« Freakonomics Radio

302. Why Learn Esperanto?

2017-09-26 | 🔗
A language invented in the 19th century, and meant to be universal, it never really caught on. So why does a group of Esperantists from around the world gather once a year to celebrate their bond?
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helping language to make bonds among people who were not like one another, a noble goal. Surely, but, alas, not quite attained at least not on the scales almond half desired. However, as our producer Stephanie TAN learned, as she explains in today's special episode. There is small global community of Esper Optus, who convene once a year to revel in their bond. So today, you're gonna meet people who are take time off, work for spending money to go and participate in this weird Esperanto, as they call this weird esperanto that only exists temporarily wherever all these weirdos meet together. I'm happy
Dennis delay their data double anyway ceased to deal. I too, as an ideal. Don't you ass long, ass, she lying on the ground that is done to Stephen dabbler on today's episode, our producers, Stephanie Tam, takes a trip deep into Esperanto land estimates for how many people speak Esperanto range, but the analogue a comprehensive language database sites. Two million speakers spending one hundred countries, just one thousand Those are native speakers who grow up in Esperanto speaking families and usually also speak one or two other national languages. The most famous of these is probably billionaire finance here, George Soros, but for the vast majority well,
they might be the only Esperanto speakers in the area. So why on earth learn it I travelled Esperanto, USA, National Congress to find out for the I years it's been held at William Peace University in Raleigh North Carolina this by four. Here here and rally and as I was driving in from the west, we got to the first highway sign that said, Raleigh Fit five miles and raising its eye coming home. It's ok we're almost there. This is exciting, for there were there that's three million as sixty five year old tech then and former sign language interpreter and nurse. He learned Pronto at sixteen. Now he teaches it in his retirement. He and another Esperanto picked me up from the airport and drove me to campus I really have that sense of excitement about. I know the place. We know staff, at the university now, and they know us out. The Esperanto people were have you back and were glad to be back. You know that something.
interesting and sweet is happening when you Oh that your returning home to a place that you only visit one thing here: how and it's not really home, but these are people who are important to me. I don't know if you know the old musical, pretty doom was about a little village and the countryside that only appeared one day a year and there's a love story connected with it, but sometimes I can have the sense that our summer Esperanto gatherings are a little bit like that. We go away for most of the year and then during the week to week we come back and we get together and we have faced a vase interactions and it is very sweet. Suite is a good word for it. A lot of US brontes too five their community as a kind of family, somewhat ironic the joke among s, practices that many spouses don't share the language, so their action every day. Family might not know Esperanto at all and yet
in a group like this, and I needed somebody to hold my wallet with all my money in it. I would hand it to an Esperanto speaker in full confidence that whenever I came back, they would hand it back to me on my money would still be in it. I have that level of confidence and trust in the in the people. I know will come to William Peace University Congress is a combination of socializing workshops and seminars, and to do so at been meeting about running the USA Association. This year there were about seventy attendees with guess flying in from Canada, the Netherlands and all where and about one thousand streaming from Facebook live for the past. Several years to National Congress has been followed by an eight day, Esperanto summer course, where people can learn the language. This year they had fifty eight students. Both events are held at William Peace. A fitting home for a language born with the goal of world unity that internally,
yeah of Esperanto or what Esperanto call LAW in not a day, o pardon my accent, originally rooted in jewish universalism and remains connecting threads, but humans being the fickle creative creatures that they are. It's been adapted throughout history for some very different and the his. U Esperanto involves socialists and their only nineteen twenties who wanted to Esperanto to further the goals of socialism. That's Esther Shore, English, professor Esperanto scholar at Princeton University. We spoke a few weeks before the Congress it in ups Bolshevism, the Soviets embraced Esperanto for a period of time until the changed their minds and shot the Esperanto since nineteen thirty eight there, a very short lived Nazi Esperanto movement and Pronto has been used for a number of other kinds of causes for pacifism. Ah,
for green in consciousness, etc, etc. This year's keynote speaker was Humphrey Tommy in English, professor at the University of Hartford and former president of the Universal Esperanto Association. His speech highlighted what he considered the unjust dominance of English today, but he also recalled the it's founding principles of the language he delivered the speech and Esperanto and gave me in english translation, afterward, Zammit, half police zone have emphasised that, first and foremost, where human being simpler and only secondary. Like EU members particular nations or peoples or language has, if appealing to what is, best and humanity rather than real. Forcing what divides us is idealistic or utopian box. I suppose we must plead guilty among, but if using, what brings us together to talk about and celebrate what makes us all different is
national approach to our divided world than Esperanto seems to me to make a great deal of sense. I know what you hear enrolled at this gathering of Esperanto speakers, think Esperanto works and you're going to keep on using it and convincing others to do the same status as parental leave Duncan displacement, common internal idea, whether you want to call it being a zone universalism, etc. I discover that people come to respond for all sorts of reasons. Some are polyglot, who just love learning languages. Others are programmer types who appreciate logic, and then there are those with a sense of adventure immersion. From Cuba, where I also As part of this movement in real life, I work ass. A professor chemistry in Santa Rosa Junior college. He said there was a California, that's Orlando re alone, who recent
he finished his six year term as president of Esperanto USA, having been born of Ireland, we mean- and I learned, thereby by nature. I always had this great curiosity. What is beyond the sea what is the world out there and I early dead, Dolly weight communicate with you, MRS Language, and I was fascinated interested in many different cultures that sad his fascination with the world beyond, didn't led him straight task. Pronto. I always fascinated by the culture of nordic countries: specialist I once wrote a letter to the swedish institute. Is a swedish institution that disseminates as feed is culture? I treated and send the minute. I want to learn this language. I want to get to know about this culture fuel, later I got a big package with everything
You need to know to learn swedish diction I guess it's This foreign language, really material, it was a big bucks. I said this very difficult language, I'm gonna spent many years to learn this, and then I will but to communicate with them kind, tiny sliver of of my gut. Very does in the gutter bassorah. I am in the culture of death, and of Hungary and Austria you know? You have time to me these languages, the other. What me doctor when I try to go through that day, that's does the day I became an apparatus. who, for some people learning Esperanto, is a way to follow their cultural curiosity. For others, though, there are worse stories,
My name is Maria Murphy. Now, I'm retired have it to under four boys in the fourth wonderful grandchildren. It take a special person, I think, to be really devoted but Anthea follow it happened to me. I am, though, she's a petite grandma with a cheeky smile. astoundingly a given her past. I grew I think you are. I am good Call me a holocaust survivor in no time the jewish family that everybody was skill Apparently I was required quiet baby and I was constantly think I mean mommy breast, so I was not crying people worry suffocating down. Babysit, they start crying after the war she and her mother left Poland with decided to EMU to Israel and on the way we stopped. France and we stop in ITALY
and I should very young gear. I pick up those languages pretty quickly on the street and I just felt that people be able to talk to each other number. The way you are- and here I mean eight nine year old girl. I had this strong experience every country every day I spoke different language should be a better way. Murphy? That better way was Esperanto, which he stumbled upon as a teenager. She and her mother had returned to Poland and she came across an ad foreign Esperanto club. You see at that time I didn't have released society. I didn't have any place that I felt I belong to, because most of the polish people are very strong make sure when they found group of people that meeting like twice a week and wonderful discussion, drinking good coffee in good keg and they were young people. It was
Buried natural to become a part of it, Murphy would actually meet her husband through Esperanto which brings us to another reason that people joined the community. The love stories oh and genuine AMOS were cold war couple who also met through Esperanto genius from Ukraine, Georgia from Atlanta, they had both applied for the same job, an editor position for it, Pronto magazine based in the Netherlands, but operated remotely genuine snags. The top position now just asked so Was these other candidate anyway, with was dumb from the? U S, and I just ask Can you send me his is raising it? There was talk of it. I like this guy Alex through, I tried to hide him tv, my system, little. Never I just on paper. It was to be clear, and so we worked together for like urine,
Half or so before we ever met in person work aside, since there is a more fundamental way, Esperanto connected them its front. It's not just the language. It's too greedy! It's almost like a value system rage I would agree when I look back at the person. I was in my early teens before I became an as promised animal. he that person anymore I buzz up. christian and I still am, but my approaches is much different and at first it was just A linguistic interests can like a game that didn't Has anyone locally to speak too? So? There's not a community brought me into contact with people then I wouldn't have had contact with. Otherwise I had ten thousand Eastern Europe or wherever you know these places they were so far away from culturally and. In our what animal sounds like all the talk about a like that, but for me at least
the catalyst that change the course of my life from work Maybe if I hadn't learned Esperanto, I might just be in Georgia in a small town not having traveled or anything like that. When I grew up, I The Soviet Union wanted to drop bombs and you know this, this is the enemy and she heard how awful we re not the other way around. You know and you how do we get to? we know being married from that growing up in such different places. Different mindset, I think for both of us as parliament was that catalyst What we have in this part of community is kind of like a microcosm for what could be, or what should be this community that spans languages legal ideologies, religions, races on us
scale. This is the world summit have dreamed of talking with s practice I felt like I was interacting with an epoch metaphor, linguistic communication as human community. The notion that Universal language could create world peace seemed to romantic. What about civil wars where both parties? shared language, but at this aim time. It was clear that there was something special going on milk AMOS Murphy and these other s. Broad tests had used this language to create a kind of small scale- Utopia, next, we get into pragmatic six could Esperanto, for instance, If the European Union a lot of money and education costs, she concluded that actually would be cheaper to have ass brown.
play that kind of intermediary role. We discover how travel in this small scale- Utopia works basically just show up and they usually give you a key to the homes, and we ask could that sense? frost and community be retained. If the microcosm we're scaled up, if Esperanto were to become a universal language, I think things like this would die. coming up next. Another note that good damned human us just post day for a deal on freak now, radio. The raven them on the economic survival of ideal for economics will come back to this.
special episode of requirements, radio ears, producer Stephanie TAN its ideal. Esperanto also has a deeply pragmatic side. It was designed to easy to learn and in a word efficient, which makes it a language that appeals not only to dreamers, activists and ambassadors, but also economists, social professional, University of Geneva who studied this Francois car, and I share the french government, asked him Make a study of language cost in Europe that stinking charters, best serve languages and cultures at Principia College in Illinois, where he teaches spanish and he concluded that actually would be cheaper to have as broad play that kind of intermediary role, how much cheaper back in two thousand five crap calculated that substituting the high cost of learning English with a low
cost of s broad, do in non english speaking. Countries could save the EU upwards of twenty five billion euros annually. The french government wasn't looking for that answer. What is other different, involving but actually that that was a very good point. I think, and the cost of learning France is less just because it so much quicker how much quicker? Well, If we use of language learning depends on all kinds of factors: natural ability, age of acquisition, regular practice, but one study with a sample of francophone children found that just one Fifty hours of S frantic education resulted in the same level of proficiency as one thousand hours of italian, one thousand five hundred hours of English and two thousand hours of german making us Pronto an average of ten times faster to learn than these natural languages so what makes it so much faster and easier to learn. There are sixteen basic rules of the language,
for example, every now ends in the letter of every aspect ends in the letter, a every infinity and in the letter I the future present and passed have only regular endings theirs, need to learn any conjugations. Their own exist in Esperanto. So that's Ruth Kevin Cohen a geriatrics doctor in Maryland Esperanto, she goes I her middle name in her spare time. She helped develop in a spy de course for the online language site, dual NGO, which she used to try and teach me sprang down. This is lesson one of the dual lingo course which North South, showing some pictures which of these is, is man I see it. sure of a man The bureau- I'm gonna, click that by putting your finger here, you can see
de what it is. The word law means that Just like an English, the is law, there's no plural form nears no country without Iraqis. To always always look I'll carry right, their ok that. That is a commonality with English that I think I like that simpler than French. So to say, I speak to you, see me potter. Alas, I speak me pot or less me pot or less Esperanto kay you ve, put or less Esben Anton me by panel at our last part or less as spurred on done and that's an Owen. is that the funding for a always for an hour and we add the end because it's a direct object. Susan, half urgently rode up. Sixteen rules
language, a couple of which you just heard nouns and no direct objects and Anne and every word is fanatic. He also compiled nine hundred roots derived, mostly from romance languages, which Esperanto then built into a rich vocabulary. Users have taken these routes, which are very flex and made words for new occasions for new moments for new technologies, their shore, Princess Bronte, scholar again so, for example, word for cell phone is pushed for now it's a pocket phone. The word for smart phone is level. The phone out was smart phone literally but I know one s branches: to refers to his smartphone as Chrome Sailboat, which means a spear brain. So there there's lots well, there's a lot of invention, there's a lot of play, involved. In coin, words. Duncan charters also argues that Esperanto, in addition to being efficient and inventive conserve,
gateway language. The good thing about it is someone gets into a language that has enabled under communicate with people around the world. They want to learn other languages as sort of a natural consequence, and for me that is not so much of an effort and a struggle to get students interested becomes more natural justice in Europe much more naturally learn other languages because they ve had a practical experience with the once they ve learned, ok, but practical experience. How does that work. If Esperanto may not even be able to find other people nearby to speak the language there is a system called passport to salvo. Witches means passport service and it's a network of S brought us who agreed to host visiting Esperanto. usually, young people for up to three nights free of charge and there is an enormous degree of trust in this Esperanza World and the word on the
treat as you arrive and someone hands you their car keys and goes to work as it turns out ES were practising couch surfing before it became a thing passport. Survey started in nineteen. Seventy four, as a small print booklet listing thirty nine hosts it since moved on line, and the latest edition contains nine hundred. Seventy four hosts from eighty one countries again and again, I hear these stories from S brought us who had travelled all over the world. I don't know if you realize that almost every country dares Esperanto Club and it has been happening since, like hundred thirty years, and if you like the word, then it's your oyster. I got to know what is, living inside a japanese family is for to Mars talk to them and in their food and an go with them to places of travel costs
bit in spanish speaking countries using Esperanto contacts, and I've always found that those are the ones that really get me into the culture more. I want to Kazakhstan this past year. the sky and his friend Vyacheslav and his friend drove me three kilometers in a whole day, touring some ancient historical sites, and that was pretty amazing. I have been to so many places met so people have so many friends with Russia. I feel at home. Always quantity is brothers everywhere. Yes, I am satisfied. Whatever curiosity of the island there beyond the sea had has been set, Do you feel like the esprit contests are? Exceptionally? hope for and have that kind of bond with you before, as its need community these flecked into, as opposed to English being just more common sorting. There definitely helps that's good
defer Johnson and twenty nine year old software engineer from North Carolina. It almost say naive idealism to believe in Esperanto or at least idea that you can make the world a better place by speaking a language if your dedicated and to learn this language and spent. your time on it. You have to have that. More ideas, movement, we have to have things in common. The other nice thing is has no real Esperanto here, where you can go so I don't think I would have ever met somebody from Cuba without Esperanto, but it just naturally happened because you start meeting people in the small community and people come from all over the world to color visit these things, yeah, and I guess I am curious about how you kind of think, through the tension between what seems
be this kind of transcendence Ino international aspect that reaches out and is very open to people, and you know attracting more people. Sprang down and the potential that if it Please continued spreading that you wouldn't actually have that kind of inner sweet unity? Any more short term question. I do understand that, if is rather begins to to become much larger in society that some of the syllables of today will vanish. Yes, I will not give my car keys to everyone if Esperanto were to become and a universal language I think the negatives would be that things like this would die than the Lander Congrats own. Why would people want to travel? miles and miles to meet other Esperanto? Since you can so we find them everywhere.
I found it fascinating that even this most idealistic language could be as much a boundary as a bridge and Its ability to British might even require boundaries to create social trust between US broadcasts, but then an if Esperanto has survived through self selection decade after decade into this. Paradoxically idealistic and pragmatic language, then maybe it Universality could only result from a world in which people universally chose to become idealistic and pragmatic, and who knows, maybe in that world we could trust strangers with our home and car keys and the without having money without having armies and there it is it's really. Remarkably thirty years, without being passed down from generation to generation without having money without having armies and there it is day.
I'm in half dreamed of my fino NGO eight stirrings of excitement about the uptake of Esperanto very few in. Community really believe that the day Zalm in half trimmed of my Fino Van Gogh or at the final victory will becoming any time in the near future Esperanto is considered the world's most success did language still in some ways the story of Esperanto teaches us as much about bout. What makes language fail as succeed the power of power and power. In some ways the story of US where someone is actually tried to construct a fair and ostensibly neutral form. Things like Esperanto oh, are widely treated as ridiculous or implausible. That's Michael Gordon, an historian at Princeton University. He studied the the brief use of Esperanto for scientific communication in the early nineteen hundreds. So, even though
Gordon and historian at Princeton University, he studied the brief use of Esperanto for scientific. And start with that, but it also perhaps raises some questions, What does it say about say about us that we find a language that combines peace and pragmatism, ridiculous or implausible, raises some questions about our world, what does it say about us that we rational guy does not act very rationally describes, as I said, and ate them as soon as you know, if, if people were rational than using the we that leaves you have long before adopted. General international system of units everywhere were, but we don't, we still measure these in dollars and you know when you see the way you have long before adopted. General international system of units everywhere were, but we don't. We.
the measure these Ngos and yards of feet, so in that says, it might not be in a short term that is granted. That is a rational solution for international communication becomes likely bit languages Joyce. But the important thing at what I always consider to be the goal of a movement is keep it alive, keep it fashion it keep it suitable for expression of everything the human has expressed, because maybe I don't know when, but when and if monk came finds itself ready,
that was Stephanie Tam reporting from the curiously pragmatic and idealistic world of modern Day Esperanto Economics radio is produced by W and my c studios end W productions. This episode was produced by Stephanie time. Our staff also includes Allison Hockenberry Merit Jacob Gregory, Zawoiski Eliza Lambert Emma Morgenstern Harry Hug. It's an brine gutierrez, the music you heard throughout this episode is composed by Luis Kara. Very special thanks for internet
hockenberry merit Jacob Gregory's, ASCII, Eliza, Lambert, Morgenstern, Harry Huggins and brand new terrorists. The music you heard throughout this episode is composed by Luis Gara, very special thanks for internet can't Mcdonald and all those at the Esperanto Congress who assisted our efforts, including Derek Raw Flee Miller and Chuck means you can subscribe to free connivance, radio on Apple pot cast stitches or wherever you get your Pont guess. You should also check out our archive at free cannot stop com where you can stream or download every episode we ve ever made. You can also be the transcripts in fine links to the underlying research. We can also be found. twitter Facebook, or via email at radio at freakonomics dot com, thanks for listening,
Transcript generated on 2021-01-23.