Government Opposition to Esperanto

Esperanto plaque

Today we have a guest post by Alexis Bonari

Although Esperanto arguably has the potential to serve as a unifying linguistic force, not every government has been convinced that such unification would be a good idea. Here are a few historical examples, by country, of oppression faced by Esperanto speakers:

Russia

  • From 1895-1905, the Tsar of Russia outlawed all material printed in Esperanto.
  • In the year 1938, the leaders of Soviet Russia ordered that all registered Esperanto speakers be shot or deported to Siberia. Although the language was legalized again in 1956, there was still strong government opposition to its use. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that Esperanto was once again fully accepted by the Russian government.

Germany

  • In a 1922 speech and in Mein Kampf, Hitler stated that Esperanto was “a tool of Jewish world domination”.

Middle East

  • Iranian Mullahs initially encouraged Esperanto. Unfortunately, followers of the Baha’i religion began to show interest in incorporating the language into their teachings. In 1981, the Mullahs declared Esperanto a threat to the Islamic faith.

During the past decade, increased global access to the Internet has served to discourage overt government intervention in language use. Esperanto is thriving on online forums. Now that most of the bans have been lifted, many Esperanto enthusiasts hope to avoid further government intervention. It would seem that the language flourishes best where the least government regulation is present.

Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at onlinedegrees.org, researching areas of online universities. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
This entry was posted in Esperanto, Language.

16 Responses to Government Opposition to Esperanto

  1. Christopher Miller says:

    Interestingly enough, it was encouraged in China (at least in the 1980s). I was subscribed for several years when I was a teenager to El Popola Ĉinio (Out of People’s China), a publication extolling the glorious Maoist revolution and Maoist thought (MaŭZedongpenso) and international friendship between happy smiling peoples all standing beaming, arms outstretched to the sun etc. I rather regret tossing them out later on…

  2. doviende says:

    Ya, there was a big Esperanto league in China, starting early in the century. Apparently it was thought that in order for the Chinese working class to communicate with the worldwide working class for world socialist revolution, they should speak a neutral international language. There’s still an Esperanto radio station in Beijing, and one of the most famous modern Chinese writers (Ba Jin) was head of the Esperanto association for many years.

    Thanks for the interesting Esperanto article. It was an amusing coincidence, because I’m actually at a sort of Esperanto summer camp out here in Slovakia, taking classes in the morning and doing fun stuff with other Esperantists of all ages in the afternoons and evenings. Among the many countries represented, there are a few people from China too ;)

  3. Jose says:

    It is interesting how Esperanto has become more than a language. It has become associated with pacifism, a love-without-borders culture, travelling, committed youth… I find that fascinanting, and I hope the language doesn’t fall into oblivion. I also hope it is soon incorporated into Google Translate, as there must be a lot of bilingual material available in English and Esperanto.

  4. The Universal Congress of Esperanto took place in Beijing in 1986, and again in 2004. Some dictators (both left and right) have been for Esperanto, some have been against it, some have alternated – see my article at http://hubpages.com/hub/Dangerous-Language

  5. Andrew says:

    I love the idea of Esperanto, and it is a elegantly simple and beautiful language, but at the same time I’m not sure I’d really encourage people to spend their time learning it, and I certainly wouldn’t encourage it to be taught in school (at least not by force, as in at the earlier grades where students don’t have a choice of what they learn, if a student later wants to CHOOSE to learn Esperanto, that’s fine, you should be able to study whatever language you want)–why?

    Because it doesn’t stand a chance of ever really becoming the default lingua franca, and we DO need an international language. It’s been settled, hell it WAS settled about 20 or 40 years ago really, that that’s going to be English. It’s not that it’s the best choice, it’s that there’s so much momentum behind it, so many more people who speak English, and it’s already so entrenched and thought of as THE official “lingua franca” that it would just be better to go with it than try to change to something else, regardless of what it is.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  6. michael farris says:

    I’m kind of unusual in knowing (and actively using) Esperanto (even profesionally, no, really) while at the same time thinking that humanity absolutely does not need ONE international language.

    I do think that Esperanto could play a role in some kinds of cross linguistic communication but I’m totally against the idea of it being learned by everyone (the idea of the ‘finvenko’ where it’s a universal second language).

    I’m just as against English as an international language for a number of reaons. Some of those are selfish as English is often spoken by people who don’t care for it at all (so many speakers with no affect cannot be good for a language).

    Every language in the world needs non-speakers as much as it needs speakers. Monolingualism is not a natural state for people to be in and there’s no evidence that it does populations any good.

  7. joe mock says:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Esperanto being taught in Middle School because it is a great way to teach grammar (sort of doing what Latin used to do), it’s easy to learn and if approached right, it can be fun – I did it once years ago with a bunch of seventh graders and they loved it.
    I also think it could serve a very useful purpose as a neutral international language, one that doesn’t really carry any political or cultural baggage, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.
    I don’t, by the way, think that English is going to go unchallenged. Already where I live, in the Philippines, Chinese is being seen as the way to go by many.
    And, by the way, I was a memeber (though not a very active one) of the group in Asia, can’t remember what it was called, and got bulletins every month. They seemed to be very active throughout the 90’s especially in China, but also in Korea and Japan.

  8. Enrique says:

    Most people in the world aren’t interested in learning a language to communicate with people in other regions. They will never try to learn another language.

    I heard from people from countries whose main language is not English, that everybody should learn English, especially because it helps to get a better job.

    In many of this countries appear many ads offering jobs having English as a condition for employment. They don’t need English. They believe that people that managed to learn English are better disciplined, better learners. Any language would had been good for that purpose.

    But then, you can tell them that you know English …
    They aren’t capable of testing your knowledge.

    I heard from native English speakers …

    1. You don’t need to learn another language. Everybody in the world speak English.

    2. Learn something like Spanish, that is rather easy and it is spoken in more than 20 countries. Don’t lose your time with Esperanto. Nobody speaks it.

    Many people in USA, even legislators that are supposed to be intelligent, ask that people that want to come to live in USA, first learn English. They forgot that all of them are descendants from immigrants and that most of those immigrants didn’t understand English when they came.

    English is a very difficult language. It takes many years to learn it. How many years?

    Check the natives: full immersion … all the time. From birth they hear English always, from family, TV, radio, friends. Most start school before their 6th birthday. After some time in kindergarten, they have 6 years in elemental school, another 6 years in junior/high school.

    After 18 years of full time learning … most haven’t mastered English. Some cannot even read, or follow written instructions.

    To learn English as a second language, people need time, money, a good brain, … and a good ear. Your ear have to be very good to hear all the different sounds.

    Comparing learning Esperanto with learning other languages, people forget that Esperanto can be learned to communication level, in a very small fraction of the time required to learn other languages. Most of my students complete the basic course in less than 20 hours. And that
    is enough to start communication with people from most countries.

    You will need more learning and more practice in order to get fluency. But once you start using it, it is easy to find different ways to practice it. Esperanto is a full working language, being used in most countries in the world.

    If you want to learn a language, remember that you will need less time to learn Esperanto first and then another language, than learning only that one other language.

    For ways to learn and use Esperanto, please visit

    http://esperantofre.com/edu/lernua.htm

    Resources
    http://esperantofre.com/edu/iloj01a.htm

    Videos
    http://esperantofre.com/edu/kino01a.htm

    Best wishes in your language learning

    Enrique

  9. michael farris says:

    “In many of this countries appear many ads offering jobs having English as a condition for employment. They don’t need English.”

    This is true in Poland, many job announcements list English as a prerequisite even when the job never actually requires it. Basically it’s a quick way to shrink the applicant pool.

    It also coincides with my long held belief that Second language Egnlish is mostly used to deprive people of oppotunities, not give them to them. This is heresy in the ESL field but it fits the data I’ve observed better.

    Also, private English schools mostly prosper by ….. not teaching English. Look at the textbooks produced by the British ESL industry and try to tell me that anyone can learn anything at all from them (besides how not to make textbooks).

  10. “It’s been settled, hell it WAS settled about 20 or 40 years ago really, that that’s going to be English.”
    Settled in what sense? According to most estimates I’ve seen, no more than 20% of the people in the world speak English, even enough to have a basic conversation.

    Right now English is (maybe) the biggest minority language in the world. But even if you spoke all 6 UN languages (English, Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic) you still wouldn’t be able to talk to about half of the people in the world who don’t speak any of those languages. So Esperanto is a practical solution in a world where 90% of people don’t grow up speaking English and would have to spend thousands of hours each to attain competency, versus a language like Esperanto where (it seems) competency comes with much less time spent studying. But of course, this presumes a world where we want to do things logically and fairly, rather than letting the countries with the most guns/money/pop culture tell everyone else to triple their language learning load so they themselves don’t have to do any language learning at all.

    In the real world we live in, Esperanto is still useful. It is a fun mental game that lets you make friends all over the world and which makes it easier and cheaper to travel. In a way, keeping the Esperanto community small has its advantages: they tend to be friendly, well-educated, progressive people.

    I do like the idea of teaching Esperanto as an introduction to language learning, because it is a less painful language learning experience than most others and with a few weeks or months of study you can actually begin to use it to connect with people around the world.

  11. Christopher Miller says:

    One thing about Esperanto that it shares with English is the fact it is very Eurocentric. Its vocabulary of roots and affixes is drawn on a somewhat arbitrary basis from miscellaneous Latin, Romance and Germanic sources plus some contributions from Slavic sources. Its morphology and grammatical structure is based on a European Indo-European model (morphological case, number and tense-mood-aspect endings). Much of this vocabulary and structure is familiar to users of European languages the therefore eases learning the language for that constituency. This isn’t the case for the majority of the world’s population though.

    A more neutral language or, to put it another way, one that would even the playing field somewhat more for the rest of the world, would base its vocabulary choices as much as possible on vocabulary that is widespread among languages of the world. Given the widespread borrowing from Arabic, Sanskrit and Chinese and the existence of large language families with closely related vocabulary sets like Bantu, Turkic, Austronesian and others, a more “neutral” vocabulary set would be designed to draw from sources like these and not only a European base. To be neutral, it would also have to use a grammatical structure less dependent on a European flexional model. It would need to move toward a more isolating grammatical structure, something people naturally hit on when they collaborate to construct pidgins in difficult contact situations.

    Though it doesn’t favour a single language group over others, I don’t think it can honestly be said Esperanto is a huge improvement over English or that it is really neutral.

  12. “Though it doesn’t favour a single language group over others, I don’t think it can honestly be said Esperanto is a huge improvement over English or that it is really neutral.”

    Tell that to Japanese or French folks who have hundreds of English-language words taking over their languages, or Native American people who have seen their languages almost completely supplanted by the “need” of their young people to learn and use English. It’s not just English at fault here: in various places around the world Spanish, Russian, Chinese, French, Arabic, and other languages are playing the same role of dominating and eliminating minority languages.

    Yours is a fairly common critique of Esperanto, but how would a truly “neutral” vocabulary be defined? Should the percentage of words relate to the percentage of the population (if so, would that be at the time the language was created or would it have to change with world population shifts), or should each of the 6000 world languages have a word or two in the basic vocabulary? “Neutrality” of vocabulary is a nice idea but totally impractical, and certainly not a reason to reject Esperanto.

    Where Esperanto gets its neutrality is 1) its system of using affixes to build words, making it very flexible for multiple worldviews 2) the grammatical features that make it flexible for word order within sentences, so that people can make correct sentences with a variety of word orders (not just Subject-Verb-Object, for example) and 3) most importantly, that no nation or ethnic group, religion or continent owns the language.

  13. lukas says:

    So those Japanese and Native American folks would feel better if their language was displaced by Esperanto rather than English? I doubt it.

    Besides, Esperanto is very much owned by Europe. Everything about it is European, from its phonology (r and l? A 7(8)-way distinction between s/sx/z/jx/c/cx/gx(/dz)?) through its morphology (why of course we need a future passive gerund) and its syntax (definite articles, a flexible word order that can be used to convey subtle nuances) to its vocabulary and script. To a native speaker of, say, Korean, having to learn Esperanto would be as much of a foreign imposition as having to learn English is now.

  14. joe mock says:

    I’m not sure Esperanto is as European as it appears to be at first glance. It’s grammar is agglutinative and in many respects is closer to Turkish than it is to English – or, at least, it has the potential to be developed in that direction. I don’t see that from that angle it presents any particularly daunting challenges to speakers of Korean or Japanese.
    And it’s certainly not meant to replace any language – it in fact is meant to safeguard national languages by providing speakers with an easy-to-learn second language that does not serve to advance the interests of a political or cultural super-power.

  15. Sean Hsu says:

    Hey, I am a native Mandarin Chinese speaker, also speak some Japanese and Korean. I learned very basic Esperanto years ago(世界語/literally: WorldLanguage. Here is my opinion about it, a point of view from an Asian learner:

    1.Esperanto is European. Well, this is exactly what I feel. Not only the writing, vocabulary, grammatical declension, gender, also its phonology. I have been studying Spanish and German, and Esperanto always sounds like another European language to me. While Vietnamese and Indonesian sound and look more Asian. I have to say I don’t consider Esperanto a “world language” at all.
    Its true there are tons of English loanwords in Japanese language. But most of them already lost their western-language features, both in sound and writing: スーパー, ブログ, パソコン, 珈琲. When using those words, I don’t feel I am using English. They are just pure Japanese words, very oriental.
    And for Japanese people as I know, the most familiar languages they find are Korean or Chinese. I don’t believe any Japanese will find it easier to learn Esperanto than English. Personally, I will associate Esperanto with Finnish, not Japanese and Korean.

    2.Esperanto is not easy. I always wonder why people claim Esperanto is fairly easy to learn, comparing with English. Again, it will be easy for Europeans, definitely not Asians. From my learning experience, I really didn’t see Esperanto as a easy language as many people say. English, Esperanto and other European languages are equally challenging for us.
    (none of them is particular easy.)

  16. michael farris says:

    What I’ve read is that speakers of Asian languages who’ve made some headway in a European language find Esperanto to be pretty easy while those coming to it cold (no previous exposure to learning a European language) find it much, much harder (probably still easier than ethnic European languages like English but not hugely so).