Usona Esperantisto № 2021:2 (mar-apr)

Seen on the Internet

Twenty-five years ago, well before the rise of what we now call “social media,” online forums were just entering popular consciousness. In issue 1996:2, Miko Sloper — a.k.a. “Georgo Bonvolo” in Pasporto al la tuta mondo and then director of ELNA’s Central Office — introduced readers to Usenet, one of the first worldwide discussion forums. Like today’s social media, it had plenty of lively debates about Esperanto.

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Many people have wondered where all the excitement about the Internet comes from. They have heard some of the buzzwords, but not seen the medium in action. I would like to present a little example of how one corner of the Internet functions.

A part of the information trading hands electronically is in a form called the “Usenet” which is rather like a huge collection of magazines with greatly expanded “Letters to the Editor” columns. There are quick and complex interchanges with responses referring to earlier articles. These internal quotes are marked with | in the margin. Quotes-of-quotes are marked with || etc.

I hope that the following excerpts add an understanding of why Internet enthusists believe that computer-assisted communication has value. This kind of content can justify the seeming coolness of the medium.


From: elna@netcom.com (Esperanto League N America)
Subject: Re: Bilingualism, a danger?

Mr XXX writes in a recent posting:

elna@netcom.com (Esperanto League N America) writes:

It would be much more efficient to instruct people in a neutral common language and then use that language for international application. In the context of computers/artificial intelligence, Esperanto is indeed considered a natural language.

Please quote one single article from a scientific Journal on language (i.e. Language, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, Linguistic Inquiry,...) where it has been noted that native speakers of the “esperanto” language have been found.

I see no need to quote secondary sources; I personally know several children whose first language experience included Esperanto, and who are, by any normal use of the word, native speakers. This is a common phenomenon, easily verified by any who seek real information, rather than a priori hypotheses.

Esperanto is no “natural” language, it is an Utopian (albeit noble) game to create a new language from a few existing or dead indoeuropean languages. Of course, if you think that artificial languages are natural languages and that AI research has been able to model reasoning go ahead and publish your findings.

Again I request Mr XXX to do a bit of research before ranting. It is a completely ordinary dichotomy: natural vs artificial in AI [artificial intelligence] circles refers to the difference between spoken human intercourse vs machine code. It matters little whether the human side is represented by English, Chinese, Swahili, Latin, Esperanto or Navaho—- it represents a class which is quite distinct from Cobol, Unix, C++, etc.

Yes, esperanto is an ARFITICIAL language, and NO it cannot be spoken universally because its base is Indoeuropean, thereby excluding 2/3 of the human population that speaks a non-indoeuropean toungue. Esperantists like this guy are so religious about their game that they have even come to believe that their toy is a natural phenomenon.

I hate to see a little thing like statistical fact interfere with a fine theory, but about half of the world’s Esperantists are from a non-IE background, and seem to not let that interfere with their enthusiasm for and application of this international language! Mr XXX again raises the propaganda ploy of “Esperanto as religion” which intends to obscure the straightforward arguments of its efficiency and political neutrality.

I claim that Esperanto is not significantly more or less natural than any other human language. *NO* language is natural. Speech is a human *invention*.

[You can see the lively interaction of objection & response, which cannot happen in most communication media. It is rather like talk-show radio in its two-way dialogue. Here is a follow-up conversation with the same writer as above. Notice that I have changed the name of the topic.]

From: elna@netcom.com (Esperanto League N America)
Subject: Re: Monolingualism, a danger?

Mr XXX writes in a recent posting:

elna@netcom.com (Esperanto League N America) writes:

The difference between Esperanto and Swahill is that nobody *planned* swahilli, and nobody speaks esperanto as a natural language. As a game, yes.

Time to do research, Mr XXX! Swahili *is* a planned language, as is Bahasa Indonesia, Hebrew and Esperanto. They all have different degrees of planning, to be sure, but they all have been influenced by conscious intention.

but it is already quite useful to anybody who travels and enjoys meeting the local people in many different countries.

Of course, just like joining a sect.

Mr XXX pulls another propaganda trick out of his bag! There is no similarity to sects here-- this international language is a simple communication tool, like amateur radio or any national language: when a Greek travels to Australia, he contacts other Greeks-- is that a sect? When an amateur radio operator travels to Fiji, he contacts (and perhaps visits) the local radio enthusiasts-- is that a sect? When Esperanto speakers travel,they often visit other Esperanto speakers--what makes that a sect? It is a natural and appropriate application of this international language.

Esperanto is also an excellent language for reading news not filtered by national media; and literature translated into Esperanto retains much of the feel of the original, due to its flexibility.

Could you explain what you mean by “flexibility”. You see, as a trained linguist, when someone starts using these modifiers to define language, I tend to blow a fuse...

Flexibility allows Esperanto to create large compound nouns to mimic the tendency of German or Hungarian, or to use a string of words to follow the normal style of French or Chinese. One can cast the verb to the end of a clause, as in German, or follow any of the standard forms of SVO, SOV, etc. The adjective can precede the noun, as in English, or follow, as in French. So by flexibility I mean that the paths of expression are bound by fewer rules, which allows Esperanto to adopt the structure (and therefore assume the flavor) of many other languages. A physical object which can take on many shapes is called flexible; I am sorry that this metaphor caused you a circuitry malfunction. :-)