02 June 2007

Esperanto Museum and a few (new to me) ideas about language

This museum was only two rooms, but quite possibly one of the best done exhibits I've seen. It was concise and informative, and obviously done by people convinced of the merits of Esperanto. Esperanto, and my motives for going to this museum in the first place, are related to the lecture I went to with my hostess the evening I arrived in Vienna: "Linguistic Justice and Global Justice" by Philippe van Parijs of the Université catholique du Louvain at the Institute for Human Sciences here in Vienna.

The lecture, broadly speaking, was about linguistic economy, and more specifically, about English as the world's lingua franca and what that means. Van Parijs is not an Esperantist. The lecture was fascinating, and more complicated than I could go into here and now, but I must say it is obvious that I am not the only one with a fear of the Hungarian language. Further, it was fascinating to listen to discussion about the idea of International English, and the idea that even if all other languages ceased to exist in favor of the world being uniglot English, there would still always be regional differences. Most of the lecture focused on implications for Europe about English -- and all of it was firmly and interestingly rooted in Continental philosophy, and I definitely want to keep my eye out for work from van Parijs.

So Esperanto. The idea for a universal language like this seems to have risen out of two things: the Hapsburg Empire and the Enlightenment. One of the things that the museum did not address was how completely Eurocentric the Esperantists seem to be: ease in learning Esperanto is kind of based on knowledge of a Romance language.

The number of languages used within the EU is huge and staggering, and only Bruxelles, the Eurocapital, is a trilingual city: French, Dutch, and English. All 21 (23?) languages of the EU are official, but it is inefficient and terribly expensive to translate everything. Esperantists were the first to advocate for a united Europe under a single government and currency, and looks like they've gotten their wish, without a united language.

I would be remiss in saying that the museum also mentioned other so-called "planned languages": Homeric Greek, Lingua ignota, Neo-Slavic, Solresol, Lingua Romana, Volapük, Ido, Latino sine flexione, Occidental, Interlingua, Starckdeutsch, and Klingon! Related to the idea of the lecture and neologisms was also some discussion of English as an artificial language.

All of this is so fascinating, because I think that we are, and need to be, really concerned about spoken language. English (or any other language) is mostly standard when written, but we do most of our communication verbally, and so it's really important to us. Fascinating.

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