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"Oriental" dialect(s)?

by irikagina, August 9, 2007

Messages: 12

Language: English

irikagina (User's profile) August 9, 2007, 3:18:47 PM


surfing around in the UEA book's catalog I found several reviews that pointed at some understanding problems for europeans when it comes to (esperanto) japanese autors. One of these reviews speaks directly of an "oriental" dialect.
Is that so? What is your experience? Do japanese/far east esperantist have a truly different Esperanto dialect?


RiotNrrd (User's profile) August 9, 2007, 4:39:47 PM

I read a couple of esperanto blogs (mostly Akvosfero) from out of Japan, and I've never really had any problem understanding them. I haven't noticed anything different enough to label it a dialect.

Mendacapote (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 8:55:51 AM

Well, I don’t know if there is any real oriental dialect of Esperanto yet, but the possibility of such a local evolution of the language makes a lot of sense. From my point of view, as far as the basic rules and pronunciation were respected all those possible future dialects would be comprehensible to their western counterparts.

erinja (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 10:36:48 AM

I have never heard of any different "dialects" of Esperanto, Asian or otherwise.

I have a couple of Esperanto books published in China (and written or translated by Chinese people) and they seem perfectly usual to me, nothing I have ever noticed seems out of the ordinary.

I do have a couple of thoughts, though. Minor vocabulary choices sometimes vary across the Esperanto world; the word used for "girlfriend" or "boyfriend", for example, tends to vary.

Another thing - longtime readers of this forum (and longtime speakers of Esperanto) will likely be aware that in Esperanto there is often some level of debate in coining new words, with regard to pulling a word from another language and using it as a root, or coining a new word based on existing roots. Some of these words seem obvious to Europeans but less obvious to Asians, so in many cases there is a divide in usage or opinion based on this word building philosophy. For example, "biologio" or "vivscienco"? Biologio will be the word you see more commonly. Speakers of European languages will be familiar with it based on words like "biology" or "biologia". Speakers of Asian languages may not recognize it, and may prefer "vivscienco", built from two Esperanto words they do know (and equally valid). So the "dialect" difference mentioned in the catalog might have to do with something like that.

Second, when Esperanto speakers do pull words from another language, they tend to do it most often for everyday things that are called a shorter name in their native language than in Esperanto. I have heard of Japanese Esperanto speakers referring to chopsticks as "haŝioj" (from the Japanese word "haŝi", if I remember correctly) rather than the more common "manĝbastonetoj". So the "dialect" comment may be referring to usages like this.

Matthieu (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 11:33:36 AM

Interesting, erinja. I've been wondering why there are words like “biologio” whereas “vivscienco” is also possible. The latter is easier to understand to someone who doesn't know an European language.

Miland (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 4:23:40 PM

There may be a case for having an official comprehensive dictionary of standard E-o written by the Academy, which exploits the flexibility and word-building capacity of E-o as much as possible, but also includes those neologisms which have widespread international acceptance. National associations could maintain lists of neologisms which are popularly used in their area but which have not become international for the use of travellers, who could study them beforehand.

erinja (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 7:02:54 PM

Miland:There may be a case for having an official comprehensive dictionary of standard E-o written by the Academy...
With all due respect, this sort of sounds like overkill to me. I think most people would learn through use what is or isn't a common word. Esperanto is pretty democratic anyway; in most cases, the Academy recommends based on what the majority of people use. They do keep an official dictionary, but it usually has nothing to do with recommended words - rather, it contains official definitions of words that have already achieved widespread use. The Academy seldom involves itself with recommending one word over another, compared to the time they spend on other activities.

Technical or regional dictionaries are occasionally published (there is an Austrlian one I have heard of, and some dictionaries of science terms, train terms, whatever), but I haven't personally heard of difficulties with comprehension between people from different countries. A dictionary like the PIV will contain seldom-used neologisms for people who are reading a text and find something they don't recognize. New words formed of existing roots are so numerous, you could hardly list them all in a dictionary, and the meaning is usually self-evident anyway.

Plus, I suspect that nearly all regional words found in such a local dictionary would have to do with names of local plants, animals, and foods. Even if you did have the translation of it in a dictionary, you probably still wouldn't know what it was; for example, you might look up a word "piadino" and find as a definition "piadina", but if you don't know what a piadina is, it doesn't help much. You'd need to ask for an explanation in any case, to learn that it's a flat bread typical of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

And that could happen even visiting another region of your home country, so this is hardly confined to the Esperanto world. I have been plenty of times to English-speaking places where I wasn't familiar with the names of local foods. You just ask "What is ____?", most people don't consult a dictionary. I think Esperanto works more or less the same way.

Miland (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 8:03:28 PM

Miland:There may be a case for having an official comprehensive dictionary of standard E-o written by the Academy...
With all due respect, this sort of sounds like overkill to me. I think most people would learn through use what is or isn't a common word...
We could have a long debate about this. You have made a good case for anarchy! I would make my 'case' by relating it to the aims of E-o as an international language. This aim is furthered by discouraging neologisms, on the whole, and encouraging fuller use of the possibilities of the language.

I think it fair to say that Claude Piron and William Auld would support my view. Here is the the text of a letter from William Auld, one of the greatest Esperanto poets: "Some people blame the poets for excessive neologisms. This is not really true... The main culprits are lexicographers, who are too inclined to invent words a priori (without a justifying context), and to find it necessary to create an equivalent for every nuance of their national language. Yet the greatest culprit of all is the Plena Ilustrita Vortaro, which, as practically the only dictionary to give its definitions in Esperanto, is regarded as somehow authoritative... An all-Esperanto dictionary is utterly essential, of course, but PIV does as much harm as good. Actually, Lawrence Mee and others are currently compiling such a dictionary, which limits itself to (I think) about 6000 roots in actual usage. This, if successful, should do much to improve matters."

The problem with a solution like 'democracy' here is that while seeming fine on the surface, in practice it lends itself to dominance by European culture. If we take 'democracy' in this sense too far we might as well return to English as the international language (which some people do suggest). The virtue of a standard E-o is that it is more accessible to people without a European cultural background.

But I can see E-o going the way of Arabic: we would have a Standard E-o as the medium of literature and public communication, which would preserve the international character of the language, with local dialects containing a heavier proportion of neologisms. It is an excellent idea, IMHO for local E-o communities to produce dictionaries for these, so that hasxietoj might be found in Japan, chipsoj in Britain, and so on.

lingvohelpanto_en (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 9:15:46 PM

I am inclined to agree with Piron and Auld myself. I prefer to limit the entry of neologisms. I do personally feel that the PIV goes too far, but probably not for the reasons you might imagine. The job of a dictionary is to describe a language as it is spoken. I get the feeling that the PIV includes a lot of words that are neologisms that no one really uses. Who knows if those words may have died a natural death of non-use? I don't think the contents of the PIV are necessarily very representative of the way people speak, particularly when you look at the orders of some definitions. On the other hand, it is sort of nice in some cases that it has weird neologisms, because if you run into another weird neologism and even the PIV doesn't have it, then you know it's reeeeeally unusual. And there are other Esperanto-only dictionaries, good ones, for people who want something shorter and more succinct. And with more common words and fewer unusual neologisms.

However - the job of the Academy is to describe the language and to make recommendations, not to mandate "this is what you will do". Individuals are free to abide by or disregard the Academy's recommendations.

My case is not for anarchy, but for natural linguistic development. Even if the Academy were to mandate certain words, would people use them just because the Academy said so? Not necessarily. I know people who intentionally disregard advice given by their national language academies, because they disagree with it for one reason or another. Even if the Academy did start making things "mandatory", what would change? Certainly they won't arrest you for using a "disallowed" word.

And in view of the "anarchy", or "democracy" (or whatever you want to call it), Esperanto hasn't split into dialects, and has remained remarkably stable during its existence so far. Why? I posit that it's precisely because it's an international language. The purpose is using it to talk to a person from another culture. There is little point in establishing detailed local dialects, since the people who know the words will speak your native language anyway, and you probably won't be using Esperanto to communicate with them (except for the purposes of practice). Why have a local dialect and an international standard if you only use the language internationally?

In my opinion, in spite of the doom and gloom scenarios about neologisms, and in spite of the enthusiasm of some beginners for creating new words left and right, I think that the majority of people generally use existing roots rather than neologisms in most cases, even in cases when the neologism is much more succinct. I think the vast majority of Esperanto speakers speak what you are calling a "standard Esperanto", and I don't see that changing anytime soon. You will hear "malfeliĉa" far more often than "trista", "malvarma" far more often than "frida", "malmultekosta" far more often than "ĉipa". If what we have today is anarchy, than I think it's quite well-behaved as anarchy goes! If you use too many weird/new/unusual words, others won't understand, and I think most of the Esperanto-speaking population is aware of that and acts accordingly. In spite of the well-known existence of "biologio", etc., I think that the majority of new words are formed of existing roots.

Most people I know, when looking for a new word, don't immediately Esperantize the English word. They create (or look for an existing) Esperanto compound to take care of it. Sure, it might vary somewhat in personal conversation with close friends, but individual friendships always seem to have a vocabulary all their own, even in national languages, and I don't think it's any different in Esperanto. If I speak with an Esperanto-speaking friend about "skifaĵoj" or "sporkaĵoj", that's well and good, but I would never ever use those words with someone else, because these words are an in-joke and someone else would probably have no idea what I was talking about. Similar to how I could say I just completed an SQS for the MROL at the DRC yesterday (I made up those acronyms, please don't try to decipher them), but I wouldn't speak of it in those words to people outside of my workplace, who would have no idea what I was talking about.

So I have my opinions on neologisms but I don't see anything to get worked up about, as far as the future of Esperanto and splitting up into dialects and whatnot, I don't really see it happening.

Miland (User's profile) August 10, 2007, 10:48:43 PM

There is a certain dilemma with making dictionaries: we look to them to give us authoritative definitions, yet, as you say, they also have to give people an idea of how the language is actually used, and this also includes past usages and etymologies for the most comprehensive (like the OED in English).

One reason for having a standard dictionary is to make this distinction explicit; present a standard of 'good' or correct E-o, while also recognising neologisms in existence, but they could be explicitly recognised as either having been adopted internationally, or limited to a region. Thus cxipa would be a neologism that mght or might not be eventually adopted internationally, and hasxietoj could be labelled as regional. Some words might be so widely used and known as to have made the transition from neologisms to being part of the language, perhaps words like komputilo for computer.

Thus I see a three fold distinction:

(a) Words being or becoming part of the language. The deepest layer here would be the Universala Vortaro in the Fundamento, and then the Baza Radikaro, followed by the 'naturalised' words I just spoke of.
(b) Neologisms used internationally, which might eventually become part of the language.
(c) Neologisms restricted to a region in practice.
A comprehensive dictionary would differentiate these, and also include historical information - archaic words and usages, and etymology.

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