Will a constructed language ever catch on?

Since the late 19th century, Esperanto has been the most successful constructed language in the world. Successful, however, is a relative term. Current estimated put the number of speakers of Esperanto at about two million, a number that pales in comparison to those of the living languages we have all grown accustomed to using. Constructed languages are essentially trapped in a vicious cycle: people are reluctant to learn constructed languages because of their perceived lack of usefulness, but they cannot become useful without a large number of speakers. It seems strange that Esperanto has not become the lingua franca of the word; one of the goals its creator, L. L. Zamenhof, had for the language was “To render the study of language so easy as to make its acquisition mere play to the learner”. This goal was realized, but only to some extent. High school students who spoke French natively took a mere 150 hours to learn Esperanto while they took around 1000 hours to learn English. What is important to keep in mind is that Esperanto is based on the characteristics of various Indo-European languages. This means that speakers of Romance languages will naturally find it easier to learn Esperanto than those who speak Afro-Asiatic or Sino-Tibetan languages. That also begs the question: who will learn a constructed language enthusiastically? What I really mean by this is: who will readily claim ownership of a language with no clear connections to their culture? Although many of us are ready to learn languages with few connections to our culture, we feel a sense of reticence to claim them as our own. Charles E. Whitmore, author of The Problem of a Universal Language, stated that “Every living language is supported by a body of users whose native tongue it is and who stand behind its applications and extensions. Where is this support to be found for an artificial language?”. I find myself inclined to agree with this statement, as I believe that language and culture are inextricably linked. It is difficult, at least for me, to imagine learning a language without a culture. To summarize, I would say that a constructed language is unlikely language to catch on because of the lack of speakers each seems to have and the lack of cultural association.

About the author

Om Satapathy

Hi, I'm Om, the author of Lingua Franca.

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