Esperanto is a language that was created by a Polish linguist who was also an ophthalmologist named Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof. Esperanto is a constructed international auxiliary language in the same league as Volapük, Ido, Novial, Interlingua, Toki Pona, Lingua Franca Nova and Kotava. However, only Esperanto managed to be widespread.
The language was created in the 19th century and when Dr. Zamenhof published his first book, he used Dr. Esperanto as his pseudonym. The creator named the language simply, by calling it lingvo internacia or international language.
Origin of Esperanto
Dr. Zamenhof lived in Bialystok, a city in Poland where Germans, Lithuanians, Jews, Russians lived among the Poles. Because it was a multiethnic society where people spoke different languages, misunderstanding and distrust were rife. Dr. Zamenhof thought that the differences in the language were the roots of the misunderstanding, which compelled him to develop a neutral language that any person from any ethnic background would be able to speak, which would effectively close the linguistic divide.
In 1887, Dr. Zamenhof published his first book called Unua Libro. The book had 920 root words in Esperanto from which a speaker can form thousands of words. He also published the Fundamental Grammar or Fundamenta Gramatiko where he outlined the 16 grammatical rules.
The roots of Esperanto mostly came from Latin but part of the lexicon came from the Romance languages as well as Polish, Russian, German and English. When roots and affixes are combined, new words are formed. The affixes in Esperanto can stand on its own. For example, estro means head or leader while ejo means place.
Being Polish, the spelling conventions of Esperanto is almost the same as the Polish language. He also created new letters such as Ŭŭ, Ĉĉ, Ĥĥ, Ĝĝ, Ŝŝ and Ĵĵ. He did recognize that these are special letters and may not be available in some typewriters, so he replaced them with u’, ch, jg, gh, gx, jx, cx, c’, j’ or g’.
The name of the language was taken by the speakers from the pseudonym used by Dr. Zamenhof. By 1889, with the language becoming more prominent, Esperanto was used as its official name.
Esperanto as an international language
Despite the existence of other constructed languages, Esperanto remains as the most widely spoken especially in China and Eastern Europe. Aside from being spoken internationally, Esperanto is being used for literary publications, including poetry, magazines and books. Some publications are also being translated into Esperanto today. In some areas, it is possible to listen to Esperanto news bulletins and songs on the radio.
Ethnologue’s latest data says there are 1,000 people who use Esperanto as their first language. The wide acceptance of Esperanto translates to about two million using it as their second language. More people are studying Esperanto today.
Speakers of Esperanto are located in many parts of the globe. Majority of the speakers are found in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, United States, Poland, Italy, Germany and France. Surprisingly, there are also many Esperanto speakers in China and Japan.
Dr. Zamenhof created the language to fight nationalism and boost internationalism and mutual understanding. The community of Esperanto speakers regularly holds an Esperanto world congress which is always well attended.
Status of Esperanto
While Esperanto has no official affiliation to any language family, is it generally based on Indo-European languages. It does not have official language recognition from any country but it is spoken widely in about 115 countries in South America, East Asia and Eastern and Central Europe.
Would you believe that more the 25,000 books, both originally written and/or translated into Esperanto were originally written in Esperanto? Moreover, about 100 magazines are available in Esperanto. And get this — speakers of the language can travel anywhere in the world using their special Pasporta Servo, which is a free homestay and couchsurfing service.
Esperanto is a fully developed language and has its own culture. Speakers, who are called Esperantists, can create a gufujoj or a makeshift café in someone’s house or a rented place and spend the evening discussing a variety of issues, typically sensitive ones. They use regular money as well as Esperanto coins to pay for drinks and food.
Their culture places huge importance on education, reading, acceptance and tolerance, particularly of people from different ethnicities. Most of them do not support globalization. Likewise, they do not like the idea of people forgetting their native language.
Who actually speak Esperanto?
Will you be surprised to know that some famous people are Esperantists? People in various fields like politics, science, literature, the arts and religion speak Esperanto. And here are some of them.
- Pakistani scholar Muztar Abbasi who translated the Quran into Esperanto
- Antoni Grabowski of Poland, a chemical engineer and translator, considered the father of poetry written in Esperanto language
- Esperanto Wikipedia creator Chuck Smith
- Missouri Representative Richard Bartholdt
- 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, Robert Cecil, one of the founders of the League of Nations
- Willem Drees, former prime minister of the Netherlands
- Former Austrian presidents, Franz Jonas and Heinz Fischer
- Vietnam’s first president, Ho Chi Minh
- Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia
- R. R. Tolkien
- Leo Tolstoy
- Jules Verne
- Kenji Miyazawa
- Cinema inventor Louis Lumière of France
- Former UN and WHO translator Claude Piron
- 1421 Esperanto and 1462 Zamenhof asteroid discover Yrjö Väisälä of Finland
- Pope John Paul II
- William Shatner
- George Soros
Esperanto enjoys being the most widely spoken artificial language around the world. Learners say that the language is very easy to learn, as it is a language without complicated rules and conventions. Because it is a constructed language, its development was not affected by other languages and cultures, thus it did not undergo changes.
Esperanto is known for its simplicity. All nouns end with o, while adjectives end with a. Adverbs typically end with an e while the plural form of words normally adds a j in the end. Even the plural form of adjectives has a j ending.
While Esperanto has the numbers in terms of speakers, at some point, the interest in the language waned. Why? Because the motivations for learning a language could be to understand another culture or to improve chances of being employed. Learning a language also allows you a different kind of experience when you travel – you taste different cuisines, enjoy literature, music or film.
Esperanto seems lacking in many departments. The language is homeless. It does have its own culture but you cannot travel to a place where it is primarily spoken, like other languages, for example French, Spanish, Dutch, English, German, etc. It is not attached to a traditional culture where people have their traditional food, clothing, festivals, music and the arts that travelers can enjoy.
Thus, the interest in the language in recent years has declined.
But the speakers of the language are not giving up. They are determined to keep the language alive and perhaps propagate it for future generations. Its Wikipedia page continues to grow and currently has 251,000 articles.
In the past, Esperanto was believed to be the language of the future. It was featured in the 1900 version of the Exposition Universelle in Paris. While the practice of having a gufujoj is still alive, the younger speakers have found the viability of social media platforms to have discussion groups and forums, aside from the annual international conference.
Esperanto remains popular, thanks to its speakers and some platforms have recognized the fact, such as Facebook and Google. The efforts of the Esperanto community pushed Duolingo to offer a course in the language.
The staying power of Esperanto could be due to what others claim to be the language’s weak point. It is a universal language and nobody can claim ownership of Esperanto. Even without a traditional culture that is typically attached to a language, its speakers and supporters are still there, proven by the increasing number of attendees at the annual Esperanto conference. Several constructed languages were developed after Esperanto but most of them disappeared for various reasons.
Esperanto is more than 130 years old. But it could still be considered a very young language. But it has proven that it can survive. What does the future hold for Esperanto? Share your thoughts with us.
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