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Criticism of Esperanto (Wikipedia)

Criticism of Esperanto

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Esperanto was conceived as a language of international communication, more precisely as a universal second language. Since publication, there has been debate over whether it is possible for Esperanto to attain this position, and whether it would be an improvement for international communication if it did.

Common objections

There have been numerous objections to Esperanto over the years. For example, there have been criticism that Esperanto is not neutral enough, but also that it should convey a specific culture, which would make it less neutral; that Esperanto does not draw on a wide enough selection of the world's languages, but also that it should be more narrowly Western European.

Lack of neutrality

Esperantists often argue for Esperanto as a culturally neutral means of communication. However, it is often accused of being Eurocentric.[citation needed] This is most often noted in regard to the vocabulary, but applies equally to the orthography, phonology, and semantics, all of which are thoroughly European. The vocabulary, for example, is about two-thirds Romance and one-third Germanic; the syntax is Romance; and the phonology and semantics are Slavic. The grammar is arguably more European than not, but Claude Piron among others argues that the derivation system is not particularly European, though the inflection is.[1] Critics argue that a truly neutral language would draw its vocabulary from a much wider variety of languages, so as not to give unfair advantage to speakers of any of them. Although a truly representative sampling of the world's thousands of languages would be unworkable, a derivation from, say, the Romance, Semitic, Indic, Bantu, and Chinese languages would strike many as being fairer than Esperanto-like solutions, as these families cover about 60% of the world's population, compared to a quarter for Romance and Germanic.


On the other hand, speakers of Western European languages often complain[citation needed] that the orthography and endings in Esperanto can be significantly different from their etymological cognates in national European languages, more so than in many competing constructed languages. For example: English quarter, Italian quarto, Interlingua quarto, but Esperanto kvarono (derived regularly from the numeral kvar 'four', as German Viertel is derived from vier, and Russian четвёртый (četvërtyj) from четыре (četyre)); also English government, French gouvernement, Interlingua governamento, but Esperanto registaro (derived regularly from the verb regi 'to rule', as German Regierung is from regieren, and Russian правительство (pravitel'stvo) is from править (pravit') ). This is a result of using derivation to reduce the core vocabulary that needs to be learned, and helps non-European speakers. As the examples above show, the difference is primarily with Anglo-Romance, not with European languages as a whole. According to the critics, Esperanto should aim to be a common European language, and therefore its lexicon and spelling system should be a consensus of the Western European languages.

Esperanto has no culture

This criticism is leveled by people who wish to learn a foreign language to gain access to or insight into another culture.[citation needed] Esperanto speakers maintain that Esperanto does have an international culture, interculture or Esperanto culture, developed over the past century, which includes among Esperanto music and other things, a significant original literature that provides the Esperanto community with a common background — a distinctive feature of any cultural community.

Difficulty in achieving fluency

Key figures within the Esperanto movement have lamented how few learners of the language progress to a high level of fluency.[citation needed] Notably, the author Julio Baghy critiqued mediocre Esperantists in his ironic poem Estas mi Esperantisto ("I am an Esperantist").[citation needed] Author Kazimierz Bein, while attending a conference at which it was generally agreed that everyone in the world should learn Esperanto, remarked that the first who ought to learn it were the Esperantists themselves.[citation needed]

The problem may be one of overmarketing. Esperanto is often presented as "easy to learn", which many students misunderstand as "can be learned without effort". Learning Esperanto is relatively easy, but only compared to learning a new ethnic language. For a speaker of a Western European language, the core grammar, basic vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling can be learned in a matter of days. In theory, students now have a vocabulary equivalent to ten times the number of root words they know, due to Esperanto's highly productive word formation. However, fluency in Esperanto requires an automatisation of skills and therefore extensive practice, as does fluency in any human language, despite Esperanto's systematic grammar.[citation needed]

Esperanto counteracts linguistic diversity

Some[who?] Esperantists feel that if Esperanto were widely used, linguistic diversity could more easily be defended. They argue that the main reason that speakers of smaller languages prefer to raise their children speaking a regional or national language is the fear that their children might not learn it as well as a native speaker later in life, and thus be disadvantaged economically or politically. However, if Esperanto were the medium of wider communication, they believe fewer people would have this fear, because Esperanto is easier to acquire than ethnic languages, and because one doesn't need to be a native speaker in order to speak it well.

Critics[who?] counter that Esperanto could simply take over from national languages and continue the destruction of linguistic diversity that is already taking place. The very ease of acquiring Esperanto might even accelerate the process. They point to other easy-to-learn languages such as Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, which have had deleterious effects on minority languages.

Special characters

Although Esperanto is written in the Latin alphabet, it uses six modified letters (ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, ŭ) not found in other languages or the ISO Latin-1 character set, and these have caused problems with typesetting. For many this is Esperanto's prime fault. Zamenhof purposely created unique letters to have a phonemic script which was not too much like those of existing national languages, but critics have argued that the philosophy of one character – one sound does not justify new characters.

Zamenhof recommended the use of the digraphs "ch", "gh", "hh", "jh", "sh", and "u" when reproducing these letters proves difficult, but in practice the diacritics were often written in by hand after typing a document. With the recent advent of computer fonts and especially Unicode support, however, the problem has largely been resolved. Today digraphs have been relegated to email and chatrooms, with either Zamenhof's system or the more computer-friendly x-convention being used.

Not gender-neutral

Esperanto is frequently accused of being inherently sexist, because the default form of some nouns is masculine while a derived form is used for the feminine, which is said to retain traces of the male-dominated society of late 19th-century Europe of which Esperanto is a product.[2][3] There are a couple dozen masculine nouns, primarily titles and kin terms, such as sinjoro "Mr, sir" vs. sinjorino "Mrs, lady" and patro "father" vs. patrino "mother". In addition, neuter nouns are often assumed to be male unless explicitly made female, such as doktoro, a PhD doctor (male or unspecified) versus doktorino, a female PhD. This is analogous to the situation with the English suffix -ess, as in baron/baroness, waiter/waitress etc. Esperanto pronouns are similar. As in English, li "he" may be used generically, whereas ŝi "she" is always female.[4]

The number of inherently masculine words has gradually diminished over the years.[citation needed] It is now standard, for example, to use originally masculine words for professions such as dentisto "dentist" to refer to any person, male or female, and dentistino is only used to emphasize femaleness, as "lady dentist" is used in English. This change is due to social transformation, and parallels similar socially driven changes in English and other languages. As for the pronouns ŝi and li, in some situations one can replace them with the neutral tiu "that one" which, unlike English "that", can refer to people. There are also proposals for dealing with the remaining inherently masculine words such as patro "father", but none have gained general acceptance. (See Esperanto gender.)

Unnecessary case and number agreement

Speakers of languages without grammatical case or adjectival agreement frequently complain about these aspects of Esperanto. In addition, in the past some people found the Classical Greek forms of the plural (nouns in -oj, adjectives in -aj) to be awkward, proposing instead that Italian -i be used for nouns, and that no plural be used for adjectives. These suggestions were adopted by the Ido reform.

Has not achieved its creator's goal

One common criticism made is that Esperanto has failed to live up to the hopes of its creator, who dreamed of it becoming a universal second language.[5][6] Because people were reluctant to learn a new language which hardly anyone spoke, Zamenhof asked people to sign a promise to start learning Esperanto once ten million people made the same promise, but the target has never been reached.

Other constructed languages

Various languages and reforms have been created to address these criticisms.[citation needed] Yet despite numerous attempts, none has as many speakers or as extensive a body of literature as Esperanto. The only ones with any significant number of speakers are Ido, an Esperanto reform, and Interlingua, an independent "naturalistic" creation that aims to be intelligible without study to a European polyglot.


  1. Le Defi des Langues by Claude Piron. Harmattan, 1994.
  2. Bertilo (in Esperanto)
  3. [1] (in Italian)
  4. Kalocsay & Waringhien, Plena analiza gramatiko (1985:73)
  5. Saul Levin, 1993. "Can an Artificial Language Be More than a Hobby? The Linguistic and Sociological Obstacles". In Ian Richmond (ed.) Aspects of internationalism: language & culture.
  6. The Christian century, 1930, 47:846

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