Esperanto: The World’s Uniting Language

A flag representing the auxiliary language of Esperanto. 

A flag representing the auxiliary language of Esperanto. Credit:

Saluton, mia nomo estas Josh kaj mi parolas Esperanton.” To the average person, the statement above might sound like a mangled combination of different languages; however, two million people worldwide understand and speak this unusual language. This language is called Esperanto and it has a very interesting and important history. 

Esperanto dates back to 1887 from a small Polish town. L.L. Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, took his first steps in creating the language during the 1870s when he attempted to standardize the Yiddish language to unify the Jews of Russia. He did this based on his Bialystok dialect and he even added Latin to his new language as well. Despite his best efforts, Zamenhof concluded that the project had no future and he eventually abandoned it, focusing himself on making a language not just for the Jews of Russia, but for all of humankind. This language would be known as Esperanto. 

Making a constructed language is very hard. Whether it be Klingon, the language spoken by Spock in Star Trek or High Valyrian, the language spoken in Game of Thrones, languages take lots of time and effort to produce. Not to mention that Zamenhof wanted to make his language international, easy to learn, and accessible to all. To do that he would need to combine words from many languages around the world. For Zamenhof, this language was a three-step plan that if successfully completed could connect humankind. First off, his newly constructed language needed to be very diverse as Zamenhof wanted it to be a neutral international language that could be spoken by anyone, anywhere. Zamenhof began by combining sounds from the Romance (like Spanish and French) and Germanic languages (like German and British) in Europe. This he thought, could increase popularity as many Europeans would know most of these sounds and even some of the words in the language. With some time, effort, and prototype experiments, Zamenhof constructed the international language known today as Esperanto. 

His second problem now was to show this international language to the public and the world. So, in 1887 Zamenhof published Unua Libro, a book introducing modern Esperanto. In it, Zamenhof described the language and its goals. At the time, the book was in Russian so only Russian speakers could learn and read the new language. Esperanto nowadays uses the same alphabet as English, making it simpler to be read and written. Also, Zamenhof used the pseudonym Dr. Esperanto when publishing Unua Libro. In later years, the language was referenced to the name and by the beginning of the 1900s the name of the language had been fully recognized as Esperanto. At first, Esperanto saw some minor errors and lack of popularity but within twenty years the language had spread all over the world and was spoken actively by tens of thousands by the turn of the century. 

As it began to grow, Esperanto had to change to accommodate everyone around the world. In doing so, a newspaper known as “La Esperantisto” was created for the growing Esperanto community in 1889. In 1905, the first Esperanto World Congress (Universala Kongreso) was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. It had 688 participants from twenty different nationalities. In the same year, the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association) was established. As a result of these meetings, Esperanto continued to grow in popularity and evolve. Throughout the 20th century, Esperanto became accepted by the world through the help of UNESCO and by the 1980s, a hundred years after its creation, UNESCO encouraged UN member states to add Esperanto to their schools’ curriculums. However, with the creation of the Internet, Esperanto has reached new heights when it comes to learning and accessibility. For example, in 2002 “Lernu!”, a language learning site, was launched that solely taught Esperanto. This continued with Wikipedia, making an Esperanto version of their webpage in 2008, and Google Translate adding Esperanto as one of their translatable languages in 2012. Esperanto is at a time where it’s easily accessible and quick to learn, especially when language learning websites such as Duolingo have it as a language to learn. 

All in all, Esperanto is living up to L.L. Zamenhof’s dream. Esperanto has changed the way people see languages. Due to Zamenhof, languages don’t have to separate people from different lands, they can connect. With the creation of Esperanto came a wave of other internationally constructed languages such as Ido, Interlingua, and Novial. Nearly two million people from around the world speak Esperanto and a couple thousand even speak it as their “native” language, despite the fact it was intended to be a secondary language. Within a couple of years or decades, it seems likely that Esperanto will grow even larger, and someday you might find yourself speaking Esperanto too, adiaŭ! “Se mi havas ponom kaj vi havas ponom, entute ni havas du pomojn.” (Translate this to see the secret).