That vision must have been what Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, a Polish opthalmologist with deep pacifist convictions, saw when he created the language that eventually became known as Esperanto.
Created in the late 19th Century, it was initially known as “International Language”, and its purpose was to create an easy to learn and flexible language that would serve as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding. While that specific period of history was *relatively* peaceful, the previous centuries had been ones of constant conflict between the nations of continental Europe. Zamenhof’s view was that a universal language would help to build a sense of community and shared culture among the countries who adopted it.
His three main goals for Esperanto as a language were as follows:
- "To render the study of the language so easy as to make its acquisition mere play to the learner.”
- "To enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with people of any nationality, whether the language be universally accepted or not; in other words, the language is to be directly a means of international communication."
- "To find some means of overcoming the natural indifference of mankind, and disposing them, in the quickest manner possible, and en masse, to learn and use the proposed language as a living one, and not only in last extremities, and with the key at hand."
It won’t be a huge spoiler to say that, regardless of Esperanto’s noble goals, the language didn’t quite manage to stay afloat and fulfill its purpose. This can be attributed to various factors, but it is likely that the convoluted and war-torn early 20th Century that followed its creation, something that the language was attempting to end, ultimately proved to be its downfall. Nationalism sweeped over Europe, and an international language was in stark contrast to the widespread political goals of many nations. Esperanto was greatly disencouraged in countries like Germany Spain, and the Soviet Union, which were key players in the development of Europe at the time.
The struggles of Esperanto wouldn’t have come as a surprise to its creator though. He believed that widespread adoption of the language could take decades, or even centuries, since international divisions were so great and complex in nature.
It’s not all doom and gloom though,as the title of this article (translated as “in memory of Esperanto”) is slightly misleading. Esperanto, although far from fulfilling its lofty goals, is alive and well in the 21st Century. While it’s true that English seems to have ultimately filled its role as an international second language, and it’s likely that it will remain like this for the foreseeable future, there is a large and passionate community of Esperanto speakers that keep the language alive and kicking. One can learn it on apps like Duolingo, and Wikipedia has a surprisingly large amount of articles written in the language.
If you work as a translator, you will probably have mixed feelings towards the language. On one hand, its benefits for humanity seem rather difficult to ignore, and on the other, its success would eventually make translation redundant altogether.
Nevertheless, it’s good to be aware of the existence of Esperanto, as the times we live in are strange indeed, and one never knows when it might make a triumphant appearance back into the spotlight and help us make a better world. Ok, it won’t get you into any top job, or be an essential part of your CV, but if you want to give Esperanto a shot just for the fun of it, here are a few basic words and expressions to get you started.
Hello – Saluton
Goodbye - Ĝis (la) revido
How are you? – Kiel vi fartas
Okay – Bone
Thank you – Dankon
Congratulations – Gratulon
Do you speak Esperanto? - Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?