Book Review: Kulturo Kaj Internacia Lingvo

Kulturo Kaj Internacia Lingvo, by William Auld

As part of my ongoing series on obscure books about Esperanto [1], I decided to look at a book about language and culture that happened to be written in Esperanto.  As one might imagine, this was a bit more difficult to read than most of my books are because Esperanto is about my third or fourth best language (somewhere a bit below Spanish and around the level of Italian).  At any rate, this book was about an issue that I find of considerable importance, and that is the relationship between language and culture.  Being someone who disagrees with beliefs about particular practices being innate in different groups of people, as well as those who believe that linguistic cultures are necessarily unjust in their nature, I was pleased to see this book take a path that seeks to demonstrate that there is a genuine Esperanto culture, a culture that people choose by learning the language and becoming familiar with  its features, and that the culture is itself chosen by people through self-selection and is not enforced on others with coercion.  The author chose a somewhat difficult perspective to defend, and did so in a way that demonstrates its truth through itself being an example of a genuine and appealing linguistic culture.

In this short book of about 120 pages or so, William Auld defends the legitimacy of Esperanto culture in a direct and straightforward way.  He begins by mentioning a quote from Louis de Beaufront that says that Esperanto is nothing more than a language, and then proceeds to refute the statement in a deep and thorough manner.  The book contains chapters on traditional culture, the culture of Esperanto, the relationship between language and culture, the distinction between culture and that which is established by force, the role of humor in Esperanto literature, the miracle of the peacefulness and genuine diversity of the UEA, the relationship between the internal idea of Esperanto and its external relations with nations and supranational organizations, the variability of word order in Esperanto, translation as the most difficult art, and the role of aesthetics in linguistics.  Obviously, a reader who is more proficient with the language would be able to get more out of this book than I did, but it was a thoughtful book full of humorous wordplay and even some examples of how different translators tackled passages of Shakespeare and some examples of poetry to translate into Esperanto.  In being such a thoughtful example of a cultured aesthetic style, the content and style of the book itself serve to bolster the author’s claims of Esperanto as an acceptable and even immensely beautiful medium for the creation and transmission of culture.

There is a great deal of political hostility relating to the subject of language education.  In the eyes of some, requiring or even strongly encouraging the learning of languages is itself a sign of some sort of cultural imperialism.  And yet the knowledge of languages is a sort of power.  Those who know languages that are immensely difficult and that few people can learn well (like Chinese) have a strength in being able to keep much of what they say secret, but the difficulty of learning such languages makes it hard for those languages to become hegemonic.  There is thus an inverse relationship between a language’s role in keeping knowledge private and a language’s role in helping communication between people.  Yet a culture is not dependent on territory or physical boundaries, but rather the shared knowledge and perspective of people, and Esperanto certainly has a shared knowledge base in its language, certain characteristic features that aid to its distinctive quirkiness in being easy to learn and immensely flexible in its word order as well as its agglutinative nature where roots can be easily combined with other roots along with various affixes to create an astonishing and beautiful vocabulary out of a small set of core roots.  This book itself demonstrates a strong knowledge of the culture of language and how in choosing the languages we speak and learn we can choose what sort of culture we represent as well.  This is something well worth celebrating, and anyone who can read this book and understand would likely appreciate this volume and the author’s approach in writing it.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Kulturo Kaj Internacia Lingvo

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