Esperanto Language – Who Actually Speaks It?

Esperanto is considered the most famous artificial language in the world which has been suggested as a second international language. Its creator, a Polish linguist and an ophthalmologist named Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof from Warsaw, believed that people needed a neutral language which can help them connect more easily than learning a specific natural language. Being inspired by this idea, he wrote a book “The International Language” in 1887, under the pseudonym Dr.Esperanto meaning “the man who hopes”. What he hoped then was to spread the idea of a new auxiliary language that could be helpful to the users worldwide, with its simplicity and efficiency. Despite the languages of a similar concept and goal, like Volapük, Ido, Novial, Interlingua, Toki Pona, Lingua Franca Nova and Kotava,  Esperanto is the only one that has been vividly employed across the world.

Origin of Esperanto

Having lived in a multi-ethnic society in Poland, Dr. Zamenhof encountered different nationalities like Russians, Germans, Lithuanians and Jews. Despite the ethnic groups spoke the language of the country they were living in, there were still misunderstandings and doubt in what the speaker is saying and how he really felt about his fellow citizens.

To surpass the limits imposed by diverse languages among the neighbors, Dr. Zamenhof came up with a brilliant idea of creating another, completely new language which could rely on simplified grammar rules and provide the future speakers with a chance to master the language much better and faster than the national languages of the mentioned ethnic groups.

Therefore, he was obliged to start the project by writing a book in which he presented the outline of a super connecting language. The book, which he published in 1887, was called Unua Libro in Esperanto or The First Book, and contained 920 root words. While the first one referred mostly to the Esperanto vocabulary,  the Fundamental Grammar or Fundamenta Gramatiko laid foundations to language structure with only 16 grammatical rules.

The words in Esperanto originate from different languages, mostly from Latin, French, English, German, Russian and Polish, but some come from other, non-European languages, like Japanese. The roots of the words are usually Latin, but the words in their complete form are international. In Esperanto, the affixes can  be independent and the language productivity is based on affixes and roots where a single root is estimated to be  an  equivalent of ten words in English.

In writing, Dr. Esperanto had relied on the Latin alphabet and the spelling rules of the Polish language, but he introduced a new set of letters which the Latin alphabet lacked. It had only 26 letters, but there were more sounds in Esperanto. The linguist realized that his international language, as it was called before getting the present name, must have standard orthographic symbols for some phonemes, so he created new letters such as Ŭŭ, Ĉĉ, Ĥĥ, Ĝĝ, Ŝŝ and Ĵĵ. This solution was just a temporary victory. Another problem arose when he understood that these special letters may not be available in some typewriters, and their replacement was unavoidable. Soon those characters became u’, ch, jg, gh, gx, jx, cx, c’, j’ or g’.

Esperanto as an international language

Of all constructed languages, Esperanto keeps its leading role among them. It is most widely spoken in China, Japan and Eastern Europe. Not only is it spoken in many countries regardless their national language and culture, Esperanto is a written language as well. Various books, newspapers and magazines are both  published and translated into it. Theatre and music are also available.

It is estimated that there are almost 1,000 people who use Esperanto as their first language, whereas approximately two million speakers define it as their second language. Even today, after more than 130 years from its introduction into the world heritage, more and more people are interested in studying Esperanto and connecting and communicating more effectively.

The language itself is easy to master. Compared to natural languages, it required less time to efficiently absorb the knowledge and put it into practice. In a study which involved some French students whose native language was French, of course, it took them about 2000 lessons of German, almost 1500 lessons of English and 1000 lessons of Italian or another Roman language, to adopt the level of linguistic information that could be achieved in Esperanto in only 150 lessons.

Requiring only three months to acquire the basic knowledge and just a year to learn the language completely, the community of Esperanto speakers is expanding. They are usually personally motivated to adopt Esperanto due to its simplicity and fast results. Understandably, the users are mostly located in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, United States, Poland, Italy, Germany, France. What is a pleasant surprise are numerous speakers from countries like China and Japan, whose national languages are not that compatible with the languages which set foundations to Esperanto.

Since 1905, The Esperanto world congress has been held every year gathering more and more attendants. Opposite from a growing number of users, what Esperanto lacks and does not cope with easily is the network of schools and universities where it can be promoted better.

The Status of Esperanto

As a language without a country and ethnic origin, Esperanto does not belong to any language family. Being based on Indo-European branch, it is widely spoken in those parts of the world where languages that helped its creation are officially used, like of South America, Eastern and Central Europe. Being easy to adopt and progress in that process easily, it is also convenient for East Asian learners.

Anyway, being literate in Esperanto is only a plus. It opens the doors to the world of people who operate in it and even have a special Pasporta Servo, which offers a homestay all over the world with other speakers of Esperanto. The homestay is free and during the stay the speakers are encouraged to speak only Esperanto to the hosts.

The Culture of Esperanto

Esperanto culture immensely pays attention to reading, education and acceptance of people from different backgrounds-social, religious, and especially ethnic because building Esperanto had in mind transcending national differences and connecting them in a rich cultural community. So, Esperantists, organize a makeshift café or gufujoj, as they call it, where they gather to discuss various sensitive issues. Those meetings are held in someone’s house or a rented place. Aside from having their own “passport”, these people even have their “currency”, Esperanto coins, to pay for food and drink. Although Esperantists enjoy to have contacts worldwide, they support the idea of nurturing their native languages as well as Esperanto. After all, that language sprouted from the soil of natural, ethnic languages.

Who actually speak Esperanto?

Maybe to your surprise, you will discover that some famous people in politics, science, art and literature, are Esperantists. Not all are on this list, but the most famous ones are:

1. Leo Tolstoy

2. Jules Verne

3. R. R. Tolkien

4. Louis Lumière, a cinema inventor of France

5. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s first president

6. Josip Broz Tito, the president of former Yugoslavia

7. Muztar Abbasi, Pakistani scholar who translated the Quran into Esperanto

8. Pope John Paul II

9. Claude Piron, former UN and WHO translator

10. Jules Verne

11. Chuck Smith, Esperanto Wikipedia creator

12. Richard Bartholdt, Missouri Representative

13. Antoni Grabowski, known as a Polish chemical engineer  and was considered the father of poetry written in Esperanto language

14. Robert Cecil, one of the founders of the League of Nations and also the 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood

15. Franz Jonas and Heinz Fischer, former Austrian’s presidents

Esperanto’s life

Since Esperanto is a constructed language, some even call it “a homeless language”, it is not influenced by other languages. It is not being reshaped and remodeled. Its structure stays faithful to once set foundations. Only morphology, that is to say, derivational affixes may slightly change, which is insignificant comparing the alterations natural languages have undergone.

It is known for its simplicity. The language in which all nouns simply end with o, while adjectives end with a, adverbs typically end with an e while the plural form of words normally adds a in the end, can be mastered with joy and entertainment during the learning process.

The numbers of Esperanto speakers are growing, but the pace of its full swing is not as it should be. Although, it provides many benefits, among which is an indescribable experience when you travel and meet fellow Esperantists, this language needs more promotion and it should reach to more schools, libraries, university departments and even media.

Once considered the language of the future, will this beautiful creation be able to survive and compete with the English language which a lingua franca of the present as the Latin language used to be in the past? Let’s hope it will.

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