Some love Esperanto, some hate it, some revere it, and some ridicule it. Most don’t know about it. Hailed as the universal language, Esperanto facilitates relationships between international communities. It is simple, universal, and easy to learn. Its inventor, Ludwig Zamenhof, envisioned a language where people of every nationality could come together and speak freely without misunderstandings.
Where did Esperanto come from?
Esperanto’s name derives from the term ‘D-ro Esperanto’ (Dr. Hopeful), the pseudonym under which its creator, Ludwig Zamenhof, published his work. Zamenhof grew up in Eastern Poland in the 1800’s in a city full of ethnic hatred and distrust. Zamenhof found native languages the biggest barriers to solving issues between ethnic groups. He concluded that hatred and dissension stemmed from the problems caused by massive miscommunication between different entities. He began his master work while still in high school. What began as a small pamphlet published in 1887 developed many years later into a book called La Fundamento de Esperanto (The Foundation of Esperanto) which is the source of modern Esperanto.
Why is it easy to learn?
Esperanto contains very few discrepancies because it is a relatively modern language. Moreover, it was written with the specific purpose of getting rid of the inconsistencies and complications of other languages. For example, in English you would use I am, you are, he/she is, but in Esperanto, you might have something resembling I be, he be, she be, we be. It might sound funny, but you can see how it would simplify grammar. Esperanto also has a regular and phonetic spelling system. For example, the Esperanto system (one letter = one sound) can be learned in about half an hour. In a country like China, a student spends years learning the relationship between the spoken and written language. American students toil equally long learning how to spell. Esperanto, with its regular and exception free grammar, consists of only sixteen grammatical rules. Its unique system of forming new words from existing words is particularly useful. It allows you to take a fairly small basic vocabulary (the usual figure is about 500 items, including word-roots, particles, and affixes) and carry on long and fairly complex discussions about a wide range of topics. Modern Esperanto has a considerably larger vocabulary of unique roots (officially about 9000 at last count), and many of these are synonymous with words that can be formed from basic roots. This allows you to create your own words. Esperanto is easier to learn than other modern languages, and its main appeal is that it is accessible to everyone.
Why are some people opposed to it?
Like any language, the rate at which people learn Esperanto varies between individuals. Some may learn it in a month, others in a year or more. In comparison, teaching yourself to speak, read and write Spanish would take far longer than a couple years. You could travel to Spain or the Americas and learn it faster, but few people have the time and money to do so. One of the largest obstacles to the spread of Esperanto or any other international language is people. We tend to be nationalistic and adhere to the mine-is-better mentality that makes us reject anything threatening our cultural identity. For example, Hitler and Stalin executed Esperanto speakers because they believed a universal language undermined their heritage and power. In Iran, an Esperanto teacher was ousted from the country for teaching the language. The concept of an international language has spawned fear, nationalism and government politics. Everybody seems to want their language to be the best, the most used, and the most international.
Are there other created languages?
Yes, there are about a thousand “created” languages alive today. Believe it or not, J.R.R. Tolkien’s elvish tongues from The Lord of the Rings and Marc Okrand’s tlhIngan Hol (Klingon) are among the most popular. Of the various planned languages developed over the years for international use, the best known have been Esperanto, VolapÃ?Â¼k, Ido, Bahasa Indonesia, Occidental/Interlingue, Interlingua (Peano), Basic English, Novial and Interlingua (Gode).
Esperanto is the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. The number of Esperanto adherents has grown, plodding along at a slow but steady pace. According to the Universal Esperanto Society, it claims over six million adherents. Numerous articles and publications have been published in Esperanto. The US alone claims over sixty Esperanto organizations. The advent of the Internet has enabled the average individual to research and learn about Esperanto. For example, Google “Esperanto” and twenty million matches appear. It is even trickling into pop culture. There are a number of movies that have been entirely in Esperanto or that have contained elements of Esperanto.
Blade: Trinity (2004)
Red Dwarf (1988) TV Series
La Eta Knabino (1997)
Flying an Octopus (2004)
The Good Life (1984)
The Great Dictator (1940)
A Thief of Time (2004) (TV)
El Coche de pedales (2004) aka The Pedal Push Car (2004) (International: English title)
Angoroj (1964) aka Agonies (1964) (International: English title)
Vec vidjeno (1987) aka Deja vu (1987/II) (UK) aka Reflections (1987) (International: English title)
Does Esperanto capture what languages are meant to convey, like personal communication and intimacy?
Yes. There have been a number of international marriages that have developed between people who have met each other through Esperanto and who’s only common language is Esperanto (http://www.webcom.com/~donh). Additionally, Esperanto allowed a Frenchman who only knew a little English to plan a trip through the U.S. All he had to do was look up the addresses of fellow Esperantists, send off a few letters beginning “Estimata Sinjoro (Dear Sirs),” and explain his situation. He was received with open arms. Within the Esperanto community, situations such as Charles’ are not uncommon (http://www.time.com). Real life examples like the ones above convey the essence of Esperanto: clarity, simplicity, and universality.
Why do we need an international language?
The concept of a universal language is as important today as it was decades ago. Whether it is Esperanto or any other language, the world needs an international tongue that can be learned by anyone, rich or poor, educated or illiterate. But what about culture and language? What happens to them if a universal language emerges? My answer is this: language and culture are dynamic systems. The advent of a universal language won’t erase them; they will adapt and move forward, necessarily changed by newer and broader horizons. The child who learns Esperanto learns about a world without borders where every country is home. They can talk to a farmer in China or a student in the US easily and freely. Travelers can go where they please and communicate with whom they like. The possibility of a global community without misunderstandings, without nationality, and without barriers makes a universal language like Esperanto inspiring, practical, and totally necessary.