Language Monday: Esperanto

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Most people grow up speaking the language spoken by their parents. This is often the language spoken most frequently in the local community, as well. However, there are so many languages in the world that it can be difficult for people of different language backgrounds to communicate with one another. For many years, people have dreamed of creating a single universal language that all people could speak and understand. Esperanto <EHS puh RAHN toh> is one such attempt at a universal language.

Esperanto was established in 1887. That year, a Polish physician named L. L. Zamenhof published Lingvo Internacia (International Language), a book that established rules for his new constructed language—that is, a language that does not appear naturally. A revised edition of the book quickly followed, and the two editions came to be known as Unua Libro (First Book) and Dua Libro (Second Book). Zamenhoff created the language to help promote world peace and diplomacy. Zamenhoff’s intended name for the language was Lingvo Internacia. However, the pseudonym under which he wrote the book, Doktoro Esperanto (“Doctor Hopeful”), proved catchy, and Esperanto was soon adopted as the language’s official name.

Esperanto uses a Roman alphabet, in which each letter represents a single sound. Zamenhof intended the language to be easy to learn, so it has a simple structure. Adjectives end in a, adverbs end in e, and nouns end in o. Plurals end in j. The language’s basic vocabulary consists mainly of root words common to Indo-European languages (a group of related languages spoken in India, western Asia, and Europe). The following sentence is written in Esperanto: La astronauto, per speciala instrumento, fotografas la lunon. The translation: The astronaut, with a special instrument, photographs the moon.

Experts estimate millions of people throughout the world speak Esperanto. In the United States and Canada, the Esperanto League for North America sponsors courses and annual conferences. Many books, from the Bible to Frankenstein, have been translated into the language, and several feature films have been made in Esperanto (most notably Incubus, a 1966 horror movie starring William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame). In the early years of the League of Nations, there was a push to make Esperanto the language of discourse, but it did not succeed. The League of Nations was an international association of countries created to maintain peace after World War I (1914-1918).

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Image: The Esperanto flag was adopted at an international Esperanto conference in France in 1905. It was intended to represent the Esperanto movement to promote world peace and diplomacy, and to go alongside written translations in Esperanto, the same way the French flag signifies translations in French. Credit: Public Domain
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