What is Esperanto?

On December 17th, 2017, a group of over 10 people arrived at a cultural center owned by an NGO in Taoyuan, Taiwan, called SEAMi (Southeast Asian Migrant inspired). Abengo, a retired metallurgy professor, immediately decorated the venue with green flags and some Esperanto ornaments. In the meantime, Reza who is an active promoter and leader of Taiwan Esperanto Association, put up a display of Esperanto books, brochures, and some souvenirs for sale, such as T-shirts, on the tables. Soon after everything was prepared, Taiwan’s Esperanto Day 2017 event finally began, and everyone tried their best to speak only in Esperanto.

Every time I showed a book written in Esperanto to my friends, many of them asked “Is this Spanish?” as they discover some resemblances between these two Latin-based languages. What they didn’t know was that Esperanto has been known as the world's most successful constructed language. It is currently spoken by roughly two million people and some 2,000 native speakers.


The History of Esperanto (La historio de Esperanto)

In a Polish town called Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (widely known as L. L. Zamenhof) created Esperanto sometime in the late 1870s and early 1880s. L. L. Zamenhof was a Jewish ophthalmologist who believed that a lingua franca could create world peace and foster harmony between people from different countries. He mentioned on one occasion that the place where he was born and spent his childhood inspired him to the creation of Esperanto. The inhabitants of Białystok were divided into four groups: Poles, Jews, Russians, and Germans; each of whom spoke their own languages.

L. L. Zamenhof spent around ten years developing the language, and he finally published his first book of Esperanto grammar “Unua Libro (The First Book)” in Warsaw on July 26th, 1887 under the pseudonym “Dr. Esperanto”, where “Esperanto” means "the one who hopes". He named his language “Internacia Lingvo (International Language)”

The speakers of Esperanto or called “Esperantists” from different countries kept in contact primarily through periodicals and correspondence. It was 1905 when the first World Congress of Esperanto (Universala Kongreso) was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. Since then, various countries have held the world congress annually, except during the two World Wars. The attendees after the Second World War has been estimated to be upwards of 6,000 people.

Esperanto and The Internet (Esperanto kaj la interreto)

The internet has given Esperanto a new life after its revival from the prohibition of use during the wartime. Esperantists from different countries now use real-time communication tools, such as Skype to keep in touch with one another. The following is a list of some websites that are available in Esperanto:

1- Wikipedia: Esperanto Wikipedia is the 32nd largest Wikipedia, as measured by the number of articles (with about over 252,000 articles). It is also the largest Wikipedia in a constructed language.

2- Google Translate: Esperanto was added as the 64th language on February 22nd, 2012.

3- UNESCO Courier: This main magazine by the UNESCO has been available online since March 2006. It is available in the six official languages of the organization (English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese and Russian). The magazine is also translated into Esperanto in collaboration with the World Esperanto Association.

4- Le Monde diplomatique: or “Le Diplo”,  as its French readers call it, is a monthly newspaper offering opinion and analysis on culture, politics, and current affairs. In 2018, there were 29 international editions in 18 languages, including Esperanto.

5- Global Voices: This non-profit project grew out of an international bloggers’ meeting in December 2004 and started at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Since May 2015, there are more than 40 translator groups for different languages and Esperanto is one of the translated languages.

Learn Esperanto! (Lernu esperanton!)

Esperanto derives its vocabulary primarily from a range of European languages, especially those belonging to the Romance group. It is designed to be easy to learn with only 16 grammar rules, no exceptions, and words pronounced phonetically. Esperanto words are mostly constructed by stringing together roots, grammatical endings, and prefixes and suffixes. It has a 28-letter alphabet: a b c ĉ d e f g ĝ h ĥ i j ĵ k l m n o p r s ŝ t u ŭ v z. All nouns end in -o, all adjectives in -a, all adverbs in -e, all verbs end in -as for present tense, -is for past tense, and -os for future tense.

Here are some phrases:

Hello. Saluton
Yes Jes
No Ne
Good morning Bonan matenon
Good evening Bonan vesperon
Good night Bonan nokton
Goodbye Ĝis revido
What is your name? Kio estas via nomo?
My name is Teddy. Mia nomo estas Teddy.
How are you? Kiel vi fartas?

Esperanto Communities (la komunumoj de Esperanto)

Esperanto speakers from various urban areas around the world often form Esperanto clubs and gatherings. The gatherings can be as small as local club gatherings to the bigger ones like international gatherings. World Esperanto Association (Universala Esperanto-Asocio) has a list of countries where there are Esperanto speakers including their contact information on its website.

Sidney S. Culbert, a retired psychology professor at the University of Washington and a longtime Esperantist, concluded from his 20-year experiment in dozens of countries that between one and two million people speak Esperanto at proficient level or Foreign Service Level 3 which means being able to communicate complex ideas without hesitation, and to follow radio broadcasts, speeches, etc.

There are even native Esperanto speakers whose parents met in Esperanto events. The biggest Esperanto event is the World Esperanto Congress (Universala Kongreso de Esperanto) that takes place annually in different countries since 1905 with an almost unbroken run for 113 years (2018 in Portugal, 2019 in Finland, and 2020 in Canada).  

One of the many benefits of learning Esperanto is to get free accommodation while traveling. There is a Couchsurfing-like hospitality service called the Pasporta Servo (Passport Service) which contains information of people within the Esperanto-land (Esperantujo) who are willing to host Esperanto speakers in their residences for free. One of the conditions is to speak only Esperanto during the stay.

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