Between english and esperanto: What does it take to be a world language?

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Abstract

English has emerged as a world language after the Second World War. This role of English as a de facto international lingua franca has been criticized as 'linguistic imperialism' or 'linguicism', threatening the vitality and development of many local languages in former Anglo-American colonies, especially in Africa and Asia. To counter the hegemony of the phenomenal spread of English worldwide, some scholars advocate and promote the use of Esperanto, an artificial language, as an international auxiliary language. Created by Lazaro Ludoviko Zamenhof in 1887, Esperanto is largely based on the lexicons of several dominant European languages, an alphabetical language characterized by a learner-friendly phonology and relatively simple syntax and morphology. To adherents of Esperanto, its sociolinguistic appeal lies mainly in the fact that, unlike English, it is no one's first language, and so no user of Esperanto would feel disadvantaged when communicating with other fellow Esperantists. After over 110 years of continual development, the Esperanto movement has attracted thousands of followers worldwide, but toward the goal of replacing English as a world language, Esperanto faces many obstacles. This paper discusses two main problems confronted by Esperanto as a serious contender of English for that role: relatively limited communicative functions, and the 'medium-as-message' paradox. These problems explain why individual language learners find Esperanto unattractive compared to other natural languages of wider communication, and why governments tend to lack the incentive to add Esperanto to the local school curriculum. The claim that the spread of English is responsible for the world's social evils is overstated. Globalization is more satisfactorily accounted for by the global triumph of the 'Utilitarian Discourse System.'
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-63
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number164
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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