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According to Wikipedia,

Esperanto's goal was:

to create an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language that would foster peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages.)

How would a new language foster those things? Why won't the current languages do? Did the advocates subscribe to the Sapir-Whorf view of linguistic determinism? Since that hypothesis has now been widely rejected, what are the motivations of the Esperanto people today?

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    Re conlangs-- it's not in the FAQ yet, I personally wouldn't close an objective question because it mentioned a conlang. next... What's the rationale for people speaking or teaching French? What is the rationale for teaching English to American Indian children at boarding schools and discouraging them from learning their own language? My point is that this is a culture, politics and discussion question, it doesn't have an objective answer. (grrr. I keep hitting return, sorry to anyone who read this in the last 60 seconds) – MatthewMartin Sep 21 '11 at 15:22
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(I don't know that this is really a linguistics question at all. It's probably more to do with philosophy or sociology but I assume it would have to be on topic on an Esperanto Stack Exchange so I'm going to answer it on the basis that the question could be migrated to the Esperanto site if and when it appears.)

How would a new language foster those things?

  1. Easy to Learn: By being free of regularities and using roots and morphemes already common among languages.
  2. Politically neutral: By not being the language of a single people, place, religion, or viewpoint.
  3. Peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages: By giving them an alternative language to use that all of them know and none of them own. Thus no language barrier. Thus understanding. Thus (hopefully) peace.

Why won't the current languages do?

  1. Easy to Learn: All current languages are irregular and have varying degrees of complex arbitrary rules. Many include sounds which are difficult for speakers of other languages to produce.
  2. Politically neutral: Existing languages all belong to one or more of a certain ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, or viewpoint that not all other people share. People are not keen to adopt the language of a perceived enemy.
  3. Peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages: Mostly because of 2.

Did the advocates subscribe to the Sapir-Whorf view of linguistic determinism?

I don't believe it had to do with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis whereby a new language might be created which by being able to express only certain things would make it possible to only think those given things.

Rather I believe the creators of Esperanto feel that different groups speaking different languages are a barrier to communication between groups which leads to misunderstandings between them. The idea was when all people can communicate with each other without the use of translators and interpreters who cannot always be trusted that it will be easier to identify with one another and thus reduce the risk of misunderstanding, conflict, and war.

Since that hypothesis has now been widely rejected, what are the motivations of the Esperanto people today?

No doubt some still believe an international language if widely adopted will lead us to understand each other and stop warring with each other. Others want to learn a language and it's supposedly easy. Others think it's cool to learn a constructed language and this is the most widely used. But I'm sure there are almost as many reasons people speak Esperanto as there are people who speak Esperanto.

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  • For the record, the Esperanto proposal has been removed from Area51. – Otavio Macedo Nov 23 '11 at 22:54
  • I wonder if it was merged into Planned and Constructed Languages? I've noticed that some other language proposals, such as Romanian Language & Usage have been removed automatically by the system due to inactivity. – hippietrail Nov 23 '11 at 23:01
  • The strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis ("Hopis don't have time") was certainly a red herring, but weaker versions are pretty much alive and kicking, and there's a lot of evidence nowadays that language does shape cognition. – Fryie Oct 11 '12 at 21:31
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If there are two million speakers of Esperanto (see Wikipedia; numbers disputed) then the extent and tenacity of the constructed language is in itself noteworthy. Hangul (written Korean) is arguably the only other language construct (designed by scholars of the court of King Sejong the Great) with such extent and tenacity.

Esperanto gives linguists the equivalent of the motor skill of Not forgetting how to ride a bicycle. There might not be a lot of examples of this kind of skill, but at least one example exists.

Esperanto and Hangul help linguists ask some deep questions. Is there some learning feature that helped them survive? (Esperanto and Hangul are extremely regular in nature.) Can speakers and writers express novel and complex concepts? Can the language or alphabet be extended?

So my semi-serious answer to the OP would be: "To keep linguists employed."

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    Hangul is not a language. It is an alphabet/script/writing system for a natural language. In fact it was recently adopted for use with a second language besides Korean. Armenian and Georgian also have their own alphabets created just form them since early Christian times. Cherokee had a writing system for it constructed even more recently. – hippietrail Sep 21 '11 at 14:22
  • Yes, @hippietrail, I agree that it is not a language. My point is that it is a artificially constructed alphabet that did not evolve but was rather constructed by the court of King Sejong. I will edit my answer to reflect your comment. – rajah9 Sep 21 '11 at 14:32

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