LINGUIST List 4.889

Thu 28 Oct 1993

Disc: Esperanto

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 <>
    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 level.

    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 ---- lojbab Note new address: 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 (, 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 <>
    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 'boosters'.

    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...

    Rachael Vaughan France

    Message 3: Re: 4.883 Esperanto

    Date: Wed, 27 Oct 93 10:29:21 EDRe: 4.883 Esperanto
    From: Ron Smyth <>
    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. Ron Smyth