Towards a just world

Esperanto for meaningful globalisation

A.F.G. Mohiuddin

Quite per chance, while I was passing by the TV set in my house the other day, I overheard an Arab voice uttering (as far as I could grasp) " We would not have asked you to leave us alone, if you could speak our language." I immediately looked at the TV screen and saw the last glimpse of an Iraqi civilian facing the "Coalition Forces" in Baghdad. It stuck me to the thought-did the Iraqi mean that the American/British troop could continue occupation of Iraq if only they could speak Arabic? Perhaps not. But it laid bare the strength of language in forging cohesion, understanding and brotherhood among peoples of the world. I thought, should we then invent an international language to be spoken and understood by all on earth? But there is already an international language called Esperanto devised by a Polish physician, Dr. L.L. Zamenhof in 1887. The name of the language was given after the inventor's pseudonym and was derived from the Latin word, spero meaning hope. Esperanto means a person hoping. Indeed the inventor devised and improved upon this unique universal language in his lifetime (1859-1927) with the great hope of uniting the peoples as one who could speak the same language (in addition to the mother tongue) removing the barrier of heart to heart exchange of ideas, feelings and needs without anybody else's intervention.

In order to find a common language for everybody to learn, speak and write easily, many artificial languages were evolved by many, but only Esperanto survived as a regular practicing universal language because of its conservatism and creativity. In over100 countries, there are at least 2 million Esperanto speakers who conduct meetings, conferences, classes, research, parlance and even daily lives. There are so jealous practitioners of this language that they use it in their homes and their children become native speakers of Esperanto. But these children transform from monolinguals to multilingual/bilingual from the age of 3 or 4 i.e. from when they socialize outside home and attend schools. Esperanto brought their parents in contact with each other and finally led them to marriages. These Esperantists hold annual conferences and even publish international magazines. Esperantist associations have now spread over 80 countries including Bangladesh. Esperantists are mainly found in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly the former satellite nations of the old Soviet Union, East Asia, South America and Southwest Asia. It is less known in English-speaking North America, Africa, and Muslim countries. Esperanto is used from poetry and song writing to scientific teaching, in many different settings. Since1985, it has been the language of a congress or conference or some other kind of encounter every day in some place on earth. "Esperanto's advantages are basically two:" said Donald J. Harlow (Esperanto-an overview: 10 Dec. 2001), " It is a neutral language, being the property of no particular group of people and therefore the equal property of everybody. It is relatively easy to learn. It would appear from personal experience and anecdotal evidence that, for an English speaker, Esperanto is perhaps five times as easy to learn as Spanish, ten times as easy as Russian, and "considerably" easier than Chinese, Japanese or Arabic."

Leo Tolstoy learnt Esperanto in about four hours. But to master it, one requires at least a year or so. What a comfortable and enjoyable world would it be if everyone learns this language for one or two years in school or home and communicates with confidence and pleasure with everyone on earth while traveling, doing business, meeting people, attending international conferences/seminars/workshops, studying abroad, exchanging ideas and corresponding with friends of other languages! This will not only foster friendship and oneness among all, wipe out racial and other prejudices, narrow the differences between peoples, banish strife and conflict, reduce tension and stress, enhance understanding, further mutual advantages, open up more opportunities of trade and investment, disseminate knowledge faster and with ease, enrich human civilization, increase interactions, make R and D easy and less expensive, assimilate the best brains of the world to find cures of deadly diseases, expand life span, bring down work hours, make life comfortable and enjoyable, spur ideas and values, burn hatred and jealousy, improve law and order, deepen truth and decency, hasten inventions and discoveries, establish democracy, raise quality of life, bring peace and accelerate economic developments everywhere.

By relieving people from the need of learning others' languages, the quantum of human energy that we would save is incalculable and the benefit of the consequent application of these saved energies to the cause of mankind is beyond comprehension. And the amount of money that would be saved thereby is mind boggling. One study shows that in the UN system, every thousand words in an original text cost US$1698 in 1978 for translation into seven languages i.e. US$ 1.7 per word. European Union translates daily 3,150,000 words on an average costing them US$ 1,134,000 per day.

A study ( Linguistic Communication - A Comparative Field Study by Claude Piron) showed that if Esperanto was used by the UN, EU and the multinationals as their only official language, then the disadvantages of using the preferred native languages in those organisations would have been far less compared to Esperanto. Since multinationals use only English, their disadvantages are much less than the UN and the EU. Each of the four systems shown below in the table is rated for each criterion on a ten point basis, according to the intensity of the disadvantage observed: 10 indicates a very serious drawback and 0 the absence of the considered disadvantage. The rankings have been assigned as follows: 0 none, 1 minimal, 2 negligible, 3 small, 4 moderate, 5 medium, 6 considerable, 7 large, 8 very large, 9 enormous, 10 extreme.

Yet Esperanto has not been officially recognized or adopted anywhere in the world, perhaps because of superiority complex and imperialistic design of the rich and the powerful to rule and exploit the world. Their superiority complex still rides high. In the wake of 9/11, Italian prime minister Berlusconi (now EU President for 6 months) said that the western civilization was superior to Muslims'. Joseph Stalin called Esperanto a dangerous language and Adolf Hitler said in Mein Kampf (p.257), " But the moment that the world would become the slave of the Jew it would have to learn some other language (Esperanto, for example) so that by this means the Jew could dominate all the more easily." Tsar banned all Esperanto magazines and books from 1895 to 1905. France banned the teaching of Esperanto in early 1920s. The Japanese government persecuted and sometimes executed Esperanto speakers by saying that "Esperanto speakers are like watermelons -- green [a color associated with Esperanto] on the outside but red [Communist] on the inside." Saddam Hussein imprisoned and later deported a person who attempted to teach Esperanto. Only the Communist Govt. of China encouraged learning of Esperanto, but not outside official channels. Iran tolerated Esperanto after 1979. But in 1981, it started discouraging its teaching when it was found that the Baha'i community patronised Esperanto.

According to Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nobody can be disadvantaged by language discrimination. Establishment of Esperanto as the only official world language can ensure this human right. The UN must take appropriate actions towards this direction. So far their activities in this respect were limited to taking two resolutions of the UNESCO.

Resolution of 1954 General Conference of Unesco's eighth session held at Montevideo (Uruguay) runs as follows:

IV.1.4.422 - The General Conference,

Having discussed the report of the Director-General on the international petition in favour of Esperanto (8C/PRG/3),

IV.1.4.4221 - Takes note of the results attained by Esperanto in the field of international intellectual relations and the rapprochement of the peoples of the world ;

IV.1.4.4222 - Recognizes that these results correspond with the aims and ideals of Unesco ;

IV.1.4.4223 - Takes note that several Member States have announced their readiness to introduce or expand the teaching of Esperanto in their schools and higher educational establishments, and requests these Member States to keep the Director-General informed of the results attained in this field ;

IV.1.4.4224 - Authorizes the Director-General to follow current developments in the use of Esperanto in education, science and culture, and, to this end, to co-operate with the Universal Esperanto Association in matters concerning both organizations.

Another resolution of 1985 of General Conference of Unesco's twenty-third session held at Sofia (Bulgary) was adopted as under:

11.11 - Celebration of the centenary of Esperanto.

Considering that the General Conference at its 1954 session in Montevideo, by its resolution IV.1.4.422-4224, took note of the results attained by the international language Esperanto in the field of international intellectual exchange and mutual understanding among the peoples of the world, and recognized that those results corresponded with the aims and ideals of Unesco,

Recalling that Esperanto has in the meantime made considerable progress as a means for the advancement of mutual understanding among peoples and cultures of different countries, penetrating most regions of the world and most human activities,

Recognizing the great potential of Esperanto for international understanding and communication among peoples of different nationalities,

Noting the considerable contribution of the Esperanto movement, and especially of the Universal Esperanto Association, to the spreading of information about the activities of Unesco, as well as its participation in those activities,

Aware of the fact that in 1987 Esperanto celebrates its centenary of existence,

1. Congratulates the Esperanto movement on its centenary;

2. Requests the Director-General to continue following with attention the development of Esperanto as a means for better understanding among different nations and cultures;

3. Invites the Member States to mark the centenary of Esperanto by suitable arrangements, declarations, issuing of special postal stamps, etc., and to promote the introduction of a study programme on the language problem and Esperanto in their schools and higher educational institutions;

4. Recommends that international non-governmental organizations join in celebrating the centenary of Esperanto and consider the possibility of the use of Esperanto as a means for the spreading of all kinds of information among their members, including information on the work of Unesco.

To mean business, these pious wishes, noting, recommendations, recognitions, requests alone will not do. The UN has to take the right decision at the apex level and then draw detailed action programme to be implemented by the appropriate agency.

Claude Piron says, "Our world is shrinking. International exchanges, commercial and cultural, are growing at a tremendous rate, and traveling to far away places is becoming a commonplace occurrence for many people for whom it was just unthinkable a few decades ago. At the same time, whole segments of populations are displaced in many parts of the world, refugees and people requesting political asylum are more and more numerous, as well as immigrants desperately looking for a standard of living they cannot expect to enjoy at home. As a result, language problems are developing in many areas. They are all too often ignored, just as are ignored the deplorable results of language teaching in schools. In non-Germanic Europe, only one percent of the students are capable of expressing themselves correctly in the language they have been learning for six years at an average of four hours a week; in Asia, the corresponding proportion is one out of a thousand. But these facts do not appear to stimulate creative thinking. They are accepted with a deplorable resignation." Let us not accept this resignation any more. Let us accept Esperanto as the only 2nd language for all, to make globalisation meaningful and reasonably fruit bearing for everybody of the globe.

[The author is a retired Additional Secretary to the government.




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