Claude Piron

Lettre à California Aggie

Dear Editor,

My comments on your article about Esperanto (Nov.20, page 7, columns D-F)might interest your readers. I was for many years a translator at the UN(from Chinese, English, Russian and Spanish into French) and after leavingthe UN I worked for WHO all over the world. I have used Esperanto in manycountries, including Japan, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, a few places inAfrica and Latin America, and almost all European countries. My experiencecan be summed up as follows:

- Although I lived in New York and spent an enormous time learningEnglish, I am never on an equal footing with a native speaker of yourlanguage. I will never master English as I master my mother tongue andEsperanto.

- I've devoted infinitely less time to Esperanto, but I always feel on anequal footing with an Esperanto speaker, however exotic.

- In my travels, I've had more contacts with average representatives of the local populations in Esperanto than in English. (English is OK withairlines, big hotels, travel agencies and business people; Esperanto muchbetter for real contacts with the life of the people).

- In an international setting, communicating in Esperanto is less tiringthan in English or in another national language. Esperanto is structuredin such a way that It requires much less effort from the brain.

- Esperanto is easy to pronounce for practically all peoples, even Anglo-Saxons, whereas English is difficult to pronounce for most inhabitants ofthe planet. English has too many too fine phonetic differentiations, as in but, bat, bet or bet, bit, beat. I remember the laughs when a delegateat the UN pronounced "My Government sinks", before a short pause, insteadof "thinks". The inadequacy of English as an international language hascatastrophic consequences on aviation. Just ask pilots.

- English has many international words with a meaning different frominternational use. Think of the plight of Danish Minister Helle Degn whomeant to say, at the outset of an international meeting, that she had justtaken up her functions and said: "I'm at the beginning of my period". Itis much easier to be ridiculous in English, if you are not a nativespeaker, than in Esperanto. So Esperanto is fairer (or is it more fair?)than English, or, for that matter, than any other national language, as ameans of intercultural communication.

- Of all the foreign languages that can be learned, Esperanto is the mostcost effective as to the relationship between effort and ability tocommunicate. On an average, one month of Esperanto affords a communicationlevel equivalent to one year of another language.

I could list many other reasons to learn Esperanto, including that it'sgreat fun to form freely, yourself, hilarious words that can beimmediately understood by people from all over the world, but I havealready taken up too much of your time. I have dealt with many aspects ofthe question in a book, which, unfortunately, exists only in French: Ledefi des langues (The Language Challenge), Paris: L'Harmattan, 1994.Maybe students who read French might be interested in it.

Yours sincerely,
Claude Piron