Esperanto: the idea of a planned language

Esperanto flag (source Wikimedia)

Foreword

I am not Esperanto guru, in fact I do not even speak Esperanto; this article is therefore not meant to teach any Esperanto. I would rather share concepts and idea behind. For a long time Esperanto for me had been nothing more “an attempt to create an universal language”, a curiosity, . Then a day I got to know a person who is an expert and decided to learn a bit more…

Historical background

Ludwik Zamenhof
From left to right: Leibniz, Descartes, Kant
Giuseppe Peano

Esperanto as a neutral language

A planned language such as Esperanto is neutral: there are no native speakers, it’s a secondary, auxiliary language for everybody. In the 50s United Nation actually recommended Esperanto as official language.

Esperanto: a language easy to learn

A planned language can be built in a way that is easy to learn. Academic studies showed that learning Esperanto is at least 10 times easier than other languages: 10 times mean that an average Esperanto student in 5 hours study reaches the level that a student of a natural languages achieves in 50 hours .

Natural versus planned language

Natural and planned languages follow opposite trajectories in the development of a grammar.

  • planned languages like Esperanto are designed form scratch, from a blank sheet of paper, their development can follow a logical plan. Grammar rules are defined first: the language is derived form it. As a result rules can be minimal, simple and without exceptions.
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar

Spelling and pronunciation

A language should ideally possess a simple set of rules that bind written and spoken language: if we read a text we can automatically deduce how it should be pronounced; vice-versa if we hear a speech we can automatically write it down.

  • Ĝ us the soft G as in the English word giant

Vocabulary

When learning a new language on of the major hurdle is the vocabulary. How many words you need to know? According to a BBC article:

  • 3000 lemmas to understand dialogues in film
  • 8000–9000 lemmas for novels, news-papers

Learning a root word

Inflection of a root word

Natural languages usually do not have fixed rules for the inflection of a word. Let’s consider antonyms (contraries). Most of the time English uses the prefix un- :

Grammar

As previously mentioned grammar rules of natural languages are mostly complex, redundant and admit exceptions. Let’s see an example in English verbs. The paradigm of a verb (i.e. present tense, past tense and past participle), is formed with the suffix -ed.

Esperanto verbs paradigm

Logical language?

From the dissertation above it should be clear why planned logical languages always fascinated mathematicians and logicians. Humans developed languages to communicate with each other, to transfer a content that can be informational, emotional or others. A natural evolution of a language brings inevitably the burden of complexity and non-standardization. A planned language, on the other hand, can focus on the minimum communication kernel sufficient to transfer the content.

Planned language and literature

It might seem that a scientific language like Esperanto lacks all complexities ad nuances that are the very essence of literature, it is impossible to render a Shakespeare’s drama in Esperanto.

Procession of Characters from Shakespeare’s Plays (source Wikimedia)

Conclusion

My article is not some sort of “Esperanto for dummies”: its aim is not even to teach the basis of the language but rather to present the concepts behind and, why not, motivate people to dig further.

Electronic Engineer with a passion for programming, Wireless communication, Internet of Things and others…

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