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Esperanto is

limako's picture

Translation of Esperanto estas by Steven Brewer, posted at Libera Folio on February 18, 2011.

UPDATE: Spanish Version: El Esperanto es translated by Toño Del Barrio.

It's too soon to capitulate and reject the idea of "finvenkismo" (the belief that Esperanto could become the second language for everyone), writes US esperantist Steven Brewer. By his title "Esperanto is" he wishes to bring attention to the fact that our language is not just a historical phenomenon or failed project, which mainstream media reports can make it seem, but an existing reality which it worth talking about in the present and future tense. English is the most important language in the world today, but that doesn't mean it will always be.

Too often, when an article about Esperanto appears in ordinary mainstream media, it says "Esperanto was" or "Esperanto might have been." Esperanto is described as, first and foremost, a kind of historical phenomenon: some foreigner created Esperanto a long time ago, it never lived up to its promise, and failed." Esperanto as it is today, that is, as an extant community of speakers, is scarcely mentioned.

If they bring up Esperanto speakers at all, they're described as individual weirdos that learned Esperanto to live in the past. And the future of Esperanto is also omitted: there's no mention of idea that the Esperanto community might develop and live on in the future. Both omissions are worth correcting because Esperanto is stronger now than ever -- and the future is brighter than many imagine.

Esperanto is strong. In spite of a lack of organizational strength, the language itself is more successful than ever. Almost a hundred thousand people have signed up at lernu.net (since 2004) and several thousand visit the site each week. Esperanto was once a phenomenon of just a few developed countries. Now you can directly reach the Esperanto community from every country of the world.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that "the language problem" is not currently a fashionable idea these days. A few people, in particular Giorgio Silfer, would like to declare the death of finvenkismo entirely, saying "Finvenkismo is at its sunset and will not know another day." In my opinion, he's jumped the gun on writing the obituary for Esperanto as the world's International Language.

In the magazine Newsweek, they predicted the continuing dominance of English as the common language for humanity: The Chinese won't make you learn Chinese, they said. But the United States never made people learn English. And they still don't. People who learn English choose to do so, because it gives them an advantage.

A new book by Nicholas Ostler, The Last Lingua Franca, describes the future of English. For many years, people predicted that English would destroy other languages. Ostler recognized that, although many people are learning English as a second language, few learn it instead of their native language. Further, according to Ostler, while it is not replacing native languages, English will remain a second language and won't decrease linguistic diversity.

English is now the most important language by many measures. It is the language of science and business and, most importantly, the language of the United States -- the preeminent superpower. But in an age in which other countries rise (principally Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- the so-called BRIC) -- and the US falls to the status of one-among-many -- other languages can grow in importance.

While English remains a second language, and doesn't replace native languages of other countries, each new generation must choose whether to learn it or not. And in each country, one can choose whether to learn Portuguese or Chinese or Russian -- or some other language -- if that makes the most sense in that time and place.

Currently, questions about language are not fashionable. But after ten years -- or twenty -- that can change. At some point, people may realize that English will not always be the most important language and the question will come up again whether Esperanto couldn't serve. The flag of finvenkismo is low right now, but doesn't mean we should throw it out. Many, many things are like a pendulum, swinging back and forth from one extreme to another.

So, what is the future of Esperanto? Will it ever be the second language for everyone? There's no way to guess. In the world today, the ground isn't fertile for esperantism. At the same time, Esperanto exists and will persist -- and we mustn't let anyone forget it.

by limako

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