1

The Esperanto community tends to be specially resistant to reforms - so a lot of proposals like Esperanto II and Ido have not achieved much. On the other hand, natural languages suffer occasional reforms, like the recent cases of German and Portuguese.

For instance, let's take the polemic diacritics letters: ŭ, ĥ, ĉ, ĵ, ŝ and ĝ, that, in my humble opinion, pose an unnecessary difficulty to newcomers. Most esperantists (myself included) argue that the diacritics are easy to get along with the 'h-' or 'x-' system, or even adapting the keyboard accordingly. But most search engines, including the browser search, does not distinguish between 's' and 'ŝ', so it IS a nuisance somewhat. The Esperanto learning curve is not optimized with these letters, and the interest on the language inevitably fades. It would be easy to replace the rare ĥ with 'k' or 'h', ŭ is the equivalent of 'w' in most European languages, and there are solutions for the other letters that does not belong to this question but would simplify the phonetic and orthography of Esperanto without hurting its community.

So, considering there are some room to evolution, what would be the process of proposing a spelling reform? How to maximize the chance of being seriously considered? Are there any examples of a similar and recent proposal that was considered by the community or any Esperanto organization?

  • 5
    Just a brief comment on the resistance to reform: natural languages tend to change in subtle ways, and through geographical dispersion and loss of contact between groups of speakers dialects and even new languages develop. Esperanto is by intention spread out globally, and there are groups with different native languages. If changes were made too easily, the language would quickly drift apart and we would no longer have one mutually comprehensible version. So the conservative attitude to reforms has a good reason, and is not because Esperanto speakers are old-fashioned dinosaurs. – Oliver Mason Jan 30 '18 at 9:20
  • Google Chrome has an issue in that it only does diacritic-insensitive search when searching in a page and this is a problem not only in Esperanto. I suggest trying Firefox to fix this. – marcus Jan 30 '18 at 12:12
  • 2
    France seems to get along without being to type French on their keyboards (you can’t type œ, À, Ç, «» etc). I wonder if it’s really true that the hats are a big barrier. – Neil Roberts Jan 30 '18 at 17:52
17
  1. The diacritic letters are part of the unchangeable norm (Fundamento de Esperanto). They will not go away whatever people may think. Based on the experience of the past 130 years, the chances of a spelling reform in Esperanto are zero.

  2. In the Fundamento there is an alternative without diacritics for the cases the latter can not be used properly: ch gh jh hh sh u.

  3. It is good practice in the Esperanto community to discuss reforms in Esperanto only, as this a) keeps trolls away, b) shows that the proponent has a command of the language they want to change, c) keeps quarrels away from the outside world.

8

Step 1: Write out the reform in great detail. Produce a body of work in the reform to make it immediately useful.

Step 2: Fall in love with a rich woman (or man) with a dowry.

Step 3: Use the dowry to publish your work.

Step 4: Wait for people to give it a cool name.

Step 5: Wait another 130 years.

6

In my (personal) opinion, based on practical needs and on the Fundamento itself (the antaŭparolo), you would need to make sure you are only adding to the language, not removing anything and changing as little as possible. It'll help a lot if it's something that's already widely used.

You would need to be very careful not to invalidate everything that's been written in Esperanto so far, otherwise you might as well create a completely new ConLang.

For example, these things are feasible, I guess:

  • Making X official, keeping H and ^.
  • Making something else official, also keeping H and ^.
  • Using the H-method exclusively and advocating for it – it's already official after all.
  • Using the H-method with small adjustments to solve its ambiguities (gh × g-h, aŭ × au, and a way to refer to the letter ŭ outside of a word).
  • Avoiding Ĥ entirely (inventing a couple of new words in the process, for example Ĉeĥio→Ĉehio, eĥo→eho, which are the only words I know without a widespread alternative without Ĥ), but keeping it as an archaic letter (this is already happening).
  • Using W in place of Ŭ, keeping the latter as an archaic letter.

If one of the changes above becomes widespread, it could be considered by the Akademio (it's still very unlikely to be accepted in a reasonable timeframe).

These would be totally unacceptable and I would suggest you create your own ConLang and keep it separated from Esperanto:

  • Substituting J for Ĵ and adding Y.
  • Merging Ĵ and Ĝ.
  • Removing Ĥ (not keeping it as an archaic letter).
  • Removing any letter, by the way.
  • Anything that causes confusion when used side-by-side with the current norms (such as changing the sound of any existing letter).

Finally you can already do this if you want:

  • Type in the X-method or any other method you can think of if your software can convert it (e.g. using the W key to type Ŭ).
  • Type in the X-method and not convert it if it's technically unfeasible (the X-method is widely known – but do avoid getting too creative: no need to invent the Y-method, Z-method or W-method).
  • Make personal notes (avoid publishing a book or a blog like this) in some invented orthography (if your phone has a Czech keyboard but not an Esperanto one, I guess it would be fine to use Č/Š in place of Ĉ/Ŝ, W or Ù in place of Ŭ, or apostrophes as in C', G', etc.).
  • Opt for words without Ĥ, since the existing alternatives are just as good (if you become a famous writer or musician, writing/singing the two remaining Ĥ-words as Ĉehio and eho could be seen as “personal style” or “artistic license”. ;-])
  • 4
    Notice the ordering: first it has to become popular enough, only after that it can become official. – marcus Jan 29 '18 at 19:48
  • Re-reading your question, now I see that my answer of only adding to the language could cause more confusion, not less, and that's what you want to avoid, but I don't see any way around it. That's why most of my suggestions keep the general look of the language and don't shuffle things around too much. – marcus Feb 6 '18 at 13:09
3

There is absolutely no chance of this happening. The history of Esperanto from Day #1 after its publication has shown that people immediately "want to make it better", but only in the idiosyncratic way that they themselves feel would be an improvement.

Esperanto was presented to the world essentially as a finished product. It was never a language project open to modification after Zamenhof himself went through the long process of developing it. The only changes happen via natural usage in the language community.

If you don't like the Esperanto alphabet, as it exists, you don't like Esperanto. You should find a different language project to play with.

2

Reminds me of the five-year plan to improve English spelling to make it the official language of the EU, rather than German:

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make sivil servants jump for joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of the "k", which should klear up some konfusion and allow one key less on keyboards.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f", making words like "fotograf" 20% shorter.

In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e" is disgrasful.

By the fourth yer, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters. After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and everivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. ZE DREM VIL FINALI COM TRU!

Each language is unique and any reform attempt is met with more or less resistance by its speakers. It seems that the best "reform" is that which already happens in all languages through natural evolution. The Esperanto diacritic letters ŭ, ĥ, ĉ, ĵ, ŝ, ĝ are no more controversial than the Spanish ñ, ü the Swedish å, ä, ö or the Danish/Norwegian æ, ø. They are an intrinsic part of the language. What many would like to see is a standard way to reproduce any character no matter the keyboard or device being used. Amazing how this is still a challenge in the 21st Century.

  • 2
    Only, English is already one of the official languages of the EU, together with Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish. Sorry, I just react allergic to such claims, given the current political issues in the UK, which are just based on spreading such falsehoods about alleged German dominance of the EU. – Oliver Mason Jan 30 '18 at 14:34
  • That's the point. Those attempts to reform Esperanto are as futile as false is that joke. – Vidamuzo Jan 30 '18 at 20:28
2

But most search engines, including the browser search, does not distinguish between 's' and 'ŝ', so it IS a nuisance somewhat.

Then the problem you are mentioning would be resolved with a better adaptation of this tools to linguistics reality, rather than the other way. You should get in touch with people working at improving this tools, or find a better one.

The Esperanto learning curve is not optimized with these letters, and the interest on the language inevitably fades.

I strongly disagree, in many case it bring a flexibility that make vocabulary more likely to be understand either by written or spoken form for people who already have a derivative word using the same root but which derivatives in different languages be less obvious. It also enable to create slightly different meanings around a common root, like ŝarĝi and ŝargi.

Whatever change you would like to introduce, you should target backward compatibility, because existing literature is one of the strength of Esperanto. So basically such a radical change as your proposal will have few chance to get wide adoption.

Also should there be any change in notation, it would be better to align with IPA. But then you would lose the ease of recognition of common roots, for example citi would become tsiti, or /citi/, both being far less obvious to recognize for languages where there sibling derivatives that I know to exist.

1

There is indeed either accented letters or letter combinations.

Consider that most languages with latin script (like Vietnamese) do have accents - with a certain pride -, and the Cyrillic script and its transcript uses more letters (ц ч dž ž ш for c ĉ ĝ ĵ ŝ). Cyrillic script of for instance Bulgarian is officially transcripted to Latin with accents too. The exception being foreign countries that roll their own transcription. The choice made by Zamenhof is understandable. He picked the circumflex for its availability on French influenced type writers, and to not look too Slavic (Č/Š). Alternatively he added the H-method.

Other languages will stay to have accents. And one might even deplore the absence of accents in English as that might have been one of the causes for its antiphonetic spelling. The choice for having accents in Esperanto indeed is a more serious hindrance. (However like learning German, French or Danish) The reuse of q w x y with new sounds would have been ugly; the Esperanto letters are at least readable, international. And have a certain appeal.

I myself consider the extra effort worth while. Still the appeal of ch/sh exists, as it does for many English influenced people. Any more or less arbitrary language reform could be postponed after Esperanto regains more speakers - please not on beforehand.

There exists the Ido alternative, with less speakers. There are sufficient Esperanto/Ido/Interlingua adepts, in order to feel at home, and practice the (Ido) language.

  • Sufficient for what? – Tomaso Alexander Jan 31 '18 at 12:24
  • @Tomaso, thanks, that was not well formulated. Sufficient people who do both Esperanto and Ido, to have still a connection with E-o, and feel at home, and practice the Ido language. Corrected. – Joop Eggen Jan 31 '18 at 13:19

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