“Esperanto” – The Beginning of a New Language
Invented languages can be fun. Have you ever used a language like Pig Latin with your friends and watched as other people struggled to understand you? When you use these kinds of invented languages, your purpose is usually to keep other people, such as your parents, from understanding what you say. However, what if an invented language could actually help strangers from around the world to understand each other? That’s what a man named L. L. Zamenhof hoped when he invented the Esperanto language in the late nineteenth century.
L. L. Zamenhof was born in the city of Bialystok, Russia (now Poland) in 1859. He later moved with his family to Warsaw, the capital city. When he was growing up he learned several languages, including Russian, Polish, and Latin. He became a doctor but dreamed of inventing a world language that would allow people of all countries to speak with each other. In 1872, he began to invent a language which he called Esperanto or Eo; the name “Esperanto” means “hope”. Zamenhof hoped that Esperanto would eventually overtake all other languages and gave it a third name, “La Lingvo Internacia” or “the international language.”
In 1887, Dr. Zamenhof published a book outlining the grammar and vocabulary of his new invention. To make his new language easy to learn, L. L. Zamenhof designed it to be as simple as possible. He used many of the words that already existed in languages like German, French, and Spanish but simplified the spelling and pronunciation. He used the same alphabet as these languages (with a few additional letters) but reduced the number of words in the vocabulary.
Instead of having a different word for everything, Esperanto uses a smaller number of basic words. These words then have extra letters called affixes added to the beginning or end of the word for different meanings. For example, “mi” means “I” and “mia” means “my.” “Mal” means “bad” and is used to change almost any word to its opposite. For example, “granda,” meaning “big,” becomes “small” with the word “mal” at the beginning. The language also has its own rules for how to put sentences together, much like English and other languages. It has fewer rules than most other languages, and the rules are generally easy to learn and follow.
The idea behind Esperanto was to make sure that everyone has an equal chance to learn and use the language of communication. So far, Esperanto has spread to 115 countries, including Poland, where it first started. Eastern Europe has the largest population of Esperanto speakers, although many parts of Asia and South America also have people who use the language, and some in North America. By 1999, about two million people had learned to understand and speak Esperanto.
Why would anyone want to learn a language like Esperanto? The language has never reached the kind of acceptance that its inventor hoped it would. However, if more people begin to learn it, who knows what might happen in the future?