak to Esperantists, and I have spoken to hundreds of them, they all say how beneficial it was for them, how useful, how it helped them get to know other cultures, how pleased they are that they were finally able to master another language, etc. And I certainly don't speak only about European Esperantists. I have recently met a Japanese one and he explained how useful learning Esperanto was for him. For a Japanese it might be a bit harder to learn Esperanto than for a French person, but if the alternative is to learn English, then Japanese people would much rather learn Esperanto. The pronunciation of Esperanto is so much easier as the one in English as you don't have to be able to distinguish between 20 vowel sounds like in English, so if you get a vowel slightly wrong it doesn't matter.


4.1. Your question covers alot of ground. lst: English is the international language for many millions simply because commerce and politics drive education in many countries toward that means. 2nd: it takes years study to become fluent in one foreign language if that is a parttime pursuit; otherwise, dozens of languages are offered in 8 week intensive courses which would take one to the level I believe you outline for travel. Lastly, you will hopefully agree, there is a pleasure in mastering even a minuscule amount of a foreign language realized when you use it and the native speaker understands you-at that moment you are inside his or her culture.

4.2. Linguists aren't necessarily against Esperanto in principle; indeed, one of the founding members of the Linguistic Society of America, Alice Vanderbilt, was a strong supporter of international languages. From a theoretical point of view, however, languages that are geographically separated tend to diverge; furthermore, an international language will be influenced by the linguistic company it keeps, so Indian English is different from Hawaiian English is different from Singapore English. Keeping a language, even an artificial one, from changing is like herding cats. So if you look back 1000-2000 years ago, you had Latin on the
one hand, which morphed naturally into the Romance languages (which to speakers are not mutually intelligible), and on the other hand you did have Church Latin (which sounds like Italian) as a lingua franca among educated people, but not that many.

Practically speaking, the support of an international language, whether it be Esperanto, English, or Chinese, is a political statement, and considerations of its adoption belong to the area of language planning, a subfield of sociolinguistics. According to, there are approximately 2,000,000 people who can speak Esperanto; there are probably a billion people who can speak English to the same degree and 2 billion speakers of Chinese. Now, suppose you're a government making decisions about what language[s] to teach in the schools. How many college physics textbooks are available in Esperanto vs. English or Chinese? How useful will Esperanto be for a Slovenian tourist wishing to visit Canada?

Another consideration is that, despite your anecdote about the Japanese Esperantist, Esperanto is based exclusively on European languages. The question of ease of acquisition is one thing, but an Asian government might object to adopting a language that could easily be viewed as "colonial". One could make a cogent argument that Chinese should be the international language, since the writing system does not depend on pronunciation.

And I can't tell you how many times people have suggested to me that American Sign Language should be an international language, based on the erroneous assumption that sign languages are iconic and universal.

4.3. If your only global contact is travel abroad, then Esperanto may indeed be the perfect language to learn. I can see that it has worked well for you.

But for other purposes, you may need to learn other languages. For instance, if a Japanese business exectutive wants to travel to the U.S. to speak with potential clients, he or she MUST know English. One can be certain that a U.S. business executive will be fluent in English, but very few of them will have learned Esperanto (many have barely taken two years of high school Spanish).

The same is true for anyne focusing on a specific country or region. If I want to do business in Tokyo, it would be more beneficial for me to learn Japanese because I can assume many people there speak Japanese.

I would note that the benefits for learning about other cultures, beauty and communication apply to any language.

However, I am glad to hear that the Esperanto community is vital enough to allow you to travel around the world and communicate.

4.4. If I've understood you correctly, your question is ''What do linguists really have against Esperanto?'' And my answer would be that they don't have anything in particular against Esperanto, although most aren't interested in _studying_ Esperanto. I don't think anyone disputes the usefulness of Esperanto for travelers; wearing the green star often simplifies matters enormously.

What linguists object to is the claims made by many (perhaps all) Esperantists that Esperanto is truly an ''international'' language and that it is free of all the political baggage that is associated with natural languages such as English and Spanish and Chinese. To be truly international, a language should have features from at least a majority of the human language families; Esperanto fails that test, because it is based entirely on the Indo-European language family. And because the Indo-European language family includes the languages of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations, it does carry connotations of imperialism for someone who speaks Cherokee or Yoruba or Aymara or Thai or any one of hundreds of other non-IE languages. If the peoples who speak those languages were allowed to choose a language to serve as an international language, it's not likely that they would choose a language like Esperanto. This is of course a political problem rather than a linguistic one, but it is a source of constant confusion. Zamenhof was quite clear about his sources -- basically English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian, plus a few odds and ends. This is true not only for the vocabulary but also for the grammar. It's not accurate to call a language based on so limited a sample of the 5000 to 6000 languages of the world ''international.'' I suspect that what you have read as linguists' objections to Esperanto itself is instead objections to the careless statements that are so frequently made about Esperanto.

4.5. I join my colleagues, in particular with Professor E., and and this. It is not that linguists are "against" Esperanto. To the true believers in the Esperantist Movement, the typical attitude of linguists is much worse -- we are indifferent to it . Many of the reasons are given by my colleagues. But the chief reason is that Linguistics is not about speaking a lot of languages. Most people who speak several languages are not linguists and many foreign language majors dont do very well in linguistics. Linguistics is about the form and structure of natural human languages and how they work. Most of the reasons you give for learning Esperanto are not linguistic at all -- they are social, political, and adventurist~tourist. Nothing wrong with these reasons--but they are not what Linguistics is about and not normally what linguists study.

We know that it takes a long time for "adults", i.e. 13 or so and up--to learn a foreign language, especially in a typical school subject situation. But you neglected to tell us a) how well you actually speak Esperanto and b) how long and under what conditions you acquired it. Without knowing that, we really cant evaluate your claim. Esperanto is a fabricated, contrived language largely spoken in fabricated, or contrived -- or if that's too strong -- at learst rather highly controlled contexts. If there ever are enough speakers around the world so that it becomes used in speech communities of appreciable size and extent for ordinary life, then some groups will start dropping word final nasals -- and there goes the accusative case. Others will start dropping final unstressed syllables -- others will start changing voiced intervocalic stops to continuants, others will...... and Esperanto will become as dialectally diverse as other real languages become.

As Dr. E. points out -- what linguists are against is the wild, unfounded, uninformed claims made about Esperanto as a language by its High Priests and True Believers, most of whom are rather naive about the range of variation in human languages and the depth of "knowledge", largely nonconscious knowledge, envolved in truly "knowing a language". Esperanto grammars often do not tell us things that we really need to know if we are going to describe a language precisely and if we are to speak it as a native. I'll give you one example:

Under what conditions can subject or objects be deleted, or absent from a sentence? In the Esperanto equivalent of

Jill kicked the ball and rolled down the hill.

What or who was it that rolled down the hill? In English it's Jack, and I presume it is in Esperanto too. But in some languages it is the ball. Now, which is it in Esperanto? Grammars typically dont tell us. Normally we would check with a native speaker. But there are few or no native speakers of Esperanto whose parents and grandparents were also native speakers of Esperanto uncontaminated by fluency in some other language gained in childhood. So there is no one to ask.

4.6. I don't know what you have read about Esperanto. I am an academic linguist, and I find Esperanto quite interesting; I spent some time learning it, years ago. If you feel it does not receive enough attention from academics, I would only say that scientific linguists are inevitably concerned chiefly with naturally-occurring languages rather than with artificial systems; I think it is quite proper that languages like Esperanto should receive only minority attention. But in Britain for instance one university (Liverpool) has an academic post devoted to Esperanto -- I invited its holder to come and speak about the language at my own university, around the time of the centenary in the 1980s; and another very distinguished academic at the University of London compiled a standard Esperanto dictionary and has been active in the movement in other ways.

I am a little surprised at how many Esperantists you have encountered in your travels, I must admit! But no doubt you find your way to the ones who exist via the movement.

1. For a non-exhaustive list of such events, see
2. Goro Kimura (Keio University) "The metacommunicative ideology of Esperanto. Evidence from Japan and Korea", Language Problems & Language Planning, 2003, vol. 27, 1, 73-85.
3. ĉ, ĵ and ĝ and are respectively pronounced /ch/, /zh/ and the English j. C is always pronounced /ts/, as in Polish, Czech, Croatian and most languages of Eastern Europe. Stress on last but one syllable.
4. An example : "The amount of English lessons in the United Arab Emirate curriculum [5 hours of English per week] is far too little to develop sufficient language skills which make it possible for pupils to succeed in their higher education in which English is crucial" [Wafa Issa, "Experts discuss problems in the teaching of English", Gulfnews, May 19, 2006].
5. Claude Piron, «Communication internationale - Étude comparative faite sur le terrain», Language Problems & Language Planning, vol. 26, 1, 23-50 . This article can be read in English on
6. Claude Piron, Observer, comparer, choisir.
7. François Grin, L'enseignement des langues étrangères comme politique publique (Paris : Haut Conseil de l'évaluation de l'école, 2005, p. 7).
8. After Babel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 470.
9. Read is written the same way in the present and the past tenses, but the ea is pronounced differently: one more trap for the foreign student to stumble and fall into.
10. Piron, Claude, "A few notes on the evolution of Esperanto" in Schubert, Klaus, ed. Interlinguistics (Berlin, New York : Mouton de Gruyter, 1989), 129-142. Slightly different version : "Evolution is proof of life".
11. Claude Piron, Le défi des langues - Du gâchis au bon sens (Paris : L'Harmattan, 1994).
12. In Mackey, William Francis, and Ornstein, Jacob, ed., Sociolinguistic Studies in Language Contact (The Hague, Paris and New York : Mouton, 1979), 433-450.
13. Manashi Dasgupta, Dormanta Hejmaro, translated from the Bengali original by Probal Dasgupta (forthcoming at Flandra Esperanto-Ligo, Antwerp, Belgium).
14. This is due to Esperanto's great flexibility and richness, but also to the fact that the text is translated from the translator's mother tongue, whose subtleties he perceives better than a foreigner, however talented. See William Auld "The International Language as a medium for literary translation", in Rüdiger et Vilma Eichholz, Esperanto in the Modern World (Bailieboro: Esperanto Press, 2e éd. 1982), 111-158, and : Claude Piron "Poésie et espéranto".
15. To have an idea of what it means to tour the world with Esperanto, see for instance : Deguti Kiotaro, My travels in Esperanto-land (Kameoka : Oomoto, 1973). Or: Maryvonne and Bruno Robineau, Et leur vie, c'est la terre - Huit ans de nomadisme autour du monde (Nantes: Opéra, 1995).
16. Peter G. Foster, The Esperanto Movement (The Hague: Mouton, 1982).
17. He says that Esperanto's "special letters [consonants with circumflex accents ( ...)], (...) are even less compatible with typical present-day word-processing." As a matter of fact, the word-processing program "Word", most used nowadays, includes the Esperanto letters in "Special characters", and there is no problem in procuring the corresponding fonts. People who use a Macintosh also type in Esperanto just as easily. Unicode, which enables to transmit circumflex consonants electronically, has been adopted by many, maybe most, Esperanto users.
18. Some people apply other systems. for example, they add an x, which gives to typed texts a strange, unaesthetic aspect, but has the advantage of not modifying the alphabetical order (the letter x doesn't exist in the Esperanto alphabet, the corresponding sound is written ks). Others use an apostrophe. All Esperanto speakers who exchange e-mails are used to the various systems and regard their difference as no more inconvenient than the various standards in English spelling : color vs colour, program vs programme, realize vs realise, etc.
19. See: Claude Piron, "Un cas étonnant de masochisme social", Action et pensée, 1991, 19, 51-79. A shortened English version can be accessed at