The second language

Those of you who know me, even just a little, most likely know that I am a great enthusiast of Esperanto. So I could not decently avoid the subject :).

As with anything a little different, utopian or original (but mostly not well known), there is unfortunately often a lot of prejudice. Let’s leave them aside and discover together: actually, what is it, Esperanto? And mainly, what’s the point of it?

First things first. Esperanto is a language. It was created in 1887 by Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist from Bialystok (city of current Poland, but at the time part of the Russian Empire).

You have read correctly. This language was “created”. Unlike (almost) every other languages, whose existence and present form are due to the hazards of history and who thus over the centuries have continuously changed and become filled with irregularities, exceptions and difficulties, Esperanto is a constructed language, thought and designed entirely logically and consistently.

Esperanto is thus one of the easiest languages to learn, understand and speak. The ending of the words indicate their nature, what allows to identify them instantly. The grammar is very simple and without exceptions, and however allows for nuances as precise as possible. Words are created by assembling roots and affixes, like Lego bricks. Finally, the most important: having a very flexible structure, Esperanto allows to express oneself as one thinks, whatever their mother tongue.

All right, but what’s its use? Well, like all languages, it allows to communicate, of course :)! (You wouldn’t have guessed that, would you?) OK, but why would we need an extra language? Aren’t there enough already? Indeed, there are a multitude of languages, and that’s actually the problem. When people with different mother tongues want to communicate, what can be done? Basically, there are three possibilities:

  1. If everyone understand the language of the others, everyone can speak their own language.
  2. They talk in the language of one of the interlocutors.
  3. They use a language that is different from the one of each of the interlocutors.
  4. They give up ;).

Although it is a bit strange to talk in different languages, the first possibility is however a good solution, but unfortunately rarely possible. Moreover, it requires from the interlocutors to have an excellent understanding of the languages of the others.

The second possibility creates a very unbalanced situation. The interlocutors whose it’s the mother tongue don’t have to make any effort. The others, on the contrary, must not only make the big effort of speaking another language, but find themselves disadvantaged in the conversation because they don’t master it as well as their interlocutors. You can quickly look stupid when you stammer. This solution is thus to be avoided if possible.

With the third possibility, the interlocutors must each make a similar effort to communicate, and thus find themselves in an equivalent situation. This is actually the best solution. There is however one problem left to solve: which language to choose? You guessed it right: Esperanto, of course!

Why Esperanto? Why not English (or any other national language)? There are numerous reasons to prefer Esperanto to national languages in this case, and we will discover them in an upcoming article. For now, let’s remember that the main reason is that unlike the other languages, Esperanto was designed for this specific goal: to serve as international exchange language.

If Zamenhof created Esperanto, it is because he was living in a neighbourhood with different nationalities, and noting the tensions and the violence caused by misunderstandings due to the different languages, he realized that the best solution to this communication problem was to have a neutral exchange language, common to all.

Its purpose is thus absolutely not to replace the other languages so that everyone speaks the same language. Not only is this completely impossible, but it would also be very sad because every language is a treasure.

The purpose of Esperanto is thus to be a second language; the second language. Everyone makes a step toward the other to find themselves equal in the conversation. Therefore, Esperanto is a fair language.

To be able to communicate with people with different mother tongues, we thus only need to learn one second language, which moreover is very easy. Esperanto can be learned on average 5 to 10 times faster than national languages. About ten hours of courses are enough to start to really use it, and we get already a good level after about fifty hours of courses.

All well and good, but is this not a little utopian? Maybe, but big changes often started as utopias.

In an upcoming article, we will discover this international language a little more, as well as reasons and means to learn Esperanto.

In the meantime, I deeply recommend you to watch the highly instructive series of videos of Claude Piron entitled “Les langues : un défi”. It is in French. There is also a short English version entitled “The language challenge”. For a brief but nice presentation of Esperanto, I recommend the video entitled “The One Show does Esperanto”.