Thursday, 15 December 2011

What makes Esperanto special among auxlangs?

Summario

Que face esperanto unic inter omne linguas auxiliar?

Il ha sex factores lo que io pote pensar in iste momento e illes son:

* le amonta del litteratura disponibilie,
* demographia de parlatores,
* phenomenos unic a esperanto,
* su rolo como un lingua auxliar inter auxliaristes,
* cognoscentia que existe esperanto in qualque governamentos,
* e su uso practic.

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Esperantists often proudly talk of their language as "the language of peace and harmony." A bridge that aims to break linguistic barriers and end "linguistic imperialism." Impressive as this may seem this isn't what makes Esperanto special. There are at least a hundred auxlangs that aspire for the same. These "projects" occasionally only to disappear into oblivion a little later but Esperanto has somehow survived for more than a century and can today be classified as a minority language. So what it is that makes Esperanto stand out?

1. Materials available:

Of the thousand or so auxiliary languages in the world only a few will have a whole book translated into them. Most of the time these books are novella-size. To my knowledge Esperanto and Interlingua are the only auxiliary languages that can boast of more than a dozen translated or original books that run into hundreds of pages. Even among these Esperanto books far outnumber the books available in Interlingua. Whereas you can find a book on virtually any subject in Esperanto, fiction is perhaps the only genre where Interlingua has a respectable presence and there too European works dominate. That means even the most serious competitor falls far short in terms of the amount of works present in the language.

2. Demography of its speakers:

Esperanto speakers are spread throughout the world and their occupations are varied. This makes the community extremely vibrant. The same can not be said of other auxlangs. With most of its speakers coming from the Scandinavian countries I doubt if there are even 100 speakers of Interlingua in Africa and Asia combined. Talking of other languages - leaving for a few exceptions like Babm and Afrihili - most speakers of other auxlangs are white men (no racism intended) from First World countries. With Esperanto, I believe there is a significant proportion of speakers outside the First World countries (40,000 in China alone).

3. Phenomena unique to Esperanto:

There is an interesting phenomenon in Esperanto called eternaj komencantoj (eternal beginners). That means a lot of people start learning Esperanto with a lot of excitement but sooner than later give up. Then they either look for another auxlang or create one. A lot of new projects never get off ground and many kabeists (deserters) come back and remain eternal beginners for the rest of their lives. I have yet to meet or read about a person who started off with an auxlang other than Esperanto has turned to Esperanto, become a kabeist or eterna komencanto.

I guess there is something in the grammar of Esperanto that makes it usable despite its many "flaws" and the significant effort that has to be put into learning it.

4. The lingua-franca among auxlangers:

There isn't perhaps an auxlanger or auxlang speaker who hasn't studied Esperanto at one point in his/her life. No other auxlang can claim the same and this is what makes Esperanto special.

5. Awareness among several governments:

In China there is an Esperanto version of the website of a national broadcaster (Chinese equivalent of BBC) CRI. Radio Havana broadcasts news in Esperanto and in Hungary it is an optional second language in schools. It may soon be introduced in Brazil as an optional second language. No other auxlang enjoys similar official status. Interlingua forms an anomaly here as a student of linguistics can take it as a subject at a Spanish university. Unfortunately the name of the university has slipped out of my mind.

6. Practical use:

Unlike most other auxlangs you can immediately put Esperanto to some practical use after learning it. You can talk to people outside the Anglosphere, use Pasporta Servo to save money and make friends while travelling and do all sorts of interesting things. That is currently only possible with a handful of auxlangs.

FINALLY

It is possible that the last four features could be only the consequences of its popularity(2) and the amount of literature available(1). But that will not be proved unless we have another auxlang that is at least as successful.

Also, I didn't write it as pro-Esperanto propaganda. I only wanted to objectively list some of the features that make this language so unique. In fact my favourite language is INTERLINGUA! Just that I am not yet proficient at it.