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E S P E R A N T O:


by Claude Piron

Even Linguistic Structures Can Be Democratic

This refusal to oppress, to violate, to warp, which lies at the heart of the idea of a language enabling all peoples to relate as equals, is woven into the very structures of Esperanto. Languages such as French, German, and English function as if by edict from a centralized monarchy of the ancient regime. In contrast, Esperanto is a language with a democratic, federative character. In the former, the roots of words tend to be broken up and all types of exceptions abound, which means that the various concepts are not equally able to be expressed. 

When you pass, in French, from voir to vu, vîmes, visuel, visible, or, in English, from see to saw, sight, visual, visible, you damage the basic word, so to speak, to such an extent that in French only letter v resists the various transformations, while in English it is necessary to juggle with the strange alternation s/vis for the same concept. In Esperanto you say vidi, vidita, vidis, vido, vida, videbla, and the root vid remains untouched, constant, always respected in its own individuality whatever its role in the sentence, and whatever the concepts it helps to express.

In Western languages, word order is to a great extent arbitrarily fixed, as if by some central power. If you speak English, you are not permitted to say I him see, you have to say I see him. In French, a literal translation from the English is not possible: you must say, not je vois le, but je le vois. There is a lack of freedom. In Esperanto, mi lin vidas is just as correct as mi vidas lin. Expression in this language occurs through a cooperative interplay of independent units, whose physical integrity and freedom of movement are constantly respected. The practical result of such a structural system is that you learn the language more by intelligence than by memory. And an invitation to be intelligent is not only more effective and agreeable, it is also a proof of esteem for the foreigner, and a way of treating him as a fully enfranchised person.

To propose the use of Esperanto is to say to the person with whom you intend to relate: "I don't want you to be embarrassed about your pronunciation. I don't want you to make mistakes that could make people laugh at you. I don't want you to stammer or to be unable to say what you mean because the vocabulary of my language is too complicated for you to master it perfectly.


Therefore I propose we use a language in which your local pronunciation will be respected equally with mine to as large an extent as possible, a language whose grammar has been devised so that you will not make more mistakes than I do, a language whose lexicon follows the psycholinguistic laws of spontaneous expression so closely that the word needed will present itself to you in the same moment in which your thought is formed. In such a way, when we speak together, you will not feel foreign."

And indeed, Esperanto is arranged in such a way that you experience a kind of great liberation in the formulation of your thoughts. We have forgotten that when we were young children we enjoyed a burgeoning linguistic creativity. We did not strictly imitate the language of the grown-ups, but recreated it from within, tearing the words apart and putting the pieces together again in accordance with our perception of their logic. My foots, a child says, or he comed. This is the natural way of expressing oneself. Children also form words like unmarry instead of divorce. For years they continue creating words and grammatical rules using basic material drawn from the language of older people. But little by little this linguistic creativity disappears, as the grown-ups explain to the little one, when he or she creates an unsanctioned word, that this is called "wrong," and the school afterward takes pains to eliminate as completely as possible the spontaneous creations and the personalized spelling.

Of course, the parents and the school are right. The child must indeed assimilate correct usage and learn how to handle correctly the national or regional language. His or her future depends in part on an adequate mastery of his or her mother tongue. It is nonetheless a pity to eliminate in this way, without compensation, the child's valuable creative ability. Esperanto makes it possible to recover this fundamental creative tendency without even slightly harming the attained mastery of the native language. One of the experiences most striking to Esperanto teachers is to witness the pleasure that adults show when, applying the basic rules of Esperanto word formation, they produce a new word on the spur of the moment and joyfully realize that they have been immediately understood. The rules of word formation in Esperanto are quite similar to the principles followed by a child's spontaneous language creation. This pleasure opens to the students a door that was closed in their childhood, and this is a psychological enrichment that should not be underestimated.

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