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Sam Wandio

Dr. Anne Furlong

English 281

December 2016

An Issue of Implementation: Artificial Languages and Why They Fail

An artificial language is a language constructed intentionally, either for the purpose of

entertainment or to provide a universal second language. In the latter category, there are

numerous languages, but all have failed at their intended purpose. The most prominent example

is Esperanto, and Esperanto failed to gain widespread uptake because its design was made

primarily of Romantic languages, because the Esperantist societies attempt to control it, and

because the effort focused on the wrong generation.

Entertainment or Uptake

Its important to realize the difference between an artificial language thats intended for

entertainment and an artificial language thats intended to one day have native speakers;

Dothraki (a guttural language constructed for the muscular Mongolian analogues in the Game of

Thrones television series) was not designed to have actual speakers. All Dothraki needed as a

language was to sound interesting and authentic, and while some fans have since learned some of

the language, that is not its intended purpose. This is different from an artificial second

language, which is intended to be spoken widely for the purposes of equality or trade; Esperanto

is one such language, and although it has close to two million speakers, it has only two thousand

native speakers.
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You Speak Esperanto, Rimmer Sir?

Why did Esperanto fail? On the surface, everything about the language seems ideal for

large-scale uptake. The language is apparently very easy to learn, there are numerous resources

available, from books to groups (both online and physical) to even mobile phone apps. And the

idea is sound; a worldwide second language would allow communication between everyone on

earth. With this in mind, what caused the language to fail? There are three primary reasons

Esperanto failed to gain the uptake it was designed for: firstly, the language is constructed using

Romantic roots to the exclusion of other language families. Secondly, the Esperantist societies

attempt to control the language (which is counterintuitive when your objective is to promote the

uptake of the language), and finally, the efforts to promote uptake are aimed at adults to learn the

language for themselves, not to teach their children.

Hopelessly Romantic

One of the main reasons behind the failure of Esperanto as a constructed language is that,

while it was designed to be intuitive, it was also designed with the Romantic languages as a base.

What this means is that there is a steeper learning curve for someone learning Esperanto as an

additional language if, for example, their native language is Mongolian or Russian.

Unfortunately, there is not likely a way around this problem provided one uses any actual

languages as the base of an artificial language, as speakers of languages in the same language

family will always have an advantage over speakers of languages in other language families

which have fewer similarities with the artificial language.

Fly on Winged Words (or something equally pretentious)

Another problem with Esperantos uptake is that the Esperantist societies attempt to
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control it. This is not conducive to either language uptake or language development; an

inescapable part of language is that it changes with the speaker, and it will never stop doing that

unless it becomes extinct; if everyone were to learn Esperanto, within two or three generations,

the language would be completely unrecognizable in comparison to its roots. The more speakers

a language has, the more quickly it changes, and this cannot be stopped or even really slowed


The Wrong Generation

Perhaps the single most significant problem with Esperantos uptake is that, again, while

it is intuitive and quite easy to learn, it is aimed at adults, and this is a fatal error. Adults are not

nearly as capable as children; which, despite their inability to control their bowels and tendency

to regularly fall down the stairs (although, to be fair, these traits are also present in the elderly),

are practically machines geared toward learning languages. If everyone were to decide to teach

their children Esperanto (or, indeed, any artificial language), one generation is all it would take

for the entire world to have a single artificial additional language, and so far, no artificial

language has attempted to do this, which is possibly the most grievous error in the construction

of an artificial language for the purpose of uptake.

Esperanto was a good idea ultimately stifled by poor execution, and if a worldwide

additional language is to ever succeed, it must avoid falling into the same hurdles.