A Philologist on Esperanto

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A Philologist on Esperanto refers to the title given to a letter (written sometime in 1932) from J.R.R. Tolkien to the secretary of the Education Committee of the British Esperanto Association for its publication in The British Esperantist (Vol.28, May 1932).


The preamble to the letter states that Tolkien was the latest addition to the Board of Honorary Advisors of the B.E.A. Education Committee.

Tolkien says that although he takes an interest in the international language movement, and Esperanto in particular, he was not a "practical Esperantist" (which, he observes, perhaps advisors should be) and he could neither write nor speak it. He states that he had learned the language while he was a teenager (its grammar and structure) and read a fair amount written in it. Tolkien may be being a little disingenuous here. There is evidence (specifically, the Book of Foxrook) in the Bodleian Library to indicate that his knowledge of, and interest in, Esperanto was greater than he acknowledges in this letter. He goes on to say that he could only contribute as a philologist and critic, and that would probably be more of a hindrance than a help.

Tolkien states that he believes Esperanto to be superior to other similar languages, but that its chief claim for support was that it was already more widely used and accepted than its competitors. He goes on to compare it to the orthodox church, in that it faced an army of "not only unbelievers, but schismatics and heretics" and that the most important problem to solve would be universal acceptance - an inferior language that was widely accepted would be more worthy than a hundred theoretically more perfect. He also warned against over-attention to detail and that the "theorists and inventors (whose band I would delight to join)" would retard the advance of Esperanto if unanimity was sacrificed for so-called improvement.

He continues by saying that continual attempts at technical improvement can have a negative effect and spoil the aesthetic aspect of the language - a rather surprising comment considering what a "tinkerer" Tolkien was! He also comments that N** (Novial?), while being clever and easier than Esperanto, was hideous - it was obviously man-made and showed no signs of individuality.

Tolkien closes by saying "My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: 'Back Esperanto loyally'".

Publication history

External links


  1. Tolkien the Esperantist?, at Tolkienbooks.net