Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Ken Caviness says he’s not a linguist; he just enjoys trying.
A physics professor at Southern Adventist University, he has studied multiple natural languages including French and German, but he’s also a kind of connoisseur of planned, or invented, languages, especially Esperanto. The language was created by L. Zamenhof in 1887 as an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language that transcends nationality and would foster peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages. It lives on today as the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language, primarily in Europe, East Asia and South America.
But despite its “prevalence” — as many as 2 million people are thought to speak the language worldwide — there’s one thing no one’s bothered to translate into Esperanto ... until now.
Caviness is using Esperanto to create online audio files of the Bible — the first time the ancient text has ever been recorded in this planned language.
“I always read the Bible in the language that I’m studying,” said Caviness. “They say Esperanto is four to 10 times easier than learning a natural language. Personally, I call that an underestimate. For me, I’d say it was easily 10 times easier than working on something like Spanish.”
Caviness said the language is mainly used in Internet chat forums. He emphasized that English or even French can require at least 10 years of practice with the language before being able to carry on a conversation in one of the dedicated forums.
“In an Esperanto discussion, people can take part after a small amount of study … it’s not just for the elite,” said Caviness. “Frankly, I feel a little guilty using English. It’s a form of language imperialism.
“I wasn’t convinced that everyone should do this [learn Esperanto], it was just a challenge. But it’s an idea I support — if we all took one step forward, everybody in the world could have a second language and find it easier to communicate.”
Though the language is relatively simple to learn, Caviness said no one should be fooled when it comes to the scope of the language, explaining that he thinks the translation of the Bible in Esperanto is a better translation than even the English version.
Caviness began his project of reading the Bible in Esperanto out loud and creating audio files in January 2010 as a New Year’s resolution. Today the project is 78.4 percent complete.
“The thing I didn’t foresee is that after I started posting the readings as audio blogs … within a week a couple of people asked, ‘Would that be something I could help you do too?’” Caviness said. “I said, ‘Absolutely. The more the merrier.’”
At one point, he said he had 16 different people reading and posting sections of the Bible in Esperanto to contribute to the project. A participant in Berlin has single-handedly contributed 40 percent of the project, along with others from France, Canada, Brazil and America, including members of Caviness’ family.
“It’s kind of a world project,” he said. “It feels like it’s a good fit, an international language for an international group of people. I like the idea of having more than one voice reading on the audio files. It makes for more variety.”
Caviness said he would love to have more readers contribute to the project, which he expects will be 80 percent complete by the end of October. While one might not master the grammar in one sitting, they can get a good handle on it, he said.
To find out more about the project or to listen to the audio files visit http://audioboo.fm/keneto or http://hw.cs.southern.edu/eb/.