February 16, 2010

Carnival (a.k.a. Mardi Gras)

This day is called many different things all over the world. Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French. In English the day is commonly called Shrove Tuesday. In Christian
traditions, this is a time of eating and dancing and parades before Ash Wednesday (tomorrow), which begins the time of Lent, a time for penitence and giving up meat or other tempting foods and activities.

In some places, the Carnival festivities take place over days or even weeks but culminate on this Tuesday. In other places, the only celebration is on the day or evening of Mardi Gras itself. Here are just a few of the colorful celebrations of Carnival:
  • The city of Nice in France has a parade with floats covered in flowers.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Salvador de Bahia's Carnaval is the largest street party in the world, with more than 2 million participants.
  • In Panama, people get soaked with water trucks and hoses during the festivities.
  • In Venice, Italy, masks are one of the most important features of the celebrations. You can see and buy extraordinary masks all through the year in Venice.
Also on this date...
First U.S. Esperanto club begins in Boston, in 1905

Esperanto is an “artificial language” especially developed to be easy to learn and politically neutral. A Jewish ophthalmologist from Bialystok (then part of the Russian empire) named Dr. Zamenhof developed it in the late 1800s in the hopes that it would add to international understanding and therefore peace.

Even though Esperanto is the most widely spoken “constructed international auxiliary language language," only 100,000 to 2 million people speak it worldwide, and it is the native or official language nowhere in the world. Natural languages such as Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, French, and English have hundreds of millions of speakers and make better candidates, many would say, for true international languages (although of course they are not politically neutral!).

Zamenhof used root words from the Romance and Germanic languages as his starting point but used the sounds from the Slavic languages. Because it was carefully constructed by one person, the language has only one spelling for each sound and only one sound for each spelling.

Here are some words in Esperanto:

hello - saluton
yes - jes

no - ne

please - bonvolu

I love you - Mi amas vin
Which language is most international? That is, which language is most widely spoken? Here are the top three languages according to estimated numbers of people who speak them as either their native language or as a secondary language:
1. Mandarin Chinese – 1.12 billion
2. English – 4
89 million
3. Spanish – 320 million
Here are the top three languages according to how many countries use the language as either an official language or at least as a very important and influential language:
1.English – 115 countries
2.French – 35 countries

3.Arabic – 24 countries
And here are the top three most influential languages in the current world, considering all factors (number of speakers, number of countries, and number of fields), according to George Weber (in an article in Language Today, Vol. 2, December 1997):
Making up languages

Tolkien made up several languages for his fictional land of Middle-earth (on the fictional world of Arda). Quenya is one of them. Tolkien made up alphabets, as well, such as Tengwar. Below is some text in Quenya written in first the Tengwar and then the Latin alphabet.

Most fictional languages have the least amount of vocabulary and grammatical rules possible—just enough exists to present a song or poem, for example, in the particular piece of fiction in which it appears. However, Quenya is a fully functional language, and lots of people take the time to learn how to read and write Quenya, although they usually use the familiar Latin alphabet.

Another fully functional language that was originally created for fiction is Star Trek's Klingon language. Here are a few of the many fictional languages (NOT fully functional) that have been created:
  • D'ni for the Myst computer games
  • the Na'vi language in Avatar
  • Newspeak in George Orwell's 1984
  • the Mandalorian language in Star Wars
  • the Lapine language in Watership Down
Research these or other languages, or invent your own language!


  1. Can I point out that Esperanto is a living language and not an "artificial" language.

    Please check at http://www.lernu.net or http://eurotalk.com/en/store/learn/esperanto

  2. Thanks to Brian for the link!
    I read several sources, and all mentioned that Esperanto is a language that was created for a specific purpose, as opposed to what is termed a "natural language." It's certainly not a fictional language! People speak it (and read it, write it, etc.), so it is indeed a living language.