What happened to Esperanto?

Esperanto language which was invented a century ago by a Polish with pacific and international ambitions had mixed success: it has not become the language of all people, but it still resists.

The Esperanto is an artificial language, created from words and grammatical rules of other languages. Elaborated between 1882 and 1887 by Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, a Polish linguist and a doctor, who had intermittent popularity. Zamenhof studied many languages and decided to propose a synthesis of them: a simplified version that could aspire to become an international auxiliary language (IAL), a language which can be used for the communication between people from different countries. Zamenhof designed Esperanto as a language capable to foster international relations and world peace. In fact, it means “the one who hopes”, and derives from Doktoro Esperanto, the pseudonym which Zamenhof chose for some of its publications.

In Zamenholf’s ambitions his language should have become what English is today. Unfortunately, it did not happen. Despite this fact it remains the most spread artificial language in the world with around 2 million of connoisseurs all over the world. Albeit worse results than expected over a hundred years ago, the Esperanto is still alive: written, spoken and discussed.

Esperanto’s rules   

In 1887 Zamenhof published  the first book entirely in this language, “Unua Libro”, in which explained the principles of the language, some of its words and some examples of texts, for instance, some Bible verses. Esperanto’s rules were refined in 1905 when Zamenhof published “Fundamento de Esperanto”, a book divided in four parts: preface (Antaŭparolo), grammar (Gramatiko), exercises (Ekzercaro) and a universal dictionary (Univarsal Vortaro).The Economist explains that the Esperanto’s main quality is its simplicity: “Zamenhof conceived it to spread. Its roots are in the main European languages. Its grammar is always regular [no exceptions]: the names end in -o, adjectives in -a, adverbs in -e, plurals with a j “. The majority of basic words of Esperanto derive from Latin, others from Italian, French, German, English, Russian and Polish. There are also words from Arabic, Japanese and many other languages. However, some of Esperanto’s words are native idioms, invented from scratch by Zamenhof or later by other Esperanto’s community members. For example, husband in Esperanto is “edzo”. The language is based on 16 main rules. Number nine says that “each word is read as it’s written”. Indeed, it’s a language where every letter corresponds just to one sound.

Esperanto’s evolution

Esperanto was not been able to establish itself as Zamenhof wished. The worldwide diffusion of the language was impeded also by the two World Wars: an international language with pacifist ambitions was against the nationalisms that were being established in the first half of the 19th century. Esperantists were
persecuted both by Stalin and Hitler, the latter spoke of it in the “Mein Kampf”. Hitler thought that Zamenhof, who was a Jew, wanted to provide a common language to the Jewish Diaspora, and defined it as “the spies’s language”. In 1954 UNESCO officially recognized the “results obtained by means of Esperanto in the fields of international trade and in the approach of the peoples”. UNESCO decided to cooperate with UEA (Universal Esperanto Association) to promote the diffusion of this language. In 1985, 2 years before the centenary of Esperanto, UNESCO officially invited its members and other NGOs to celebrate and promote Esperanto. In recent years there were several proposals to use it as EU’s language, for instance, during the Parliament’s work. The proposals were always been rejected.

Esperanto today

Esperanto, especially due to the Internet, managed to survive. In addition to many Wikipedia pages (the first appearance in 2001) there is also a website – Pasporta Servo – which offers a free service of couchsurfing: users can travel around the world asking other Esperanto speakers to host them in their houses for a few days. Among the languages ​​that Google Translate allows you to translate there is Esperanto; Duolingo, one of the most popular app for learning languages, provides courses of it.


If you think about its original ambitions after thirty years, it has proved a failure, writes the New Yorker. But it is also true that there are six thousand not artificial languages in the world ​​that are spoken by fewer people than Esperanto. Esperanto will survive and will do it due to the Internet, some native speakers, many fans and, according to The Economist, thanks to the “ideal of international harmony that it promotes.”

Saluton!  Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? (Hi! Do you speak Esperanto?)

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