Esperanto Speakers Meet in Canada

By: Christer Oscar Kiselman, Uppsala, Sweden

For a full week in August of 2022, eight hundred and thirty Esperanto speakers from all
continents except Antarctica were welcomed by the City of Montréal in Québec, Canada.

An Esperanto congress can perhaps best be described as a forceful eruption of
conferences on a lot of topics, in fact on all topics of interest to human beings. Many
are presented in parallel, so that it is often hard to choose which one to attend.

Esperanto is an artificial language, intended to facilitate understanding between all
humans. The first Esperanto manual was published in July of 1887 in Warsaw, which
was then in the Russian Empire.

The booklet, which appeared in that year in Russian, Polish, French, and German,
and the following year in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, was authored by a Jewish
scholar, L. Zamenhof, who was born in 1859 in Bialystok, then in the Russian Empire,
now in eastern Poland. Actually, Esperanto was his fourth constructed language, a fact
of some importance since each version of his conlangs was an improvement over the
previous ones. We should note that ‘artificial’ means that the language is artfully made!

During the week there were four concerts, a play, and lectures on languages including
the Indigenous Canadian language Anishinaabeg, Yiddish, and, of course, Esperanto
itself. There were seven lectures presenting in the International Congress University,
on topics including space research, chemistry, glass, and the Silk Road in Asia. Other
lectures treated bird migration, geology, and the Pythagorean Theorem. And most
importantly, there were personal meetings between old friends and new friends alike,
severely missed during two years of Zoom meetings.

The congress was initially planned to take place in 2020 but had to be postponed for
well-known reasons. This was the one hundred and seventh congress in a series
starting in 1905 and meetings every year with interruptions only during the two World
Wars. It was the second to be organized in Canada, and the fifth of the congresses held
in North America. On a personal note, it was my thirty fourth, of which two had been
virtual via Zoom. My first was in 1980.

As to participants, the record was held by the US, with Canada second, France third,
Germany fourth and the UK fifth, followed by Japan and South Korea.

Duncan Charters, Professor of Languages and Cultures at Principia College, Elsah,
Illinois, is the President of the organizing society, the Universal Esperanto Association
(UEA). He welcomed us all and also gave a talk on education.

Next year the Esperanto Congress will be held in Torino, with Fabrizio Angelo
Pennacchietti as one of the main organizers. There were hopes expressed that later a
congress could be held in Africa—if so, that would be the first time ever that Esperanto
speakers will meet in that continent.

The theme of the 2022 Congress was:
“Language, Life and Earth: the Decade of Indigenous Languages“, in reference to the
Decade of Indigenous Languages declared
by UNESCO for 2022-2032.

NuqneH! Gi nathlam hí! Ni parolu pri lingvo!

By: Jingshu Helen Yao, Master of Museum Studies student / Summer Intern at the CLM

If you couldn’t read the title, don’t worry. It says “Hello” in Klingon, “Welcome” in Sindarin, and “Let’s talk about language” in Esperanto. These expressions may seem to be totally unrelated, but they are all from constructed languages.

Have you ever considered how effective communication could be if everyone could speak the same language? Did you ever wonder what it might take to create a language? Even though most natural languages developed without intentional efforts to shape and engineer them, languages have also been constructed over the years for various purposes.

Most natural languages evolved slowly along with human society, but new methods of communication sometimes occur more spontaneously. For example, language contact can lead to the creation of pidgins and creoles, and deaf children can create hand signs to communicate with family members. Although these are not classified as constructed languages, they are driven by our desire to communicate more effectively.

People holding hands forming a circle that surrounds the globe. The background is the Esperanto flag, a green star on a white circle in the corner of a green background.
Artwork showing Esperanto as a language that unifies the world. Source.

Auxiliary languages such as Esperanto are the most common type of constructed languages. They are called ‘auxiliary’ languages because they are created to be a lingua franca, a common third language to be used by two or more different language groups. They are designed to be easy to learn, thus enabling communication across linguistics groups irrespective of the speakers’ native languages. To date, Esperanto is the most popular auxiliary language with about 2 million speakers around the world.

Two rows of shelves of various consumer goods, such as Esperanto cigarettes, a Movado watch, and Mirinda pop cans.
Esperanto language and symbols appear on a variety of product packaging. Exhibit at the Esperanto Museum and Collection of Planned Languages in Vienna, Austria.
(Photo: Jocelyn Kent)

Languages are also created for research purposes, and these are referred to as engineered languages. They can be used by linguists to test hypotheses about different language features. For example, Kēlen is a language proposed by linguist Sylvia Sotomayor to test the possibility of a language with no verbs, which would contradict the theory that verbs are a universal feature of natural human languages. In addition, philosophers have tried to create languages that can better serve the purposes of certain philosophical and logical discussions. Toki Pona is an engineered language created by Canadian linguist and translator Sonja Lang. Toki Pona was designed based on the philosophical principle of minimalism and was meant to encourage positive thinking. While Toki Pona may not be used by a large number of speakers, the therapeutic value is what makes this constructed language unique in its own way. Languages can also be created for spiritual or religious purposes.

Toki Pona hieroglyphs that say “ma Kanata li suli.” which translates to “Canada is large.” Source.

I find artistic and fictional languages the most interesting of all, and they are probably the most well-known constructed language to the general public. J. R. R. Tolkien is known for the Elvish languages he created in ‘Lord of the Rings’, although creating languages for his fictional world was not his only accomplishment with constructed languages. Tolkien had a passion for glossopoeia, the creation of constructed languages for artistic purposes, from a very young age. He published the essay ‘A Secret Vice’ about his experience with constructed languages, where he pointed out that mythology is an important part of artistic languages. Therefore, the languages Tolkien created were closely based on the stories of his fantasy world.

Gold ring with glowing Elvish writing held by fingers.
Tolkien’s constructed Elvish language appears on the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Source.

Very few fictional languages were as systematic as Tolkien’s creations. Many fictional languages started with very basic concepts and were added onto through the years, sometimes by the creators, sometimes by fans. Languages such as Klingon and Valyrian have various online databases and tutorials built by enthusiasts. They are even available on language learning apps such as Duolinguo.

Cover of The Klingon Dictionary.
Klingon-English dictionary for the Klingon language used in the Star Trek films and television series. Source.

Regardless of the various purposes of creation, constructed languages shared a common creation process. They often take inspiration from existing human languages. The creators of auxiliary languages tend to focus on features such as the most commonly used sounds among languages in order to make the constructed languages more accessible to a large population. Tolkien based many of his created languages on Welsh, Finnish, Latin, and Ancient Greek.

With the advance of technology, constructed languages continue to evolve and play their parts in shaping our linguistics landscape. Conlangers, people who are involved in constructing languages, are now commissioned to create fictional and artistic languages for popular media such as video games and TV shows. Many Canadians are active in creating or speaking constructed languages. This article about a conlanger in Halifax explores the use of coded language in the history of LGBTQ communities. In 2022, the World Esperanto Congress will take place in Montreal, with the topic “Language, Life and Land”. Esperanto speakers around the world will gather together and discuss indigenous languages of Canada using Esperanto.

From fictional world to philosophical discussions, from linguistics theories to international auxiliary languages, whichever form they take, whatever their functions are, constructed languages will never cease to amaze us.