sábado, 16 de junho de 2012

Os porquês do Esperanto!!!

Palestra de Renata Ventura na Rio+20

(Recado dela: Ainda não tive tempo de traduzir minha palestra ao português, infelizmente, mas assim que eu puder, farei!!!   Aguardem!)

We’re here on Rio+20 to talk about sustainability, about the environment, but most of all, we’re here to talk about some very important proposals to make the world a better place, right?

Each of the speakers in this summit will speak of what he or she knows the most.
Well, what I know most about is Esperanto.
After me, Francisco will talk about sustainability, Esperanto and the environment, but first you might need an introduction to what Esperanto actually is.
Esperanto is the international NEUTRAL language. It was created by a young polish eye doctor named Zamenhof, in 1887, to serve as a language that could be used for international communication. 

His idea was that everyone would speak their own languages inside their own countries, and would use Esperanto internationally, to communicate easily with people from other countries. This language couldn’t be the property of any nation. And it had to be easy to learn. A very simple idea, that needed a genius mind to put it to practice.
Zamenhof lived in a town called Bialystok, in Poland, and in this town lived people (6) of many different nations: Polish, Russian, German,  and Jews. Each of them spoke a different language and people could not understand one another. To talk amongst each other, they had to use the Russian language, that was imposed on them by the Russian Empire, but it was too difficult and too humiliating, and so they just kept fighting each other, for lack of understanding.

So young Zamenhof thought: if only they had a neutral language to talk amongst themselves, a language that wouldn’t humiliate them, that didn’t have the weight of a more powerful nation behind it, that was easy to learn, people would start understanding one another and the fighting would stop.

Zamenhof was only 17 years old when he finished the first draft of this language.

At the time, he was shunned by his friends as a foolish dreamer.

Today, it is spoken by millions around the planet, in more than 200 countries. It is spoken daily by young people, by old people, by poets, by engineers, by Catholics, atheists, Indians, Jews, musicians, economists, even politicians! And, believe it or not, it is one of the most used languages on the Internet. The Esperanto version of the wikipedia has more than  five hundred thousand articles. That’s almost as much as Arabic. Google has a version in Esperanto; and so does Facebook. For decades, Esperanto has been used by travelers who want to see the world while actually getting to personally know the local people in each country they visit.

The United Nations has passed two resolutions recommending that Esperanto be taught in schools around the world. The Chinese government has trained hundreds of Esperanto teachers, it has an Esperanto doctors degree and an  official televised news program in the language. The Hungarians have instituted Esperanto as one of the languages that can be chosen by students in their language examinations to enter university. The Brazilian congress is discussing the adoption of Esperanto in schools.

So, why are all these countries looking towards Esperanto? Why not just leave international communication in English?

There are several reasons for that, and  I’ll talk about some of them here, but the greatest reason is a beautiful word called  “NEUTRALITY”.
Esperanto is a NEUTRAL language.

NEUTRAL means that Esperanto is not the property of any nation. It is not imposed by an economically superior country. It is a language that has no owner. Its owners are those people who choose to learn it.
And why is a NEUTRAL language important in international affairs?
When you learn French, or German, or Russian, you’re always learning a foreign language. It will never really become YOUR language. You will never be fully comfortable at it. At least not as comfortable as those who speak it since they were babies.

The same happens with English, and that’s why English is not the most efficient tool for international communication. It gives an unfair advantage to Americans, to Englishmen, to Australians. You can learn English, but you can never be as proficient in it as a native-English-speaker. 

That’s why, to be truly international, a language cannot be national. Otherwise, it gives unfair advantages to one nation over all the others.

How can a Brazilian stand on equal conditions to an American during a political debate, for instance? Or during a debate about science? The Brazilian, no matter how hard he studied English, will always sound less smart than the American if the Brazilian is speaking in a foreign language while the American is speaking in the language he learned since birth.

We don’t want international relations to be unfair. We want to start a debate on equal terms and equal conditions. Right?

I’ll give you another example: Someone organizes an international math congress.

The Americans and the British send their greatest mathematicians to discuss in the congress. Naturally. But do the other countries send their greatest mathematicians as well? No, they send their greatest English-speakers. They can’t send their greatest mathematicians, because their greatest mathematicians do not necessarily speak English. So the question is: What countries end up having the advantage in the congress?
The fact is that English is not such an easy language. It takes years to learn. And if you’re too busy becoming a math genius, maybe you just don’t have the time to dedicate thousands of hours to study a foreign language.

And it’s not only a question of time.

What if you don’t have the money to pay for a good English course? What if you’re poor?

Is this fair? Is this democratic? This leaves out most of the world population, who has neither the time nor the money to dedicate the years of study necessary to master a foreign language.

Claude Piron, a respected linguist, psychologist and translator, who died not so long ago, wrote an excellent book about the challenge of international communication.

He worked for decades as a translator to the United Nations and to other big international organizations, so he had a very big experience in this field. He once said this about the difficulty most people find in learning English: quote:  
“When an average pole, or an average Italian, or Korean, or Portuguese, try to discuss in English, they look like aphasiacs – as if they had suffered a stroke and the language center in their brains had been damaged. They constantly scan their mind for the right word, their pronunciation is poor, they use gestures to make up for the lack of words, they need a few repetitions to understand, and very often they simply give up, because the exertion of expressing themselves in a language they don’t master is too strenuous. Yet, they studied English for six or seven years!”
He goes on to explain why English, or any other national language, is not adapted to the demands of intercultural communication, and he concludes by saying: quote: “I’ve attended hundreds of international meetings held in English, hundreds with simultaneous interpretation, and hundreds in Esperanto. The only really lively ones, the ones with equal participation of all, the ones in which people can really be spontaneous and at ease are the Esperanto ones.”

Esperanto has actually been called a “linguistic handshake”.

That is because, in a handshake, both people have to make an equal effort to reach the hand of the other. This is what happens when you talk to people in Esperanto. Everyone in the conversation had to study and learn the language just as you did. No one has an unfair advantage.

To quote Claude Piron again, 
The miracle of Esperanto is that you can keep your accent and the way of forming your sentences, and yet everybody understands everybody. And no one ever feels inferior, ridiculous or simply… foreign.
An international language should be a bridge between cultures, not a barrier.
It should facilitate communication, not hinder it.
It should be equally accessible to all. Not just to a few who were lucky enough to be born in a particular country, or who had the money to pay for years of language classes.
One neutral international language would take care of that.

But to do that, this international language must also have another characteristic:
It must be easy.
Easy for everyone.
Any national language takes at least four years to learn, if you’re a genius. If you’re a normal person, you take about 6 to 7 years, sometimes 10, depending on which country you come from and in how much money you have to spend.
Well, Esperanto can be learned in a few months. And you can learn it by yourself. You don’t need to pay a teacher.
You can even learn it online.

The first Esperanto speakers learned it from a book that had about 30 pages.
That is because Esperanto is 10 times easier to learn than English. Some people learn it in a few weeks.
In fact, I had an American online student of Esperanto – I used to send her lessons by email every couple of days and she studied them with her kid. Well, in TWO WEEKS she already had a blog entirely in Esperanto. Don’t ask me how she did this, I don’t know. It amazed me as well.
The fact is that Zamenhof was not only a young polish eye doctor. He was also a genius linguist, who spoke almost a dozen languages, and who endeavored to create THE EASIEST language on the planet.
EASY, but at the same time, COMPLETE. That is: able to express every feeling, every detail, every possibility of human life.
And he did it. It has been proven that Esperanto is one of the best languages for translation, if not the best, because it can express absolutely everything, and in a way that doesn’t change the order of the words and doesn’t change the spirit that was imprinted on the original text.

How did Zamenhof do it?

Well, he did it by, FIRST, creating a logical grammar, with few rules and no exceptions to them, SECOND, by creating a global vocabulary, originated from dozens of already existing languages, with words that could be easily recognizable by most people, and THIRD, by making it all very easy to pronounce – for everybody.
You leave the first lesson knowing how to pronounce correctly any word you read, and knowing how to write correctly any word you hear.

As for the grammar, it can be learned in one day, if you really want to. Its logic accompanies the natural logic of our brain– so that no one must strain their brains to comprehend a different logic, like we must do when we learn national languages. And this logical grammar actually improves our brain’s capacity for logical thinking – This has been proven in many studies done with kids around the world. It actually improved their math scores even… That is because Esperanto is like a crossword puzzle. If you don’t know a word, you can simply play with pieces of words you already know, to form a new one that expresses what you want. This makes it easy to learn it without having to memorize the entire vocabulary…
It has a system of suffixes and prefixes that makes our lives a whole lot easier, so that, when we learn one word, we are actually learning about 50. If you learn the word “tooth”, for instance, you immediately know how to say “teeth”, “dentist”, “dental”, “dentition”, “tooth-brush”, etc, and you do it just by adding a suffix or a prefix that you already learned.

So, if this language is so good, why aren’t there more speakers around the world? Why just a few million?
Well, first because we’re lousy propagandists. rsrs
We are shy and we don’t like imposing anything on anyone.

The second reason is that Esperanto is still a very young language. It is only about 120 years old. A baby-language. How many thousand years does the English language have? So, what we should be asking is, how come Esperanto got so many speakers in so little time?
And Esperanto is growing more every day. Especially now, with the Internet.
A third reason for why Esperanto is not spoken by more people is that there is a huge counter-propaganda against it. This counter-propaganda has been made since the inception of the language, by very powerful people.

When Esperanto was launched, it was a huge success for such a bold idea. Thousands learned it on the first few years, and it was rapidly spreading. But then it started being hit repeatedly,  by the first world war, that killed hundreds of Esperanto speakers, then by Hitler, who actually persecuted Esperanto-speakers (just as he did Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals), he put them all in concentration camps and actually executed many of them, including all of Zamenhof’s family – except for a grandson, who escaped by changing his last name, and for Zamenhof himself, who had already died of depression after witnessing the start of the first world war. Then, came Stalin, who actually killed every Esperanto-speaker he could find – he called it a bourgeoisie language. Then came the Americans, who actually persecuted Esperanto for the exact opposite reason: they called it a communist language.  (Yeah, go figure. Stalin was killing Esperanto-speakers and Americans were calling it a communist language).

The Americans didn’t actually kill Esperanto speakers, of course, but they did try to discredit it. Summing it up, it was persecuted by every major dictator in the last century. Including Saddam Hussein. Very dangerous language, aparently.

Today, the persecution is less violent. It is made by organizations and by people who think they stand to loose with the adoption of Esperanto. Mainly, those organizations and countries that make big profit from teaching English. The media usually helps them, saying outright lies about Esperanto on the news. And most of us believe in everything we hear in the news, right?

But the fourth and main reason as to why Esperanto has always had so much difficulty growing as fast as it could is a very simple one:
Especially bold change.

Schopenhauer summed it up perfectly, saying:
“All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self- evident.”
In our case, it was kind of the other way around: first it was violently opposed. Then, it started being ridiculed, and now we’re starting to see the problems of a  globalized world with no common international language.

Here are some of the things we accept as being self-evident now: equal rights for women, equality of races, universal voting rights… These were all hard-fought victories. They took centuries of arguing, of protesting, of fighting, until they were finally accepted. And now, most of us see them as being evident.

So, in the future, our grandchildren might look back at history and ask: “Did those dupes really think women were inferior to men?! That doesn’t even make sense!”
“And did we really need translators to talk to people from other countries?!?! Couldn’t they just go up to them and talk?!”

I love English. I really do. And I don’t think people will stop learning it if Esperanto is adopted worldwide. But those who do learn it, will do it because they WANT TO. Not because they were made to. They will do it because they love music in English, and because they love American movies. Not out of absolute necessity. Not because of an imposition. And if they do decide not to learn it – if they decide to learn Italian instead, they will have much more time to do it than they have today. And they will learn it much more quickly, because knowing Esperanto actually decreases the number of years it takes to learn other languages.

What we must ask ourselves now is this: 
Is English really working as an international language? Is it the fairest choice? The most equal? The most democratic for all?
Os is it just the language of an economically superior country?
Throughout history, this has been the case: first it was Latin, then Spanish, then French… now it’s English. Tomorrow it might be Chinese. And thanks God the Chinese are looking to Esperanto. Because Mandarin is not that easy.
As for whether English is working or not as an international language…
If it was really working,  the United Nations wouldn’t need to spend so much money to translate everything to so many languages. We wouldn’t need translators.

After a century of English dominance, people still don’t master it. And that’s because national languages have grammar exceptions, cultural slangs, difficult pronunciations… For instance, who in here can pronounce the word “World” correctly? WORLD. It’s a physical impossibility for a great percentage of the world population.
And sometimes this can cause major international problems. Don’t underestimate a word misspoken in a global political debate. It might trigger a war.
And so can an error in translation. And those errors are VERY common. Translators are great, but they are also human. They make mistakes. And we don’t want mistakes being made on peace negotiations, do we?

Communication without barriers  – without intermediaries – 
that’s what scared Hitler; 
that’s what scared Stalin.

We talk of democracy. We talk of equality. But international equality can only start existing when I do not impose my national language on another person. This is called (61) RESPECT. 

For a more professional study of this, I highly recommend the book by Claude Piron “Les Langues: un defí”, “O desafio das línguas” in Portuguese. You can find this book for free on the Internet, in many languages. I don’t think English is one of them, but I might be wrong.
Just one last thought:
If everyone in the world decided to start studying Esperanto today, in six months time we would all be understanding one another. With no need for translations.
Problem solved.

6 comentários:

  1. Muito bom! Parabéns! Até eu, que sou um pouco cético em relação ao assunto vou procurar o livro de Claude Piron e, quem sabe, um livro de Esperanto...

  2. Bone fairita! Mi gratulas vin pro klara prezento. Bondezirojn el Britio.

  3. Gratulojn, antaŭen kaj antaŭen! (Google tradukisto estas la max!)

  4. Excelente texto e excelente argumentação. Parabéns!

  5. Parabéns! Muito bem estruturado, e com algumas pitadas "matadoras" (adorei a parte do "Quem aqui consegue pronunciar «world» corretamente"?), e aquela parte dos melhores matemáticos dos EUA/Inglaterra contra os melhores falantes de inglês dos outros países. O Piron dá umas ótimas ideias de linhas de argumentação, né?

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