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limako's picture

Douglas Rushkoff is organizing a one-day conference on October 20, 2011 in New York City called ContactCon to explore how to unlink social media from the corporations that provide, and increasingly, are positioning themselves to control it. I see this as an opportunity to explore the role that language plays in this and whether there is a role for Esperanto. Here is my first attempt to initiative a discussion around the topic: Beyond English: Language in a multipolar world.

In Nicholas Ostler's recent book English, the Last Lingua Franca, he observes that, while English is being learned more-and-more frequently as a second language, it is not replacing native languages. This means that each new generation will still grow up speaking one language, and needs to choose what other languages to learn. Currently, there is a huge economic imperative to learn English. In an increasingly multi-polar world, however, it may make more sense for people to choose other languages than English, such as Portuguese (to trade with Brazil) or Chinese (for trade with China).

Ostler argues that machine translation will obviate the need for a lingua franca and that English will decline and will not be replaced. This seems like an overly optimistic appraisal of machine translation to me. People have been believing that machine translation (like artificial intelligence) is just around the corner for a long time, but it doesn't look much closer now than it did 20 years ago. There is much greater accessibility to crude translators, but not something that could substitute seamlessly for a human being.

I wrote an essay recently for Libera Folio which you can read in English translation here:

As an Esperanto speaker, I'm sensitive to the disrepute in which it stands for many people -- especially in the United States. But I question whether a world in which mastery of English is necessary for the apprehension of global culture could ever lead to social justice. The global elite speaks English, but most of the world never will. Do we accept that? Do we put our faith in the magic of technology? I'm interested in exploring these questions in an open-ended way via Contactcon.

I encourage other Esperanto speakers to sign up and attend the conference.

by limako


machine translation

vilcxjo-me's picture

I am not sure how language plays a role in the discussion at contactCon. I will be interested to hear your report on the conference. (Unfortunately, I can't justify a trip from California to NYC for a one-day conference).

I agree that machine translation is not the panacea for international communication that many people expect it to be.
Even if we all (including the poorest people in third-world countries) had and used communicators like the one by Captain Kirk in Star Trek, the result could not duplicate the feeling of community and understanding that we see every time a dozen esperantists from various countries sit around the dinner table and share stories, jokes, and ideas.

April 6, 2011 by vilcxjo-me, 6 years 23 weeks ago

Why are you sucking up to

Mike Jones's picture

Why are you sucking up to these people? Anyone who knows Esperanto is light-years ahead of anyone who doesn’t in regard to “social evolution”.

We need to stop letting other people define our venues for us. An ounce of Esperanto cultivated in your normal life or career is worth a ton of flash-in-the-pan publicity attained in such special venues.

March 25, 2011 by Mike Jones, 6 years 25 weeks ago


russ's picture


Why are you so contemptuous of everyone who doesn't know Esperanto? (That sounds like a great way to turn people off of Esperanto, by the way - tell them you're way more socially evolved than they are because you know Esperanto and they don't, and that the only way for them to reach your level of social evolution is to learn Esperanto.)

I'm going to go out on a limb and say there are some people more "socially evolved" than many Esperantists, and I'm sure you can think of some too.

Speaking a particular language does not give one a monopoly on social evolution.

March 25, 2011 by russ, 6 years 25 weeks ago

Why don’t you just write,

Mike Jones's picture

Why don’t you just write, “Please, please learn Esperanto” across your forehead, and be done with it?

March 26, 2011 by Mike Jones, 6 years 25 weeks ago

Not my goal

limako's picture

That's really not my goal in attending this conference. And I don't think it would be effective -- although it probably would be more effective than sneering at people and saying that I was more "socially evolved" than they were. Constantly needling people and sneering at them is rarely endearing.

March 27, 2011 by limako, 6 years 25 weeks ago

If I decide to take up a

Mike Jones's picture

If I decide to take up a career as a sneer, I’ll first take lessons from russ. His vocabulary is richer than mine.

March 27, 2011 by Mike Jones, 6 years 25 weeks ago

Contact us / Kontaktu Nin

Contact Us / Kontaktu Nin:

Landa Kongreso * 2017 June 30 - July 3 * Annual Congress

EO Esperanto: La Landa Kongreso 2017 okazos en Raleigh, Nord-Karolino, Usono, 2017 ekde la 30-a de junio ĝis la 3-a de julio, 2017.
Por aliĝi, vidu: Aliĝilo

EN English: The Annual US Esperanto Congress 2017 will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, Jun 30 - July 3, 2017.
To sign up, see: Registration

NASK * 2017 jul 4 - 13 * Summer Courses

EO Esperanto: La bonega kursaro NASK - Nord-Amerika Somera Kursaro okazos de la 4-a de Julio ĝis la 7-a de Julio ĉe Raleigh, Norda Karolino, ĉe la Universitato William Peace. Por vidi pli da detaloj aŭ aliĝi, klaketu ligilon NASK.

EN English: The excellent North American Esperanto Summer Courses (NASK), will be happening from July 4 to 13th, at William Peace University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. To see more details or sign up, click on NASK.


Which NASK is best for you?
one week ($800)
two weeks ($1500)
three weeks ($2100)
Total votes: 715
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