Have you ever dreamed of being able to communicate with everyone in the world in just one language? After all, it can be quite exhausting to have to learn dozens of languages in order to get along in every foreign country.
You may have heard of Esperanto. Esperanto is a language invented to simplify international communication.
Does that appeal to you? It sounds ideal: No need to memorize the various German articles. The difficult Russian cases are a thing of the past and you don't have to learn new characters.
On the other hand: English already exists as a language in which the majority of the population can converse. Do we really still need Esperanto?
Esperanto has both advantages and some disadvantages. It has experienced both successes and setbacks. We take you on a linguistic journey through the past and present of Esperanto. "Ni iru" - Let's go!
What is Esperanto?
Esperanto is a planned language. This means that it is not a natural language, but an artificially created language. In 1887, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof published the basics of Esperanto. Zamenhof's pseudonym was "Doctor Esperanto" (meaning "Doctor Hopeful"), which gave the language its name.
Esperanto is not the official language of any country in the world. Nevertheless, there are about 1000 native speakers and between 0.5 and 1 million speakers worldwide.
The aim of Esperanto is to be a universal language for all people - beyond international borders. The easy-to-learn vocabulary and simple grammar should help to make the language accessible to everyone.
How has Esperanto developed over the years?
From the beginning until the First World War
Zamenhof was actually an ophthalmologist from Russia. Early on, he laid down the main features of his new language. It was not until 1887 that he published his Lingvo Internacia ("international language") after several revisions.
In the beginning, Esperanto was mainly spoken in the East, in Poland and Russia. Esperanto also arrived in Germany through the translations of Zamenhof's Esperanto brochures: Until 1895 the magazine La Esperantisto was published in Nuremberg. However, this had to be discontinued after the magazine lost 60 percent of its subscribers in Russia due to censorship.
But Esperanto also made progress in the West: The first national association for Esperanto was established in France, shortly thereafter also in many other countries in Europe and in some cases even beyond.
During the First World War, most Esperanto associations in warring countries had to restrict or stop their activities.
Prohibitions and prosecutions
There were major setbacks for the language from the 1930s onwards: Esperanto was banned and disabled in Spain, Portugal and East Asia. Under Hitler and Stalin, teaching Esperanto and artificial languages was generally not permitted. There was no room in the National Socialist state for the cultivation of artificially created languages. In addition, all associations committed to planned languages were dissolved.
Under Stalin, however, it was believed that arrested Esperantists were members of an international espionage association operating in the territory of the USSR under the name "Union of Soviet Esperantists".
In Germany, oppression lasted until the end of the dictatorship; in Russia it lasted even longer. Only after Stalin's death could people gradually start working for this language again as part of the World Association for Esperanto.
The period from 1989 to 1991 was a significant upheaval for the language community. In Eastern Europe, the state-run associations became free associations of citizens.
In 2001 the Esperanto Wikipedia was finally founded. This is an online encyclopedia in which terms, films, people and much more can be searched in Esperanto.
The structure of the language
Of course, even an invented language must have its rules.
Esperanto is a synthetic language. This means that the words consist of unchangeable word elements that are joined together to form different kinds of word. This can be illustrated by the word "domo", which means "house": A "-j" is appended to form the plural of the word: "domoj". To form the accusative plural, an "n" is added: "domojn".
Speech experts will have noticed that the word for house in Esperanto is similar to Latin. The majority of the vocabulary in Esperanto actually comes from the Romance languages, but to a lesser extent also from German, English, Slavic languages and Greek.
Esperanto is written in Latin letters. The spelling is phonetic. This means that only one sound is assigned to a character. Diacritical signs, as they are known from Polish, supplement the alphabet. For example, the "ĉ" in "dimanĉo" (Sunday) is pronounced "tsch".
Back to pre-Babel understanding
With its easy-to-use grammar and vocabulary, Esperanto wants to be an international "lingua franca" (business language) - a language that everyone speaks.
It recalls the history of the Tower of Babel: Since the people wanted to be like God in building the tower, God wanted to stop the construction. He achieved this without fighting: Instead, he caused a confusion of speech. People who previously spoke the same language suddenly spoke different languages. They were unable to complete the construction of the tower and scattered around the world because they could no longer communicate with each other.
Esperanto seems to want to bring back the state before the tower was built. No single language in the world, in our case obviously English, should have supremacy.
Esperanto has had some successes. For example, there is an extensive reference work, written by the Swiss Andreas Künzli, which deals with important personalities and collected documents in Esperanto.
Esperanto is particularly popular in China, Japan and Brazil, which shows that the language has traveled widely since its origin.
Classical literature and the Bible have been translated into the language, there are magazines, daily news websites, songs and - last but not least - congresses and meetings that take place in Esperanto.
Even the papal blessing "Urbi et Orbi" was pronounced in Esperanto by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
Although in 1907 an attempt to establish an Esperanto state called Amikejo ("Place of Friends") in today's Belgium failed, today there is a city in the Harz that is the only place in the world with street signs in Esperanto: Herzberg.
La Esperanto-urbo, the Esperanto city does not only have street signs in Esperanto: There are also bilingual menus in restaurants, the Esperanto flag flutters over the central square and Esperanto is spoken in hotels.
There you can continue your education, attend language courses and take part in exchanges. For some people, Esperanto is a gateway to the world. They can make contact with other people all over the world through this language.
In this video the positive aspects of Esperanto become clear not only on a social level, but also for children at school: Esperanto is their mother tongue and from this they can learn other languages, such as French or English, much more easily:
Has the world language failed?
For critics, however, it is clear that Esperanto has not established itself as a world language and probably never will, however beautiful the idea of a language understandable to all may be.
There are several reasons for this: After the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the then popular Esperanto radio broadcasts were discontinued and the language became obsolete.
More importantly, however, Esperanto has no economic or political significance. In the EU, communication is in English, or multilingualism remains and interpreters translate what is spoken.
Most people also lack an emotional connection to Esperanto. Identifying with an artificial language is always a little harder than with a natural language.
The alternative: English
Critics also criticize the fact that Esperanto is not as easy as widely claimed. For example, Romance vocabulary in combination with Polish spelling leads to alienation and problems in speaking and writing. Since most of the linguistic borrowings also come from European languages, Esperanto as a whole is a rather Eurocentric artificial language.
The question also arises as to whether or not English is sufficient as a universal language. Although the idea of a world language without supremacy has its charms, it is striking that world languages have always emerged over the centuries through political supremacy and conquests around the world.
Never before has a language been as successful as English. The universal language of English is indeed omnipresent and easier to learn than many other languages.
English is not only a universal language and is spoken and understood by most people, but is also more open to change and reform. Language is alive and constantly changing. Unfortunately Esperanto has missed out on this natural development - Zamenhof defined his manifesto of Esperanto as inviolable and thus prevented any reform of the language.
Learn no grammar - with Linguajet
You have seen that Esperanto has many advantages and has been successful over the years. The idea of a single language community that can communicate across borders is fantastic - but obviously remains just an idea. However, language lovers still have the opportunity to learn the most well-known planned language with the help of teaching materials.
The living language alternative is English. The universal language of English has become a recognized lingua franca and thus forms the foundation for communicating with people across borders.
Perhaps you rather liked the idea that you need to learn less grammar with Esperanto. But don't worry: With Linguajet, no matter which language you choose, you don't have to memorize any grammar!
With our range of languages, for example, you learn English in a brain-friendly way. Use short passages of text to familiarize yourself with new vocabulary. Then run the text in the background. By speaking it aloud you subconsciously learn the pronunciation of words and the grammatical structure is memorized all by itself.
If you are already an English expert, try Chinese. Then you can even talk to enthusiastic Esperanto speakers in their native language.
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