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The Decline and Fall of Esperanto: Lessons for Standards Committees


The Decline and Fall of Esperanto: Lessons for Standards Committees

R Patterson et al. J Am Med Inform Assoc.


In 1887, Polish physician Ludovic Zamenhof introduced Esperanto, a simple, easy-to-learn planned language. His goal was to erase communication barriers between ethnic groups by providing them with a politically neutral, culturally free standard language. His ideas received both praise and condemnation from the leaders of his time. Interest in Esperanto peaked in the 1970s but has since faded somewhat. Despite the logical concept and intellectual appeal of a standard language, Esperanto has not evolved into a dominant worldwide language. Instead, English, with all its idiosyncrasies, is closest to an international lingua franca. Like Zamenhof, standards committees in medical informatics have recognized communication chaos and have tried to establish working models, with mixed results. In some cases, previously shunned proprietary systems have become the standard. A proposed standard, no matter how simple, logical, and well designed, may have difficulty displacing an imperfect but functional "real life" system.

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