Friday, July 31, 2009

Esperanto? Kio La Infero?

I was fooling with my Google search preferences.

One of the options under "Search Languages" is Esperanto.

Esperanto? Esperanto?

For those of you not familiar with this, Esperanto is a constructed international “auxiliary” language, created in the 1870’s by one Dr. Ludovic L. Zamenhof, a Russian Jewish doctor and ophthalmologist. He intended the language to foster harmony between people of different countries – reasoning that if they could all speak a common language they’d understand each other better and therefore be less likely to go to war.  Dr. Zamenhof grew up and lived in Bialystok, a city in what is now Poland on the Belarus border, but during Zamenhof’s time was part of the Russian Empire. The city was divided into four distinct cultures, Russians, Poles, Germans, and the Jews. They each spoke their own language and had their own traditions and they, in large part, didn’t mix. There were problems, as you might guess. Zamenhof thought those conflicts could be fixed, if everybody could at least speak to each other in a common language.  He spent ten years developing Esperanto as a result. The final product was a artificial language constructed from the basic elements of predominately Romanic natural languages. It was easy to learn and speak (for people of European extraction, not so much for non-Latin derived native language speakers such as those from Central Africa or Asia). Zamenhof spent the next couple of decades promoting it – there were congresses held in different countries every year and the number of speakers grew rapidly – right up until the the Second World War.  Esperanto was seen as the “language of the Jews” under Hitler who specifically condemned it in Mein Kampf and it was ruthlessly stamped out. Zamenhof’s own family was sent off to the death camps specifically because of it. In what was now Soviet Russia, Esperanto was called the “language of the spies” by Stalin and made illegal.  By the time the war was over, so was Esperanto for the most part.

So, seriously now, who the hell actually speaks and reads and writes Esperanto today?  I mean, speaks it on such a regular basis that they publish web pages in it?

OK, I do know people who understand Esperanto. They have little clubs where they get together and trade the few books that were ever published in it.  They chatter back and forth in Esperanto at the meetings, trying to sound clever - it's a lot like those nerds who speak fluent Klingon and recite poetry in it. The difference being that there are probably a lot more people who speak Klingon than there are people who speak or even give a shit about Esperanto.

OK, Esperanto people, don’t beat me up.

I know there’s maybe as many as a couple million people worldwide who speak the language (but it may be as low a 10,000 too, nobody is really sure). You’ve got your own Wiki and a radio station or two and some newspapers and such. There’s even a college that uses Esperanto as its primary teaching language, the Akademio Internacia de la Sciencoj in San Marino

Hell, full disclosure here, I studied it myself, briefly, and speak a few words, I even have a couple of books published in Esperanto, somewhere in a box downstairs. We used to use it as the “adversary language” during certain military simulations, which is how I happen to know a couple of Esperanto speakers.

I realize that there is a fanatical core group of you who still believe that Esperanto is the key to hope and understanding and universal peace and enlightenment. Good luck with that. Really.

But, is Esperanto such a big deal that Google offers it as a search language option?

So how come Google doesn’t offer Klingon?


  1. There's no advertising revenue to be had in Klingon.

  2. There's no advertising revenue to be had in Klingon.

    You're kidding, right?

  3. It's not that you can't sell in Klingon, it's that so very few Klingons value mass media and modern marketing techniques.

  4. There is probably an Esperanto nerd working at Google. That's usually how it works.

  5. ::face palm::

    I should have known. Those options are on the main preferences page thogh. Just saying

  6. I still like the idea of Esperanto. But then, I'm kind of a nerd for invented languages in general.

  7. You don't happen to speak Klingon, do you, Scott?

  8. Well, no. Klingon isn't quite my aesthetic. Sindarin is, though, though I've forgotten what little of that I learned. It's also been a while since I last read any Tolkien. Now that I finally have another copy of the Silmarillion, this may change.

    (I ... will cop to have developed my own writing system and base-60 single-digit numerals for a comic story project I've been plugging gradually away on for the past 15 years. Limited vocabulary, though. Inventing non-Romanic-based languages is apparently hard.)

  9. I was once supervising a contract issue for the government at a civilian facility in Silicon Valley (Mountain View actually, just outside of Sunnyvale). I was in a room full of computer programmers. There was an autographed picture of Leonard Nimoy on the wall of one of the cubicles. The programmers were grunting back and forth, eventually I realized they were speaking Klingon.

    I laughed.

    It hurt their feelings.

    I asked them what they were talking about, and the lead program manager ushered me out in the hall. Allow me to describe him, he was short, round, bearded (they programmed primarily in Unix - though he did not wear suspenders). His hair was long and greasy and hadn't been combed in some long time. His shirt was buttoned crooked, with one side of the collar tucked under his Apple Logo tie, and the other above it. His shirt tails hung out of the back of his pants. The front was tucked in, but looked like somebody was stuffing a sack of leaves, part of his shirt was sticking out of his zipper. There were stains on his pants, shirt, and tie. He was wearing flip flops. He smelled really bad because he only used organic soap he made himself. He talked in a really really rally loud fast monotone.

    Now, I swear that I am not making any of this up, and in fact I've probably forgotten a few things. It was like looking at every cliche about programmers you have ever heard of.

    The gist of the conversation (in Klingon) was that as highly paid code warriors they should be highly attractive to females. Alas, they were not, and couldn't understand why.

    I worked with those guys for a month (and for years actually, on and off). They were the most bizarre bunch of goobs I've ever met.

    Here's the thing, I have a degree in computer science, I'm certified by the ACM in 6 programming languages (only one of which is still actually in use, Goddamnit) - but somehow I missed the whole Klingon part of my education.

  10. I have a degree in computer science, I'm certified by the ACM in 6 programming languages (only one of which is still actually in use, Goddamnit) - but somehow I missed the whole Klingon part of my education.

    Obviously, you're doing it wrong.

  11. Hey, at least they didn't speak Esperanto.

    (Or did they?)

  12. I would expect more people speak Tolkien's Elf, than Klingon.

    It is a fully developed language after all, could be wrong though. There is always one more Trekkie than you counted on.

  13. Well, according to Philip Jose Farmer if you don't speak Esperanto it'll make it that much more difficult for you when, after you die, you wake up bald and naked by the shores of a giant river. Just sayin'

    If you learned programming languages at a terminal, rather than at a PC, you might not speak Klingon. (and that's weirdly parallel to the many "you might be a redneck" jokes out there. (considers other computer/Klingon jokes))

    Like I did with fortran and VMS. *sigh*

    Does the ACM still certify in such things? I read their journals way back when I lurked in the university's engineering library and dreamed of playing with the VAX my stepfather administered. 512 x 512 graphics in 16M colors! And that graphics card only cost about $7000 or so!

  14. You pegged me, Mark, I did learn Fortran on a VAX terminal, a VT200 terminal to be exact. I can still see its orange monochrome letters in my mind's eye.

    I learned pretty much everything else on a PC though.

  15. Actually, I learned most of my other computer stuff at a PC as well, including Pascal *before* I took fortran, but, yes, have experience with batch processing, the VT terminal series, and so on. I'm guessing your experience was also in the 80s when the big mainframe to PC revolution was going on?

    When I took fortran (or, sorry FORTRAN) I remember that they had just gotten rid of the card reader and saw it sitting out on the back loading dock. Sad. I kinda miss computers that require infrastructure.

    I was about to look up how to translate that into Klingon, but quickly realized I didn't actually give a crap. But while thinking of the 80s also realized that the fact that I had that power and it was almost effortless was damn cool.

  16. Yep, 80's.

    And just to really date myself, one of the mainframe systems I worked with in Spain did use a card reader. Loading the program was a huge pain in the ass. And, Mark, just to put a fine point on it - The main communications system in Iceland loaded from 7-level mylar punch tape, which was an upgrade from the 5-level punch paper tape. The communication processing computer was a huge behemoth shaped exactly, and I mean exactly, like a torpedo - because it was originally designed as the fire control computer for Dolphin class diesel submarines and had to fit through the torpedo loading hatch. It used ferrite core memory which required an internal furnace to pre-heat and maintain operating temperatures. It had a total of 32K of working memory, registers actually NOT RAM, and next to it was a 1 ton beast that also looked exactly like a torpedo called the BEM, or Buffer Extended Memory - another 32K of working registers. The machine was programmed in Machine Language and loaded in Octal.

    Yeah. Those days. I don't miss em.

  17. Huh. I'd forgotten that some of those terminals were orange, as most of them on campus were green.

    I've actually got an old core memory plane that I keep meaning to mount between glass and make into a coffee table or art objet upon the wall or something. A friend of mine pulled it out of a dumpster behind one of Harvard's tech buildings.

    Okay, since we're being nostalgic here and not trying to get into an antique computer pissing contest or anything, which you already won *grin*.

    I decided that I liked the guy my mom was dating and who eventually became my stepfather when he very proudly brought over the punch-card stack that was the basis of his Masters degree. Just to show it off and he thought I'd like seeing it and, well, I did.

    My dynamical systems teacher was one of the youngest math professors in the department at the time, and he talked about having to load the driver for the paper tape drive by entering the program in binary by flip switches, so they could load the driver for the card reader into the paper tape drive.

    When I was a kid, a friend's dad worked in Oak Ridge doing Secret Things, but had an IBM cabinet and teletype in the basement and I absolutely LOVED going over to his house and playing Star Trek or several other classic early games, loaded off of 8" floppys. Hey, he worked for Oak Ridge, and so it was cutting edge stuff.

  18. We used orange terminals because we operated under blue lights for certain reasons - and we couldn't see monochrome green in that wavelength.

  19. Now I'm totally curious. Are you allowed to talk about the "certain reasons" you operated under blue lights?

  20. I actually wouldn't mind learning Klingon. After all, they are working on translating the entire works of Shakespeare. Or maybe reestablishing Shakespeare in the original Klingon? Hmmmm.... :)

    I like Esperanto too. I started learning it with my little 8 year old son in March,and we have little secret conversations in it. We use it to play games, and since we started learning he's started understanding English grammar structure a bit better. Plus we think it sounds cool and it's fun.

    Maybe we'll pick Klingon next. Who knows? But we're having a lot of fun with it and without too much effort. :D

    I wonder how you would say that last part in Klingon... lol

  21. ganymeder, my understanding is that learning Esperanto is fairly easy as languages go (it was designed to be, of course). And that learning Esperanto often helps people to learn other languages, particularly the Romanic derived ones.

    I really don't have anything against Esperanto at all, it just hit me as funny that it should be listed as a search results language in Google preferences. - especially given my background, Esperanto was always the language of the "enemy" in war simulations.

  22. Language of the enemy? heehee That's sort of ironic, given it's original intent, isn't it? :)

    Yes, I know it's supposed to be easy. I started learning it on a whim when I came across it at a site and they said you could learn it in months starting with just 10 minutes a day. Well, I enjoyed it so much, I started spending more time on it. When I started, my little boy said he thought it was cool and wanted to learn it too, so now we use it just between us around the house.

    He's actually pretty excited about it. I'm hoping because it's so much easier, it'll make him that much more interested in learning other languages- something that's never come easily to me. I lived in Germany for several years but never became fluent. I took Spanish but never became fluent. This is the only time I've ever actually enjoyed learning a language other than my native one, and actually done pretty well in it!

    I know you aren't that down on Esperanto. I enjoyed the post(s), and I think it's sort of cool that Google offers it. I'm going to change my Google settings to Esperanto now. But just between you and me (lol), if I'd known before that they offered Google in Elmer Fudd- I would have picked that long ago!

  23. ganymeder, I wandered around your site, very interesting. Looks like you're having a lot of fun, and it's awesome that you and your son have a unique way to connect.

    You know, I never really noticed the irony of Esperanto being the "enemy" language before, but now that you point it out it is pretty funny.

    Esperanto was chosen specifically because it was an artificial language and using it could not be construed as racist, ethnocentric, or nationalistic. It gave us a good neutral language to use as the voice of the enemy, something that was not specific to one target country and could therefor be reused. Also, using Esperanto removes any preconceived notions about the simulation, i.e. it's not a known enemy - this changes how people perceive things and how they react.

  24. Thanks!

    Yeah, the reasons which make it good for your game are the same ones which promote it as an "international nuetral supplementary language." Pretty ironic!

    What's interesting too is that Esperanto seems to attract people with a lot of similar tastes and has its own little community. And the more I find out about the history, the more interesting I think it is. I didn't know about Zamenhof's family being targeted because of Esperanto,for instance. I just read yesterday that there have been 2 incidents at the Esperanto national conference in Poland, the last one where someone threw a brick threw a window at the Esperantists there and actually hurt someone. I wonder if it has something to do with the mingling of different cultures (speaking Esp as a 2nd lang) that maybe offends some people? It's just puzzling... But then again, I wouldn't have suspected the Nazi or Russian persecution thing either...

    Thanks for the compliment about my blog. :)

  25. I'd heard about the brick incident - my understanding is that, especially in Eastern Europe the primary push back even after all these years is still anti-Semitic, Esperanto continues to be seen as the language of the Jews or whatever global Zionist conspiracy they're fearing this week.

    Additionally, major resistance here in the US has always been the whole New World Order conspiracy bit. We aren't doing the metric system, we sure as hell aren't giving up our language and blah blah blah.

    I always thought that Esperanto would be the language of the European Union, they've overcome the common currency issue and if they can do that, they can overcome anything. Heh

  26. I guess I sort of see the link to Judaism since Zamenhof was Jewish, but it's not Hebrew. Antisemitism really angers me though...

    Also, in the U.S. it's not about "giving up (our) language" since it was created to be supplementary. It's just to make communication easier. But I've noticed this quite a bit among my fellow Americans. I never became fluent in German when I lived overseas, but I did try for awhile. I just had a horrible accent and was terrible at it. But I knew other people who went there and refused to try because they expected everyone to speak American English there. I mean, why? It's not the U.S.! But I think it's just a reflection of that general attitude. I confess I don't really understand it.

  27. Me neither. I want to expand my brain, not let it atrophy, I like different cultures.

    I lived in Spain for a number of years, never was really fluent in Spanish, though I could speak it enough to be understood. So many Spaniards spoke English that it was hard to get them to speak Spanish to me.

    I also lived in Iceland. Yeah, good goddamned luck learning that language. I learned several dozen words, but never learned to put them together. Icelandic is a tough language to learn for outsiders. But the Icelanders are wonderfully educated, most speak several languages. I really liked living there and really like the people, even if they are a little standoffish. The country is beautiful and the culture is fascinating, I could listen to their epic tales of heroes all day.

    I know some Arabic, but not enough to speak it other than to ask where the bathroom is. About the same with Russian.

    Languages have never been my thing, though I really wish I had some facility with them. I'd like to learn Japanese, but it ain't happening.

    John The Scientist, who commented up above, is a regular polyglot. I've lost track of how many languages his speaks fluently. He's amazing, he'd probably learn Esperanto in fifteen minutes.

  28. Wow, it sounds like you've lived in quite a few different countries. I'm quite envious! Have you seen the Aurora Borealis?

    Yeah, the Germans I spoke to would mostly switch to English (if they knew it) after they heard me struggling along in my terrible accent. So, that sort of made it easier to be lazy on my partand just get by. (They didn't generally do that though if someeone started out speaking English) What was frustrating was that when I did think I understood something and would make up phrases, it almost always turned out to be some weird exception where what I said didn't really make sense. That's what I like about Esperanto...the logic and lack of 50 million exceptions and irregulars, etc...

    In HS, my hubby (boyfriend then) tried to learn Japanese on his own with books, but he never became fluent. It really helps to have other people to talk to...

  29. I lived in Iceland for 2 years, and here in Alaska for a long time, I've seen the Aurora many times, sometimes bright enought to read by.

    Over twenty years in the Navy, I've been all over the world. Some places I really liked and some places I'd like to forget.

  30. Esperanto isn't just for nerds and jews!

    It's unfortunate however that only a few people know that Esperanto has become a living language.

    After a short period of 122 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the World CIA factbook. It is the 22nd most used language in Wikipedia, and is a language choice by Google, Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers,(people who have used the language from birth), include George Soros, World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to NATO and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet.

    Your readers may be interested in seeing http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

    A glimpse of this planned language can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  31. How about William Shatner speaking Esparanto in this YouTube clip from the movie Incubus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F77k6SQX7iQ

  32. Huh. Surprised my brother hasn't weighed in on this by now, he must be off doing other things at the moment.

    When we were kids, I think it was Elvish he taught himself and could write a good bit of it too. I seem to remember reams of paper with the stuff scribbled on it.

    I also suspect he's picked up a bit more Klingon since he's been going to more cons.

    Me? I barely remember the four years of French I took in high school...c'est la vie.

    These days I mostly get to translate redneck into legaleze.


  33. Brian, thanks for the information, but I'll tell you that there is something that bothers me about the comment:

    Esperanto isn't just for nerds and jews!

    I'm not sure what it is, but I get a vague antisemitic vibe off that. Maybe it's just me, but it bugs me. Could be because I have a lot of Jewish friends, some who read this site, and I'm sensitive to it, specifically because of the antisemitism associated with Esperanto's origin. Understand, I'm not accusing you of anything, just the phrasing there hit me a little weird.

    As to a language of nerds, OK. Sure. But the truth of the matter is that the majority of Esperanto people I know are nerds. That's OK, most of the people who hang out around here are nerds, and some of my favorite people in the world are about as nerdy as it gets. We're extremely nerd friendly around here.

    Couple things, I'd be a little careful about the CIA factbook. It's more like the CIA Out Of Date Speculation Book in a lot of cases. Just sayin'. I spent most of my life in the Intelligence field - first thing you learn is don't trust the CIA's data on anything (You know, like starting a war heh heh).

    Now, with all that said, this post and the associated comments has piqued my interest. I'll look around the Esperanto sites and maybe see how much of it I can pick up again.

    Again, thanks for the info.

  34. Jewish people are cool - Their sense of humour is the best in World!

    Sorry to give you bad vibes :)

  35. Jim Wright,
    Yeah, hubby was in the army,which is how we were able to visit a bit in Europe. We'd never have been able to afford it otherwise. It's lovely that you were able to see the Aurora that bright and close. That's something I want to do before I die.

    I got the same vibe off that comment, but I think it was just made because of the discussion earlier of how antiSemitism has been associated with Esperanto. I don't think it was intended badly either. :)

    If you're really interested in Esperanto, http://www.lernu.net is a great place to read about it and they offer a ton of courses. That's the way my son and I started. Also, Twitter (of all places) has quite a few Esperanto members. I'm ganymeder there too. :)

  36. Brain, yeah, I didn't think you meant anything by it - I'm just a little sensitive to it. And again, I think you for the info, you guys have sparked my interest in the language and an interest to learn it.

    Got to go fishing now.

    More later.

  37. I'm not really a polyglot, I only speak 2 languages well enough to read a scientific journal article without a dictionary, and speak 3 others so-so.

    A lot of things bother me about your comment, Brian. First of all, those native speakers are extremely rare. The word "include" misleading, because your list contains over half the notable ones.

    Second, your post has the same vibe we recently got from some MESA people, and you will find a lot of us regular commenters not very amenable to intellectual posturing. I can count Nazis (Werner Heisenberg) and quacks (Linus Pauling concerning Vitamin C) among Nobel Laureates - being one is no guarantee against being an idiot outside of the area of specialization. Agumentum ad authoritarium is a bad strategy when you are trying to de-stigmatize and popularize something, just sayin'.

  38. Ah, the DEC VT-220 terminal -- a tremendously fine machine. When I was in grad school, we started on the clonky VT-100's. Tough bastards Which Would Not Die. But the VT-220's had a lighter keyboard and you could type faster.

    The U.S. standard for monochrome monitors was primarily green with some white. In Europe, however, studies had been done which showed that under office lighting that amber text was less straining. Nearly all our VT-220's were amber, except for a couple of white ones.

    So when I bought my first PC in 1986, I had no use for color graphics, but I did find a Princeton MAX-12e monitor in amber which could use the PC's CGA card and give me monochrome graphics without having to use a Hercules card.

    And I do own a hardback copy of Hamlet in the original Klingon. (grin) A number of the members of the Klingon Language Institute are from NSA and CIA -- they use Klingon as a prototype language for codes, much like Esperanto.

    But hey, even Lister on the Red Dwarf speaks Esperanto, so it's the language of the future! (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  39. Kritiko ?

  40. "DEC VT-220 terminal -- a tremendously fine machine."

    I remember those. Makes me wish I had one.

    Sort of.


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.