Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

First Esperanto Meeting

I went to a meeting of the Hamburg Esperanto Society on Thursday: my first Esperanto meeting.

It took place in a kind of café. When I came in, there were two groups of people each sitting at separate tables; I stood in the middle, unsure of what to do.

Then I heard an Esperanto word or two from one of the groups and headed over there. I was greeted with a “Saluton!” which confirmed my guess that this was the Esperanto group.

The meeting itself had not yet started; this was a kind of conversation round for practising the language. So a few more people arrived in the next half an hour until the meeting itself started.

I hadn’t known in advance what to expect, but I was surprised by several things: the fact that almost all conversation was in Esperanto (rather than merely about Esperanto; compare a typical qepHom, for example); the fact that many of the speakers were older; and how many showed up.

I was expecting it to be mostly younger people, but there were several there who must be in their 70’s or 80’s, speaking Esperanto! And even those who were relative beginners seemed to be able to hold their own fairly well. The most experienced speakers present had been speaking for well over thirty years, by contrast.

By the time the meeting started (for which we went up into an upstairs clubroom—and I later saw that there were signs in strategic places pointing that way, so I would have been able to follow those had I arrived later), were were 15; and from conversation with the others, I learned that that was a fairly typical number of attendants for their weekly meeting. There was one guest besides me; an Esperanto speaker from Frankfurt who was in Hamburg on business this week and decided to drop in on the local group meeting.

People were rather surprised when I told them that was only my second occasion actually speaking Esperanto. (Though even if you widen this to “producing Esperanto”, I hadn’t had that much occasion; most of my exposure to Esperanto had been purely passive.) And that I had had no formal (third-party, non-autodidactic) instruction.

I also talked to a Dominik who told me about a site called Tatoeba, where there was someone whose name he had forgotten but whose username was Vortarulo. It seems that n_true is famous :)

The presentation itself was about “Common errors in Germans’ Esperanto”.

Much of it was focussed on pronunciation, some on transitivity.

For example, the unvoiced stops /p t k/ were presented as being unaspirated, rather than aspirated as in German (the presenter said that English speakers tend to aspirate them even more than Germans), and the presenter cautioned about always pronouncing /r/ (rather than turning it into a semivowel as in many varieties of German).

The presenter also placed much emphasis on the principle “one letter, one sound”, not only with regard to /n/ (saying that, for example, dankon should have [n] and not [ŋ] in the middle) but also with regard to vowels. For example, mi and min should have the same vowel sound (rather than being [mi] and [mɪn], for example), and /e/ and /o/ should be midway between high or low: in between German /e/ and /ɛ/ or /o/ and /ɔ/, respectively.

On the other hand, given that the presenter himself (when not paying attention) used pronunciations such as [gz] in for /kz/ in ekzisti made me less worried about my exact pronunciation :) And for that matter, I thought that the velarisation (which the slides called “nasalisation”…) of /n/ to [ŋ] before /k g/ was accepted in “international Esperanto”.

One user (the one with the more than thirty years’ experience speaking the language) also questioned the origin of those prescriptive judgments on pronunciation. Who, she said, decides what a “proper” “international” (or, perhaps better, “anational”) pronunciation is? Someone else said that Zamenhof himself had prescribed the pronunciations of the various sounds and had even had phonograph recordings made and distributing which exemplified the correct pronunciation.

That’s the first time I had heard of that; I wonder whether it’s possible to (obtain and) listen to such a normative recording these days.

Anyway, it was an interesting meeting, and I intend to go back next week, when Dominik will talk about his experience at SES in Nitra 2011 (to help me decide whether to try to attend this year’s SES there).

I probably won’t be attending every week’s meeting, though, nor am I sure yet whether to become an official (fee-paying) member of the society. (They did say that guests were always welcome to their meetings, too.) I guess I’ll have to see whether this is “just a phase” for me or not, and if so, how long the phase will be :)

Tags: esperanto
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