Creativity and Variation in Esperanto
by Dr B. Ałłie Stock
When I received notification that my paper had been accepted at the upcoming Creativity and Variation in Esperanto conference in Hopesville, Montana, I was metaphorically over the moon.1 A few weeks later, having flown literally over the mountains,2 I landed at Hopesville International Aerodrome deep in the heart of the Montana Rocky Mountains with my esperoj as altaj as the mountains themselves. It was only a short train ride by the Montana State Magnetic Railway Express to Hopesville itself where green posters were hanging, green flags were flapping and ZEO3-replica memorabilia were doing whatever ZEO-replica memorabilia do.
Ek la prelegoj, samideanoj! The first plenary had creativity in the crosshairs with a rich exploration of the poetic properties of Zamenhof’s International Language. The creative potential of regular lexical stress, pervasive rhyme, and the metric affordances of the suffixes were richly exemplified with the presenter’s own poetry, which ranged from rhyming love letters to the anti-feminine suffix malin-, a series of 72 erotic verses about his wife’s big toe, and an epic rendition of ‘Zamenhof versus the Death Star’. Great stuff.
I skipped the next few presentations to browse the extensive book shop and hot dog dispensatory, eventually selecting La DikaHundo5 to chomp and ‘Meta-Ecologicality/Post-NeoZamenhovian Intersectionalities as Indexed in the Spontaneous Discourses of Three Sub-Communities of Quaker-Sympathetic Denaskuloj within the Esperantujo’ to read. I’d only managed to skim through this important tome once or twice before but having a DikaHundo to munch helped focus the mind. (You’ll know the opening sentence of course: ‘When in the course of constructing a conlang, it becomes necessary for one Polish ophthalmist to create from the natlangs which he has himself so far learnt, a new, partially a priori lexico-syntactic system, and to have it published in Russian, thereafter French, German and English, a decent respect to the creative genius of such an individual requires that linguistic programmes in universities should not entirely ignore the impact and legacy of his work.’)
Anyway, I managed to squeeze back into the auditorium for another lecture, this one on the limits of variation in L1-influenced pronunciation. “What Counts (And Doesn’t Count) as ‘Esperantic RP’ and the Contextualising Factors That (De)Legitimatise a Given Articulation” was the snappy title, although the irony of the presenter—apparently from some small market town in Yorkshire, England, called Heckthermonertonthwaite6—illustrating social variation in the allophones of /r/ in an heavily Yorkshire-accented Esperanto pronunciation was either missed or politely ignored by the audience.
And then it was my turn. Taking the stage—having chosen to leave my Zamenhof mask on the chair but sporting my five-pointed star cravat and matching jubilea simbolo finger rings—I began my presentation: “Creative Innovations to Colloquial Esperanto Expressions With a View to Establishing Authentic Social Variation in the Esperanto Speaker Community”. With both “creative” and “variation” in the title, I was sure I was on to a winner,7 but scarcely had I got past M’estas, n’estas, and K’estas ...? as informal variants of Mi estas, ne estas, kio estas ...? when a murmur of discontent began bubbling around the room. As it grew in volume and took on a tone of what might charitably called “disquiet”, I realised I wasn’t going to reach my pièce de résistance (a three-way variant of Kio estas tio? as i) K’estas tio?; ii) Kiostas tio?; and iii) K’est’io?) before violence erupted.
My suspicions—and fears—were confirmed when an elderly and apparently frail gentleman rose to his feet and bellowed in a voice that silenced the rest of the room: Tio kontraŭdiras la Fundamenton! The silence lasted only for a moment, however, as a stampede of angry Esperantists pushed themselves towards the stage screaming things about neo-idism and Couturatian sacrilege. This was a case of “Ho, ve! Let’s run away.” And away I ran, out into the night, back onto the Montana State Magnetic Railway Express, and straight out from Hopesville back home.
I did try to revive my idea briefly online with a webpage entitled K’estas Zam’hofa ’Spranto? but it was brought down by a group calling itself Zamonymous. So much for creativity and variation in the Esperanto community; tlhIngan Hol Dajatlhʼaʼ, anyone?
1 Being also metaphorically over the hill and, since my divorce, not yet over it, the only thing I think I can claim to literally be over is weight.
2 OK, so that’s two things I’m literally over.
3 Not the original name of Neo from The Matrix but the eye-catching, cool and almost universally4 recognisable abbreviation for ‘Zamenhof-Esperanto Object’.
4 Within (some parts of) the Esperanto community.
5 The FatDog, beloved of Esperantists and not to be confused with SnoopDogg or Fatboy Slim.
6 Apparently this is the neighbouring village to Wickwick (pronounced ‘week’), a geographicism which the presenter seemed to assume would help somehow.
7 I’d had high hopes of being crowned prelegistuleg(in)o of the event in fact.