Esperanto Boosting, and Skepticism

[eo] Kial Esperanto ne havas kulturon. Tradukita Esperante ĉi tie.

The Lessig Blog (yes, the same one I slammed on earlier, and by the same guy too) posted some interesting information about Esperanto, at my prompting no less. (Did you know that a high official at the FCC speaks Esperanto?) The comment discussion got a bit interesting, but it seems Lessig’s blog software didn’t like one of my responses, so I’ve been forced to abandon that discussion.

The most interesting comment was by M. Mortazavi, who appears to have an interesting blog here. He echoed his comment on his blog as well.

He has a lot of good points on diversity and multiculturalism, but falls short:

So, opportunities for diversity are much better and more rewarding than the opportunities for an invented, uniform global language, which will often lack a living culture, rich literary history and tradition. (By the “living culture” of a language, I mean the culture of communities that primarily speak that language.)

Which is circular. Only national languages can have culture; thus, you can’t become more cultured without learning national languages. I’d say that Esperanto has a pretty serious culture going on, which seems to me to disprove the whole thing.

But there’s something else going on, too. Can one learn about other cultures through translation? Mr. Mortazavi doesn’t seem to think so. I’ll grant him that there’s nothing like learning the native language for getting deeply involved in a culture. But, then again, one can only get deeply involved in a few cultures in this way, while all the world’s cultures are available to the Esperantist. Is depth really superior to breadth? I don’t think so.

And depth has a drawback. Who will elect to delve into the depths of, say, the culture and history of Catalan? The Catalanese can tell you the answer: very few, which is why their culture is slowly being crowded out by the “important” Spanish language and culture. Now, I won’t presume to say whether Esperanto would stem the tide by itself, but it certainly could help if Catalanese could choose to use a neutral language in their dealings with the European bureaucracy instead of being forced to use Spanish to do so. Certainly, easing the pressure on such minority languages improves diversity, does it not?

I certainly cannot speak all world languages, or all “important” world languages but I can connect with more people because I can speak, read and write in more than one language.

By extension, being able to connect with more diverse cultures by virtue of sharing an easy-to-learn foreign language spoken by some people everywhere makes one more diverse, right?

I doubt anyone who’s neither tried to learn nor read nor written Chinese and has not learned or lived it could translate (not literally, but figuratively speaking) that living, that history, that tradition in full into some other language, whether Esperanto or English.

I can’t parse this. At face value, he seems to be concerned about the fact that non-Chinese speakers are most likely poor at transmitting Chinese culture into a foreign language. I agree that native Chinese would likely do better, though I don’t see the problem. So I expect I’ve missed his point.

At any rate, it’s interesting that he would pick Chinese as an example of a culture impermeable to Esperanto. China has one of the longest-running Esperanto periodicals around. They just got done hosting their second World Esperanto Congress. They broadcast in Esperanto daily. So, if his point is that China could not possibly transmit any significant amount of its culture and message in Esperanto, it would appear that the Chinese themselves do not agree.

Esperanto skepticism is certainly not invalid, but it would be nice to see some informed skepticism for a change, skepticism that listens to the points Esperantists make and seeks to address them. Looking at this and this would be a good start.

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