Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Letters:

Esperato lovers speak out

Although the title does not do justice to the actual situation in today's world, I wish to congratulate you for David Newnham's article ("World reluctant to embrace Esperanto," July 18, page 9). As a speaker (and lover) of Esperanto since my teens, I've appreciated its rare accuracy.

However, he's mistaken when he says that "Esperanto is probably the only language to have no irregular verbs." How could you, in Taipei, print such a sentence? Chinese has no irregular verbs either. It consists, just as Esperanto, of completely invariable blocks that combine without restriction.

Esperanto's Eurocentricity is less marked than Newnham suggests. While the roots on which the vocabulary is based are European, they combine according to patterns you find in Asian languages. In both Chinese and Esperanto, you derive "first" from "one" and "my" from "I," something alien to European tongues.

Or consider words like "foreigner" or "autonomous." The Chinese who learns English has to memorize them as new, separate entities. In Esperanto, eksterlandano, "foreigner," consists of the same three elements as its Chinese equivalent waiguoren: ekster, "outside," land, "country" and ano, "a human being (belonging to...)."

Similarly, memstara, "autonomous", is an exact transposition of the Chinese zili (stara "who stands" = li , mem "by its own devices" = ). Having had the good fortune to travel all over the world for professional reasons, I've realized that in many places Esperanto could put you in touch with ordinary people in a way that English couldn't.

I've noticed also that my experience -- I was more fluent in Esperanto after 10 months than in English after 10 years -- is shared by many people all over the world. For many decades, Esperanto used to be derided in the press. The trend appears to be changing. More and more honest articles are being published. But Newnham's stands out for its wealth of accurate information.

Claude Piron

Switzerland

The reason why Esperanto is not widely known in England and Wales (and probably the rest of the world) is that professional language teachers regard it as a menace to their jobs, or beneath their dignity because it is not complicated, or think that Esperanto teachers are heretics. It has long been suppressed in UK schools, and hardly anyone emerges from the system with knowledge of it.

The British Esperanto Association struggled for many years to have it examinable for the Certificate of Secondary Education, and finally for the General Certificate in Secondary Education (GCSE). The Northern Examining Association successfully marketed the GCSE in Esperanto, but in 1989 the Modern Languages Working Group, consisting of the leaders of professional language teachers, omitted to mention Esperanto when it recommended a list of languages (19 of them, from Arabic to Urdu) to the then minister of education, for inclusion in the emergent National Curriculum.

Since 1990, when the National Curriculum came into force, it has therefore been illegal to teach Esperanto as a first foreign language in schools in England and Wales, and this caused it to be ignored by schools in the rest of the UK.

As a second foreign language it may be taught, but timetabling for that purpose is so difficult that it would be true to say that millions of UK adults by now are unaware of the only successful means of speaking or writing to non-English-speakers on a basis of equality. The GCSE in Esperanto was withdrawn in 1995 because of a lack of candidates.

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