Ever since I was a child, I was interested in foreign languages and while I was busy learning English (and also Russian and Latin) in high school I thought to myself: how cool would it be if there was a neutral language for everyone in the world. So I became really excited when I found out, that there actually is such international language that is easy to learn and mixed together from many different languages: Esperanto!
Often mistaken for Spanish (Español), Esperanto is a constructed language that was invented by the Jewish ophthalmologist Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (1859-1917) from Poland. Zamenhof lived in a time when eastern Poland was a part of the Russian Empire, in the city of Białystok: a place that, in this period, had a very diverse and mixed population: Poles, (Belo-)Russians, Germans, Jews and others. Since his childhood, he was deeply interested in foreign languages – which becomes more obvious, considering that his father was a language teacher – and started to dream about a language for everyone to bring more harmony to estranged humankind.
After some years of experimenting around, in 1887 he published the “Unua libro” (“First book”) under his pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto” (“a hoping doctor”), a brochure with the basics of a made up language he named “la lingvo internacia” (“the international language”). To honor its inventor, the lingvo internacia later was renamed to Esperanto (“a hoping one”) and the 15th of December (Zamenhof’s birthday) is being celebrated as “Zamenhof-tago” (Zamenhof day) by Esperantists all over the world.
The three goals of Esperanto
The main goal of Esperanto is to provide a neutral base for international communication and the language itself is defined as a tool that is kept as simple as possible so practically everyone can easily learn it. Thus, in the unua libro, Zamenhof defined three goals: (1) “To render the study of the language so easy as to make its acquisition mere play to the learner” (2) “To enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with people of any nationality, whether the language be universally accepted or not; in other words, the language is to be directly a means of international communication” and (3) “To find some means of overcoming the natural indifference of mankind, and disposing them, in the quickest manner possible, and en masse, to learn and use the proposed language as a living one, and not only in last extremities, and with the key at hand”.
What’s the point about such a made up language?
Indeed, English is the number one world language being used in international affairs. But, according to the idea of a neutral linguistic fundament, English native speakers are always advantaged by not being forced to switch to a foreign language. By being mixed together from the most common European languages (which makes it very Euro-centrist, though) it becomes possible to understand a lot of Esperanto without even speaking it and the very simple grammar makes it learnable in just one or two weeks.
Some argue that Esperanto, as a constructed language, can never be as authentic and rich as a natural one and that it will never replace natural languages. This is true, but: Esperanto was never designed to replace any other language but just to be a second language for everyone, regardless to ethnic, social, religious or any other background.
Nowadays, Esperanto is the most popular and most spoken constructed language with an estimated number of speakers around 2 Million in over 150 countries – whereby there are not really reliable statistics available. After surviving two World Wars, the National-Socialism and Stalinism, thanks to the ongoing global networking and despite being described as dying language, it is not to be found on the list of endangered idioms.
There is poetry and music in Esperanto as well as some kind of Esperanto-culture that has developed over more than 100 years, including symbols like the “verda stelo” (green star) that is part of the Esperanto movement’s flag. Also there’s Esperanto-world congresses held every year. In some countries there are schools and universities offering Esperanto-classes, wikipedia has over 270.000 articles in Esperanto and since 2012 google-translate is available in Esperanto. There are several possibilities of learning the language: the classical way with a book and various online-tools and websites such as http://www.lernu.net or the popular language learning app Duolingo.
A small dictionary:
Hi/Welcome! – Saluton! Macedonia – Makedonio
Good morning – Bonan matenon! Goodbye. – Ĝis revido./ Adiaŭ.
Good day! – Bonan tagon! I like… – Mi ŝatas…
Good evening! – Bonan vesperon! I love… – Mi amas…
Good night! – Bonan nokton! to eat – manĝi
My name is… – Mia nomo estas… to read – legi
I am … years old. – Mi havas … jarojn. to dance – danci
I am from… – Mi estas el… to travel – vojaĝi
I like learning new languages!
Mi ŝatas lerni novajn lingvojn!
You can learn Esperanto at lernu.net or with Duolingo.
Vi povas lerni Esperanton sur lernu.net aŭ kun Duolingo.
…it is a very easy and useful language!
…estas tre facila kaj utila lingvo!
It’s fun and you can make new friends from all around the world!
Estas amuza kaj vi povas fari novajn amikojn el la tuta mondo!
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