Esperanto and Interlingua compared

Esperanto and Interlingua compared

Esperanto and Interlingua are two planned languages which have taken radically different approaches to the problem of providing an International auxiliary language (IAL).

Although they are both classed as IALs, the intellectual bases of Esperanto and Interlingua are quite different. It has been argued that each language is a successful implementation of a particular IAL model. However, in both language communities there is a polemical tradition of using external criteria to critique the perceived opponent language (that is, judging Interlingua by Esperantic criteria and "vice versa"). In practical use, moreover, language usage in the two communities has sometimes shown convergences despite divergent theory.

Intellectual background

One cannot ascribe a single outlook to all Esperantists or all Interlinguists; however, the contrasting views of L. L. Zamenhof and Alexander Gode remain influential among Esperantists and Interlinguists, respectively. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, was motivated by several strands of nineteenth-century idealism, ranging from Comtean positivism to utopian internationalism. Esperanto, in his view, was a theoretically neutral instrument for communication, which could serve as a vehicle for idealistic values, initially Zamenhof's philosophy of "homaranismo", later the "interna ideo" (internal idea) of achieving "fraternity and justice among all people" (Zamenhof) through the adoption of Esperanto. Among later Esperantists, this philosophy has tended to reinforce a set of propositions about the language:

* Esperanto's European character is purely accidental; however some features of Esperanto (and of some western languages) can be found in non-Western ones
* Esperanto is, ideally, the universal second language, replacing all other languages in inter-ethnic communication; pro-Esperanto arguments tend to assume a future situation of widespread Esperanto use in many situations where English is currently dominant
* The "fina venko" (final victory) of Esperanto, remains a strong tendency, besides the Raŭmismo ideology that considers the "final victory" a too remote goal
* Esperanto is a vehicle for a specific internationalist and humanitarian ideology
* Cultivation of an internal Esperanto culture is an important value for many Esperantists.

By the mid-twentieth century, when Gode led the development of Interlingua, the ideals underlying Esperanto had come to seem naive. Influenced by Herder, Gode propounded a Romantic, anti-positivist view of language: languages are an aspect of the culture of a people, not an instrument to achieve a goal; an ideology cannot be attached to a language, except artificially. This implied, in his view, that a world language on the Esperanto model was either impossible or, worse, achievable only through totalitarian coercion. He was of the opinion that, unless imposed by force, a universal global language would presuppose a universal global culture, which does not currently exist and is not necessarily desirable.

On the other hand, Gode saw another sort of international language -- non-universal and non-culturally neutral -- as being entirely possible.

Learnability versus comprehensibility

Speakers of Interlingua argue that, although Esperantists can communicate with other Esperantists, Interlingua is suitable to communicate with many more people than only speakers of Interlingua itself. For example, about 600,000,000 people speak a Romance language, and the English language adds a great many more speakers. In addition, people who are familiar with the international vocabulary live in virtually every country.

Speakers of Esperanto counter that, while Interlingua is easy to understand for these populations, it is less easy to learn to write or speak, especially for those who are unfamiliar with its vocabulary. Interlingua's grammar, they contend, is less regular than that of Esperanto. Some verbs retain Latin double stems, and three commonly used verbs have optional short forms: "es" ('is', 'am', 'are'), "ha" ('has', 'have'), and "va" ('go', 'goes'). The number of root words used in everyday conversation is larger, because Interlingua makes less use of regular affixes.

Interlingua speakers respond that, while these differences exist, they are slight. Both languages have a highly regular grammar and a system of word-building with a limited number of affixes. In addition, the grammar of Interlingua is greatly simplified, because grammatical features that are absent from a single control language are absent from Interlingua as well. By contrast, the grammar of Esperanto has complexities such as noun-adjective agreement by number and case. Esperanto also has a system of "correlatives" that appear frequently and are difficult to distinguish from one another. To many Interlingua speakers, then, it is not at all clear that Esperanto is the easier language to learn.

The following table illustrates the Esperantists' perspective:

Esperantists acknowledge that, to the reader who speaks English or a Romance language, only the Interlingua column is recognizable. However, some Esperantists assert that the words in this column appear only in these languages, or only in Western languages. If this is true, then the speakers of other languages must learn the Interlingua column in the same way as the Esperanto column: traditionally, without the benefit of immediate comprehension.

The argument for Esperanto then runs as follows. These other speakers would find the left column easier to learn. This is because it uses a single root, "san-," with the same derivations that are applied to other Esperanto roots. Not only do the related concepts of health and illness use the same root, but they are derived in the same way from the adjectives 'well' and 'sick': "sana" → "malsana," "sana" → "sano," "malsana" → "malsano." Assuming these derivations are known from other words, only the root "san-" needs to be learned. However, the Interlingua terms for health and illness are not related, and are derived with different suffixes from 'well' and 'sick': "san" and "malade," "san" → "sanitate," "malade" → "maladia". While "maladitate" may be used, most Interlingua speakers prefer "maladia".

In practice, Interlingua and Esperanto words are rarely as different as in this example. Additionally, the logical construction presented above depends on Interlingua's having a limited international range. In fact, the vocabulary of Interlingua is selected using a "prototype" system that maximizes the internationality of each word, even beyond the Western languages. Thus, it may be premature to assume that the words in the middle column above appear only in, for example, English and the Romance languages.

In reality, these terms appear in a wide variety of Western and Eastern languages. Interlingua "hospital", for example, appears in Celtic languages such as Irish, Scottish, Manx, and Breton; Germanic languages such as German, Dutch, and Afrikaans; Slavic languages such as Ukrainian and Polish; Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali; Altaic languages such as Mongolian, Turkmen, and Azerbaijani; Austronesian languages such as Indonesian, Tagalog, Tetum, and Chamorro; African languages such as Swahili, Kongo, and Setswana; and creoles and linguistically isolated languages such as Papiamento, Albanian, Mapunzugun, and Basque, in addition to English and probably all Romance languages. [] [] []

The Interlingua word "hospital" is not found in all languages. For example, Finnish uses "sairaala" or "klinikka", Arabic has مستشفى ("mustášfa"), Hebrew has בית-חולים ("beit cholim"), Vietnamese has "bệnh viện" or "nhà thương", Hungarian has "kórház", and the Turkish "hastane" is equivocal. Moreover, several of these languages are cited by Esperanto proponents as being similar to their language (although none of them are Indo-European). For speakers of these languages, the Esperanto word may be easier to learn than the Interlingua word.

Most of these words are not derived like "malsanulejo". For example, the Finnish is taken from "sairas" or sick, rather than 'not' and 'healthy'. Similarly, the Hungarian is formed from "kór" 'disease' and "ház" 'house', and the Vietnamese "bệnh viện" is formed along the lines of 'abnormality' and 'institution' or 'home for outcasts'. The Hebrew is more similar, literally meaning 'house of the sick', with the main difference being that Hebrew uses a separate root for sick instead of a derivation of the word for healthy. None of the languages form 'sick' from morphemes for 'not' and 'healthy', and none derive a word for hospital from a root and a lengthy set of affixes, especially the Romance root and affixes used in Esperanto. Proponents of Esperanto, however, might argue that the principle of the formation is easily clarified to anyone, even if they have not seen it before, and that it provides a mental hook to remember the word, which a separate morpheme does not.

Differences between Interlingua words reflect differences in their meanings. Eating too much junk food may cause one to be unhealthy, but that is not necessarily equivalent to being ill. The two Interlingua roots reflect this difference. By contrast, the Esperanto compound "mal-san-ul-ej-o", or 'un-healthy-person-place-noun', implies a place for people who are unhealthy. In most countries, a hospital is actually a place where sick and injured people are treated. Thus, Interlingua expresses a distinct meaning through a different wordform. This principle – that a difference in meaning implies a difference in form – avoids confusion and adds to ease of learning. For its part, Esperanto distinguishes between "malsana", meaning 'sick' or 'unhealthy', and "nesana" - 'not-healthy'. Thus, Esperanto is capable of expressing distinct meanings as well.(When speaking of the "mal-" prefix in Esperanto it should be also understood that it does not simply negate the meaning of a given word. Instead of a simple 'not-', the prefix "mal-" is used to express an exact opposition of a given word, e.g. "bona" - 'good', "malbona" - 'bad' (not "not-good" (which is expressed by "nebona")).)

Esperanto has a large number of synonyms, especially for newer words. Words for spam, for example, include "spamo, spamaĵo, spammesaĝo, trudata reklamo, trudletero", and "trudaĵo" [] . Interlingua simply uses "spam". One may think that it could be a challenge to guess which roots and affixes will be used, and how. But all these forms can be used, and immediately understood by any fluent Esperanto speaker, and thus that the additional expressiveness does not require additional memorization. In esperanto one doesn't have to learn which words don't exist in the language, as it has an regular and powerful system of word derivation. So everyone can use the first word that comes to mind, and that will be the right word.

Still, some Esperanto speakers contend that more words must be memorized in Interlingua. So Interlingua words are recognizable from their widespread occurrence in many languages, whereas Esperanto words are recognizable from their regular derivation from a small number of roots.

Neutrality of vocabulary

The vocabulary of both languages is taken largely from Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages, and most words are derived from Latin. Depending on their international form, Germanic and Slavic words in Interlingua may be "Latinized", for example, English "blockade", German "Blockade", Russian "блокада" → Interlingua "blocada". By comparison, all words in Esperanto take on a characteristic Esperanto form. In this case, the Interlingua "blocada" and the Esperanto "blokado" are nearly identical and about equally neutral.

Alexander Gode, who was influential in the development of Interlingua, desired in part to preserve the international scientific vocabulary which was chiefly of Greek and Latin origin. Conversely, he also allowed into Interlingua words from any language, as long as they were international in scope.

Both Esperanto and Interlingua have loanwords, which also may be taken from any language. Interlingua has Japanese "geisha", Arabic "sheik", Inuit "kayak". In Esperanto, these words are pronounced more or less as in English but are written "gejŝo", "ŝejko", "kajako". As noted above, Interlingua uses a "prototype" technique to establish the form of a word. This technique maximizes the international range of a word, giving it the greatest possible neutrality. Thus, the Interlingua forms above appear in the widest possible range of languages.

The " objective of the primary desire " was impossible with so many roots. In the end, an Interlingua text was not comprehensible in its entirety for others than people familiar with a Romance language, educated Germanic speakers, and others familiar with the international vocabulary. []

Neutrality of grammar

Both languages are generally considered to use Indo-European derived grammars, but Esperantists would claim greater neutrality due to its method of word formation (see below).

Neutrality of word formation

Interlingua forms its vocabulary based on a "consensus" between the control languages French, Italian, Spanish/Portuguese, English, German, and Russian words for the same concept. While Esperanto draws on the same roots, it includes additional German and Slavic roots. The chief difference in word origins, however, is that Interlingua uses its control languages only as a means to select the most widely international words.

Both languages form new words through agglutination. This method of word construction allows for a larger vocabulary, using fewer root words. For some words, Esperanto uses more extensive agglutination than Interlingua. As an example, take the Esperanto word for hospital: mal·san·ul·ej·o which breaks down into smaller root words, mal (opposite), san (health), ul (person), ej (place), o (noun): thus, a place for a person with the opposite of health. Interlingua avoids this word, because its meaning is unclear.

By and large, Interlingua and Esperanto are very similar with respect to agglutination. They use it widely in word formation – because they are highly regular languages – but in little else. Even the amount of agglutination is about the same in comparison with the vast difference between extremely isolating languages, such as Chinese and Tahitian, and extremely agglutinative ones, such as Finnish and many Native American languages. Interlingua and Esperanto do differ in precisely how agglutinations occur. For example, Interlingua adds tense endings to the indicative form of a verb ("dona" → "donar", 'to give'), while Esperanto adds them to the stem ("don" → "doni").


The orthography of Esperanto is inspired by that of the Roman-alphabet Slavic languages, and is completely phonemic (one sound, one letter). Interlingua, by contrast uses an orthography established by its Romance, Germanic, and Slavic source languages. Thus, the orthography of Interlingua is much more broad-based than that of Esperanto. The procedure used sometimes favored English and the Romance languages, however, resulting in a little less phonemicity and a little more familiarity to speakers of those languages.

For example, the Esperanto "kontakto" and the Interlingua "contacto" mean the same thing and are pronounced the same, but are written differently, because the orthography of Esperanto is simpler: one sound, one letter. Interlingua occasionally departs from this rule, chiefly because the letters "c" and "g" have hard and soft sounds. Such details make Interlingua more difficult to learn and speak for people who are unfamiliar with English and the Romance languages, but at the same time easier to read and understand for speakers of Romance or Romance-influenced languages: the letters show the history of the Romance influence. The difference, however, is minimal.


Supporters of Interlingua note that their language not only conserves the natural aspect of Western languages, but also their rich, subtle treasury of meanings. Interlingua flows regularly from its Romance, Germanic, and Slavic source languages, and thus it possesses their expressiveness.

Esperanto supporters contend that, by its liberal use of affixes and its flexible word-order, is equally as expressive as Interlingua or indeed any natural language, but is more internationally neutral. While acknowledging that Esperanto is a product of rational construction, not historical evolution, they argue that, after the prolonged usage of more than 100 years, it too has become a living human language.

Number of speakers

Many Esperanto speakers assert that their language is the only constructed language during the last century to have more than some thousands of speakers. Only one other constructed language possibly passed this mark: Volapük, which allegedly had 200,000 speakers in 1890. Although no census has ever been undertaken, Esperanto speakers frequently place their numbers at somewhere between 100,000 to 3 million speakers.

Most Interlingua speakers consider any estimate of a million or more for Esperanto to be an exaggeration, and several have suggested that the actual number amounts to several thousand. If it is more than a million, the number of Interlingua speakers is certainly smaller, although people able to understand Interlingua may be numbered in the hundreds of millions.

Sample texts

= English =

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
But deliver us from evil...


Nostre Patre, qui es in le celos,
que tu nomine sia sanctificate;
que tu regno veni;
que tu voluntate sia facite
super le terra como etiam in le celos.
Da nos hodie nostre pan quotidian,
e pardona a nos nostre debitas
como nos pardona a nostre debitores,
e non duce nos in tentation,
sed libera nos del mal.


Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo,
via nomo estu sanktigita.
Venu via regno,
plenumiĝu via volo,
kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.
Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,
kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoj.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,
sed liberigu nin de la malbono.

ee also

*Esperanto and Ido compared
*Esperanto and Novial compared
*Ido and Interlingua compared

External links

* [ Official site of Universala Esperanto-Asocio (UEA)]
* [ Official site of Union Mundial pro Interlingua]

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