If, in our world of around 2000 languages, someone sees the necessity of a new one, it raises the question of “what for?”, and the inventor of Esperanto language has a strong reason for it. But first…
What exactly is the Esperanto language?
Unlike the natural languages whose vocabulary and grammar evolve and develop over time with usage and custom, Esperanto is an ‘artificial’ language, a language that was planned out by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, in the late 1800s. This language has around 920 word roots(largely from Latin, and some from German Polish, English and Russian) and 16 simple grammatical rules that, when used correctly, can create thousands of words.
The word “Esperanto” is derived from a word of the language itself, which translates to “hopeful”.
What was Dr. Zamenhof hoping for?
Growing up a Jew in the then Russian Empire, Dr. Zamenhof saw brutalities and discrimination of every kind. The Germans, Jews, Russians and Poles near his home regarded each other as enemies and had frequent fights. After observing that this ethnic conflict in the Russian Empire mirrored the conflict in the outside world, Dr. Zamenhof inferred that one of the major reasons for clashes and conflicts is linguistic difference and disparity. This difference led to the division of the world into smaller sects and groups that were often clashing.
The obvious solution for these conflicts was a ‘universal language’: a language that could be spoken by everyone in the world and would thus transcend regional, national and linguistic boundaries, leading to universal brotherhood.
The beginning of Esperanto
After years of study and work (Zamenhof was an ophthalmologist with a passion for learning languages), our inventor published his first work on Esperanto, known as the “Unua Libro”, or the First Book, in Warsaw, in 1887. This book laid the groundwork for the language and included 920 roots and 16 grammatical rules. Latin roots were the most common, reason being the ease with which romance-language speakers would adopt this language.
The crests and troughs in the history of Esperanto
Now, Esperanto wasn’t the first made-up or artificial language we had known, but it definitely was the most popular. It’s popularity can be summed up by the fact that Neutral Moresnet had almost declared Esperanto as its official language! Sitting between two rival empires and consisting of multiple ethnic groups, this little country saw this as the only way to remain neutral.
Thousands over thousands of people started learning this language, viewing it as a way to bring peace to the world, but this idea was shattered by the two deadly World Wars.
With the first World War, people realised that the artificial language could do close to nothing when it came to bloodthirsty people. Neutral Monserat, the most hopeful state when it came to our language, also lost its independence. However, speakers of, and believers in the power of this language continued to practice and rebuild it, hoping for a brighter future. In the early 1900s, the League of Nations formed a proposal to make Esperanto its official language (but France played its veto card). A revival started taking place and some newspapers and publishers started using this language.
This revival, again, was smashed with the gruesome reality of World War 2. When Hitler came to power, he basically told everyone that Esperanto was a diabolical Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.
Because Dr. Zamenhof was a Jew himself, the Nazis considered the language and its speakers as enemies, started hunting them down and executed them.
However, believers that they were, the people kept practicing and teaching Esperanto in concentration camps, telling the guards that it was just Italian.
In Soviet Russia, too, the language started being regarded as dangerous. Even though Stalin had studied the language for quite a bit, he started rounding up speakers and killing them, too.
Violence kept going on, but speakers never stopped growing.
How many people speak this dear language today?
We can’t get an exact count of the number of people speaking this language today (because they’re widespread), but a round-up shows that they are around 2 WHOPPING MILLION! Not just that, either. Even though Esperanto was an artificial language that was meant to be auxiliary, about a thousand people are actually native speakers! This means that 1,000 people in the world have learnt Esperanto as their first language. How cool is that?
These people can be found mostly in Europe, but not all of them. Speakers of Esperanto are spread all over the world, patiently basking in the renaissance that’s happening at the moment.
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