Ranto Appendix – A


In the hope of reducing the number of people demanding explanations for the same old mis­understandings, here's a Frequently Asked Questions list.

i) What makes English so much better than Esperanto, then?
Did I say anything about English being good?  It has all the unfair advantages of a widely used natural language, but it also has plenty of annoying features of its own; so if you write web pages about its shortcomings as an international language (oh, here's one) I'll be more than happy to link to them.
ii) What's so difficult about inflections like ‑ajn?
Any grammatical mechanism is going to seem natural and self‐evident to you if your mother‐tongue does it.  But imagine how disorientating it would be if Esperanto adverbs had obligatory tense‐prefixes to show agreement with their verbs, or if there were different pronouns for referring to people older and younger than yourself.  You'd be constantly having to remind yourself to pay attention to people's ages just to be able to produce grammatical sentences.  That's what Esperanto's like for the vast majority of us who aren't accustomed to compulsory number‐agreement on predicate adjectives.
iii) Can't we just work around these problems?  For instance, you can just ignore any aspects of Esperanto you think are over­complicated.
To deal with that second part first: no, that's not an option – if I ignore the language's rules, I'm left with no way of parsing sentences.  Esperanto needs fixes, not workarounds; but its fundamental grammatical rules were declared “untouchable” over a century ago.  You can come up with your own private‐language reform‐scheme if you like, but you'd better not use it on an Esperanto web forum!
iv) Why do you give examples of features from all those exotic languages, as if it would make sense to combine Cantonese pronouns, Swahili verb inflections, and Thai noun‐classifiers?
If you design your invented auxiliary language with the starting assumption that Cantonese is more “exotic” than German, you can't expect to produce one suitable for the whole planet.  However, the idea isn't that it should “multiply together” all the world's widely varying grammars, it's that it should start from the “common factors” in typological universals, and you can't find those by surveying Polish, Yiddish, and Belorussian.
v) Why are you so obsessed with Esperanto?
Actually, these days I rarely think about artificial interlanguages at all unless someone else raises the topic.  You don't need to be a fanatic to recognise Zamenhof's mistakes, and writing web pages costs nothing.  Nor is it some sort of fringe viewpoint – on the contrary, the number of people not learning Esperanto is growing every day!
vi) Have you read “Psychological Reactions to Esperanto”?
Yes, and I'm impressed by how effective it is at making Esperantism look like Scientology, but I wasn't planning on mentioning it – it's Esperanto I object to, not Esperantists.  But since you insist, here's a link.  Happy now?
vii) What about such‐and‐such an alternative Constructed International Auxiliary Language?
There are half a dozen or so big names, all featuring clear design improvements on Esperanto, and minority candidates to suit any taste.  I'm not going to try to summarise my views on all of them here… I'd end up having to turn my whole site into yet another conlangopaedia (and those sites have a remarkable tendency to rot away).
viii) But don't you realise that nobody speaks any of those?
Well, approximately nobody, but then again by the standards of Hindi approximately nobody speaks Esperanto, either.  The pragmatic solution to communication barriers is to pick the language everyone else speaks regardless of its shortcomings; the idealistic solution is to pick one on the basis of its technical merits.  Picking a poorly engineered artificial language gets you the worst of both worlds.
ix) If other invented auxiliary languages are simpler and more regular than Esperanto, why haven't they become globally successful?
It would hardly be the first case of a better product losing out because a rival brand was first‐to‐market.  But the main factors that make a language successful with the general non‐hobbyist population have little to do with its grammar (except in that it helps if you already speak something closely related).  The things that matter are how strong the social pressures are obliging you to acquire it, and whether appropriate teaching materials are conveniently available.
x) Isn't it unfair to expect Zamenhof to have known about modern linguistics?
Sure; there was essentially no chance that a nineteenth‐century European polyglot was going to design anything worth keeping – it's like criticising some Victorian inventor's efforts to build a steam‐powered helicopter.  Except that I don't know of any organisations dedicated to promoting gyro­locomotives as the best possible form of transport…
xi) What's all this about 2017 being an anniversary?
Among other things, my fiftieth birthday is also the centenary (to the very day) of Dr Zamenhof's death, and the twentieth anniversary (give or take a week or so) of “Learn NOT to Speak Esperanto” first going onto the web.  The format has its origins back in the days when the Internet was populated by people with degrees and 28k modems, when it was more important to make pages concise than easy to read; but at last I've got round to giving it the overhaul it's needed for so many years.
xii) Why isn't there an Esperanto version of your essay?
Because it's not aimed at Esperantists; it's a warning to people who might consider learning Esperanto in future.  There's no point putting the “Danger – do not open” signs on the inside of the door!
xiii) Will you do my homework for me?
Glad to – just give me your teacher's email address and I'll send it direct.