The universalist premise behind Esperanto is often described as “idealistic” and “utopian,” and can be summed up with its interna ideo (internal idea): “On the foundation of a neutral language eliminate the walls between the nations and make the people accustomed to each other, so that each of them will see in their neighbor only a human and a brother.” (Zamenhof, 1912, Parolado antaŭ la Oka Kongreso Esperantista; translation my own.)
In a sense, looking at everyone as a human, ignoring differences and focusing on similarities, sounds like a great idea. This premise is far from exclusive to the Esperanto movement, and defined many social justice movements in the 20th century. But unfortunately, it has not brought the justice it has promised. Inequality does not go away just because you ignore it. For example, if I associate with a group of abuse victims, and the group ignores LGBT issues because they’re a movement for abuse victims only, that doesn’t change the fact that when I apply for PTSD therapy or housing for battered women, my being transgender and bisexual can cause me to be discriminated against, and it has. Add the fact that I am neurodivergent and disabled, so my insurance options are limited, and the situation looks even worse. My issue is not that exactly that I’m LGBT, nor that I have PTSD, nor that I’m neurodivergent, nor that I’m disabled: it’s all of these things at the same time.
Last year I wrote a post, “How universal can a language be?”, which sparked a discussion of how an auxlang that was truly inclusive would be made. I think as a fundamental principle, any auxlang designed for the world we live in right now, rather than a future utopia, must acknowledge that there are differences between people, and that these differences often have a combined effect greater than the sum of its parts (intersectionality). This means allowing for self-definition, allowing for the people who have experience with something to decide how to define themselves, instead of following the gospel of someone who lived over a century ago and didn’t even see the problem with saying that all humans should see each other as brothers.
The criticism often raised by traditionalist Esperanto speakers is, “Wouldn’t this make it devolve into dialects?” Such a belief stems from 19th-century attitudes about language, where dialects were seen as terrible and unfortunate things, as “impurities” arising from the one true language. The ideal auxlang, in my eyes, allows for dialects. What does it matter if different social groups speak differently, if they understand each other? Dialects are not a problem, but snobby and pretentious attitudes towards so-called “proper language use” definitely are. And anyone who is analytic about Esperanto would recognize that even “fundamenta Esperanto” already has quite a few dialects, reflecting different schools of Esperanto instruction as well as viewpoints on things like the 15th rule (neologisms) and pseudosuffixes (e.g. changing -kcio to -ado, when underlying roots didn’t previously exist).
The goal of any auxlang that strives to create a just world, should be to decentralize the dominant culture, and to eliminate cultural dominance. Of course, it would be ridiculous to claim that a language could do this. Such a language must only be part of a broader movement, a means to the creation of a just world. And it must be considered replaceable whenever it proves to be unjust, or whenever people have become too rigid about it. The goal is not linguistic stability; the goal is justice. The goal is not to make people see each other as equals, but to make people equal.
A while ago, a bunch of old Esperanto books and magazines were donated to our local Esperanto group (Esperanto Kansas City).
These books go back as far as the 1930s, and right now they just sit in my apartment. I would like to archive them, so I will try to scan some of them over time.
You can view the first two entries on the Esperanto Book Archive page.
I think that it would be nice to build a dictionary that has translations between many conlangs and natlangs, for use as a single application.
And, let me know if this has already been done, because I don’t want to reinvent the wheel or anything.
I’ve set up a GitHub project here:
in hopes that I can get some help with this casual project.
Mainly, I’ve pulled dictionaries from around the ‘web, and they need to be parsed. Most of these dictionaries aren’t made with the idea of parsability in mind, only being read by a human. Scraping data from documents like these is always a pain, and I wouldn’t want to do it all solo.
Additionally, it’s always good to have another set of eyes looking over the design so that features that might be really important are added ahead of time, or a bad design is pointed out. I haven’t designed any databases in a while, but I’m hoping what I have makes some sense.
Finfine, after a dictionary has been compiled and made available to everybody as an CopyFree asset, it would be nice to also build some CopyFree dictionary utilities – for web, desktop, and mobile.
I set out in November to write a constructed language that celebrated gender diversity. Many conlangs skirt the issue of gender through the use of a single third-person pronoun, as is also seen in many natural languages. I wanted to do something a bit different.
Part of my inspiration for this was, in fact, Suzette Haden Elgin, who constructed Láadan out of a belief that women were “not superior to men (Matriarchy) or interchangeable with and equal to men (Androgyny) but rather entirely different from men.” I felt similarly about gender in conlangs: it is very easy to make everyone the same, but it misses the point of gender diversity.
Just as Elgin created a series of books about the construction of Láadan, I ended up creating a culture of people who spoke the language, a world they lived in, and various other cultures who lived alongside them. It’s still in progress, and the language is still “evolving” (being developed by me) in many ways. Some of the things that were true about the language at the beginning of December have been changed since then.
The contest Lexember was very helpful to me in developing it, although the gender system has been there from the very beginning and has barely changed aside from a few tweaks. You can read about the gender system on my conlanging Tumblr.
It has occurred to me, though, that the gender system of this fictional culture is still centered around the concept that binary gender is the norm (I wish I knew the word for this). You are either male, female, or “miscellaneous.” So as I keep developing this culture and its world, I will have to think of ways to break out of this in future cultures, worlds, langs, etc. This experiment will, hopefully, inspire better ones, either in me or in someone else.
An international auxiliary language (sometimes abbreviated as IAL or auxlang) or interlanguage is a language meant for communication between people from different nations who do not share a common first language. An auxiliary language is primarily a second language.
Not all conlangs are meant to be auxlangs, but some are – like Ido and Esperanto. However, can a language invented by one man or one small committee be inclusive?
Becca’s post, “How universal can a language be?“, mentions a few things:
For queer people, learning any language can be a very invalidating experience.
Learning a constructed language can be even more invalidating. Constructed languages have been made with a particular goal in mind, and queer people soon discover that this goal did not involve them.
When thinking about the possibility of a queer language, it is hard to imagine constructing such a thing without invalidating someone. Any constructed language is very likely to push, consciously or unconsciously, the particular biases of the author.
Which got me thinking about how could we achieve a language that includes as many people as possible. What are some of the challenges that would arise?
1. Be created by many
A single person cannot reasonably create a language that includes everybody and excludes no one. Again, from Becca’s article:
For example, if a transmedicalist were to construct a language designed to be inclusive to trans people, the author would probably make sex equivalent to gender, erase the concept of being cis or trans altogether and strictly assert the gender binary. A person who does not believe in gender, on the other hand, may choose to erase any concept of gender from their language altogether. Yet to many trans people, either of these would be less inclusive and less validating than a Romance language
I think that the only way to reasonably come to rules for the language that most people can agree to, and most people can feel represented by, is to have a group of people create the language. Not just Europeans, not just straight people, not just one gender or another. As many people as possible need to be able to give their input – whether or not they are linguists.
2. Be fluid
With certain conlangs, such as Esperanto, the community in general is very resistant to change, thinking that it might end up killing the language and defeat Esperanto’s goal of being spread to everybody as a second language.
But, in order for a language to be inclusive, it has to be open to changing – after all, even with a committee of people from various backgrounds working on a language together, somebody is bound to be left out. Therefore, the language would need to be open to change when people voice their concerns.
3. Be versioned
Of course conlangs go through various drafts, but I think that it is important to not just stop at v1.0. Each version needs to have people using it and refining it, with new features added for new versions.
That might sound like programming language development – even ol’ C++ has major differences between version 1998 and version 2011. 1998 is a solid language, and many people still use 1998 exclusively, but 2011 adds a lot of modern features that people have come to expect from modern languages.
Perhaps spoken languages should be similar.
If you look at Ithkuil, it is versioned as well — each “version” is marked by a year: 2004, 2007, 2011. I have not learned it myself, but if anyone out there has input on how the Ithkuil community deals with this, please let me know!
4. Be modular and extendible
It might seem daunting to build such a fluid language! What if some people want aspects of Láadan’s evidence markers, but want Ido’s reversibility when it comes to word building? You have to choose one focus!
No you don’t! Why not include everything?
The language shouldn’t be written into a corner so that it has to follow one paradigm, but should be built in such a way that it can be expanded upon with minimal pain for the core language itself.
Again, if you’re a programmer, think of libraries of code. Libraries for C++ are built with C++’s rules, but extend the functionality of the language – so, for example, your programs don’t have to just be console-based, white text on a black screen. (Though it’d be interesting to have namespaces in branches of the language, hmm…)
So how do we achieve this?
How could we possibly collaborate on an auxlang, bringing in many voices and allowing for evolution over time? How could we allow people to work on off-shoots of the language, and once refined, asked to be made part of the core language? How do we keep track of all of the changes made to the language over time?
Ho, ve. That’s a little programmery, isn’t it? But a lot of conlangers I know are programmers. That isn’t to say that the language should be built by a diverse group of programmers (everyone knows the field of CS has its diversity problems…), but revision control can be a really great tool for this sort of project, and non-programmers can learn to use it, too.
I would love to see a conlang develop on GitHub, or Bitbucket, or Sourceforge, or on its own server with its own website, and see tools develop to aid in teaching and using that language. It would take a lot of effort and a lot of time, but perhaps it’s an experiment that should happen at some point.
But Rachel, how do we get people to learn such an auxlang?
Honestly, if you want people to learn a language, there has to be stuff to do in that language. This can be chatting with others, but there is more to that. Perhaps if we are able to create films and animations and video games and news websites and everything else in such a language, we build value for the language.
It’s hard to learn a language specifically on ideals, and it’s very hard to learn a language that has virtually no resources out there but a few language lessons.
But creating content is something that is required for the language itself to grow and evolve. We would need to use it for our entertainment or daily lives, find out what is lacking, and build onto it.
I do not think that having an evolving language would hinder this too much. There is still entertainment from older versions of English that get adapted and are still shared today, and with revision control history (and, hopefully, branches for each new ‘version’), all of the historical data would be there to enable somebody to adapt their work to newer versions, or other works from older versions.
What do you think?
- Do you know any conlangs built by a group, with the intent of being inclusive?
- Do you know any conlangs that are being built on GitHub or with other open source methodologies?
- Would you be interested in taking part in such a project, either by building out the core, testing the language by using it, or creating resources otherwise?
- What downfalls do you foresee?
(One problem I foresee is that I’m writing this in English, and to get people from around the world contributing, we’d need resources in each language – at least to learn the core language, then communicate with that for language building.)
By the way, quick tip – if you want to type “á” quickly on a Windows machine, here’s what you can do:
- Hold the left ALT key, keep it pressed down.
- On your num-pad (the right-side number keys), type: 0, then 2, then 2, then 5
You can quickly type in special characters this way (although you have to memorize the code).
There are other ways to enable accents when typing, perhaps we will cover this later.
In the meantime, you can use the web accenter tool on this page, or just use these keycodes:
- á 0225
- Á 0193
- é 0233
- É 0201
- í 0237
- Í 0205
- ó 0243
- Ó 0211
- ú 0250
- Ú 0218
There are some public domain films out there, which could potentially be translated and re-released, without any limits. 😉 I, personally, dislike Esperanto subtitles — really, I’d prefer Esperanto dubbing! So, why not translate and re-record voices (and sounds/music) for an old public domain film or television show?
Nokto de la Vivantaj Mortantoj
We need a lot of help if we’re going to translate the total film! The first task is translation, and afterwards we’ll need additional help, such as voice acting.
Are you interested? Could you help us with translating?
You will need a GitHub account (you don’t need to be a programmer, but you need an account!) — Tell me what your username is so I can add you to the project:
After you’re in the group, you can edit the script via the web-based text editor!
Write stories in Esperanto during February & March!
December – January was Ludfesto, the event to make video games in Esperanto, and February – March is Skribu – an event for writing stories in Esperanto.
Lometha is organizing this one, and if you’re interested in participating, check out the /r/Skribu subreddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/skribu
Video games… Stories… perhaps April – May will be the Movie Months! 😉
Voting for Ludfesto games runs from January 20 – January 25!