LINGUIST List 4.889
Thu 28 Oct 1993
Editor for this issue: <>
Logical Language Group, Re: 4.883 Esperanto
Vaughan Rachael, Esperanto native speakers
Ron Smyth, Re: 4.883 Esperanto
Message 1: Re: 4.883 Esperanto
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1993 09:31:21 Re: 4.883 Esperanto
From: Logical Language Group <lojbabaccess.digex.net>
Subject: Re: 4.883 Esperanto
I think that the difficulty of learning any artificial language, just like
learning any natural language, depends on your standard of when you
have actually learned it. Esperanto, and Loglan/Lojban (the language
project I am leading) are both relatively easy to learn grammar, and to
acquire that first 1000 words you need to get basic communicative needs
across. But artificial languages, in order to be spoken fluently, will
take longer because (BASIC English notwithstanding), normal conversation
between adults takes many more words than 1000. The main limit on people's
skill with Lojban has been vocabulary, knowledge of which seems to lag
grammar knowledge once the basic concept of a predicate language has been
realized. Furthermore, the people who have spoken the language longer
have a better grasp of when and how the meanings of words differ from the
familiar English (or Russian, or whatever) that they started with. Lojban
actually has a little advantage over Esperanto and other Euro-clone languages,
in that there are few cognates - the words are slightly harder to learn, but
once learned, there is less tendency to presume that the meaning is the same
as the cognate; Lojban is thus quickly developing an idiom that is very
unlike English idiom. This in turn may make the language a little harder
to learn without having extensive interaction with the community, but there
is no clear sign of this yet.
But the major difference in difficulty for artificial languages is that the
satisfaction level is lower.
With a natlang, you are expected to try to master the pronunication so as to
eliminate as much of your native accent and to sound like a native. It is not
clear that even if Esperanto has native speakers, that it has a native accent.
People seem to be much more tolerant of inaccuracy of pronunciation (and the
simplicity of the phonetic system allows this to some extent).
Also, the mark of fluency with a natlang is to be able to participate at
fluent conversational speeds with native speakers. With artificial languages,
people seem to be satisfied with a level of communication that allows them
to get whatever ideas they want across to another, even if the other person
has onlythe artificial language in common with you. Halting, groping,
conversation that does not extend to the full domain of human life, but deals
only with social (or technical if that is the common forum) needs, is
sufficient for someone to feel they have 'learned the language'.
With an easier target level, it is undoubtedly easier to reach that target
The artificial languages are probably easier to acquire to the level that we
would commonly ascribed to a 2nd or 3rd year language student, maybe even an
order of magnitude easier. Going beyond that level of skill is probably as
difficult as for any natural language. It may even be more difficult because
the bulk of your interactions in the language will be with people who are
satisfied at the intermediate level of skill.
I am the best speaker of Lojban, as far as I know, but I am not a fluent
speaker. I know that I am nowhere near my limits with the language, nor have
I really felt that the language isn't robust enough for my needs. Rather
it is just too difficult to make serious improvement when I have so little
interaction with people who are as good at the language as I am, much less
skilled enough to serve as a model, or to challenge me into real improvement.
Thus I have plateaued in my Lojban skill, while my Russian skill continues
to grow, at a slower pace than my Lojban initially grew, but forever being
challenged by speakers and texts that are beyond my level of fluency.
lojbab Note new address: lojbabaccess.digex.net
Bob LeChevalier, President, The Logical Language Group, Inc.
2904 Beau Lane, Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA 703-385-0273
For information about the artificial language Loglan/Lojban, please
provide a paper-mail address to me. We also have information available
electronically via ftp ( casper.cs.yale.edu, in the directory
pub/lojban) and/or email. The LLG is funded solely by contributions,
and are needed in order to support electronic and paper distribution.
Message 2: Esperanto native speakers
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 93 14:22:46 MEEsperanto native speakers
From: Vaughan Rachael <vaughansappey.grenoble.hp.com>
Subject: Esperanto native speakers
It may be prejudice, but I cannot accept the notion of
Esperanto native speakers. Child language acquisition is not
purely linguistic--it is part of the process of the child's
construction of its self, and simultaneously part of its entry
into the culture in which it constructs a self. (Don't writhe,
Anglo-American nativists; read the French linguists :->)
Children of immigrant families do better in school
if they are also schooled in their native culture and language.
Such schooling helps them construct a cultural identity
through which they can build their own identity. Then they
can take on the task of learning the host-culture language,
and finding a place in its culture.
Children learning creole also 'learn' the language within a
culture of native speakers--the other children in the creole
community. Even though the parents' communication in pidgin
may be linguistically limited, and even though there may
exist no established cultural tradition, the children create
a community and a culture through the creole and through their
interaction with each other.
Children learning the language of one parent, in the culture of
the other, as is often the case with children of my British
colleagues living in France and married to a French native
speaker, may have problems. If their interaction is limited to
one other speaker (the 'foreign' parent), their language acquisition
remains limited. They may be fluent in only one register, use a
restricted vocabulary, end up speaking franglais, etc. They eventually
become weighted toward the host-culture language, becoming 'French'
by identity unless they return to an anglophone culture for regular
Children learning Esperanto from parents who insist on limiting
their interaction (at least in front of the children), to one which
passes through a restricted, artificial language with consequently
no attached culture, are in a bizarre situation. Their environment is
linguistically restricted and culturally a vaccuum. It's not a
creole situation. You may argue that there IS an Esperanto culture,
but no-one can claim that Esperanto literature contains anything
equivalent to, for example, Faust, the Bhagavad Ghita, the songs
of Edith Piaf, Lynton Kwesi Johnson's beat poetry etc.
In short, I don't accept that you can be a native speaker unless
you are speaking a language which has a culture and a community
attached. At best each of these kids might be said to be in a
native speaker community of one. I believe Wittgenstein said that
this position is untenable...
Message 3: Re: 4.883 Esperanto
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 93 10:29:21 EDRe: 4.883 Esperanto
From: Ron Smyth <smythlake.scar.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 4.883 Esperanto
Jacques Guy says that Esperanto, while simpler than English, Russian, Latin,
Ancient Greek and Spanish, is harder to learn than the 'truly easy languages'
of Austronesia. This of course implies quite a large difference in
learnability between the first and last sets. Does this also imply that
children gain structural control of the latter set earlier? If not, why not?
The issue of language complexity ('all languages are equal') is rasied
in every introductory linguistics course. Is there any hard evidence either
way? What are the criteria? My guess is that we're talking about
inflectional morphology here, but surely other things count too (syllable
complexity, tone, word order variation, the number of marked vs. unmarked
forms etc...). Is there a way to address this issue?
If not, what should we be saying to beginning students on this topic,
if anything? BTW, I have just realized that one might have to draw
a distinction between overall complexity ('all languages are equally able
to express all thoughts') from a communicative standpoint, and regularity
or paradigm complexity.