The text of a broadcast on Radio Scotland,
Friday, 26 February 1993

Leslie Riddoch: As we all become Europeans rather than mere Scots, the pressures to learn a European language are increasing. Already it costs the European Community a fortune to allow us all to talk to each other. We spend the equivalent of nearly ₤500m—that's a third of the EC administrative budget—on translating and interpretative services. So maybe the answer is for us all to learn one common European language. Jane Robinson's been looking at that alternative language, that's over a century old. It's been the butt of many jokes, but it boasts a Scot from Stirlingshire as one of its foremost poets.

(Bill Auld recites a verse of 'Mary Morrison' in Esperanto)

Jane:   Even a Robert Burns fanatic could be forgiven for not recognising that rendition of 'Mary Morrison'. It's read in Esperanto by Bill Auld, who's fluent in the language. He learned about Esperanto through the Scout movement when he was only twelve years old. But it began as a lonely hobby.

Bill:     Apart from my best friend who also learned the language, I didn't speak to another esperantist until after the War. But what kept me at it was two things. First of all, I did learn other languages at school and was always very keen on French and Latin, which were my two. Language as such simply fascinates me, and the point about Esperanto was I found that I could learn to speak it fluently and confidently, far more than I could ever hope to speak French.

Jane:   But how did you learn it? Was it purely from books?

Bill:     It started off entirely from books. And after the War I went into a bookshop in Glasgow which had a large stock of Esperanto books, and the shopkeeper there introduced me to another Esperanto speaker, who was very, very fluent indeed. He put me in touch with the two clubs in Glasgow and I went along to them and began to use the language. And then shortly—because I always wrote part of the time in Esperanto for fun—suddenly I discovered Esperanto poetry and Esperanto literature in general, and I was so taken by these books that I determined I would be an Esperanto writer.

(Kajto sing. Bill recites his poem 'La Ludo')

Jane:   And what does that mean?



My days are stacked like playing cards
within an unseen player's hand,
who lays them out on shadowed baize
in patterns hard to understand.

I have seven volumes of my own poetry over the years, and I've also translated a great deal—all Shakespeare's sonnets, for example, Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night', the first canto of Byron's 'Don Juan', 'The City of Dreadful Night' by Thomson, Robert Bums, etc., etc., etc., And also I've written a lot of essays about language and culture, and so on.

Jane:    Here next to us in this room there's a whole wall full of books in Esperanto. How many books are there?

Bill:      Four thousand. They're all catalogued. I add to them every month. But that's a drop in the ocean, you understand. I mean, the big Esperanto libraries have five times that.

Jane:    But who's reading all these books?

Bill:      A good question. People publish these books, and so people buy them. I knew a dock‑labourer in Glasgow who had no education at all. He spoke beautiful Esperanto, and in fact he said to me, 'Esperanto was my university'.

Jane:    It's not often in our society that speakers of Esperanto crop up, which means that the language has been and continues to be the butt of many a joke. For Bill and his wife Meta, both fluent speakers, who would claim that their travels, their social life, their reading and their lives in general have been enriched by Esperanto, this is a situation that continues to irritate.

Bill:      For a long time the only qualification for having an opinion about Esperanto was to know nothing about it, because the minute you knew something about it you became 'biased'. Look, in all my life, when people hear about Esperanto there are only two reactions. Either they say, 'What a wonderful idea', or they say, 'That would never work'. And both of them are based on a total lack of knowledge. It was given to the world to be a language—a second language, I have to emphasise—for all. I'd like to clear this up. People sometimes think we want everybody to speak Esperanto and forget about Scots and English and French and German. The opposite is true. We are in favour of the minority languages. We are against linguistic oppression. We want Basques to speak Basque, Catalans to speak Catalan, but we also want to talk to Basques and Catalans. That is what Esperanto is for.


Jane:   And it works. Each day through the Aulds' letterbox there arrives a wealth of information both in and about Esperanto. Bill insists that for those who gain a grasp of the language a worldwide network opens up.

Bill:     I have been in half a dozen countries where I'd have starved to death if I'd been depending on English. I had to depend on local esperantists to bail me out.

Jane:   But are they easy to find? When you land in a country, if you start to speak Esperanto are you confident there will always be somebody who will be able to answer you?

Bill:     No, no. You either contact them in advance or you contact them when you get there. I mean, in quite a lot of countries there is an Esperanto centre or an Esperanto office.

Jane:   Which countries are particularly keen on Esperanto?

Bill:     Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan, China, Korea, and maybe Vietnam. Other countries? Holland, pretty good, Brazil—Brazil's absolutely remarkable how popular it is.

Jane:   But why are they all so keen on it'? What do they think that they can get out of it?

Bill:     People like myself are totally dissatisfied with speaking another national language, because either we don't speak it well enough or they don't. You can learn to buy beer and that sort of thing in a dozen languages—I can do it in half a dozen. But if I want to talk about life and philosophy and so on I must use Esperanto, because it's the only one which puts us both on the same level. And the other reason is of course idealistic in a way, because Esperanto was born in the 19th century out of the idea of the brotherhood of man, and although that's not a popular idea, there's still an awful lot of people around who still feel that that would be a good thing.

Jane:   What about as far as Europe goes? Are we paying enough attention to Esperanto as a serious language for people, to help them to communicate?

Bill:     Absolutely not. We are not. Now, you consider, there are twelve languages in the thing at the moment, if I haven't lost count somewhere along the way, with Turkey and others wanting to come in. You have this absolute linguistic chaos and it's getting worse an the time, and even the European Council's translation service admit they can't cope as they should. All governments will always hang on to the prestige of their own language, but that includes the Danes and, you know, the Dutch and the small communities. 'Mere is an undoubted need for an [77/78] international means of communication which is not tied to the political prestige of any one nation.

Jane:   But do you think it's because Esperanto doesn't have its own country that people won't take it seriously?

Bill:     Esperanto, by definition, has no national culture, and people often think that no national culture equals no culture. And this is manifestly nonsense, because the world is full of other cultures: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Negro cultures. After 105 years Esperanto does have its own cultural basis and its own social basis. The social basis is the users, the cultural basis is the literature, the history, the mythology, the martyrs—after all, we've had our martyrs. Thirty thousand esperantists were sent to the gulag by Stalin for being esperantists, and so on.

Jane:   As it's now over 105 years old, enthusiasts like Bill are convinced that Esperanto's not just a joke that's pursued by a few cranks. Clearly they believe it has a genuine purpose in our society today. Perhaps then one day the language will be taken more seriously, and to overhear two people conversing in Esperanto, like Bill and his wife, will be an everyday occurrence.

(Bill and Meta converse. Kajto sing. The presenter gives the address of the Scottish Federation Secretary)

*     *     *

The text of a broadcast on Radio Scotland,
Wednesday, 10 March 1993

Claire English: Sandy Murray has been hearing the latest word on Esperanto.

(David Bissett recites Psalm 23 in Esperanto)

Sandy: Psalm 23 being read in Esperanto by David Bissett, who's organising this year's congress at Bell College in Hamilton. It's just over one hundred years since the language was devised and it has been used in almost every context from translations of the Bible to papers on scientific research. But with around six million people speaking and understanding Esperanto, it has achieved much in its first century, while failing short of being a truly world language.

David: This is the great hope and aspiration of the world Esperanto community. I'm not certain whether we're any nearer that particular day. All we can say, in a sense, is that those who use Esperanto derive tremendous benefit from it, and we believe that if it were used more wisely, great benefit would be found in the world as such. It would be a positive contribution towards a better world. [78/79]

(Kajto sings)

Sandy: The Dutch group Kajto performing original works in Esperanto. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the language is that it's inspired an enormous wealth of creative material which Esperanto speakers believe is in many ways better than work composed in national language [1].

David:  It does seem a curious paradox until people actually examine the language itself, examine its structure, examine its very extensive literature. It is because, as I say, it's simple in the sense that the absurd element has been taken out of the language. But not the creative element.

Sandy: Someone who's gone further than most in the creative use of the language is William Auld, who lives in Dollar, one of the foremost living writers in Esperanto. Although little known to an English-speaking audience, he's sold tens of thousands of copies of his Esperanto poems [2].

Bill:   I often think that Esperanto's really at the stage that English was at in Shakespeare's time. I have written, of course, seven volumes of my own poetry, among other things, and the world is full of people creating. After all, there's over two hundred magazines published, and a lot of these are literary magazines. Yes, it's a perfect language for literary creation.

Sandy: And for translation.

(Bill reads verse in Esperanto)

'To a Mouse' by Robert Burns, translated by William Auld's collaborator Reto Rossetti, a Swiss brought up in Scotland. As well as Burns, William Auld has translated a wide range of material, including Shakespeare and Tolkien's ‘Lord of the Rings’ [3]. But he's insistent that Esperanto has a practical role to play, at least as important as its place as a medium for literature.

Bill:      You've only got to look at the European Community to see that it's necessary. I mean, you consider twelve languages at the moment, with Turkish and others battering on the door. And that means you have twelve languages to be translated and interpreted in and out of. It's inefficient, it's expensive, and often inaccurate. One common language which is not affiliated to the political power of any one nation is an absolute necessity, and in my opinion sooner or later they'll have to face up to it.

(Kajto sings)


Claire: Sounds quite easy, really. Sandy Murray has been breaking the language barrier.

1. Don't know where Sandy Murray got this from! — Ed.

2. Would it were so! — Ed.

3. The publisher is currently typesetting the first volume, 'Brotherhood of the Ring'. — Ed.

SOURCE: Auld, William; et al. Questions and Answers (7). Text of broadcasts on Radio Scotland, Friday, 26 February 1993 & Wednesday, 10 March 1993. La Brita Esperantisto, 89-a jaro, n-ro 913, Majo-Junio 1993, p. 75-80.

From A Spoken State: An Epistle to Bill Auld, poem by Stuart A. Paterson

William Auld Memorial Page / En Memoro

Esperanto Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo

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