Spanish? Italian? Portuguese? The answer is none of these, or perhaps more accurately, all of these. This is the little used language of Esperanto, the melting pot of all languages.
15 December 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Dr Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, a Jewish ophthalmologist and something of a Bohemian of his time, he was raised in a multi cultural society of Russians, Poles, Jews and Germans, none of whom spoke to one another. Zamenhof was convinced that if everyone understood each other, then there would be less aggression and therefore less war. Determined to do something about it, by the 1870’s, Zamenhof had created the language of Esperanto, meaning one who hopes.
In 1887, the first book of Esperanto grammar was published and the first dictionary in 1894. In 1905, the first world congress of Esperanto speakers took place.
But, Zamenhof’s attempts to liberate peace and understanding were soon to be quashed during Hitler and Stalin’s assault on the world. Sadly many Esperanto speakers along with Zamenhof’s family were singled out for execution during the holocaust.
However, the expression nil illegitimo desperandum carborundum springs to mind as the ethos of Zamenhof’s work continued to live on.
There was a resurgence of the language during the 1970′ and 80’s, although the take up was a little slow.
By 1975 Esperanto was being taught in 600 schools and some language experts still believe the language can be learned in a quarter of the time of other languages. However, the popularity of the language diminished and there are currently around just four UK primary schools where Esperanto is taught.
It is unclear how many people speak Esperanto fluently but they are numbered in the thousands and possibly as high as 2 million. There is also an annual meeting for the World Congress of Esperanto, most recently in July 2007 in Slovenia.
You may be surprised to hear Esperanto is now within the top 100 languages, out of 6000 worldwide. It is also used by Skype, Firefox and Facebook.
Globally, there are several well known people who have a working knowledge of the language; two Roman Catholic Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVII used the language during their Christmas and Easter messages. William Shatner of Star Trek fame learned it so he could star in one of only two full length films produced entirely in Esperanto: Incubus, a 1965 B movie horror film.
We have some home grown speakers including George Soros, Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet and World Champion Chess player, Susan Polger.
The US Army uses the language during war game practice (which is pretty ironic considering the sole purpose of the language was to stop conflict!)
Commercially Littlewoods decided to use Esperanto to launch their new clothing range in July 2008. The advert featured an Esperanto speaking queen on an unknown tropical island.
There is also the Esperanto Association of Great Britain and they state their objective is to show respect for all cultures and to supply information on education, news and events. You may find there are clubs in your area. According to the website, there are 59 groups in the UK from Scotland down to Bournemouth. There are said to be around 2000 Esperanto speakers in the UK.
With a world that is incapable of living together under one roof without fighting, perhaps it is time to give Zamenhof’s invented language another chance.
So Je via sano and Ĝis.
For the more in depth and full article, including details of the construction of the language, please contact Sophia.
Esperanto Association of Great Britain www.esperanto-gb.org.