"A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling: For example, in Year
1 that useless letter 'c' would be dropped to be replased either by
'k' or 's', and likewise 'x' would no longer be part of the
alphabet. The only kase in which 'c' would be retained would be the
'ch' formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform
'w' spelling, so that 'which' and 'one' would take the same konsonant,
wile Year 3 might well abolish 'y' replasing it with 'i' and Iear 4
might fiks the 'g/j' anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the
improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with
useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and
the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud
fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez 'c', 'y' and 'x'
-- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais
'ch', 'sh', and 'th' rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov
orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt
xe Ingliy-spiking werld."
> The European Union commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, which was the other possibility.
> As part of the negotiations, the British and American government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement. Consequently, they have adopted a five-year phased plan for what will be known as European English (Euro for short). In the first year, "s" will be used instead of the soft "c."
> Sertainly sivil servants will resieve this news with joy. Also the hard "c" will be replased with "k." Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter.
> There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the second year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replased by "f." This will make words like "fotograf" 20 persent shorter.
> In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expected to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will encourage the removal of double leters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent "e"s in the languag is disgrasful and they woud go.
> By the fourth year peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" by "z" and "w" by "v." During ze fifz yer, ze unesasary "o" kan be droped from vords containing "ou", and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinatins of leters.
> Und after ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German lik zey vonted in ze first plas.
I never knew it was based on a Mark Twain quote. Then again, Mark Twain's philosophy I didn't hear much of either (I'm from Europe, don't think I learned any American philosophy on high school).
"expected" still has a 'c'
When we think about how "easy" a language is a lot of it is how likely it is for us to guess from our native language what any given difficult word means -- "geografía" is more obvious to an English speaker than 地理).
good - bon+e (-e makes adverb)
bad - mal+bon+e (mal- is like un-)
very bad - mal+bon+eg+e (-eg- intensifies)
to make bad - mal+bon+ig+i (-ig- makes active, -i makes a verb)
to make worse - pli+mal+bon+ig+i (pli- means more)
you can also string roots together like in German: man+sak+o = hand+bag+noun suffix = purse/handbag.
this, and the familiarity of the roots to Indo-European speakers, makes Esperanto very fast for Europeans to learn. a small number of roots and good grammar gives you a lot of return on your time.
Esperanto was the first language I've made any real progress with. Spanish is considered a fairly easy language for English speakers to learn, but I knew fairly little after 3 years of study in school. I've put in substantially less Esperanto effort, but am far more confident. I actually believe I could become fluent if I continued to focus on it. When someone (even with an accent) speaks, I can understand the sounds and spell the words no problem. It isn't perfect, but I find learning it fun and not frustrating. The community is also vibrant.
Spanish does have phonetic spelling, but is also likely to have more elision in every-day speech.
Native speakers know and use what is understood without needing to be said, from non-verbal cues.
That may be true for Chinese or Japanese phonetic alphabets (e.g. pinyin, bopomofo, hiragana, katakana, etc.) but literacy demands mastery of characters as well.
Although many characters have phonetic elements, it is essentially impossible to know how to write a word correctly in hanzi/kanji without knowing the component characters.
Among European languages, French seems to have challenging spelling, and there appear to be spelling bees for foreign learners at least. Dutch also seems to have had a spelling/dictation contest until recently.
English has homonyms and homophones in part because it is always open to taking words from other languages. In fact "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
Any attempt to force English to be strictly 'pronounced as written' will fail in the future even if it succeeds in the present because someone will import a word from another language that sounds like an existing word or invent a new one unaware that a word of the same pronunciation already exists or just attach a new meaning to an existing word.
See https://wiki.c2.com/?PurityOfEnglish and https://library.conlang.org/blog/?p=116
Meanwhile, there is absolutely no reason why English couldn't in principle have a much more phonetic or regular spelling system, except maybe dialectal variation (which you also do have in other languages with more regularised spelling, though).
Now the larger reason for why a huge spelling reform would fail is because it would be a massive continuity break: people would have to relearn, new spellings would appear totally unnatural, it would mean that past text would at some point start being incomprehensible, etc., so I don't think there is any practical way of getting there.
Isn't that the point? IIRC, English was originally about 50/50 Saxon and French - most of the fancy / unintuitive / rule-breaking words are French loan words (e.g., "rendezvous" & "accomplice" are French, "loan" is old Norse, "word" is old English). The combination happened when Britain spent a while under Norman rule. The commoners were largely Saxon & Norse, the rulers were French. Eventually the languages simply merged, with grammar rules and vocabulary taken from both sides.
I believe the first edition of the Webster dictionary in the 1800s was when the spelling was standardized. At that point, Webster looked at the original language of the words to both define them and figure out a correct spelling.
Edit: additional recollections, formatting.
Edit2: I'm being downvoted?
There is still no reason in principle why English couldn't have chosen a more regular system of spelling, especially at a time where literacy was low anyway. The idea that the spelling is irregular because you have several competing systems (French vs. Anglo-Saxon vs. Norse) might sound compelling, but I don't think it holds water, cf. homographs such as "sow" (female pig) and "sow" (to plant) which both have Old English origins.
(Also I don't think that "rendez-vous" is a good example. I don't have hard evidence, but I would find it entirely implausible that this is a word of Norman origin, it's much more likely to be a late import from the 18th or 19th century, when French was fashionable, not at all comparable to something like "pork".)
I mentioned that farther downthread. The original Webster's dictionary served exactly this purpose - in the early 1800s, his stated goal (IIRC) was to give the new USA a standardized language to help differentiate it from the country they'd split off from. Also mentioned downthread, he based his standardization on the languages the words were loaned from.
> Isn't that the point? IIRC, English was originally about 50/50 Saxon and French - most of the fancy / unintuitive / rule-breaking words are French loan words (e.g., "rendezvous" & "accomplice" are French, "loan" is old Norse).
Also, it's far worse than this. The Normans changed the spelling of English words that were unpronounceable to them by adding a bunch of letters. One I remember is that the reason the "-shire" suffix is confusing is because before the Normans it was just "-scr".
Also, British English tends to Anglicize French pronunciations, like "herb," "valet," etc. French borrows aren't the major thing making English difficult to read and write. French orthography is also pretty bad (and Portuguese.)
I mean, yeah. The rules governing English are a combination of the rules governing a couple other languages. Divide up the vocabulary according to the applicable rules, and I'm pretty sure you end up with a fragment each of the French, Saxon, Norse, etc. languages, and within those fragments the rules make as much sense as they do in the full versions of the respective languages. E.g.: put "rendezvous" & "accomplice" in one pile, "loan" in another, and the rules of each pile would be internally consistent, and consistent with the rules of French and Norse respectively...accounting for language drift, of course.
A large fraction of English follows French rules - might as well ask the French language to fix their spellings to make phonetic sense. The work put into that would translate directly to fix a lot of English.
> Also, it's far worse than this. The Normans changed the spelling of English words that were unpronounceable to them by adding a bunch of letters. One I remember is that the reason the "-shire" suffix is confusing is because before the Normans it was just "-scr".
Personally, given the entymology of English, it makes a lot of sense to preserve the original, applicable, rules of the languages English is comprised of. Otherwise, it would be like rewriting either Norse or French to fit the other - as you mention, that's even worse than the combination of languages in the first place.
Edit for clarity.
For example, in Romanian, recent borrows do typically preserve the original spelling (e.g. English 'computer','mall' -> Romanian 'computer', 'mall'; plausible Romanian phonetic spelling 'compiutăr','mol'). But older loan-words that have become established take on a phonetic spelling (e.g. French 'bureau' -> Romanian 'birou'; English 'interview', 'tramway', 'jam' -> Romanian 'interviu', 'tramvai', 'gem').
So it is possible to absorb large amounts of loan-words into a language and completely disregard the orthography of the original language. I don't think you lose much by doing that, in fact.
I think English would claim both as the original languages.
I, think, english, would, both = old english
claim, original, language = old french
Actually, french orthography is a bit complex, but pretty regular (if you exclude some old names). Also, French grammar would be more complex if the spelling was more inline with pronunciation, as the grammar rules have changed slower than pronunciation has.
If you went by current pronunciation, the feminine or sometimes plural forms of many words, and the tenses of many verbs, would add random consonants, while the current spelling shows that they simply "revive" a consonant that is now elided, but has stayed part of the root of the word (e.g. 'present/presente' pronounced something like 'prezan/prezant'; 'mis/mise' pronounced something like 'mi/miz').
French spelling is also an interesting showcase of what happens when a phonetic spelling is frozen while pronunciation changes (Old French was almost 1:1 with today's spelling, but pronunciation has changed dramatically).
This list was constructed by building short/long vowel pairs, and then tacking on the weirder vowels afterwards. As you'll notice from the inclusion of the last entry, there is a major dialect issue here. There are four sounds (/æ/, /ɒ/, /ɑ/, /ɔ/) that are usually distributed into three sounds in major dialects, and these arise from short a and short o in written orthography... but which words send their vowels to the different targets varies greatly depending on the dialect. If you pick it according to any one dialect, you're going to get some poor correlation in another dialect.
The other obvious issue is that adding new characters is actually difficult in the modern age. Of the sounds I've dropped in above, I can only type in ə and æ without resorting to copy-paste, and that's only because those are accessible with the Compose key. Telling people that you have to use 10 keys not present on their keyboards to write their language is going to be a hard sell. Again, note that English dropped þ as a letter primarily because it wasn't possible to print with printing presses imported from Germany.
Really? That's a super interesting TIL.
I’m also from a country with such a language, and as a kid I couldn’t understand the concept of spelling bee competitions in American movies, like, what’s even the point?
E.g. recently there had been an article on hacker news about bilingual people which are fine in one language but have a writing-disorder in english. Likely due to it being less coherent.
Also, there is no equivalent of a "spelling bee" in most other languages. Being able to spell all words is not seen as an exceptional skill in most languages written in the Latin script.
Note that this is syntactically ambiguous – a lovely feature of English. Try writing a sentence that isn't.
That makes no sense, because it is not solving the problem with the English language pronunciation.
To solve pronunciation you have 2 options:
1. Set on 1 pronunciation for any syllable and stick with it. Throw away old pronunciations.
e.g. Arkansas sounds like "are + Kansas"
2. Word by word, re-write it in a way that fits its sound.
e.g. Kansas becomes Kensas and Arkansas becomes Arkanso. Or something like that, I do not get English pronunciation at all.
But, I understand that is not sociable possible. It follows the same logic that using the Imperial system. As we grow old, we like what we know, and we hate that people forces us to learn new things. So, changing how millions communicate would be very difficult.
I see more plausible a come back of Esperanto than to change how English is written or spoken.
But for most writing the goal is to share meaning, not voice. What would we do for a word like `data`, which has at least 5 different pronunciations that I've heard. Accepting all of them would probably lead to the opposite of the goal. Picking one leads to the same controversy.
Add to that people often aren't aware of their own pronunciation. Personal example is that in my dialect I have the fool/full merger. I wasn't aware of this, I simply heard the language other people spoke as I pronounced it. At university I literally didn't believe people who were telling me that they pronounce those words differently. I just couldn't hear it.
𐑓𐑲𐑯𐑩𐑤𐑦, 𐑢𐑧𐑯, 𐑨𐑓𐑑𐑼 𐑕𐑳𐑥 20 𐑘𐑱𐑮𐑟 𐑝 𐑹𐑔𐑩𐑜𐑮𐑨𐑓𐑦𐑒 𐑤𐑦𐑓𐑹𐑥, 𐑢𐑰 𐑢𐑫𐑛 𐑣𐑨𐑝 𐑩 𐑤𐑪𐑡𐑦𐑒𐑩𐑤, 𐑒𐑴𐑣𐑽𐑩𐑯𐑑 𐑕𐑐𐑧𐑤𐑦𐑙 𐑦𐑯 𐑿𐑕 𐑔𐑮𐑵𐑬𐑑 𐑞 𐑦𐑙𐑤𐑦𐑖-𐑕𐑐𐑰𐑒𐑦𐑙 𐑢𐑻𐑤𐑛.
You're talking about a nation that has been rolling out a sensible system of measurement units for decades. By 2020 it has made its way into engineering schools, but is still nowhere near the daily usage level. Surely the entire language will take a multiple of that. I think we should extend your plan to a few centuries.
I’ll be a little casual with definitions here, but if we adopt a rationalist / positivist view of the world, Esperanto is a straightforward solution to a problem. Zamenhof despaired at his multi-ethnic neighbors killing each other. He hypothesized that could be remedied if people were able to speak to each other on equal language footing. It’s not a bad hypothesis. It’s easy to hate “those people” but hard to hate the person whose face you’ve looked into and tried to understand.
We can snipe at Esperanto and apply critical theories of how Esperanto falls short in crucial ways. Those critiques are largely valid! Esperanto is to euro-centric. Esperanto draws too much from romance languages. The need for Esperanto has been supplanted by the global dominance of English. The language was designed by an amateur. Synthetic languages are indulgent in the face the extinction of natural languages.
But I think a lot of the criticisms miss the fact that, around this simpleton, inadequate language designed by an amateur, has coalesced a community infused with something of the “let’s build” optimism that gave rise to the language in the first place.
If I look at society spanning from academia to pop culture right now, we have a hegemony of rhetorically sophisticated criticism. I wouldn’t want to lose the moderating effect of that critique and blunder into starry-eyed utopianism, but I do worry that the volume of critique to “we can do it” optimism is out of balance.
The world needs more Zamenhofs.
Secondly, Zamenhof was still writing from an Enlightenment-era framework that saw language diversity as a problem, something to systematize away. In our modern era, there is a lot of support for preserving indigenous cultures, and some of Zamenhof’s views can be shocking today. Starting in the 1970s the Esperanto movement tried to hitch its wagon to the language-diversity movement, but this attempt has been rather half-hearted, plus World Esperanto Association is obliged by statute to be politically neutral, so it can’t comment on the most common instances of language discrimination (i.e. when a strong centralized state cracks down on the minority peoples within its borders).
I have been out of the Esperanto movement for quite some years now, but among the most active Esperantists who attended the annual European congresses frequently and tried to maintain a social life in the language, Zamenhof was not someone anyone ever thought about much. Those super-idealistic Esperantists who praised Zamenhof and banged on about world peace, were seen as weirdos and a target of mockery.
Where did I say say his optimism was universally admired? I think I made it clear that I admire his optimism, and think it worthy of admiration :-)
> some of Zamenhof’s views can be shocking today.
That's fine, having admiration for his work and those views of his that I feel have merit don't mean I need to accept absolutely everything the man believed.
> Those super-idealistic Esperantists who praised Zamenhof and banged on about world peace, were seen as weirdos and a target of mockery.
That may well be true, but this feels like an ad-hominem argument: "the cool kids are so over Esperanto and world peace. You want to be cool, don't you?"
You have critiques of Esperanto and maybe even the idealism that I find endearing. That's fine. Those critiques are valid. I still maintain Zamenhof added more to the world than the critics.
My mistake. I wished to say that he isn’t so universally admirable. That is, what you see as constructive in his ideals and aspirations, other people today might find destructive.
> That may well be true, but this feels like an ad-hominem argument
Well, human beings are social animals, so ad hominem arguments are perfectly valid here. If something feels cringe to a large group of people (even to most of those who one would have expected to be sympathetic), then it can fairly be called cringe.
Also, these idealistic, Zamenhof-lauding green-star-flag-waving world-peace types were infamous for often having the least ability to actually converse in Esperanto. They would be visible at congresses, but in a way they were least involved in the actual Esperanto community. You'll also find plenty of arguments that those people actually hold Esperanto back from appealing to outsiders and getting more people involved.
The anarchist philosophy that was responsible for the global spread of Esperanto was far more complex than this and rooted in a rejection of reductive, Darwinist cultural formulations that were coming to prominence at the time. The idea was to preserve local autonomy, while providing a universal medium for exchange, such that communities could develop their own unique cultural systems and permutations thereof, but still have recourse to share them in a mutally beneficial way with others. Esperanto was widely popular in Japan under this rubric, for example:
It was likewise suppressed by authoritarian regimes on the left and right for its encouragement of this eclecticism.
Maybe some early Esperanto disseminators were like this, but Zamenhof himself hoped that Esperanto (or at least something like it) would eventually replace all local languages.
It is sad when cultural heritage is lost because it was written in a language no one speaks anymore. But this problem is caused by having many different languages. In a parallel reality, where the culture spoke the same language as other countries, the cultural heritage would not be lost.
It is sad when a group of people is discriminated or has fewer oportunities, because they cannot use their language. But again, in a parallel reality, where these people didn't grow up speaking a different language, the problem doesn't exist.
If you could magically change the world so that it would have 10× more languages, 10× more scripts, and 10× more USB connector types, would it make the world a better place? If not, then why changing it in the opposite direction wouldn't make it better?
When a language disappears today, it is bad because we lose information, and because the last users of the language have a problem communicating. But if you could magically change the past to replace that language by English centuries ago, there would be no lost information and no suffering users. And if we could agree on a common language today, we would be magically changing the future just like that. (Esperanto gives the additional advantage of being more regular.)
> has coalesced a community infused with something of the “let’s build” optimism
> among the most active Esperantists who attended the annual European congresses (...) Those super-idealistic Esperantists (...) were seen as weirdos
Thus saying that such a community has in fact not coalesced.
It's more like translation tools will make a comeback. Already have.
They've gotten so good, you don't even need to learn a new language to learn something that's only available in English (or other languages).
Incidentally, this was a major reason I learned English. There was so much more information available back in the early 00's that I just had to do it.
Romanian Internet was... abysmal. Thankfully, I knew Russian, and their Internet activity was far better. Lots of information and software. But that paled in comparison to the English Internet.
At the moment, I find the Chinese Internet very active and interesting, even though translation is pretty poor and sadly, the language is very difficult. Plus, I don't have a real incentive to learn it.
I don't know what part of the culture makes people write and share information, but some countries definitely have less of this activity. Perhaps it's just raw numbers, more people = more content.
With Google Translate and the like, it has become much easier to access all of it, any kind of information, the best content.
There was actually a fair amount of momentum behind Esperanto in the 1920s. The League of Nations seriously considered adopting it as their official language of business and was also considering recommending that member states include Esperanto in their educational curricula. The only real opposition was from the French, who wanted to preserve their language as the language of diplomacy, and vetoed these proposals.
But by the late 1930s that momentum had faded away and totalitarian governments (particularly Germany and the Soviet Union) began to suppress Esperanto.
It's a mixed bag really. Japanese is still too foreign for Google Translate to interpret properly outside of common phrases.
The opposite translations are not bad per-se, but the sentences are always non-natural because all the context and articles that are implicit in Japanese are kept.
Definitely not that… Some languages with less speakers generate more content than others with more speakers. It's cultural. It's not just Internet, if you look for science fiction novels for example you'll find more in Polish or German than in Portuguese, even though the latter has far more speakers.
Think about newspapers as a concept of information dissemination. It would be a lot lower effort to create a single newsletter and distribute it globally than to have a network of translators who can recreate it, redo the layout, and reprint it. Or think about travelers, where your queries are simple and someone could learn a language in a couple of weeks and be a tour guide for travelers from all places.
At this point, English makes far more sense, but I get why they invented Esperanto, and at some point I could carry light conversations in it, though that has faded since it’s fairly useless.
1. I have zero incentive to learn another language
2. I do not have a secret/family language that I can switch into for strategic purposes
3. It gets watered down for the purposes of internationality to the point that we lose even our productive affixes. We can't even create meaningful names within English anymore. It loses its richness.
On the other hand, you may sometimes be harder to understand for non-native speakers, especially if you speak some non-mainstream dialect or pronunciation. (Even standard British, in normal speech, is probably harder for me to process than American: depends on what you've been exposed to.) Coming from some other Latin script language, you'd probably have a better feel for oddities in English pronunciation (like 'thumb', or 'pseudo', etc.) and can easier adapt some more consistent 'euro' way of pronouncing as needed. Sometimes people won't understand you otherwise.
I don't think that early induction into specific ideologies as something to be described as blanket good. This kind of monolingualism certainly hasn't helped the intellectual life of the average American or its society writ large.
I think having English as a native language actually gives us a huge advantage: we can travel to a large chunk of the world and have a pretty good chance of being understood. We can work in globally relevant jobs with no language barrier. And so on.
You're right, nothing is stopping one from learning a second language; unfortunately not only do most english speakers lack incentive, but also they lack the ability to practice in the way most other languages do. Most of the time when you run into non-native english speakers, they would rather practice their english with you, even when in their country of origin.
Additionally, there's very little lingual diversity in the US as it stands. Sure, there are plenty of spanish speakers, but early education doesn't really focus on teaching spanish with any sort of fluency as a true end-goal.
So situationally it just makes learning a second language that much more difficult. Nonetheless, I do agree with you that there are obviously huge benefits to it; the few that you mention, along with many others.
A lack of incentive is what stops most.
> we can travel to a large chunk of the world and have a pretty good chance of being understood. We can work in globally relevant jobs with no language barrier. And so on.
You described the benefit of knowing English, not being a native English speaker.
In the time I spent learning English -- which is still far from perfect, especially in spoken form -- I probably could have learned quantum physics instead. Except, I realistically couldn't have, because good textbooks on this topic do not exist in my language, I wouldn't be able to learn more online, etc.
Now imagine removing an equivalent amount of knowledge from your life -- that is the price you would have to pay for not being a native English speaker.
(The idea of Esperanto as everyone's second language is that instead of some people spending 10+ years learning the common language, and some lucky people spending 0, everyone would spend 2 years instead. Until people would hopefully realize that private languages are useless, and then it would be 0 for everyone.)
I have no idea what you're talking about. Nobody in English-speaking countries is changing the way they speak "for the purposes of internationality." And the way a bunch of languages are importing scores of English words wholesale isn't much richer in my view.
Of course, overall, this is a very slow process. People don't stop applying the rules or simplify vocabulary over night or even within the span of a couple of years, but there is growing evidence in general that the more speakers a language has, the more it tends to simplify structurally, e.g. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.181274
I can just say that if I would have been able to speak english in my teenage years it would have majorly influenced my life in a likely positive but at least more interesting direction. Sadly back then I neither had any reasonable english skills nor was I aware of how much it would help me.
Through I guess by now it has become quite obvious how use-full english is (wrt. IT/CS).
My English is at a C2 level, and as such I am able to understand and explain complex concepts with ease, however my debating and small talk skills are nowhere nears as good in English as they are in my native language. I find it much harder to convince people using English. I know that the only thing that will make it better is practice, but this takes a lot of time and effort.
Move to glasgow if you want to be able to switch into a "different" language
In recent years, Esperanto has pushed itself as more of an international auxiliary language. If it's much easier to learn than English, than everyone can continue speaking their national language and use Esperanto as an intermediary language. It's an interesting idea, but I figure we'll just move towards fewer and fewer major languages until only 5-10 are widely spoken (Ex: english, spanish, mandarin, Hindi...etc).
It's about a 10x difference. You can actually learn it with negative time investment if you use it as precursor to learning English:
If any of the intentionally designed languages were to actually come into common use, it would immediately be subject to the same kind of regional pronunciation differences, usage drift over time, coining of neologisms and idiomatic phrases, etc. that make real languages so complicated.
The drift would probably be much smaller than historically, because now we have the internet and global culture. And the common language would make the world even more connected.
If Esperanto would come into common use tomorrow, Hollywood would start producing movies in Esperanto, and people around the world would be watching them. That would already be a force acting against local drift. If people around you decide to replace X by Y, but 9 out of 10 movies keep using X, the change is less likely to stick.
Neologisms and idioms, I agree, but there is a chance they would spread to other countries.
Which pronunciation will you choose? If you are a prescriptive linguist from Newcastle you will presumably expect everyone to use a short a in 'castle' but someone from the south would use a long a. And which language do you have in mind when you imply that there are languages that are pronounced in the same way by all of its speakers?
Anyway, there is no Academy in charge of English so if you want to get started on spelling reform just go to it. Promote your revised spelling amongst your friends and colleagues. Or should that be: 'Promoat yor rivized speling amongst yor frends and koleegs.'?
That is not a requirement for updating the orthography or even the spelling. It also wasn't a requirement for introducing the writing system, print, etc. I doubt English has ever been pronounced the same way everywhere and likewise for any other language. Regional differences in spoken language did not stop e.g. Germany from updating its textual representation.
Funnily enough, your example looks perfectly readable to me. I'd guess it would be about as hard to read for English native speakers as Dutch is. It needs a few fixes (rivized -- only the first one should be an i, etc), but something like that would definitely be an improvement over current spelling.
It occurs to me that in an alternate universe, the answer could be "both spellings are correct", because logically speaking, if both pronunciations are correct, shouldn't the same apply to the written version?
Come to think of it, the idea that a word with many correct pronunciations has only one correct spelling is actually totally weird! Why should writing be more prescriptive than speech?
It's an easy language to do business in, but a very hard language to sound perfect in. It's also a hard language to read and write.
It’s an idea that can only really succeed from a combined goodwill not conquering oppression.
All over Europe there isn’t room to put up road signs and menus and instructions in the union of all possible languages visitors could speak. It’s easy to say all visitors must learn the local language, but there’s often some concession to putting up signs in some other languages, Esperanto fits there. All road signs seconded in Esperanto isn’t as good for locals as all visitors learning the local language, it isn’t as good for visitors as signs being in their native language, but it isn’t as bad for locals as one group of visitors expecting signs in their language and it isn’t as bad for visitors as signs being in multiple native languages but not theirs.
Expecting to go anywhere and speak English is rude. Expecting everyone to learn English is unlikely and going to trigger a lot of anger. Also supporting French shows some openness but privileges France in a national way. If you could get language away from nationalism, tourist information in Esperanto doesn’t privilege any one nation.
I would just like to clear this up: I do not support the notion of any universal language, and that includes English. My observation that English is relatively more universal than Esperanto is not an endorsement of the premise of universal languages being a laudable goal.
But it would have to be grassroots - if the English government mandated that everyone speak Esperanto in school then tried to spread it round Ireland and the EU it would ruin it. Same if the EU adopted it en masse, Brexiteers would reject it on principle. It could only ever happen if it grew in a balanced way where more and more places distributed around the world use it, and more and more people around the world learn it because it’s useful, and it somehow never becomes one country or one group’s unfair advantage. (That is to say, it can’t ever happen).
Would you still oppose a universal language if it was voluntary, not pushed by one nation into others, and not a replacement to primary national languages?
Could you explain that? I see it more in terms of creating a voluntary standard than forcing people to comply.
Kind of a catch 22 or strange irony about this, but I suppose that is true of the entire philosophical viewpoint being expressed.
English spelling needs to remain the same because they are primarily visual. Native level English users just scan the general shapes of words and know the meanings in the same way that Chinese users just scan the general gists of the characters.
The nice result is that you can have 10 wildly different English accents / dialects that all use the same spelling. It keeps everyone bound together.
After all, if you went with phonetic spelling, which accent would you choose?
Why is scythe spelled with a C?.
See also "some" (originally "sum"), "friend" (originally "frend"), "delight" (originally "delite") and "could" (originally "coude").
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scythe
Mi lernis Esperanton pro la nerdeco kaj pro tio, ke ĝi estas tre facile lernebla kaj amuza. 3 jarojn poste kaj mi uzas la lingvon ĉiutage kun amikoj de la tuta mondo. Kie ajn mi troviĝas, preskaŭ ĉiam mi povas trovi amikon (saluton!) kaj vagadi, babili, kaj nur Esperantumi kune. Fakte, antaŭ 6 semajnoj mi transloĝiĝis al hispanio kaj ĝis nun Esperanton mi uzis 80% de la tempo, kaj miksaĵon de la angla kaj mia rompita hispana krom Esperanto la ceteran. Jen artikolo, kiun mi skribis (anglalingve) por klarigi tial, kial mi tre ĝuas la lingvon: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18688619
I know three languages, Finnish is my native and I know both Sweden and English. I'm not good at languages and but Esperanto was incredibly easy to learn. The grammar is so simple and logic.
Words are created from 900 roots by just adding affixes or making compounds. This makes learning the vocabulary incredibly easy.
(With Unicode, the introduction of new alphabetic writing systems presents no significant technological problems, as you can see.)
Such a language would in fact be profoundly unfair to speakers of minority languages today because it would deny them access to the largest markets of the world. The English speakers would keep their knowledge and access to global markets while the Finnish speakers would gain 10 words of English. Woopty doo.
So a language that takes words only from the top 5 languages would be better, yes? Because it teaches minority speakers more words from more important languages. But even still, what does that give you if you learn 500 words from each major language and the grammar is a bizarre mash up of totally different languages?
The most "fair" language would be the one that gives the minority language speakers useful and meaningful access to the most influential language family "at a discount". Picking from one family would allow one to distill the grammar and vocabulary, giving the student truly useful and applicable information if they decide to later branch out into natural languages / dialects.
In today's world, the most influential language family is by far Indo-European (for better or worse). And it just so happens that this language family is the easiest to synthesize and join back together, although there's nothing stopping others from trying to make a Semitic auxiliary language or a Sino-Tibetan auxiliary language, etc.
It's also generally true that a speaker of an Asian language will have an easier time learning Esperanto than another Asian language.
The Chinese are one of the biggest state supporters of Esperanto. Radio Beijing has Esperanto programs and you can get a degree in it from some Chinese universities.
It doesn't. It is entirely based on European and Western culture. Language have huge influent on thought process, and it seems that thought process needed for Esperanto is a Western-centric.
I believe that Sapir–Whorf hypothesis has been considered unfounded and a meme for a long time now. It sort of makes sense, but strangely I don't think there is any evidence for such a thing.
The weakest forms of Sapir-Whorf are obviously true, via Zipf's law; being able to shorten long phrases into short nonce words allows for faster communication, which allows for normalization of concepts, in a positive feedback loop. In English, for example, it's no accident that the shortest two words are "a" and "I" and that they are also the most two common ways to refer to things; "u" is on the way there, too!
I speak 4 languages (including 3 fluently that I use everyday) and I very often come across ideas or subtleties that just does not exist in one of those languages. When I started learning Japanese, I clearly remember understanding naturally some concepts in it that just cannot be expressed that precisely in English or French.
One example that I come across often is the word "fluent" that just does not exists in French (there are equivalent translations, but no way to convey the very same idea).
Once you speak if fluently, some words in Japanese have a very deep meaning that just cannot be translated while keeping the same exact meaning, like the words yabai or sugoi (to take very easy examples).
You can even tell that Esperanto is very Western-centric just by looking at it structure anyway. It is written from the left to the right, has spaces between words, the same 3 different sets of characters (caps, non-caps and hand-written) with similar rules, same punctuation...
A quick example is that my mother tongue doesn't have tense, and I still misuse tense all the time in English when I am careless simply because I am not used to incorporating time information during sentence creation when the time information is not an important information.
It does not necessarily change your cognition or world view, but it does change what information you are actively looking for/collecting.
Even this is rare in software. For example, I recall reading a blog "Why Python is a Lisp" or something. And it basically destroyed this idea that Lisp was some magical insane language because the author did all the lisp things except they used python.
But yes, in some of the minor claims, I think there's some credence to the idea. But the idea that one language is incapable of understanding concepts in another is unfounded.
Empirically, we are able to think thoughts and feel things that we cannot describe in words. I know I'm able to feel ennui, limerence, or hygge without knowing these words.
I can also perceive things and states without necessarily being able to describe them precisely with single words (but I could probably describe them approximately with many words)
The classic example is that the Inuit have many words for different types of snow -- implicit in this example is that they are able to recognize different types of snow and have codified them into shared symbols (words). But to me, that doesn't mean the rest of us who don't have those words cannot perceive the same if we'd lived in the same environment. Children can tell packing snow from sleet from a dusting even without knowing the words.
There's an industry of people romanticizing certain words in a foreign culture, claiming them to be untranslatable, and then writing books/articles about them. Not all of this is without merit, but I believe that the words themselves aren't so much untranslatable, but that they have no compact representation outside of a certain cultural context.
Words are compressions of meaning, but meaning can be perceived outside of verbal representation, or even language. It seems to me one can look at a picture or taste a meal or listen to instrumental music and perceive and manipulate meaning through no use of language at all.
The most obvious argument against this is that you can very easily conceive of something but be unable to articulate it. You can _think_ something but be unable to _put it into words_. Given this, it stands to reason that thought =/= language.
Similarly, new words are coined all the time to refer to new and original ideas, these ideas must - if you believe language dictates what we can conceive - be impossible to form.
If you're interested in this subject, I can strongly recommend The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. (It's available on Kindle and there's plently of 2nd hand paperbacks online too.)
Because the computer isn't really thinking. It's just mechanically following what the language says. So of course what you can do is limited by what the language can express, because that's all there is.
Human minds don't seem to be the same. They can have ideas without necessarily needing to start with language to build the idea on.
For one thing, we've all experienced having a thought but being unable to think of the word for it. Despite being unable to articulate it, you can look in the dictionary at possible words and tell from their definitions whether they match.
You could say that this is just our brains thinking in terms of that word without being able to recall its concrete form. (The essential meaning of a word and the spelling/sound of it might be handled separately by the brain.) Maybe that's why sometimes, but it's also possible to have a thought and not know that there is a word for it. You might tell a friend about someone who has an annoying habit of rigidly following and enforcing the rules even when that serves no constructive purpose, and your friend might tell you that's called being legalistic.
Still, you could argue that's still language-based thought because all you did was compose together several pieces of language ("rigidly following", "constructive purpose", etc.), and that your new vocabulary word is really just a shorthand for that composition. Maybe that is true for some words, but it can't be true for all of them. If words can only be introduced by reference to language, then there's no way language could have formed in the first place. There must have been a first word.
Another approach is a thought experiment: does a feral child (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_child) have thoughts? If a human grows up with no exposure to language, that will have profound effects on them, but I don't think those effects go as far as making it impossible to have thoughts.
Having said all that, do I think that language heavily influences thinking? Definitely. For one thing, exposure (and non-exposure) to certain ideas has a big influence on thinking. Words convey ideas, and when you learn a word, you learn its idea. It may also be true that ideas are easier to think about (internally) if they have a corresponding word. And it's certainly easier to discuss ideas if there are words for them, so those ideas will be discussed more often.
There's something profoundly unappealing in a hard-to-define subjective sense about engineering a language for humans to communicate with.
There's plenty of languages in existence that already "just work". What's wrong with English, Spanish and French? One could argue that English has already taken on the role that Esperanto was supposed to have. In the colonial past that might have been French or Spanish. In the distant future an Asian language could become a lingua franca? Or perhaps more radically, effective machine translation could render such efforts unnecessary?
Yes, there's annoying things about real languages. There's inconsistent grammar in English, "Passe Compose" tense in French, one could list hundreds of pain points for every language. But none of these things actually prevent someone from the practical usage of a language and being conversant in the language. Why do we need to make-up another language with iron-clad consistency? It's just not necessary.
In Esperanto, it's about 3 months to get to not terrible for native speakers (yes there are native speakers) and a year or two to be quite good, maybe as annoying as your typical undergraduate to the top level of translators, authors, etc.
I do. And I know a few others who do.
I mean, my preferred choice is to use my native language. Esperanto comes second. English third. But of course, the choice of language is usually determined by the intended audience.
The reason Esperanto comes second despite being used less than English is that it feels "more natural". This is probably hard to explain and hard to believe if you don't have a personal experience, but it is so. The high regularity has a psychological impact. I usually don't notice irregularities in my native language, because I am used to them so much. But in a foreign language, any irregularity is a mental reminder than I am not speaking my native language. Esperanto has more regularity, therefore fewer reminders of being foreign.
And keep in mind, switching to square drive would be easy. Screwdriver sets already come with square drive bits, and hardware stores sell square drive fasteners. Robertson's patents expired generations ago. If America can't drop Phillips head screws, do you really think there is any chance for replacing the Latin alphabet? Let's get real.
If you look at the former Soviet Union (CIS), you can see a shift away from Russian Cyrillic, so I suppose given enough political incentive, such changes are in fact possible.
Torx is far superior to square drive, too...
Personally my drive of choice is Torx - they're six-sided so they're easier to align the driver, they have excellent torque transfer, they're hard to "wallow out", and the drivers are relatively inexpensive to manufacture. Beyond that, hex ("Allen") head are good for smaller fasteners where the "wings" on a Torx driver are so small they're fragile, Phillips is good for applications where you don't want it to be easy to over-torque, and plain old "flat head" is very well-suited for dirty environments where grease and debris may end up coating the head. I'd certainly not want Torx heads on the bolts under my Jeep, for instance, because they're a pain to clean out. I can clean out a flat head with the corner of the driver and be able to use it effectively, which is practical unique to that design and very important for those applications.
I have nothing against Robertson. They're as good as anything for 90%+ of applications, it's just that they're uncommon enough where I am that it doesn't make sense to use them.
You can, of course, pick up other languages and with effort use them either skillfully, or just pragmatically. But no one will ever feel that Esperanto is "their" language. It will always be either a curiosity or, at best, a utilitarian tool (and even then only if it ever becomes wildly successful).
I'm not trying to be that guy but, looking at the title for this piece I'm thinking: Esperanto is dead and, it is not a universal language.
"... Humphrey Tonkin, an English professor at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. He taught himself Esperanto at age 14, and then used it to travel across Eastern Europe and beyond."
I feel like this needs some clarification.
I wonder how many of those "Klingon speakers" can actually have a ten-minute dialog on a random topic.
The remainder of the article can be summarized as "Esperanto is not perfect" which I fully agree with. And it has a lot of irregularities, too! But still, ten or hundred times less than an average natural language. Which makes it so easy to learn.
To overcome this, I think I would have next had to emerge myself into more complex texts. For example, I had 1984 to read, but just never got round to it.
The other thing was this personal relationship building thing the community embraces. I really am a loner so am not really into their general ideology. It really freaked me out when they wanted to meet me when visiting my town, or worse still, stay with me! That's the thing that actually really turned me off and made me ditch the whole idea.
I've played with various languages over the years, including conlangs, and actually found Swedish to be my favorite. There are some hard parts, like the declensions of definite, indefinite, plural with its genders, but practicing general conversation with my wife (who is a native Finnish speaker with Swedish as a second language), found we could communicate simply, quite well. It just felt more natural and fluent. The way you literally say things translate quite well to English, so I can still think in English --if that makes any sense.
It's hard for the members of the "linguistic status quo" to realize the huge amount of contributions which are not made, how huge is the amount of super intelligent and talented people who don't take part in the game simply because they don't have the resources and the access needed to become proficient at English.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but now I wonder if Esperanto could fill that role?
One issue is that it's hard to pronounce. Not from the perspective of an English speaker or a speaker of another European language, but from a global perspective. The problem is that it has a lot of complex consonant clusters (sequences of consonants jammed together without vowels in between) which are fine for someone coming from Polish (as Zamenhof, Esperanto's creator, was) but which are nightmarish for people coming from languages that don't have these clusters. Consider for example Chinese, which has no consonant clusters at all. Consider the closest Chinese approximation to the Russian city name "Vladivostok": 符拉迪沃斯托克 fuladiwosituoke (note also that there's no /v/ in Chinese nor many other languages, despite /v/ being very important in Esperanto). A Chinese speaker is not going to find Esperanto easy to produce, with all kinds of Slavic-esque words beginning with kv- such as basic words like kvam (how). Esperanto also has a number of distinctions between sounds which will be lost by speakers of most languages. For example the difference between horo (clock) and hxoro (chorus), involving a distinction between /h/ and /x/ that most languages do not make. Basically Zamenhof was coming from Polish and he did succeed in making Esperanto's phonology simpler than Polish, but it's still very complex from a global perspective. An international auxiliary language should be easy to pronounce.
Relatedly, Zamenhof made up some new diacritics to spell these crazy sounds that he shouldn't have included in the language to begin with. ĉ spells "ch" in Esperanto and in no other language. If you want your language to catch on, why would you give it diacritics that no other language has, which people will have trouble typesetting and typing? Since Esperantists can rarely type ĉ and related glyphs, they end up typing cx, sx, jx, gx, etc. instead. Why not just ch or sh? Why not just ditch these sounds altogether?
There are lots of other issues. The verb endings -as, -is, -us for present, past, and future tense end up sounding very similar to each other in fast speech (and the idea of making a tense distinction by changing the form of the verb is very European to begin with). The accusative endings -n are so confusing that (so I hear) the native Esperanto speakers have dropped this feature of the language. There is grammatical gender in the pronouns, and adjectives must agree in number and case with nouns.
So to conclude the rant, ironically, if Esperanto ever does take over as an auxiliary language, it will be solely because it has the largest community of all the auxiliary languages, not because it is a good language. In other words, the same way that a normal language takes over. I guess it bugs me that it could have been done much better. It gives a bad name to constructed languages. Interlingua and Ido are big improvements, and you can also check out Lojban for a much more radical non-Eurocentric approach.
I am actively learnkgn Esperanto and find it deeply enjoyable - I speak English, German and French (mostly) fluently and have dabbled in Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Malayalam, Mandarin and a tiny bit of Lojban. None of them have given me this sense of joy while learning vocabulary or practising as its really just a matter of 'recognising' a word - usually from your own native language and sometimes from others.
I'd dare to say this is the key feature of Esperanto: its incredibly pleasant and beginner friendly.
As to Lojban, I was incredibly motivated but just had to give up after a few weeks. Its like Latin or Sanskrit, a mostly theoretical written language with overly stingent rules. Lojban words can be used as verbs or nouns, but when used as verbs they have a strict fixed order where subject and objects go that you simply have to learn by heart. All words are 'averaged' from the most common languages and follow a common scheme - so pretty much none of them are recognisable to anyone. As such just a horror to learn.
That said I still admire the effort. Learning different languages opens wide horizons and completely new conceptual worlds and anyone who doesn't try at least to learn a second language really misses out even on understanding their own language better.
And, of course, English is the de facto lingua franca.
You can read 200 year old texts without problems. Shakespeare is close to five hundred years old and you can still understand it with a little effort.
Think modern Latin: It's not evolving anymore. It's adding words, but its grammar is unchanging.
That's probably a big factor. Maybe Esperanto would achieve similar stability if it were only used by ISO working groups or in other official environments. But if that happens, it ought to come under fire for its Eurocentrism, its sexism, and its general quirkiness, all of which it has been able to skate on because it's never been taken seriously before.
> Are there more global alternatives?
If you refuse to count English, no, none.
Assuming male as the default seems to me to be increasingly evolving out of natural languages. Agreeing a reform among Esperanto-speakers seems impossible, given that many are attached to its historical roots.
In the more than a century and a quarter since, there have been efforts to fix this, as I said. Several of them are over four decades old at this point.
Use of the prefix "ge-" in the singular (giving "patro" for father, "patrino" for mother, and "gepatro" for parent of unspecified gender) goes back to the 1980s. This has in the decades since even that become mainstream enough that in the last 10 to 15 years "gepatro" is now in Esperanto dictionaries such as Wells's 2010 dictionary. Indeed, it made it into the Plena Ilustrita Vortaro by 2002.
The infix "-iĉ-" was another product of the 1970s/1980s. This gives "patro" for parent of unspecified gender, "patriĉo" for father, and "patrino" for mother. It's less mainstream than singular "ge-", but it was popular enough that Jorge Camacho used it in 1991. It's a more logical and consistent system than singular "ge-", but I suspect that resistance to it is partly rooted in the fact that the L1 languages of "Esperantistoj" do not in the majority have unmarked gender-neutrals and marked masculines for similar words. The claim is that it reinterprets a large corpus of existing past Esperanto works, but a counter to that claim is that similar things are currently happening with words like "actor" in English without similar objections.
And, finally, Ido reformed this all the way back in 1907. It went the marked masculine route (of Esperanto's "-iĉ-") with the infix "-ul-".
For some it might be surprising to find just how many people don't speak English.
But honestly, even if you add more language families into the mix getting a language established without any government backing is going to be extremely hard, if not impossible.
There are loads of Esperanto nouns and verbs based on Germanic (mainly based on German, the main Germanic language L.L. Zamenhof knew and a prestigious language for intellectual communication in Eastern Europe at the time, but also a few English roots). With regard to Slavic, the question particle was taken from Polish and I have always assumed that the inflexion of participles was copied from Russian.