Esperanto is fun, ĉu ne?

4 May

If you so much as glance through the old posts of this blog, you’ll notice that I have a fair few interests and hobbies, from the domestic to the arcane. There’s crochet, of course (the temperature blanket is coming along beautifully) and baking, which under lockdown has got a bit out of control. I suggested baking some biscuits today and my sister looked at me in horror. “But we’ve already got crumpets, potato scones and flapjack!” I think the problem is that people aren’t eating fast enough 😉

Then there’s alchemy, which I became interested in a year or so ago, although only in the theoretical sense. I never was any good at chemistry and won’t be setting up a laboratory in my bedroom anytime soon. And there’s dancing, too, from proper Latin dancing at nightclubs to dancing around the back garden.

But the latest shiny thing that my magpie brain has picked up is Esperanto. You probably already know that I like languages. To supplement my writing I work as an Albanian interpreter, and I took Latin A-level as an adult for no very good reason. I use apps like Duolingo and Memrise to pick up or brush up languages before travelling abroad, and it was there that I rediscovered Esperanto.

I say “rediscovered” because I used to be into Esperanto a very long time ago, after reading the Stainless Steel Rat books by Harry Harrison. (Just writing this takes me back to the tiny sci-fi and fantasy alcove in the Sheffield W.H. Smiths, where I discovered many wonderful books including The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. What an amazing 1.5-square metres of retail floorspace that was.) The Stainless Steel Rat, AKA Jim diGriz, speaks Esperanto because, in the future, that’s the language that international space travellers communicate in. I wasn’t even aware that such a language existed, but I think there was a little afterword or something, telling you that Esperanto was real and directing you to where you could find out more. So I signed up for a course.

Back then, in the distant mists of time, the Esperanto course took the form of brightly coloured little leaflets with exercises to be completed and posted back to the teacher. It was totally free, as far as I remember, although maybe you had to enclose return postage. This is completely in accordance with Esperanto culture, which is very much about international friendship and love of learning. There’s a lot of volunteering and sharing in the community, as far as I can make out (I’m not really a part of the community), and you can even stay all over the world for free, like AirBnB but instead of paying you just have to speak Esperanto.

It’s much easier to learn it now, with the advent of internet courses, and I wonder if that has increased the number of Esperanto speakers. It is still something of a minority interest, of course. Amazingly, there are a small number of native speakers (see the embedded video) but if you’re not native you have to be willing to learn a language that almost no one else speaks, and which has no country you can visit. That means Esperantists tend to be a self-selecting bunch of people who are very into languages, or believe fervently in levelling the playing field of communication, or both.

I have actually done every module on the Duolingo course now, although only to level one (you can go up to level five). That’s unsual for me because I normally leave online language courses half done, or pick them up and drop them at different times according to circumstances. I did some of the French course to brush up my French before going to Paris,  and then learnt a bit of Dutch for my ill-fated trip to Leiden (postponed due to to Storm Ciara and then again, indefinitely, due to coronavirus). I would probably have let the Esperanto drop, too, if it weren’t for the Glasgow Esperanto club which is, of course, meeting online. I’ve only been twice (once in real life, once online) but it’s encouraging when you understand more each time you turn up.

The reason it’s so easy to progress in Esperanto is that it’s designed to be easy. It’s entirely regular – nouns end in o, adjectives in a, adverbs in e, verbs in s and so on – and if you know an Indo-European language or two, the way it works often seems quite intuitive, too. And it’s remarkably flexible, so that you can verb nouns and noun verbs to your heart’s content, and play around with prefixes and suffixes. An example:

kato = cat

katido = kitten

but ido on its own = offspring.

If you’re into languages you can probably appreciate the economy of that. Esperanto is not a beautiful-sounding language, but its extreme logic does have a certain elegance.

However, even though I’m waxing lyrical about Esperanto here, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever become a native of the culture. Some hobbies are more like lifestyles, so that tepid enthusiasts will never really fit in. Salsa is a bit like that – for true salseros it’s their life’s passion, and all their socialising and relationships revolve around it. Esperanto, I think, is the same. True enthusiasts travel the world to meet other speakers, marry Esperanto speaking spouses and bring their kids up speaking Esperanto. In hobbies this intense, people who don’t feel that strongly about it often drop out altogether, leaving only the keen beans.

As a Christian, I already have a central passion in my life which isn’t up for replacement. But I retain a wide variety of interests and don’t mind being the odd one out that much. So I’ll turn up to Esperanto club, or salsa club, and if hardly anyone knows my name, or if I’m not very good at it, that’s okay. In much the same way that I have a ridiculous tsundoku of books I’m reading or am yet to read, I suppose I go for breadth rather than depth. It’s a big world, with a lot of history and culture, and I can only scratch the surface but, like people with those scratch-off maps, I’d like to scratch as much of it as possible.

If you feel like a brief fling, or a serious relationship, with Esperanto, you may be able to find lessons or clubs near you (here’s a list of different national Esperanto organisations) or there’s a wealth of resources waiting in the ‘tips’ section at the end of the Duolingo course, like an Easter egg. And it’s not your thing – that’s fine too. But I kinda like it.

Ĝis la revido!*


*Esperanto is conveniently available on Google Translate, if you find it annoying not to know what I have written.

5 Responses to “Esperanto is fun, ĉu ne?”

  1. Gordon May 4, 2020 at 10:34 pm #

    Esperantumi certe ĝojigas sin, laŭ mi. Dankon pro ĉi tiu skribaĵo.

  2. Andy Esperantisto May 8, 2020 at 10:56 pm #

    Always interesting to read about other people’s feelings toward Esperanto! I do actually find it to be very beautiful, but I suppose it can be rather regular looking with all those noun “o”s! But how can we resist words like “ŝminki” and “ŝraŭbi”? 🙂

    • Karen Murdarasi May 8, 2020 at 11:16 pm #

      I suppose find the vocabulary cute rather than beautiful. I do like poŝtelefono for mobile phone! It makes me laugh.

      • Andy Esperantisto May 9, 2020 at 12:17 am #

        Ah, fair enough! Yeah that is an amusing one 😀

  3. inga johansson May 10, 2020 at 3:15 pm #

    To you English is a mother tongue and Esperanto will be a brother tongue.
    To us who, have another mother tongue, still Esperanto will be a brother tongue.
    So English we must learn but Esperanto we want to learn.
    In my language brother and bridge start with same three letters b r o
    Esperanto is a bridge language and a brother language.

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