William Auld, one of the most prolific of current Esperanto poets and translators, was commissioned by the Universala Esperanto-Asocio to write this brief but content-rich book. It is one among the wealth of Esperanto centennial publications, done with the intentions of presenting “an overview of the International Language and the ideas behind it.”
The eight chapter headings are as follows (in translation): (1) The Problem; (2) The Solution: In Theory; (3) The Solution: Practice; (4) The Language Esperanto; (5) A Very Concise History of the Esperanto Movement; (6) “A Limited and Artificial Language”; (7) How to Make Use of It; (8) Cultural Questions. In three appendixes are a Concise Grammar of Esperanto, a Table of Correlatives, and Zamenhof’s Address to the First Esperanto Congress. (The chapter headings, purely by coincidence, correspond in several instances to those in an English-language book being prepared by Newsletter editor Don Harlow.)
Fenomeno discusses the language problem and possible solutions as well as describing Esperanto itself. Much of what is presented we have previously learned at least partly in early stages of our esperantistado. Reading this book is a good refresher—whether as a review of specific facts forgotten or not learned, or as a way of getting new perspectives on certain points. The language problem at the United Nations is brought up to date in Chapter 2.
As part of Chapter 4 Auld goes through the 16 fundamental rules, commenting on each. He gives possible reasons why some were included. The longest discussion is on the famous (infamous?) rule 15, which allows for the introduction of “foreign” words. Auld’s attitude here is basically conservative: he defends the need to accept internationally known scientific and technical words, suggesting also that basic roots should be introduced and that derivatives be formed according to the rules of the language (for example, using redaktisto rather than redaktoro). He deplores the introduction of anglicisms such as striptizo, nokaŭti, handikapita, suggesting as alternatives incitnudiĝo, senkonsciigi, malavantaĝa. But he sees probable value in buldozo.
In other parts of Chapter 4 he deals with ease in acquiring skills in the language, high-level flexibility, pronunciation, and stability. On the topic of pronunciation, he puts forth the obvious fact that uniform pronunciation does not exist in any language. While differences in Esperanto exist due to varied linguistic backgrounds, he points out that “because the aim of Esperanto is international communication, its speakers consciously strive to standardize their usage” (emphases in the original). He also points out the simplicity in the five-vowel system, which “permits relatively wide divergence without loss of clear sense.”
Auld begins Chapter 6 by taking to task I.A. Richards’ assertion that Esperanto literature is “limited and artificial.” He acknowledges that there are quantitative limits during its brief history, while pointing out that there exist between six and ten thousand works—enough to occupy one person for his entire life—and about 220 titles added yearly—which one can hardly study during one year’s time. On the question of “artificial” literature, Auld points out that “all literature in the entire world is artificial (artefarita) by definition, because literature, like music, painting, ballet, is an art created artfully (kreita arte) by artists.” He goes on to give examples of Esperanto’s value as a translation language (which most people can conceive of) and as a language for original writing (which many find difficult to realize). He also points out that the fact that Esperanto publishers are found in many countries is also an advantage, in that translations from “small” literatures are easily available to Esperantists everywhere.
In Chapter 7 Auld goes through the wide variety of ways Esperanto can be used throughout the world—tailored to one’s own interests. He reasserts the rapid learnability and useability of Esperanto in comparison with other languages. But he adds that one should not suppose that Esperantists are against the study of other languages. He points out that the study of Esperanto often inspires interest in still other languages—as many of us can attest from our own experiences or those of others we have met.
At the beginning of Chapter 8 Auld points out that the opponents of Esperanto have constantly needed to change their arguments, “because little by little their theoretical predictions have been shown to be false. The language has not broken up into dialects; it has not become rigit; literature has been created in it; it is capable of translating the most diverse texts …” The most common assertion now is that Esperanto lacks culture.
Auld immediately acknowledges that Esperanto lacks a national culture, its role of course being to transcend national cultures. He then points out that cultures are often not nationally based—such as those associated with religions or with Black heritage. He goes on to say that culture groups generally identify themselves by differences, while among Esperantists the similarities among all people are emphasized. And quoting a speech by Zamenhof, he points out that there is no contradiction between the two kinds of culture: one can be at the same time a member of a country and a member of humanity. He ends by pointing out that, even if one has no interest in Esperanto culture per se, the language offers access to a wide range of other cultures.
The question may be asked: Could this book just as well have been written in English, as an introduction or overview to Esperanto? Not entirely. Auld’s language examples require some knowledge of Esperanto beyond a beginning level. But with modifications some sections could as a whole or in part be presented in English or another ethnic language.
By my assessment, at least a few months’ study of Esperanto would be required for a person to read and fully comprehend the material in this book. The style is relatively straightforward, and no great technical knowledge about language or literature is required. It can be a worthwhile supplementary book in an Esperanto course beyond the most basic level.
Auld, William: La Fenomeno Esperanto. Rotterdam: UEA, 1988. 120p. Prezo Ĉe ELNA: $9.95. Kodo: FEN003.