El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

Simplified Spanglish; Donde es Doktoro Esperanto?

with 7 comments

Hey, how about that Esperanto? And no, I’m not talking about a first baseman from the Dodgers, or the latest coffee concoction from Starbucks (although it sounds like it might taste good), but that attempt at creating an international language, by Pole Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof (1859-1917). He first published his work in 1887 using the pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto” (‘Doctor Hopeful’). “Doktoro Esperanto”, what a great pen name, sounds kind of like some guy that el Santo el Emascarado del Plata might run into in the lucha libre ring.                                                           https://i0.wp.com/curiousexpeditions.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/639229040_19d841fb0a.jpg

Zamenhof began working on his idea as a teenager. Living in eastern Europe he had  variety in his language background. Russian was used in his home. Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew were used in the community. French, German, English, Greek and Latin were taught in the schools.

In his later life he proposed a world religion. He called it Homaranismo, which means “member of the human race”. This guy was full of good intentions, as his religion was predicated on peace, tolerance, and the unity of peoples. Not a bad place to start!

Fortunately I don’t have any such lofty goals, (even though I agree with him in principle), I am more interested in the practical side of language, and particularly as it affects actual speakers in regions on both sides of the US/Mexican border.

The fact is a form of simplified English is already being used throughout the south-western United States. I recognize that the phenomonen known as ‘Spanglish’ is different, but I am using a form of simplified Spanish here in Mexico. I mean, honestly, I’m sure I sound like some kind of a Mexican hillbilly; my verb tenses are seldom right, correct pronoun usage? forget about it, pronunciation? it can be a real challenge (let’s not talk about the trilled ‘r’), my working vocabulary is always getting better, (there are enough words that are close cognates, that sometimes you can guess at the words and be close enough, just beware that if you tell someone that you are embarazado, you are not telling them that you are ’embarrassed’ but that you are ‘pregnant’), but if no one can understand what you are saying it often just makes things worse!

I can talk with any cab driver. I can get what I need at stores and restaurants (although in a recent quest to buy a heating pad, everyone kept trying to sell me a portable room heater; and if you ever want to order pan con ajo, garlic bread, don’t make the mistake of asking for pan conejo, rabbit bread, which, fortunately for me, apparently doesn’t exist). Of course, realistically, all you need to tell a cab driver is a destination. I can use the menu to point at what I want at a restaurant or use a sample, a picture, or the time-tested process-of-elimination at most stores.

But to talk in Spanish about philosophy or music, film or books, politics or science, even a good joke? Nearly impossible, unless the other person speaks some English, you have a good dictionary handy, and plenty of time to work through an, often, laborious process of translation, explanation and comprehension (and, many times, things need to be explained again to be really understood). It’s worth the effort to share someone elses perspective and is a good language exercise but in the “real” world the circumstances don’t always happen that often. I talked with the manager of a big-box retailer here and he said the main thing they taught him in English courses at the university was to carry a dictionary with him at all times.

So in the “real” world, employers need to talk with their workers, employees need to talk to each other, residents need to talk to government offices, parents need to talk with teachers and school officials need to talk to the community. My point is all of this talking is going on anyway, regardless of what, or how much, is actually communicated, so why not find a way to make Spanish and English more alike? Set some rules that would make a combined language easier to learn and use. Well, based on the less than universal interest in Esperanto, there are lots of reasons why it may be difficult (please see post entitled ‘Artificial Languages; Is There an Ideal Balance?’, with samples of five artificial languages).

However, I believe that combining elements of Spanish and English, especially in those parts of our two countries where both languages are in common usage, would be much less of a challenge than creating and promoting a world-wide artificial language. It would be more of a case of modifying two natural languages. And that process has been going on informally for generations, even before the Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho, began ending their TV series with a hearty “Adios Amigos” back in the 1950’s. I don’t have any problem replacing the English phrase: “Goodbye Friends” with “adios amigos”, in fact, I kind of like the alliteration! But I would, for example, be happy to eliminate the genders for nouns in Spanish, I can think of no good reason why a television needs to be considered a female noun. (I suppose, anthropologically speaking, the remote for that same television could be considered a male noun.)

Could broader changes be accomplished? I don’t know. But some of the grammatical rules of Esperanto could be used as a guideline. For example, in Esperanto, la is the only article, numerals do not change their form, verbs have the same ending throughout a tense form, there are no silent letters, only one negative is allowed in a clause, etc. And the artificial language known as Interlingua is even closer to a blend of Spanish and English. (Please see a sample at ‘Artificial Languages; Is There an Ideal Balance?).

Popular usage along the border has already begun the process informally. There is nothing sacred about a native language. Two-hundred and fifty years ago German was being proposed as the national language for the newly-created United States, mien liebchen.

There is, of course, historical precedent in the US for immigrants adopting English as their language. But the scenario usually follows a pattern similar to what happened in my family. My immigrant grandparents struggled with English in their new environment, but my mother and uncles and aunts all spoke English. Today I can barely manage a few words of Norwegian. So munge tak, amigos, and have some lefse and lutefisk. I plan to continue my search for the elusive spirit of  Doktoro Esperanto!

7 Responses

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  1. Saluton, kara amiko!
    Just want to invite you as Esperantists from both sides of the border meet online, via Skype, to converse amicably. Would you like to guess what language we will be using? =)
    Our “kunveno”will be at 6pm California time, on Sept. 1st. My user name is “GrupoAmikema” You are welcome to eavesdrop!
    Last year about 100 of us US-ans and Mexicans got together in Tijuana to talk about the many ways in which we can work together to solve common challenges.
    Do, ghis la reskribo!
    Via amikinop,

    Mar Cardenas

    August 19, 2008 at 1:35 am

  2. Simplified Spanglish; Donde es Doktoro Esperanto?, by El Fomentador

    My first language is Spanish. It took me many, many years to learn some English. There are a few gifted individuals that can learn a language rather easy. But most of us aren’t ready to learn a language. Learning Spanish for an English speaker is very hard … about as hard as it is for a Spanish speaker to learn English.

    I will be happy if everybody in the world would speak Spanish. That is not a realistic goal. The same happens with English. All around the world, people spend thousands of hours studying English. Most of them don’t learn enough to use the language. They could have better used that time to learn a science or medicine or computer science.

    Esperanto is a more appropriate language to learn. It takes about 30 hours to learn to read, and another 30 hours to get some fluency, same for speaking or for writing. Within 2 months of my first contact with Esperanto, I was reading and speaking it, not fluent, by I could keep a conversation about many topics.

    I can help you learn Esperanto. Please visit some of my web pages. You may start at
    My email address is on all my pages. (Click on “Enrique”)

    Best wishes,

    who has used Esperanto during 48 years
    Fremont, California, USA


    August 19, 2008 at 5:38 pm

  3. It’s good that Esperanto is now taken more seriously.

    Did you know, for example, that nine British MP’s have nominated Esperanto for the Nobel Peace Prize 2008.

    You can see this at http://www.lernu.nt

    Brian Barker

    August 19, 2008 at 7:16 pm

  4. The blending of languages to make a new one through organic means is a long and painful process. One example of this from history is English. Old English (Anglo-Saxon) started out by blending the languages of very similar Germanic tribes; even though they were of the same linguistic background, similar ethnicity, and same religion and culture, it still took generations. When the Normans forced Old French upon the island, even with constant government pressure, it took even longer, and gave us many inconsistencies that are still with us today. Pidgins and Creoles are made out of dire necessity, and typically don’t become sophisticated enough for truly complex expression without either borrowing heavily from a host language or struggling for centuries, and many such languages never get to that level.

    It is an unfortunate fact that languages usually propagate though different kinds of force rather than logic or altruism. Often one with power and influence will wipe out its competitors in a given area. So the communication choices for the US-Mexican border are: everyone learning both as is done in Canada, which doesn’t always work, or one language forcing its use in the other’s territory, which breeds hostility, or using a neutral third language. For the third option, Esperanto is the only one with a practical level of success, being more successful than all the others combined. Esperanto would certainly be quicker to learn, but it may be more practical in the meantime for people to learn both and respect each other’s language when visiting their country.

    And FWIW, the comment about German being proposed as a national language is an urban legend. The original vote was about whether to continue discussing the possibility of translating our laws into German for the benefit of those immigrants. The language and culture of that time were still overwhelmingly English, so much that the idea of everyone suddenly switching to German would be preposterous.

    Gable Bates

    August 24, 2008 at 7:38 am

  5. Thanks for your comments. I agree that the idea of a world-wide, neutral “third” language may be impractical, for all the reasons you suggest, those outlined by David Crystal , and more. My suggestions for a blending of Spanish and English were driven merely by a flat spot on my learning curve for Espanol.

    And although I feel this “third” language could serve important societal goals and present an opportunity to address the inconsistencies you mention,(and, that I presume inspired, at least in part, the work of Doktoro Esperanto in the first place), I’m not interested in doing the work to developing it. I thought I would just throw it out there and see what happens.

    There is already a blend of Spanish and English that has been developing for decades in the border states on both sides of the Rio Bravo. And it exists informally in Hispanic neighborhoods in major cities and, increasingly, in small towns across the nation. Perhaps it could be considered a type of American-Spanish dialect?

    So really, what I was thinking was more like blending the languages of the western hemisphere by borrowing heavily from English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Esperanto, or other international language structure.

    I like the ideas of Esperanto. However I think the issue of convincing the Eastern world to accept it may be as insurmountable today as it would have been 130 years ago. I, too, believe that people should continue to learn their own languages and to learn the languages of where they live. But there are also real people that need to communicate in a time of change. And change is occurring. If you believe demographers in less than 100 years the majority population of the United Sates will be Hispanic in origin.The connections among the countries in the region will be changed, the cultural, the politics, the religion, and the language.

    I’ll take your word for the urban legend thing and conclude by saying Spanish and Latin America will have several generations more of influence in the US. Whatever direction our national languages may take, and whatever direction our national identities may take I’m glad to know that it is of interest to people on both sides of the border.

    I also realize that, statistically, few, if any, of us may be here to worry about it so this is really just an opportunity to worry about it now, you know, just in case there’s not enough to worry about already. Gracias y Adios amigos.

    El Fomentador

    August 26, 2008 at 5:48 am

  6. The source languages of Interlingua are Latin, English, French, Italian, and Spanish/Portuguese, considered as a single language. The grammar of Interlingua preserves the elements that are common to all its source language, so it does not have suffixes for person/number on its verbs, gender for its nouns, and gender/plurality endings for its adjectives.
    Generally, Interlingua prefers latinesque forms for its words.

    Le linguas fonte de interlingua es le latino, le anglese, le francese, le italiano, e le espaniol/portugese, considerate como un sol lingua. Le grammatica de interlingua preserva le elementos que es commun a omne su linguas fonte. Assi il non ha suffixos pro persona/numero al fin de su verbos, genero pro su substantivos, e desinentias pro genero e pluralitate pro su adjectivos. Generalmente, interlingua prefere formas latinesc pro su parolas.


    December 10, 2008 at 8:40 am

  7. To hkyson: Again, I like it! Even I can almost figure it out on the first try. I have to admit I have never studied French or Latin (my wife, a good Catholic school-girl, and much more intelligent than I, studied them both). Obviously some of the problems outlined in the post on Artificial Languages would still apply, but your comments are just the sort of thing I was looking for. Thanks again!

    El Fomentador

    December 11, 2008 at 7:06 am

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