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A conversation with Diana Weichert

Diana Weichert teaches Esperanto at Garfield'sThomas Merton Center and maintains the 'Esperanto Society of Pittsburgh, PA,(or Pitsburgo, Pensilvanio) site on the Tut Ter Teksajko at http://www.shs-institut.de/esperanto


When you speak Esperanto it sounds like you have an Italian accent.
The basis of Esperanto is Latin -- Romance languages. Seventy-five percent of Esperanto is Latin-derived -- that's why a lot of Latin teachers like Esperanto. Twenty percent [of the words] are English and German [derived] and five percent are just [from] different languages -- Greek and also Slavic languages. What I personally like about Esperanto is how fast you can learn it. If you learn 750 words in Esperanto, you can read the same text for which you would need 2,200 words in any other language.
Don't you lose subtlety?
No, no, no. For example, mal- means direct opposite. So you don't have a special word for little, but you have un-big: malgranda. Malbele is ugly. Malbona is bad. It's a word-building-blocks language. It still gives you the same nuances.
Un-big sounds a lot like 1984's "double-plus un-good."
What Zamenhof tried to do is minimize the amount of learning before you're able to express yourself. The main objective is for you to be able to speak without thinking of grammar. Everything is very logical -- there are no irregular verbs. It's go, goed in Esperanto.
But don't you miss the many variants of good and bad, big and little?
You have -eta, which means tiny. Varmeta means lukewarm, but literally it means tiny-warm. Monto is a mountain; monteto is a hill.
Is it hard to unlearn English rules?
In other languages you cannot translate literally. In Esperanto, it's much easier to do that, because the word order is free. You can say what you want in English with Esperanto words and people will understand, as long as you don't use idioms.
Does Esperanto attract a certain type of person?
Sometimes very idealistic people will think they can make a change by learning it or [those] who get involved in international understanding, cultural exchange across borders. And a lot of linguists -- people who are interested in how a language made by a man can work. A lot of computer people are interested. OCR [optical character reader] programs are complicated, but in Esperanto you have one sound and one letter, so the OCR can recognize anything.
Is it practical?
Europe needs a language. A third of all the costs of the European Union is translation. And in 2007, all the Eastern European countries will be added. The French and the Germans are trying to get Esperanto as a cross-translation path. The British & are interested that English become the language.
But it's been banned from certain countries, including Iraq most recently.
It was forbidden in Japan for 20 years. It was forbidden in Russia. Nazi Germany forbid Esperanto activity, and towards the end they even killed Esperanto speakers. You can't be nationalistic and internationalistic at the same time.
Plus it can seem like a secret code. It sometimes sounds like the polyglot Euro-gibberish in The Beatles' "Sun King" -- or like IKEA product names.
There is a word in Esperanto, gavialo, for speaking Esperanto so other people don't understand you.
What's it going to take for Esperanto to catch on big time?
If ... Hollywood can make a film about the history of Esperanto.
I was thinking a Hollywood action film. Or maybe if Christina Aguilera or 50 Cent did something.You're right. A guy in France said if Madonna would sing a song that would work. But I don't know how to get hold of these people. It's a pity Esperanto doesn't appeal to PR agents.

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