language and mind

April 19, 2011

Hope and language – why Esperanto is never going to make it for me

Filed under: language, language processing, language use — Tags: , , , , — teresapelka @ 9:27 am

Living in this world takes being political at times. Still, even with the contexts of diplomatic licence, one tends to speak the languages in which they have a thinking ability. How do you develop such an ability in an artificial language, like Esperanto?

Now, already the ‘licence’ – everyone knows the advice to write it ‘license’ if you want to write good American. You just look it up in any source on the differences between American and British and you get the ‘explanation’, usually in the shape of some neat chart to tell you what to write what.

Yet, American English is a live and natural language (Long live American!) It hasn’t been just combined or put together from elements. It has been naturally spoken by live human beings. It also happens to change over years. As for the ‘license’, Merriam-Webster has it nowadays for a ‘license’ or ‘licence’. How come?

There are those words, like ‘practice’, ‘advice’ etc. that take the ‘s’ or ‘c’ dependent on whether they should work as a verb or as a noun. You don’t write ‘practise’ in American, yet. Why? All the reasons probably could not be given, but with live languages you think how they are spoken.

‘Advice’ and ‘advise’ have their [ī] – it is transcribed like [Aı] in some phonetic scripts, I can’t type the font in this text editor. In simplest of words, ‘practice’ or ‘licence’ wouldn’t rhyme – they have their [ǝ]. Obviously, speaking is not always talking verses. However, poetry has its substance in language and each live tongue has its prosody. You couldn’t make it out between the single and double [l] in American, if you denied the melody and the rhythm. ‘Licence’ has more and more occurrence in contemporary American – ‘no rhyme is no reason’ :)

How are things with an artificial language like Esperanto? How do I write poetry in a language to put its stress always on the penult? How do I express my spatio-temporal orientation in a language to assume just the past, the present, and the future – the simple past, or the progressive? What about the perfect?
‘Esperer’, ‘esperar’, ‘sperare’ – the words say ‘to hope’ in French, Spanish, and Italian. Esperanto is not going to be my hope, for sure.

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12 Comments »

  1. You write “one tends to speak the languages in which they have a thinking ability.” Do you have any evidence on that? I don’t think so. I speak Welsh, French German and Esperanto. I have the same “thinking ability” in each. I am no more or less stupid when in the company of speakers of each one.

    I’m not sure that your distinction between natural and artificial languages is a helpful one. All languages are equally artificial and natural.

    Almost finally, Esperanto is “spoken by live human beings” just like English and every other language on the planet. All those things you can express in English you can express in English too. I can talk and write about the simple past, or the progressive or the perfect in Esperanto, and you will be able to when you’ve learned it.

    Finally, you dismiss Esperanto poetry, without knowing anything about. Perhaps a good place to start is:
    http://www.esperanto-usa.org/en/node/567

    I’m certainly not saying that all Esperanto poetry is first-rate. There is some dull versifying as there is in English and there is some dross, but take a look at the poems of the Hungarian Kalocsay, for example.

    Comment by Bill Chapman — April 19, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    • I do not imply one goes stupid in anyone’s company. I agree, there might be no evidence, sometimes ;)
      My post says Esperanto is never going to make it for me.

      Comment by teresapelka — April 20, 2011 @ 7:19 am

    • I probably do not know most about the Nobel prize, but they say it’s the Swedish Academy to be blamed for it ;)

      Wikipedia says that in Esperanto ‘the six verb inflections consist of three tenses and three moods. They are present tense -as, future tense -os, past tense -is, infinitive mood -i, conditional mood -us and jussive mood -u (used for wishes and commands)’. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto#Grammar)

      The periphrastic argument you use would concern the structural analysis – periphrasis is not a tense aspect.

      Anyway, maybe this is just my attachment for the verb ‘to be’ and the more flexible modality in English. In the light, the English stress pattern would be simply prettier :)

      By the way, how would you interpret the ‘would’ in ‘would be prettier’? Esperanto would recognize the conditional or jussive, while this use is neither.

      Comment by teresapelka — April 20, 2011 @ 8:08 am

      • Teresa,

        Yes, some tenses are periphrastic in that they are not inflected, but composed from several words. As in “Li estos dorminta.” = “He will have slept.” Note that in English this is also the case. We have no inflected future tense for “to sleep”, for example; instead we have to use a periphrastic construction like “will sleep”.

        As to “would”, that depends on the meaning. In your phrase, the use of “would” seems to convey a conditional: “(IF it were) in English, it WOULD be prettier.” = “Angle, ghi estus pli bela.” But if the idea is more like “(When it is) in English, it is prettier” then you might say “En la angla ghi estas pli bela.”

        Comment by Hoss — April 20, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

      • I am sorry having to use my linguistic armor – you don’t have a form for a verb, there is no sense to come up with a predicate interpretation – I mean I could be really right and not in need of any correction. No inflected future for ‘sleep’. You have yourself some inflected future for other verbs – there’s no inflected future in English except maybe a ‘shall’, but you should be paying my time if you want my time for real.

        As for the use of ‘would’ as in my post and comment – totalitarian not a conditional on my part.

        I mean the excuse for Esperanto has been fighting totalitarianism. You come up with an artificial language and you make peace – where is it language on its own walks and comes in and makes war?

        Comment by teresapelka — April 20, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

      • you don’t have a form for a verb, there is no sense to come up with a predicate interpretation

        Not a predicate, but a participle. Esperanto uses participles for TAM categories like “past progressive”, “future perfect”, etc. This is a basic feature of the language. The participle expressions are periphrastic in the sense that they are not simple verb inflections. Similarly, in English we use periphrastic forms for things like future tense.

        As for the use of ‘would’ as in my post and comment – totalitarian not a conditional on my part.

        Sorry, but I can’t seem to make sense of this sentence.

        I mean the excuse for Esperanto has been fighting totalitarianism.

        Since when has Esperanto needed an excuse? Do other languages have excuses? :)

        You come up with an artificial language and you make peace

        I do? I just speak a living language that millions of others speak. A language which they use to write poetry, argue, make friends, get married, raise children, read world literature, and many, many other things.

        where is it language on its own walks and comes in and makes war?

        Sorry, but, um…. what?

        Comment by Hoss — April 20, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

      • Again, the discussed form is the English ‘would’. It forms a predicate, definitely. The use does not imply ‘When it is’ – it is not a time clause.

        The meaning is not conditional, either.

        As for prepositional modification, probably there would be a participle in Esperanto to render the phrase ‘walks and comes in;)
        The phrase is to mean ‘walks in and comes in‘ for emphasis on human behavior, not anything you might ascribe to language, like stirring wars.

        Finally, I do not mean that Esperanto needs an excuse. Part the promotion of the language seems to be however ‘making peace’. As language itself does not make war, the idea looks like an excuse to me – whatever the reason to make it. If to accuse language of making war, why not sit back and wait for it to bring you a glass of water?

        Comment by teresapelka — April 21, 2011 @ 9:32 am

      • Again, the discussed form is the English ‘would’.

        Teresa, you claimed I was proposing a “predicate interpretation”. I wasn’t. I was answering your question about how in Esperanto one would translate an English phrase like “In language X, it would be Y”. The answer is, “it depends on the intended meaning”. The English modal verb “would” has many roles: it forms a past tense of “will”, it can be used to express a “future past” (as in “He said it would happen”), it can express the conditional mood, it can express a desire or a request, it can express a conjecture, and so on. These functions are all translated differently in Esperanto.

        The clause “would be prettier” seems to express a conditional, and thus I would translate it with “estus pli bela”. For different interpretations (e.g., a simple request, as in “How would you say that in English?”), the translation would change, (e.g. “Kiel vi diras tion en la angla?”, using the present tense.)

        As for prepositional modification, probably there would be a participle in Esperanto to render the phrase ‘walks and comes in

        There are prepositions to express motion, but motion towards a place can also be expressed with the accusative case, e.g.,

        Li marŝis en la ĉambro. = He walked within the room.
        Li marŝis en la ĉambron. = He walked into the room.

        The phrase is to mean ‘walks in and comes in‘ for emphasis on human behavior, not anything you might ascribe to language, like stirring wars.

        “Stirring wars”? Sorry, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Is this a Polish metaphor clumsily translated into English, perhaps? :)

        Part the promotion of the language seems to be however ‘making peace’. As language itself does not make war, the idea looks like an excuse to me – whatever the reason to make it.

        Zamenhof’s motivation in giving birth to the language was to promote intercultural understanding. Of course, he recognized that mutual understanding is merely necessary for peace, not sufficient. The motivation for learning the language today varies. I use it because it gives me access to an enormous body of literature and poetry, both translated and original, and provides a window to foreign peoples and cultures that no other language can provide — not even my native English.

        If to accuse language of making war, why not sit back and wait for it to bring you a glass of water?

        Sorry, but again, this question makes no sense to me; I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.

        Comment by Hoss — April 21, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

      • You did not answer the question about the predication. You did not answer the question about prepositional modification. You go in verbiage – who do you hope to persuade?

        The body of literature and poetry you quote – you realize that Auld got known for his jotting down from Pound. This bad fame is not easy to be done away with.

        A little extra, you got a possibly broken sentence structure here ‘Zamenhof’s motivation in giving birth to the language was to promote intercultural understanding’. What do you mean by the language?

        Languages making war: to make war takes going about a few things; a glass of water could be only less effort.

        Could I ask you what you native language is – or the language of your mind.

        Comment by teresapelka — April 21, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

      • You did not answer the question about the predication. You did not
        answer the question about prepositional modification. You go in verbiage – who do you hope to persuade?

        “You go in verbiage”? What does that mean? Are you trying to say the answers were too verbose for you?

        The body of literature and poetry you quote – you realize that Auld got known for his jotting down from Pound. This bad fame is not easy to be done away with.

        The body of literature I referred to (but didn’t “quote”) is the work of many individuals, not just William Auld. He’s one of the best known internationally, however, which is why I mentioned him. As to “jotting down from Pound”, whatever that’s supposed to mean — are you accusing Auld of plagiarism?

        A little extra, you got a possibly broken sentence structure here ‘Zamenhof’s motivation in giving birth to the language was to promote
        intercultural understanding’. What do you mean by the language?

        I mean the language being referred to in the surrounding paragraph — namely, Esperanto. From the nature of your question, I’m guessing definite articles aren’t part of your native language — is that right? (Mastering the definite article in English is notoriously difficult for students of English as a second language, even for those who have studied English for many years. Yet another reason why English makes an exceptionally poor lingua franca!)

        Could I ask you what you native language is – or the language of your mind.

        I’ve already answered that question. I’d answer again, but I’m afraid you’d accuse me of “going in verbiage,” or something equally bizarre.

        Comment by Hoss — April 22, 2011 @ 5:20 am

      • Putting out the feelers about the sentence structure – is this guesswork when you have an assumption? You say ‘“Stirring wars”? Sorry, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Is this a Polish metaphor clumsily translated into English, perhaps’ in your previous comment.

        I understand that the feelers were there without a warning, but that’s not violent behavior ;)

        It’s not a translation from Polish. It seems I don’t have problems with articles, either. Why don’t you google ‘stirring’ with some other term, like one to begin with ‘s’? The occurrence is big. This is not the only reason why I would have the thought that English might be not the language of your mind or it might be not the primary language you use for your comments – which was actually the question.

        The ‘would’ is obviously not conditional in the above (it couldn’t be wishful thinking or command, either).

        I am not accusing Auld of plagiarism, he is infamous however as being ‘heavily based on Pound’ – you name it.

        Probably we may conclude that Esperanto is not going to make it for me – I think English is a wonderful lingua franca.

        Comment by teresapelka — April 22, 2011 @ 7:56 am

  2. How are things with an artificial language like Esperanto?

    Quite well. Like English, Esperanto is a living language that evolves naturally over time, incorporating elements from other languages as needed.

    How do I write poetry in a language to put its stress always on the penult?

    The same way as in natural languages like Polish, which also favor penultimate stress. So if you have talent, the answer should be “very well”. :-)

    How do I express my spatio-temporal orientation in a language to assume just the past, the present, and the future

    I don’t know, but in Esperanto you can express the Pluperfect, Imperfect, Past periphrastic future, Perfect, Progressive present, Present periphrastic future, Future perfect, Progressive future, Future periphrastic future, Perfect conditional, Present conditional, Future conditional, Perfect imperative, Present imperative, Future imperative, Perfect infinitive, Present infinitive and Future infinitive, including passive and active forms. :-)

    If you’re actually curious about this topic, I’d encourage you to check out some of the remarkably abundant poetry that has been written in Esperanto over the past century, some of it quite breathtaking. For example, for his epic poem La Infana Raso, Esperanto poet William Auld was nominated by PEN for the Nobel Prize in Literature — not once, but several times…

    Comment by Hoss — April 19, 2011 @ 11:10 pm


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