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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Whatever Happened to Esperanto?   

Some of us are old enough to remember that, before the end of the last century, there seemed to be momentum from supporters of Esperanto, promoting it as a universal language for our world.  Conceptually, this still sounds like a laudable goal.

Deservedly or not, nowadays one seldom (if ever) hears stories about it having impact.

Let’s consider Esperanto’s linguistic context.  It may be surprising for some to learn how old this artificial language is.

According to on-line information, it was first presented in 1887 by its creator, Polish physician Ludwig Zamenhoff.  ‘Esperanto’ was a pseudonym he used for his first textbook.  Approximately 70% of the vocabulary came from Romance languages.  Notably, the initial impact of English on its vocabulary was in the range of 10%.

Its grammar has limited rules for nouns and verbs, with a simple connection between written and spoken text; together, these patterns would expect to make it easier to learn than a natural language (although how easy, clearly, depends on which one).

Thousands of written works, original and translated, have been published in Esperanto, which itself means “a hopeful person”.

Yet, after more than 125 years, there are guesstimated to be only about 1,000 ‘native speakers’; about 2 million use it worldwide as a ‘second’ language, the most widely spoken ‘constructed’ one – in over 100 countries, mainly in Europe, east Asia, and South America.  Thus, we seldom hear it in public places and gatherings in North America.  (Even if we did hear, what’s the likelihood we’d know what it was?)

Complicating its status is the issue of currently three ‘tendencies’ in the Esperanto movement:  a conservative group, which advocates sticking to the original version of the language; a progressive group, which is trying to adapt the language to give it wider use, in part by making it more like English; and a group of scientists wanting to stay separate while using the language ‘for pragmatic reasons’.

Another divisive element for this attempted unifier is that Esperanto has been partly fragmenting into smaller competing versions or dialects.

For now at least, major perceived pros and cons of Esperanto include:

  • Standardized pronunciation, but some words difficult to pronounce
  • Standardized grammar, but difficult for some linguistic cultures due to significant European influence
  • Easier for Europeans and English speakers, but can be affected by regional accents
  • Not tied to any one or two countries, but few people to speak with
  • Can facilitate international understanding, and help learn other languages, but is not an official language anywhere

Illustrating what represents, in fact, a decline in big picture interest is that there are fewer periodicals published in this language and fewer attendees at annual gatherings.

Esperanto can’t even claim to be the only notable constructed language.  Others have appeared, particularly ‘Interlingua’ and ‘Lojban’.  Then there’s the semi-real version ‘Klingon’, which, as anyone attending a Comicon (or familiar with a certain episode of Frasier) knows, has its adherents.

On the solar side, a message in Esperanto was included in at least one of the Golden Records in Voyager spacecraft sent out to extraterrestrials in 1977.  No response yet, at least as far as the public knows.

If we take interactions as shown on TV or in films as any indication, English seems to be popular with alien civilizations, somehow, as well.

At this time, the fact is that English is the nearest we have to a universal language. Despite the many examples of its importance on our planet, ranging from business to sports to politics, etc., this does seem surprising in a glaring respect: English is a truly difficult language for the uninitiated to grasp (and even for some of us born to it!), due to there being seemingly more exceptions to than rules of grammar, and tangential variations of meanings.  For instance, how many versions of slips can there be on a slippery slope?  Perhaps another challenge is lack of purity due to the endless looping in of expressions from other languages.

While in all corners of the world versions of English are spoken, this definitely does not apply to Esperanto, or its alternatives.  Perhaps the lesson is that there have been and continue to be limits to the acceptance of constructed communication.  Perhaps no language, constructed or otherwise, can be considered a one-of-a-kind beacon for human unity.  For now, happily for those of us immersed in its idioms, English is integral as a functional unifying force of international contact.

Unless something dramatically changes, Esperanto, it’s too bad, we hardly knew you.


Life Lessons from THE GOOD FIGHT

Now in its second season, TV series THE GOOD FIGHT, a spin-off from the seven years’ run of THE GOOD WIFE, seems to be firmly grounded in being topical and controversial.  Moreover, the controversy angle has explored more rarefied plateaus, with numerous references to the twists and stumbles, and worse, of the current U.S. administration.

Its opening title sequence, for many series, increasingly has become an art form, and this one certainly fits the bill.

In the ‘old days’ of limited channels and media, TV universe options for the openings would likely feature a jingle-type theme song, with action shots or close-ups of its stars.  Production values were perfunctory, often incorporating episode clips.

Nowadays, the inclusion of digital technology to optics and music score in the opening theme and titles has meant an ever-widening tangent of variations, quick cuts, and massaged effects.  Sometimes these intros loosely define the concept, sometimes they knead it by adding potent imagery, pieces of the thematic puzzle.

THE GOOD FIGHT, especially in season two, emphasizes more of the latter.

The opening music and titles appear after brief or elongated (this has become the approach of numerous shows) initial scenes, or to lead off the episode.  The sequence conveys the premise of confronting power and the legal system: along with a catchy musical score, the tile sequence both seasons has presented images of fancy lamps, wine bottles, computers, law books, etc., being crushed unceremoniously, against stark backgrounds.  Reflective of its more biting political commentary, season two explodes images of Russian President Putin and U.S. President (for now) Trump, in typically self-inflated portraits, modern day pieces of destruction, before the muted ending fades in.  An approach which both whets your appetite and makes you realize that the show producers are not kidding around with subtlety.

The basic premise in season one originally took a few characters from almost lily-white surroundings of the Chicago law firm in THE GOOD WIFE, and shifted them to a, heretofore all-black, similar if not even more crusading Chicago law firm.  Further, THE GOOD FIGHT takes on the current issue, ethical consciousness of the first show, broadening this to become even more up-to-date (paralleling life in these obsessively immediate, social media times) and confrontational.   It is full of illustrations for reflection on clashes between monetizing conflict and weighing ethical behaviour, so relevant in these highly politicized times.

There are underlying lessons which may be applicable to our lives…

  • While art may be in the eye of the beholder, so may be its destruction be art
  • Retirement as a state of mind might have to suffice for the real thing awhile
  • ‘Good’ is a four-letter word
  • The more valuable information is, the less it can be depended upon
  • Those large offices and chairs contribute to either expanded thinking or less overt avoiding
  • Everyone has an agenda, whether they write anything in it or not
  • The interracial aspect of a relationship adds another unpredictable dimension of flies in the ointment
  • Years of filtering double-talk gives slick professionals a jumping point for adjusting moral behaviour
  • Respect for institutions not only has to be earned, there also needs to be a cloak of humanity
  • Personalities count in the courtroom

One wonders what would happen if the premise was The Bad Fight

What’s in Their Mindset We Can Mine?

It’s worthwhile periodically to consider what it is that makes some of us so much more successful than others, in certain occupations or other pursuits.

This doesn’t mean we should look to copy what they do.  It doesn’t mean we should be envious.  It does mean we should emulate the positive and practical of their drive, their manner, and their goal-setting.  What is it, in manifestations of their mindsets, we could use to better ourselves and the value of our actions? (more…)

Weather Forecasting Axioms

Weather forecasting is relatively easy in some parts of the world because changes are so limited or slow to form: deserts for example, where wind changes are the greatest variable.  In other places, forecasting takes advantage of regularity: tropical rain forests for example, where predicting rain is like predicting daylight. (more…)

Minting More Customers

A post nearly two years ago provided my observations about perhaps the most popular of ‘atypical assets’, namely collectible coins. Here’s a revisit of that commentary, with some updated points.

The Royal Canadian Mint has become much more than a creator and distributor of Canadian daily coinage. In addition to special orders for foreign governments, transit authorities, etc., it has expanded offerings to the world of coin collectors and investors, in Canada and beyond. (more…)

Life Lessons from the Winter Olympics

We’ve just had the latest round of the Olympic Winter Games play out in Korea in the latter part of February.

Some nations, particularly the three highest medal count countries – namely, Norway, Germany, and Canada – found relative success after their long journeys to southeast Asia. Other countries didn’t have their usually expected triumphs (U.S.A.), and one wasn’t even able to compete under its national flag (Russia) – so, bigger is not always better. (more…)

What is ‘Independent Advice’?

An article in the current edition of The Insurance & Investment Journal raises the age-old conundrum of receiving ‘independent advice’. It should be noted that the report is in support of the idea.

Why has this been such a prevailing issue, frequently a hot topic of reportage? (more…)