Esperanto proves resilient as the movement celebrates 120 years

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jan 15 14:39:31 UTC 2007

Esperanto proves resilient as the movement celebrates 120 years

January 14, 2007 - 16:03


MONTREAL (CP) - Despite being the country's long-standing linguistic
policy, it's no secret that bilingualism can cause headaches, confusion
and even turn everyday activities into political statements. But some
Canadians maintain all the misunderstandings and political anguish is
needless - if only everyone would learn their language. Esperanto, they
say, is a passport across linguistic borders, an easy-to-learn language
that can be a real-life babel fish - a fictional species in "The
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams that can instantly
translate any language to any other language.

"By learning Esperanto you can concretely show that it is possible to have
fair international communication," says Boris-Antoine Legault, an active
member of the Quebec Esperanto Society, better known in some circles as
the Esperanto-Societo Kebekia. Of course the only problem is this lingua
franca - that is, a language widely used beyond the population of its
native speakers - is only spoken by two million people, well behind Yoruba
(20 million) and Zulu (10 million). Esperanto was created in the late 19th
century by amateur Polish linguist Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, who
envisioned a second-language spoken around the world that would help bring
nations closer together.

The language, which sounds like a mixture between Spanish and Hungarian,
has had something of a bumpy ride since then. Soviet dictator Joseph
Stalin was convinced it was "the language of spies," and killed several
thousand Esperanto-speakers in 1937. The movement reclaimed some of its
glory when a young William Shatner starred in "Incubus," the 1965
all-Esperanto cult classic about a female demon who falls in love with a
religious soldier. The language has proved resilient despite purges and
Shatner's acting, and is even enjoying a resurgence of late thanks to the
Internet. "Esperanto carries with it that additional personal commitment
you might think of as linguistic democracy or egalitarianism," explains
Mark Fettes, an associate professor in the education department at Simon
Fraser University and himself a long-time Esperantist.

"It's a meeting on an equal playing field that no other language is
connected with in quite the same way." It's perhaps no coincidence that
one of the hotbeds for North American Esperanto action is Montreal, a city
where language police are kept gainfully employed. "The sensitivity about
languages is quite strong here in Montreal," says Legault. "It would be
interesting to think about Esperanto as a bridge for communication between
the anglophone and francophone communities of Quebec." Montreal will play
host to a major Esperanto conference in 2008 and Legault plans to throw an
Esperanto birthday party this May that will draw Esperantists from across

In the meantime, Legault says he will continue his work as a missionary
for the language. The 30-year-old education student has travelled to
various Esperanto communities in North America, and remains undeterred by
the sea of English. "English or any natural language is a possible tool
for communication,"  Legault says. "But it's not as effective as a neutral
language that would be easier to learn." He maintains that Esperanto's
standardized grammar and lack of irregular verbs make it five times faster
to learn that most other languages. The language has even adapted to more
contemporary linguistic demands, with words for "no sweat" (neshvite) and
"couch-surfing" (kanapo glitado).

According to Fettes, the fractured state of world affairs - where
caricatures of religious figures can ignite widespread riots - only
reinforces the appeal of a common international language. "You go back to
Zamenhof's work and see that he's addressing fundamental human values and
challenges that haven't gone away," Fettes said in phone interview from
his home in B.C.'s Queen Charlotte Islands. But for Fettes, Esperanto's
appeal reaches well beyond its ambitious social project, as it does
exactly what English, French or Russian do for their speakers. "It
provides real human value to... people around the world."


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list