What Is Esperanto?
Esperanto is a language created by Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof (1859-1917), a Jew who was born on the frontier between Russia and Poland. He realized that language barriers helped to maintain and even to aggravate differences and difficulties between nations, and conceived Esperanto as an international language easily learned and spoken by everybody.
The language’s name (meaning “a person who hopes”) comes from the pseudonym Zamenhof used for his first book, Unua Libro/Internacia Lingyo (1887) which was translated into English as Dr Esperanto’s International Language in 1889. Generally speaking, learning Esperanto takes from one-twentieth to one-fifth of the time needed to learn a national language. It is used by the Universala Esperants-Asocio (founded 1908) which has headquarters in Rotterdam, members in 85 countries, 50 national associations and about 20 professional international associations.
Numerous people who do not belong to official organizations also speak the language. In 1963 Professor Mario Pei of Columbia University, United States, suggested that Esperanto was spoken by 8,000,000 people. Esperanto is a phonetic language with no irregularities of grammar. The roots of words were taken from national languages, so many can be recognized on sight. Many great works of literature have been written in the language.
In 1954 the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (U.N.E.S.C.O) recognized “the results attained by Esperanto in the field of international intellectual relations in the rapprochement of the peoples of the world”. Five years later on the occasion of the centenary of Zamenhof’s birth, U.N.E.S.C.O paid tribute to him.
According to Zamenhof, he created the language to reduce the “time and labour we spend in learning foreign tongues” and to foster harmony between people from different countries: “Were there but an international language, all translations would be made into it alone … and all nations would be united in a common brotherhood.
The goal for Esperanto to become a general world language was not the only goal of Zamenhof; he also wanted to “enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with persons 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.”
After some ten years of development, which Zamenhof spent translating literature into Esperanto as well as writing original prose and verse, the first book of Esperanto grammar was published in Warsaw on the 26th of July 1887. The number of speakers grew rapidly over the next few decades, at first primarily in the Russian Empire and Central Europe, then in other parts of Europe, the Americas, China, and Japan.
In the early years, speakers of Esperanto kept in contact primarily through correspondence and periodicals, but in 1905 the first world congress of Esperanto speakers was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. Since then world congresses have been held in different countries every year, except during the two World Wars. Since the Second World War, they have been attended by an average of more than 2000 people and up to 6000 people.
Esperanto has not been a secondary official language of any recognized country, but it entered the education system of several countries such as Hungary and China.
There were plans at the beginning of the 20th century to establish Neutral Moresnet as the world’s first Esperanto state. In addition, the self-proclaimed artificial island micronation of Rose Island used Esperanto as its official language in 1968, and another micronation, the extant Republic of Molossia, uses Esperanto as an official language alongside English.
The Chinese government has used Esperanto since 2001 for daily news on china.org.cn. China also uses Esperanto in China Radio International and for the internet magazine El Popola Ĉinio.
The Vatican Radio has an Esperanto version of its website.
The US Army has published military phrase books in Esperanto, to be used from the 1950s until the 1970s in war games by mock enemy forces.
Esperanto is the working language of several non-profit international organizations such as the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda, a left-wing cultural association which has members in over 85 countries. There is also Education@Internet, which has developed from an Esperanto organization; most others are specifically Esperanto organizations. The largest of these, the Universal Esperanto Association, has an official consultative relationship with the United Nations and UNESCO, which recognized Esperanto as a medium for international understanding in 1954. Esperanto is also the first language of teaching and administration of one university, the International Academy of Sciences San Marino.
In the summer of 1924, the American Radio Relay League adopted Esperanto as its official international auxiliary language, and hoped that the language would be used by radio amateurs in international communications, but its actual use for radio communications was negligible.
All the personal documents issued by the World Service Authority, including the World Passport, are written in Esperanto, together with English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese.