Current research question:
How can Esperanto be democratised, in order to help the language achieve it’s original purpose?
Natalie J. K. Baloy, N.J.K. (2011) ‘’We Can’t Feel Our Language”: Making Places in the City for Aboriginal Language Revitalization’, American Indian Quarterly, 35(4), pp. 515-548,622.
In her article “We Can’t Feel Our Language”: Making Places in the City, Natalie Baloy looks at native language revitalisation and how aboriginal language education can become part of the urban domain. A fascinating aspect of Baloy’s article is her research into how aboriginal land seems to be so connected to language. Xálek’, a Squamish hereditary chief, told Baloy:
“I realized that it’s the shape of our land. When the winds hit our mountains and they come over, they drop into the valleys, they kind of move around through the forest. That’s kind of the structure of the language – it has a lot of sharp inflections like that. . . . We adapt to our environment. Our language mimics that.”(Natalie J. K. Baloy, 2011)
Jerilynn Webster, executive director of the Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association, states a similar quote:
If you look at different languages, languages are what the land looks like. So it’s according to what your environment is. If you’re not in that environment, you’re displaced. Cut. That’s why the language isn’t happening, because we’re not feeling that. . . . We can’t feel our Mother, we can’t feel our language.(Natalie J. K. Baloy, 2011)
The idea of feeling a language is interesting because it opens up the possibility of communication without the use of words. If we can begin to feel a language – to communicate with the use of feelings rather than words, we might start to break down the invisible borders created by fluent and non-fluent speech.
If these communicative feelings also lets you feel the land – connect with it – we might also begin to democratise land, as well as national identity.
Amir Borenstein and Effi Weiss (2021) By the Throat.
By the Throat is a film about spoken language, and how this identifies us as people, belonging to various groups in society.
In the film, Borenstein and Weiss documents how slight differences in pronunciation can speak of conflict between groups in a society, and thus divide people into “familiar” and “others”. For example, in the film, a man explains how when crossing the Jordan river, guards will ask crossers to pronounce a specific word, and use their pronunciation of S to determine wether or not the crossers are Hebrew (and thus allowed to cross) (Amir Borenstein and Effi Weiss, 2021). The film clearly demonstrates how language has the power to separate us as people, and thus it’s a great source for demonstrating some of the main points of my project.
Tom Finn and Kristoffer Soelling (2020) Behind the Design | Everpress Episode 01: Regular Practice. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOdjErrU76s (Accessed: 18 February 2022).
Although one might question wether this video can be viewed as literature material, Soelling’s quote, “when you don’t have any understanding of what something says or communicates, you can sort of look at it in a very different way, and appreciate it for different reasons” (Tom Finn and Kristoffer Soelling, 2020), very much demonstrates the potential value of a constructed non-verbal language.
If we can begin to look at a piece of communication in a non-verbal way, we might begin to unite as viewers, as we come together to interpret a message subjectively, but in a shared space. By forcing a group of people to observe a language in the same way (a way where no parties have prior knowledge of that language) we could potentially give those people a similar way of looking at something in a “different way” as Soelling puts it.
NRK (2022) ‘1. Ikke barnas feil’, Uønsket. Available at: https://tv.nrk.no/serie/uoensket/sesong/1/episode/1 (Accessed: 23 February 2022).
In the NRK documentary series Uønsket (“Unwanted”), Leo Ajkic looks at Norwegian immigration and how some children without Norwegian citizenships are kicked out of the country at 18, after having lived there most of their lives (NRK, 2022). Ajkic specifically documents the case of Mustaffa, whom’s case gained large amounts of media coverage in 2021, when he was due to be sent back to Jordan at the age of 18.
In the series, we learn how Mustaffa’s childhood friends included him in the Norwegian “russe celebration” – covering his economic expenses (NRK, 2022). Their friendship demonstrates what could be seen as a non-verbal language of love and friendship. This non-verbal language was also evident on school walls, where students had hung paper hearts and signed petitions for Mustaffa not to be kicked out. The contrast between Norwegian friendship and Norwegian immigration policies can be linked to my project’s purpose: to comment on the contrast between how Norwegian equality politics differs inside and outside our national borders.
Ajkic also documents more general aspects of Norwegian immigration procedures, demonstrating how national borders and identities affect our opportunities in life. Our verbal languages are direct symbols of these borders, and even when getting a citizenship, lack of fluent Norwegian refers to them. The series questions why some of us are allowed to stay in a nation, whilst others have to leave, and thus it effectively highlights the issues I’m looking to tackle in my project.
Benjamin Orlow (2019) ‘Asafo flags’, Migrant Journal [Preprint], (6).
In his article Asafo flags, Benjamin Orlow discusses the cultural meanings of Asafo flags, made by the Fante people. The flags symbolises an hybridisation of cultures, as the Fante people developed the flags by adopting certain elements from European aesthetics (Benjamin Orlow, 2019).
As a case study, the flags become interesting because they demonstrate the ideology of Esperanto in a practical manner. Esperanto as a product is also an hybridisation of cultures, as it was originally constructed using a range of native language words and principles. In my work of visualising Esperanto, it could be interesting to explore ways of combining various visual cultures, in order to find common ground amongst these cultures –which in a sense could be to meet all cultures half way through a visual product.
Paul Wilson (2019) ‘Esperantujo, land of tue hopeful’, Migrant Journal [Preprint], (6).
In his article, Esperantujo, Land of the Hopeful, Paul Wilson suggests that Esperanto speakers “would be in and out of their primary language, and therefore in and out of their cultures” (Paul Wilson, 2019). I personally interpret this to mean that when using Esperanto, speakers find a common ground, a culture for all. What does this culture look like, and how can it be documented through design?
Wilson argues that Esperanto is an utopian idea, an way of “forward dreaming” (Paul Wilson, 2019). The original purpose, the forward dream, was to build a future where “conflict, argument and disagreement would be erased by common artificial language” (Paul Wilson, 2019). Since Esperanto is both stateless and constructed (not any party’s mother tongue), speaking it becomes an act of “meeting halfway” (Paul Wilson, 2019). Thus, speaking Esperanto is not a matter of giving up one’s identity in favour of sameness, but rather to perform a diplomatic act of communication.
Unfortunately, Esperanto has, as Wilson discusses, stayed an utopia. It is a language for those who chooses to learn it (Paul Wilson, 2019). However, for it to achieve it’s original purpose or erasing all conflict through common language, everyone would need to speak it. Thus, rather than solving communication issues, Esperanto serves the function of building community amongst it’s speakers (Paul Wilson, 2019). This provides value to those who seek the language, but my personal interest in the language is in it’s utopian ideology – to be a stateless communication tool for all people on earth.
Isheloke, B.E. (2019) ‘Esperanto as an Auxiliary Language and a Possible Solution to the BRICS Language Dilemma: A Case Study’, Respectus Philologicus, (36(41)), pp. 146–157. doi:10.15388/RESPECTUS.2019.36.41.30.
In her article, Esperanto as an Auxiliary Language and a Possible Solution to the BRICS Language Dilemma: A Case Study, Byelongo Elisee Isheloke makes several arguments for the use of Esperanto as a democratic communication system.
Making Esperanto part of the Norwegian school system
Isheloke speaks for Esperanto by highlighting how the language can be mastered within one year of learning (whilst French takes five and English seven) (Isheloke, 2019). Esperanto can also be valuable in it’s ability to prepare students for further learning of foreign languages (Isheloke, 2019).
In Norway, 8th graders have to choose a third language to learn – usually French, Spanish or German. In my personal experience I’d say one hardly ever learns the language fluently due to time limitation, and I therefore wonder wether it could be beneficial to teach 8th graders Esperanto instead. Wouldn’t it be better to learn a language that one might actually master within the time one has to learn it? Making Esperanto part of the Norwegian school system could also signal how we as a country are willing to take a diplomatic stand, encouraging other countries to do the same in favour of world peace and agreement.
Reducing economical cost
Isheloke further argues that having a shared language would be cost effective, as apposed to using costly translation services (Isheloke, 2019). I personally also imagine that using a shared language would save time and increase the general quality of communication when communicating with those with different mother tongues from one’s own.
As a conclusion, Isheloke recommends that South Africa (the country in question of Isheloke’s study) should 1: “Experiment with Esperanto for a more democratic communication system between countries, and for avoiding linguistic colonisation”, and 2; “Allocate more resources on BRICS economic initiatives including Esperanto teaching and learning in the long run” (Isheloke, 2019).
In other words, Isheloke presents Esperanto as a solution to avoiding linguistic colonisation, and recommends teaching and learning it as a solution to language barrier issues.
Laporte, S. (2018) Ideal language, ISKO. Available at: https://www.isko.org/cyclo/ideal_language.htm#3.2 (Accessed: 4 April 2022).
In his article Ideal Language, Steven Laporte looks at natural, constructed and ideal languages, highlighting the benefits of an ideal language, whilst also attempting to demonstrate how such a language does not (and perhaps can not) exist.
Laporte claims that although natural universal languages such as Latin and Italian have been successful in their ability to be universally understood, this success comes down to military and cultural domination (Laporte, 2018). Further he explains how natural languages “are never neutral because they are typically laden with the cultural values of their countries of origin” (Laporte, 2018). Saying this, Laporte demonstrates the need for a non-political universal language, which is not favoured by any of the speaking parties.
An ideal language’s aim is to solve natural language issues such as ambiguity, lack of stability and lack of universal acceptance (Laporte, 2018). The latter is perhaps the most relevant for Esperanto, as for Esperanto to function as intended, every person in the world must know it.
The actual function of Esperanto might always be (as with ideal language, like Laporte suggests (Laporte, 2018)) symbolic, enhancing the idea that it must be possible to find common ground across the world’s cultures. Simply bo choosing to learn Esperanto, one is therefore performing a political (or perhaps non-political) act, expressing one’s wish to participate in neutral diplomatic communication.
Batchelor, R. (1999) The Republic of Codes. Available at: https://web.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/writingscience/Cryptography.html (Accessed: 4 April 2022).
A universal language that would work at the level of the imagination, describing the actual “things” of the external world, could only produce uniform results in the perfection of Eden or the ideal of fiction. One should, instead, stick with the institution of geometry as a method of rationalizing nature, a divine language grounded upon the cogito’s transmission of being.(Descartes, 1629)
Descartes’ quote demonstrates the bittersweet reality of constructed/ideal languages: that they can never really succeed in their aim. This becomes particularly interesting when referring to world peace, and complete global understanding. We feel the need to fight for it, but it might not ever happen – it is a utopia.
In addition to the literature mentioned above, I will be keeping an ongoing archive for research sources in Zotero.