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The Invented Language That Found a Second Life Online ( 225

More than 100 years after it was invented, Esperanto is spoken by relatively few people. But the internet has brought new life to this intriguing, invented language. From a report: Since it [Esperanto] was first proposed in a small booklet written by Ludwik L Zamenhof in 1887, it has evolved into the quintessential invented language, the liveliest and most popular ever created. But, many would tell you, Esperanto is a failure. More than a century after it was created, its current speaker base is just some two million people -- a geeky niche, not unlike the fan base of any other obscure hobby.

[...] Learning Esperanto used to be a solitary quest. You could practise it by sitting for weeks with a book and a dictionary, figuring out the rules and memorising the words. But there was usually no professor to correct your mistakes or polish your pronunciation. That's how Anna Lowenstein taught herself Esperanto in her teenage years, after becoming frustrated with the oddities of the French she was learning in school. In the last page of her textbook, there was an address for the British Esperanto Association. She sent a letter, and some time later was invited to a meeting of young speakers in St Albans.

The global community that Lowenstein was joining was put together via snail mail, paper magazines and yearly meetings. [...] Newer generations are not as patient, and they don't have to be. Unlike most of their elders, who rarely had the chance to speak Esperanto, today's speakers can use the language every day online. Even old computer communication services like Usenet had Esperanto-speaking hubs, and a lot of pages and chat rooms sprouted in the early days of the Web. Today, the younger segment of the Esperantio is keen on using social media: they gather around several groups in Facebook and Telegram, a chat service.

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The Invented Language That Found a Second Life Online

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  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @11:36AM (#55907857)
    Everyone go watch Incubus [], then we'll circle back here to discuss.
  • Fast second language (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @11:42AM (#55907911) Homepage Journal

    Learning a third language is easier when you know a second language. Hungarian kids somehow learn Esperanto and then English like 40% faster if they learn English only to the same eventual English fluency.

    Go figure.

    • Its probably like how job postings for programming languages sometimes list something like "must be proficient in one of these" and then have a few different lists since they know if you know a few then picking up whatever they use in house won't be too hard.
    • My guess would be that this has more to do with the clusterfuck the Hungarian language is than anything else...

      • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @01:11PM (#55908533)

        My guess would be that this has more to do with the clusterfuck the Hungarian language is than anything else...

        It's not just the Hungarians. I know in a small number of French schools they do the same thing, some places in China do this too. They teach Esperanto first and then a secondary language next. They learn both languages quicker than if the learnt the second language alone.

        Esperanto is deliberately designed to be easy for anyone to learn. It's not a complicated mess like most natural languages; you can learn Esperanto in a fraction of the time it takes to learn most other languages. I think for many people (without foreign language skills already) it acts as a way to train your brain to be receptive to learning new languages. Once your brain has adapted to learn other languages, it makes learning additional ones easier.

      • It's the prefixes that bother me, I can never remember them, b for boolean I guess makes sense, but when you have names like 'rgbIsAlphaPixel' or 'pcCode' then it's just hard to read.
    • It's a bit like operating systems. Apparently Windows always run on more than one architecture to make sure people wrote portable code.

      Even when only the x86 version was distributed there was always an internal build for Alpha and then Itanium and Microsoft started off developing in i860s and then MIPS machines and only add x86 rather late to stop people writing x86 only assembler which the old 16 bit code was full of.

      As Raymond Chen observed x86 is the wierdo [], i.e. all the other architectures have more in

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Learning a third language is easier when you know a second language. Hungarian kids somehow learn Esperanto and then English like 40% faster if they learn English only to the same eventual English fluency. Go figure.

      Well Hungarian is not part of the Indo-European language family meaning English is as foreign to them as Chinese or Japanese. Esperanto is a good mix of Germanic, Romance and Slavic but all firmly rooted in the Indo-European tree. And to learn a second language you need to learn about and be able to map between different language constructs. You might say you go from one to two languages but you go from zero to one translations and then it's easier to add more. So easier yeah, is it worth the detour if the

      • is it worth the detour if the goal is to learn English? Probably not.

        The data says Hungarian, Russian, and French people who spend four years studying Esperanto (1 year) and a third language (3 years) all learn the third language to greater proficiency than if they spent all four years studying only the target language.

        I would say 110% is more than 100% and thus worth the detour when the total resource (time) investment is the same. In this case, it's more like 210%, because you also picked up Esperanto along the way, for whatever that's worth.

    • Well that may be because Hungarian and English are both odd languages. Hungarian because it is off doing its own thing and English because it is the bastard child of multiple invasion forces over several millenniums. Learning a language that (from what others above said) is basically a modern invented romance language would provide at least some basic jumping off point of common knowledge for a Hungarian speaker when learning English. Menj menj magyarul!

      As someone who is making a concerted effort to lear
    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @01:46PM (#55908875)

      Learning a third language is impossible if you don't know a second language.

    • by dabadab ( 126782 )

      Being a Hungarian: [citation needed]

    • It would probably make more sense for them to learn English and, say, Spanish (or Russian, or Arabic, or Chinese) rather than Esperanto and then English, even it takes them a bit longer to pick up English. With Esperanto one goes practically nowhere, in comparison to Spanish (or Russian, or...) and of course English. Another thing: the Spanish (or Russian, or...) and English literature bodies are both huge and rich. Esperanto, essentially zilch. One learns Esperanto because one is idealistic and/or naive. F
      • Thing is it takes them longer to pick up English than both English and Esperanto. If you want to pick up Russian and English, it takes you longer to pick up those two together than English and Esperanto; and it takes longer to pick up Russian alone than it does to pick up Russian and Esperanto.

        It's weird. It's like saying to get to fluency level 5 with Russian, you need to sink in 5 years; or, you can sink in 1 year of Esperanto and 3 years of Russian and get to fluency level 5 in Russian. Getting to

    • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @05:57PM (#55911083) Homepage Journal

      Interesting. In Finland, Swedish is a minority language that everyone must learn, which is a cause for an ongoing debate. Proponents argue that Swedish is a gateway language, having a shared cultural logic with Finnish while being a Germanic language. Knowing English and German better than Swedish, I don't consider it that familiar in a deeper sense -- there's some familiarity in the vocabulary, but the grammar is quite different across all three. This is despite having some linguistic tendencies; for those without, Swedish just gets in the way of learning English and other world languages adequately.

  • by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @11:43AM (#55907917)

    We need to force everyone to speak LOGLAN [] so that fiercely logical LOGLAN soldiers can conquer the world, then the galaxy and finally the universe.

    LOGLAN is like metric but applied to your mind.

  • by enriquevagu ( 1026480 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @11:51AM (#55907967)

    Obligatory: []

  • ...Just wake up on the Riverworld.

  • “Bonvoro alsendi la pordiston, lausajne estas rano en mia bideo!”

  • I wouldn't consider Esperanto as an "invented" language : it rather looks like an interpolation of German / French / Italian English / Latin

    BTW I tried to learn Esperanto a few years ago : it was ridiculously easy... I gave up because it was useless to me (at that time). But if learning Esperanto could reward you with the same university credits as other languages (for a similar level), I am sure that many (lazy) students would learn it.
  • There's a great podcast about Esperanto on Freakanomics Radio... []

  • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @01:17PM (#55908587)

    Esperanto was invented by an opthamologist, L. L. Zamenhof, to be a universal second (and maybe eventually first) language that would overcome the "curse of Babel", so many different tongues in use that people cannot communicate. Being an artificial language there would be one codified grammar that everyone would use instead of the many dialectical variations seen in natural languages.

    Only Zamenhof, while multi-lingual, was no linguist and did a mediocre job of designing the language. In his (partial) defense he was one of the first to try this (there were a few earlier projects), artificial language design was not trendy the way it seems today.

    And so for a universal, common language Esperanto has had a tendency to generate new dialects (Ido, Romániço, etc.) often due the inadequacies of Zamenhof's original specification.

    There are a number of significant design flaws that make this "easy to learn" language unnecessarily hard. The transitivity of verbs for example requires memorizing the semi-arbitrary rule assignments for hundreds of verbs, and most Esperanto users make frequent errors. Also the actual interpretation of verbs was not properly defined by Zamenhof, whether they express tenses (past, present, future) or aspects (whether it is completed or on-going). Zamenhof apparently did not understand the distinction himself and wrote contradictory things. In fact his grammar is often vague and numerous controversies have developed over the years.

    Then there was the wholly unnecessary inclusion of gender for nouns. Zamenhof apparently did this because the languages he was familiar with did this, but the gender assignments are arbitrary, add nothing of a value to the language, require memorization, and are a problem that must be decided with each newly coined word. As a result the language in use has diverged from the official grammar and dictionary, with the conversion of most "male" gendered words to neutral. And this has led to a dialectical split in the language with people who want to simply eliminate gender (or at least the male gender) and those that want to preserve the original specification (such as it is).

    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      the gender assignments...add nothing of a value to the language

      They act as sort of a redundancy check over low quality communication channels. But it would be nice to find a better solution.

      • Interesting. I've always thought that assigning a gender to inanimate objects was useless. This is the first reason that I've seen that shows a use. Are there other reasons?

        I am procrastinating about going to work, so I decided to google it and got sent to the wiki, of course. []
        1 In a language with explicit inflections for gender, it is easy to express the natural gender of animate beings.
        2 Grammatical gender "can be a valuable tool of disambiguation", rendering clarity about antecedents.
        3 In literature, gender can be used to "animate and personify inanimate nouns".

        ...and goes on to describe #2 as the most useful, as you mentioned.

        Among these, role 2 is probably the most important in everyday usage.[citation needed] Languages with gender distinction generally have fewer cases of ambiguity concerning, for example, pronominal reference. In the English phrase "a flowerbed in the garden which I maintain" only context tells us whether the relative clause (which I maintain) refers to the whole garden or just the flowerbed. In German, gender distinction prevents such ambiguity. The word for "(flower) bed" (Beet) is neuter, whereas that for "garden" (Garten) is masculine. Hence, if a neuter relative pronoun is used, the relative clause refers to "bed", and if a masculine pronoun is used, the relative clause refers to "garden". Because of this, languages with gender distinction can often use pronouns where in English a noun would have to be repeated in order to avoid confusion. It does not, however, help in cases where the words are of the same grammatical gender. (There are often several synonymous nouns of different grammatical gender to pick from to avoid this, however.)

        Since the flower bed example points out what I always thought was a glaring deficiency in English, I grudgingly accept #2 as useful.

        But now it's time(masc) for me(masc)

  • Bonvoro alsendi la pordiston, lausajne estas rano en mia bideto.

  • Obligatory (Score:2, Informative)

    by Megane ( 129182 )

    Learn not to speak Esperanto []

    tl;dr: Esperanto is badly designed, with a lot of irregularity and Eastern European-isms built into it, especially the choice of phonemes.

    Also this: []

    • Justin Rye was a notorious troll on soc.culture.esperanto.

      His arguments are based on the false assumption that a conlang must be linguistically flawless to be useful and accepted.

      The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and for all the advantages some alternatives might have, none has outpaced Esperanto.

      It's like the argument over Linux. Critics say it's badly designed, difficult to learn, obsolete, etc. to which the defenders say, "show us something better." No? Okay, we will continue with our regularly-

  • by The_Dougster ( 308194 ) on Thursday January 11, 2018 @03:03PM (#55909601) Homepage

    Interlingua is one of Esperanto's competitors. It resembles a simplified modern spoken latin and is very useful for scientific communication. It is said that interlingua can be understood relatively well by most speakers of european languages, although the reverse is not necessarily true. []

    It is a good language to study just to learn the word roots which have high cognates with other modern languages.

  • It remains the same niche thing that it has always been. Its importance and global impact are negligible, and likely to remain so forever.
  • [2018/01/11 07:57] Esperanto Resident: Ne certas, pri kio vi parolas. i tie en la lando de Lindens ni uzas "LSL".
  • I have enough smatterings of languages to almost hold a conversation in a number of them. This of course means I can't hold a whole conversation in any of them, so I was delighted a few years ago to be in a bar in Luxembourg having a wide-ranging, deep and wide conversation with a European diplomat in a number of languages at the same time. If I couldn't find the right French word in the middle of a sentence, I would use the German, or at the very worst English (though he wasn't very good at all at English)

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"