31 July, L A.S. (2015)
Saluton! Mia nomo estas “Geoff,” kaj mi estas komencanto de Esperanto.
If you know me at all, you know that I love learning new knowledge and skills. WheneverI can, I’m reading books, listening to educational podcasts, and improving my abilities in horseback riding, physical fitness, and money management.
Last Friday, I began learning the language Esperanto through DuoLingo. For about a year, I’ve enjoyed using DuoLingo to practice my French, and on a whim I decided to try Esperanto. I knew vaguely that it was a constructed language, created to foster international understanding and peace.
I proceeded (after a couple of minutes of learning some basic Esperanto words) to look into the history of this fascinating language.
A Polish medical student named L.L. Zamenhof developed Esperanto in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Growing up in Poland, he reasoned that much of the reason for ethnic strife in his region was the lack of a common language. He hoped that if Germans, Poles, Russians, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Jews, and Tatars could all speak in one neutral language, that they could overcome dangerous misunderstandings.
Being already well-versed in many languages himself, (including Yiddish, Russian, German, French, Ancient Greek, and Latin, among others,) Zamenhof got to work creating a regular and easily-learned language. Esperanto would serve as a lingvo internacia: a supplementary, neutral language combining the sounds of many European national languages, but easier to speak, write, and understand than any existing individual language.
The global response to this language has been mixed. On the one hand, about two million people speak the language, there is an annual Esperanto World Congress hosted by a different nation every year, and about 2,000 people worldwide are native speakers. Many books, songs, and poems are written and performed in Esperanto. There’s even a 1966 Horror movie called Incubus performed all in Esperanto! (And starring William Shatner!)
But…despite the efforts of Esperanto enthusiasts to spread a universal language for universal peace, the two World Wars still happened. (In Mein Kampf, Hitler even condemns the language as a tool of the global Jewish conspiracy, and the Nazis persecuted Esperanto speakers.) Esperanto didn’t diffuse the decades of proxy conflict and nuclear tension comprising the Cold War. It has had virtually no effect on countless civil wars and cases of ethnic strife and cross-cultural terrorism. Two million speakers sounds pretty good for a constructed language with no native land or culture to call home, but on a planet of seven billion people, it’s a drop in the bucket. English and French are still the dominant languages of international business and diplomacy.
Taking it back to the individual level: why bother to learn Esperanto? Let me count the ways:
- You can communicate with its two million speakers, who are spread throughout various countries and often eager to talk to make international connections. There’s even a website you can use to find lodging with fellow Esperanto-speakers or to host one in your home.
- Related to the above point, Esperanto is easier to learn than nearly any language. It’s certainly easy to learn compared to, say, English, or Mandarin Chinese. An American and a Chinese person would have a hard time communicating with each other in one of their respective native languages. But if they both learned Esperanto, they could speak and write to each other relatively easily. Admittedly, the American (and any native speaker of Western languages) has the advantage due to already knowing the alphabet, and the familiarity with many of the words’ origins, but Esperanto is still a great introduction to Western languages for a non-Western person, and eases communication among any different nationalities.
- Learning Esperanto helps you learn any other language. It has a regular form which makes it easy to learn, so you are not likely to get frustrated with it as you might with French or Spanish. (Many of you may remember having to memorize all those pesky irregular verb conjugations for a high school language class.) With Esperanto, you can communicate ideas almost right away and with little stress. This will boost your confidence for learning any non-native languages, as you build the basic skills of quickly picking apart, translating, and forming sentences.
- Esperanto sounds beautiful. When you listen to an Esperanto conversation or song, you hear delightful snippets of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, English, Russian, Polish, and Latin. I hear people say that Esperanto sounds like Spanish, but the people saying that are usually Americans, AKA speakers of a (mostly) Germanic language. I’ve heard Romance language speakers say Esperanto reminds them of German! And you can’t escape the Eastern European-ness of many Esperanto words, either. It truly sounds like what it’s intended to be: a neutral language that crosses national borders. (One that sounds beautiful, and is easy to learn!)
- You can be a tricky and speak Esperanto with your friends out among the krokodiloj, while no one outside of your group understands you. 😉
I’ve personally had a blast just learning Esperanto on my own with DuoLingo, and occasionally listening to Esperanto videos on YouTube. I plan to connect with other people to speak with once I’m just a bit better. I already discovered a couple days ago that someone in my social circle speaks Esperanto fluently!
Dankon, kaj bonan tagon al vi!