All You Need to Know about Esperanto

A country’s language is its main source of communication, a means by which it establishes contact and correspondence with its people and those residing outside it. Natural languages have evolved through the ages and spread around owing to immigrants, trade, and business that took place between nations. But some languages are artificially constructed which emerge as a result of computer simulations or as part of a psychological practice or
experiment.

Esperanto is one such artificial language, dating back to the 18th century. Like all other languages in the world, Esperanto has its own culture and literature. However, unlike the other languages, it does not have a country of origin, nor its own people who speak it natively. Instead, it is a universal language that goes beyond the confines of a single nation—more than 2 million people across 120 countries have learned it.

But how exactly did Esperanto evolve? How many speakers does it have in recent times? Here is all that you need to know about Esperanto.

Esperanto—A Brief History

The Esperanto language was invented by a Polish ophthalmologist Ludwik Leyzer Zamenhof (b. 1859), who grew up in eastern Poland. Speaking Yiddish and Russian at home, Zamenhof observed that the world that he lived in was divided by language, facing turbulence and disturbance because of it.

In an attempt to bring about world peace and unite the people under one language umbrella, Zamenhof invented the Esperanto language, which he called Lingvo Internacia or “international language”.

Zamenhof had his own reasons to invent this artificial language. He believed that the languages already spoken by the people were highly influenced by politics, history, and power, making it difficult to communicate properly. Esperanto was invented as a politics-free language and a medium to deviate from all the barriers and difficulties that the natural languages faced—a technology that would make its speakers’ lives simpler.

Zamenhof wanted to get rid of the linguistic discrimination present in the society by inventing a much simpler and easier language, one that would unite the people and make them feel unified as a single unit.

The Evolution and Advancement of Esperanto

The 19th century was marked by evolutions in the field of artificial languages, and before Esperanto was invented, Volapuk was the language being spoken by a huge majority. By the end of the 1880s, though, Volapuk had lost steam—this was when Esperanto took over.

Zamenhof was of the view that a language should be free from any political influence and jargon as that hindered communication and understanding. Consequently, he made Esperanto as simple as possible, with roots taken from the ancient Romance language.

The language that he created was easy, genderless, and almost no case grammar. He published the under the pen name “Doktoro Esperanto”, meaning “someone who hopes”. This name was especially chosen because it was hoped that Esperanto would one day rule the world as a second language of people, with clear, neutral, and politically-free dialogue that would unite them all.

Although the progress of Esperanto was slow in the early days, Zamenhof’s attempt to spread it by publishing a magazine in Esperanto soon led to its popularity across continents. A convention was organized where people gathered to discuss the new language. As the language began to gather more attention, it began to be adopted and dropped by a number of countries globally.

The League of Nations adopted it but it was opposed by the French delegate, and had to be dropped. As Zamenhof was Jewish, Hitler opposed the language, terming it as the language of the Jewish conspiracy. Joseph Stalin adopted the language, but reportedly turned against it, calling it a language of spies. On the other hand, the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong embraced the language, helping to grow its popularity in China.

The Growing popularity of Esperanto

The first book in Esperanto was published on 14 July, 1887 in Warsaw. Written by Zamenhof himself, the book contained 16 grammatical rules of the language as well as the root words taken from existing Romance, Slavic, and Germanic languages. The idea here was to make the language as simple as possible so that it could be easily learned by maximum people.

The idea of its simplicity can be elaborated through an example. In Esperanto, bela means “beautiful”, while granda means “big” and tablo means “table”. Combined together, this makes a “beautiful, big table”.

Similarly, in their plural form, the same words are called belaj, grandaj, and tabloj, meaning “beautiful, big tables”. This is how simple the language really is.

The language spread massively in the late 19th and early 20th century—so much that Leo Tolstoy, the revolutionary Russian writer, learned the language in merely 3-4 hours. Consequently, the language spread far and wide to other countries and continents, and began to be considered a revolutionary instrument endorsed by the Socialists after World War 1.

The Present Status of Esperanto

Although the Esperanto language failed to meet up with the expectations of its creator, who hoped that it would one day be the 2nd most widely spoken language, it still is the most popular constructed language in history. The language survived mostly through clubs and spread by chance encounters as well as through word of mouth.

Today, nobody knows exactly how many people speak Esperanto fluently, but estimates point out that around 100,000 people can speak the language to some degree, while only 10,000 or so can speak it fluently.

The language also has a huge literature to its name, with over 25,000 books written in it, including original as well as translated works—among them translations of the Bible and Holy Quran.

The Last Word

Learning a new language is always a tough task, one that is seldom taken by people except travelers and enthusiasts. However, once in every generation, a new artificially-constructed language is invented that deviates from the natural languages and is taken up by a large number of people.

Esperanto is one such language that has survived turbulence, disturbance, and test of time to become the most popular artificial language on the globe. However, with the invention of more artificial languages, it is hoped that Esperanto will continue to be the most popular artificial language and would continue to make its speakers’ lives simpler, neutral, and unbiased—something that Zamenhof had predicted and wished.

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