Mobility and Inclusion
in Multilingual Europe
The language ideology of Esperanto
from the world language problem to balanced multilingualism
⟨Amsterdam / Milano-Bicocca / Torino⟩
5-6 May 2016
University of Turin, Italy
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What is Esperanto?
Esperanto is a planned language, i.e. a language that violates the
priority of orality (Lyons) because a single man (or a committee)
writes its normative variety before to form a community of practice.
Ludwig Lejzer Zamenhof, an Ashkenazi Jew living in the Russian
Empire (mainly in nowadays Poland), launched his lingvo internacia in
1887. Several International Auxiliary Language (IAL) were proposed
since then until the WW2, but only Esperanto became relevant from
a sociolinguistic point of view.
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How many people speak Esperanto?
From: Gobbo (2015).4 (cc) 2016 F Gobbo
Is Esperanto a contested language?
Strictly speaking, it is not, because:
■ it is not considered a “dialect” or “patois” of any national
■ it is not an endangered language, accordint to the Language Atlas
■ unlike most languages, 99% of its speakers are not learning
Esperanto during childhood within a family, but voluntarily as an
■ the diatopic variable is far less important than in contested
languages (there is no substantial diﬀerence between an Esperanto
ﬂuent speaker of Japan or England).
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No, it is not, but…
However, it shares some problems with contested languages, such as:
■ it is not considered a full-ﬂedge language, not only by laymen but
also in several linguistic and academic contexts;
■ being a contact language from Romance, Germanic and Slavic
elements, it has a high degree of Abstand (distance) with all
national languages of the Old World;
■ its visibility in the public sphere is very low, often people get
surprized that it is (still) a living language;
■ its formal status on a regional and national level is very low
(although on an international level it has some recognition, see
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The tradition of Esperanto:
one language, several ideologies
From Russia to France (1900)
From: Garvía (2015).
Declaration of Esperantism, 1905
■ 1. Esperantism is the endeavour to spread throughout the entire
world the use of this neutral, human language which, “not
intruding upon the personal life of peoples and in no way aiming to
replace existing national languages”, would give to people of
diﬀerent nations the ability to understand each other […] All other
ideals or hopes tied with Esperantism by any Esperantist is his or
her purely private aﬀair, for which Esperantism is not
■ 4.Esperanto has no lawgiving authority and is dependent on no
particular person. All opinions and works of the creator of
Esperanto have, similar to the opinions and works of every other
esperantist, an absolutely private quality. […]
■ 5. An Esperantist is a person who knows and uses the language
Esperanto with complete exactness, for whatever aim he uses it
for. […] (my emphasis)
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Being an Esperantist: Zamenhof and the pioneers
Zamenhof’s ideology treats languages as tools of
communication, and communication as a tool for improving
human welfare. [This implies] that the peoples of the world
have much in common, so international communication will
contribute to friendship and peace, rather than animosity and
war (Jordan 1987, my emphasis).
Esperanto outlived its creator not because of structural
perfection, but because of […] a community which linked the
language to nonlinguistic ideas (Corsetti 1981, my emphasis).
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…and the tragic result: the “dangerous language”
the need to deﬁne neutralism
The new UEA after WW2: 1954
Since the aftermath of WW2, the centre of the Esperanto Movement
became UEA, and thanks to the work by Ivo Lapenna UEA started to
be in “Consultative arrangements with UNESCO 1962 Category B”,
after the Montevideo Resolution IV.4.422-4224 (1954) in favour of
Esperanto because its results “correspond with the aims and ideals of
Lapenna, in his Esperanto en perspektivo (1974) argues that the
acceptance of a single national language for international
communication is irrealistic, as the other nations will not accept it.
At the international level, multilingualism is considered a problem
and Esperanto its solution.
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The Esperanto generation of the late 1960s
Since 1956, a distinct junulara movado “youth movement” formed
inside UEA with a deﬁnite association, called TEJO. En 1969 in their
meeting young Esperantists signed the Declaration of Tyresö (SE; my
translation from Esperanto, my emphasis):
If we apply with consistence the concept of conserving the
integrity of individuals, you will condemn linguistic and
cultural discriminations in any form, and also the so-called
solution of the language problem, which is based on the
discrimination, and we ﬁnd that until now we pay not enough
attention to the destruction of cultural and linguistic
background of many peoples. This destruction is nothing
else than a tool of linguistic imperialism.
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Esperanto for interethnic relations (1972)
The magazine Etnismo was founded in 1972, and in 1978 a distinct
“international committee for ethnic freedom” (IKEL) was formed.
From the ﬁrst issue of Etnismo (my translation from Esperanto, my
The struggle against linguistic discrimination in no way can limit
itself to state languages, rather it should consider at the same
time, if it is sincere, the unfortunate languages of ethnic
minorities within the states.
The Esperanto language ideology for the ﬁrst time considers not only
the international level, but also the national and subnational levels.
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Multilingualism and Esperanto: a diﬃcult relation
In the 1970-1980 years, the Esperantists of the “Soviet school”
did not take part to the struggle against linguistic imperialism,
emphasing that ‘international’, ‘interethnic’, ‘global’ languages and
Esperanto can coexist in harmony (Pietiläinen 2010).
Moreover, the Manifesto of Rauma (FI) signed by young Esperantists
wanted to put the emphasis on the Esperanto community over the
Esperanto Movement. In particular, the role of English in the
emerging globalization in the 1980s could not be underestimated by
the new generation of Esperantists, who did see the conceptual
frame “Esperanto vs. English” untenable.
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From the Manifesto of Rauma 1/2
The signers ﬁnd a contradiction in the attitude of
Esperantists, almost a conﬂict between our Superego and Ego:
our Superego makes us preach to the others on some myths –
L2 for all / English is our enemy / UN should adopt
Esperanto / etc – and praise too much the language, even in an
unfair way, in interviews; at the same time, between ourselves,
we enjoy and apply Esperanto according to what it really is,
without any regard of the slogans of the Primals [pioneers].
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From the Manifesto of Rauma 2/2
We believe, that […] the falling of English is neither a task
nor a concern of Esperantists: ﬁnally English plays the role of
auxiliary language only, analogously to French in its time […]:
Zamenhof never proposed to the Movement to ﬁght against
French, because he had in mind another, more valuable,
alternative role for Esperanto. […] Esperantisticity is almost
the same as belonging to a self-elected, diasporic,
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1980-1990s: the debate on raŭmismo
The Manifesto of Rauma has the merit of opening the issue of
what does Esperanto-kulturo mean. In fact, original and
translated prose, narrative, theatre, pop / rock / rap / raggae / etc.
music is produced in the language by its speakers for its speakers, but
without so much attention in the documents for the “external” world.
Being a raŭmisto now means “an Esperantist who cares (much)
more to the community than the Movement”, except of a small
group that hopelessly tries to form an “Esperanto nation” based on
the diasporic stateless concept. This is de facto rejected by the vast
majority of Esperanto speakers.
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1990s: rethink Esperanto!
In the early 1990s two major events changed the worldwide situation:
■ the fall of the USSR;
■ the invention of the WWW.
The role of UEA as a bridge across the Iron Curtain did not have any
sense anymore; a ideological rethinking was again needed.
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1996: Linguistic Rights and Esperanto
In 1996, June, the World Commission on Linguistic Rights, “a
non-oﬃcial, consultative body made up of representatives of
non-governmental organizations and other organizations working in
the ﬁeld of linguistic law”, signed the Universal Declaration on
Linguistic Rights, under the auspices of UNESCO. A long text (14
pages) of 52 Articles.
In 1996, July, oﬃcials of UNESCO and attendees of the World
Congress of Esperanto drafted the Prague Manifesto, where
linguistic rights were put into an Esperanto perspective, reframing the
ideology in a changing world. A short text (2 pages) of 7 points only.
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From the Prague Manifesto 1/3
■ 1. Democracy. […] Although, like any language, Esperanto is not
perfect, it greatly exceeds all rivals in the sphere of equitable
■ 2. Transnational education. Any ethnic language is linked to a
certain culture and nation or group of nations. […] The student
who studies Esperanto learns about a world without limits, in
which every country is like a home.
■ 3. Pedagogical Eﬃciency. Only a small percentage of those who
study a foreign language begin to master it. Full understanding of
Esperanto is achievable within a month of study. […]
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From the Prague Manifesto 2/3
■ 4. Multilingualism. The Esperanto community is one of the few
worldwide linguistic communities whose members are, without
exception, bi- or multilingual. […] In multiple cases this leads to
the knowledge and love of several languages and generally to
broader personal horizons.
■ 5. Linguistic Rights. […] In the Esperanto community, the speakers
of a language, large or small, oﬃcial or nonoﬃcial, meet on
neutral terms, thanks to a reciprocated will to compromise.
This equilibrium between linguistic rights and responsibilities
provides a precedent for developing and evaluating other solutions
to language inequalities and conﬂict. We assert that policies of
communication and development, if not based on respect
and support for all languages, condemn to extinction the
majority of the word’s languages. […]
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From the Prague Manifesto 3/3
■ 6. Linguistic Diversity. The national governments tend to consider
the grand diversiﬁcation of world languages as barriers to
communication and development. For the Esperanto community,
however, linguistic diversity is a constant and indispensable
source of enrichment. Therefore, every language, like every
living thing, is inherently valuable and worthy of protection
■ 7. Human Emancipation Every language liberates and imprisons its
speakers, giving to them the power to communicate among
themselves while barring them from communication with others.
[…] We assert that the exclusive use of national languages
inevitably raises barriers to the freedoms of expression,
communication, and association.
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Declarations and Manifestos: after Prague
The merit of the Prague Manifesto is to reconcile the Declaration
of Tyresö and the Manifesto of Rauma extracting the best points
without the extremes.
The Prague Manifesto also has the merit to link the language
ideology of Esperanto with the linguistic rights, also of minority
languages without any doubt. So, no more “one world language
problem” (la monda lingvo-problemo) but “language problems”
(plural!) where Esperanto can play a role. There are no more
explicit ideological changes after the Prague Manifesto.
After 20 years, the role of Esperanto for balanced multilingualism
entered the commonsensical knowledge of the Esperanto speaker
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An example: a recent UEA action at the UN
In 2015 the UN launched the programme of Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) for the years 2015-30. The 21-22 April 2016 there was
a symposium on languages and the SDGs, organized by Humphrey
Tonkin (Hartford), former President of UEA, under the auspices of
UEA. Diplomats, scholars, and activists of NGOs participated.
Languages (at any level) are never explicitly mentioned in the
Objectives, as pointed out by several participants (among the others,
Suzanne Romaine, Rosemary Salomone, Timothy Reagan). No apart
mention of Esperanto was made, unlike Lapenna’s epoque.
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Goals 2030: a hot topic for Esperantists
Cover of the oﬃcial magazine of UEA, November 2015.
Where are linguistic rights here?
From: UN oﬃcial web site of SDGs.
The 21st century: Esperanto
and digital communication
Esperanto as an alternative globalization
For the so-called “digital natives” globalization is a matter of fact and
an everyday practice, especially through the tools of digital
communication, such as social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
Snapchat) but not only – think to Wikipedia and Skype.
Esperanto becomes the (possible) vehicle for a better globalization,
fair and equitable. New learners often see themselves as merely
Esperanto users: Esperanto is a linguistic tool to perform things
that they already do – for example, travelling.
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Esperanto as a low-cost language
Traditionally, Esperanto courses are given for free or at a very low
cost. This ﬁts perfectly with the idea of internet as the (virtual)
land of freedom. Moreover, the eﬀort to learn Esperanto is
considerably low compared to natural languages, according to
New learners nowadays come across Esperanto for fortuity or
serendipity, not through the traditional structures of the Esperanto
Movement, that is the lokaj kluboj, local groups. The ideological
reﬂection upon Esperanto is not known, nor they show too much
interest, at least at the ﬁrst glance.
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Anecdotical evidence of how people come to Esperanto
■ when installing free software (e.g. Linux distro), the language
choice of ‘Esperanto’ is next to ‘English’;
■ the language is mentioned within “conlanging”, aside Hollywood
languages such as Star Trek’s Klingon or Dothraki of the Games of
■ looking for information in Wikipedia shows that an Esperanto
version is at disposal.
■ Collectors of comics (e.g. Tin Tin, Asterix, Pondus) can ﬁnd that
an Esperanto version does exist.
…then, invariably, they google it. The Duolingo English-Esperanto
course is an incredible success: each day 30 people ﬁll the learning
tree, the majority from the US (Löwenstein 2016).
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Beyond linguistic rights?
The Manifest of Prague is really a great ensemble of ideas, but
it cannot be the absolute yardstick of our action. […] Esperanto
is far more than a remedy for democratizing the
communication and defend the language rights of the
peoples. […] It can be a tool for a worldwide network of solidary
economy and fair commerce. […] We cannot anymore think and
act as human beings who know nothing of the crude problems
of our world, in any ﬁeld. […] Preaching of linguistic rights and
fair and democratic communication will be heared stronger and
larger when we will be engaged in the solution of the very
crude social problems of our suﬀering world. (Fabrício Valle,
editor-in-chief of Esperanto, Nov 2015, my emphasis)
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Acknowledgement of funding
MIME – Mobility and Inclusion in Multilingual Europe
The research leading to these results has received fund-
ing from the European Community’s Seventh Frame-
work Programme under grant agreement No. 613344
UEA – Universala Esperanto-Asocio (Rotterdam, NL)
One of the authors’ is appointed as holder of the Spe-
cial Chair in Interlinguistics and Esperanto at the Uni-
versity of Amsterdam on behalf of UEA. The content
and opinions expressed here are the author’s ones and
they do not necessarily reﬂect the opinions of UEA.
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