The Esperanto flag
|Created by||L. L. Zamenhof|
|Setting and usage||International auxiliary language|
|Users||Native: Around 1,000 families involving around 2,000 children (2004)
L2 users: estimates range from 100,000 total (1999)[not in citation given] to 10 million total (1996)
|Dialects||Ido and other Esperantidos|
|Latin script (Esperanto alphabet)
|Sources||Vocabulary from Romance and Germanic languages, grammar from Slavic languages|
|Regulated by||Akademio de Esperanto|
Esperanto (// or //; in Esperanto: [espeˈranto] listen (help·info)) is a constructed international auxiliary language. It is the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. The Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, Unua Libro, on 26 July 1887. The name of Esperanto derives from Doktoro Esperanto ("Esperanto" translates as "one who hopes"), the pseudonym under which Zamenhof published Unua Libro.
Zamenhof had three goals, as he wrote in Unua Libro:
Up to two million people worldwide, to varying degrees, speak Esperanto, including about 1,000 to 2,000 native speakers who learned Esperanto from birth. The World Esperanto Association has more than 5,500 members in 120 countries. Its usage is highest in Europe, East Asia, and South America. lernu!, the most popular online learning platform for Esperanto, reported 150,000 registered users in 2013, and sees between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors each month. With about 238,000 articles, Esperanto Wikipedia is the 32nd-largest Wikipedia as measured by the number of articles, and is the largest Wikipedia in a constructed language. On 22 February 2012, Google Translate added Esperanto as its 64th language. On 28 May 2015, the language learning platform Duolingo launched an Esperanto course for English speakers. As of 30 January 2017[update], over 710,000 users had signed up, with approximately 30 users completing the course every day.
The first World Congress of Esperanto was organized in France in 1905. Since then, congresses have been held in various countries every year, with the exceptions of years during the world wars. Although no country has adopted Esperanto officially, “Esperantujo” is the collective name given to places where it is spoken. Esperanto was recommended by the French Academy of Sciences in 1921 and recognized by UNESCO in 1954, which recommended in 1985 that international non-governmental organizations use Esperanto. Esperanto was the 32nd language accepted as adhering to the "Common European Framework of Reference for Languages" in 2007.
Esperanto was created in the late 1870s and early 1880s by L. L. Zamenhof, a Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist from Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire. According to Zamenhof, he created the language to reduce the "time and labour we spend in learning foreign tongues" and to foster harmony between people from different countries: "Were there but an international language, all translations would be made into it alone ... and all nations would be united in a common brotherhood." His feelings and the situation in Białystok may be gleaned from an extract from his letter to Nikolai Borovko:
"The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Białystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind, although many people may smile at such an 'anguish for the world' in a child. Since at that time I thought that 'grown-ups' were omnipotent, so I often said to myself that when I grew up I would certainly destroy this evil."— L. L. Zamenhof, in a letter to Nikolai Borovko, ca. 1895
About his goals Zamenhof wrote that he wants mankind to "learn and use", "en masse", "the proposed language as a living one". The goal for Esperanto to become a general world language was not the only goal of Zamenhof; he also wanted to "enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with persons 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."
After some ten years of development, which Zamenhof spent translating literature into Esperanto as well as writing original prose and verse, the first book of Esperanto grammar was published in Warsaw on the 26th of July 1887. The number of speakers grew rapidly over the next few decades, at first primarily in the Russian Empire and Central Europe, then in other parts of Europe, the Americas, China, and Japan. In the early years, speakers of Esperanto kept in contact primarily through correspondence and periodicals, but in 1905 the first world congress of Esperanto speakers was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. Since then world congresses have been held in different countries every year, except during the two World Wars. Since the Second World War, they have been attended by an average of more than 2,000 people and up to 6,000 people.
Zamenhof's name for the language was simply Internacia Lingvo ("International Language").
The autonomous territory of Neutral Moresnet, between what is today Belgium and Germany, had a sizable proportion of Esperanto-speakers among its small and multiethnic population. There was a proposal to make Esperanto its official language.
However, neither Belgium nor Prussia (now within Germany) had ever surrendered its original claim to it. Around 1900, Germany in particular was taking a more aggressive stance towards the territory and was accused of sabotage and of obstructing the administrative process in order to force the issue. It was the First World War, however, that was the catalyst that brought about the end of neutrality. On 4 August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium, leaving Moresnet at first "an oasis in a desert of destruction". In 1915, the territory was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia, without international recognition.
After the Great War, there was a proposal for the League of Nations to accept Esperanto as their working language, following a report by Nitobe Inazō, an official delegate of League of Nations during the 13th World Congress of Esperanto in Prague. Ten delegates accepted the proposal with only one voice against, the French delegate, Gabriel Hanotaux. Hanotaux did not like how the French language was losing its position as the international language and saw Esperanto as a threat, effectively wielding his veto power to block the decision. However, two years later, the League recommended that its member states include Esperanto in their educational curricula. For this reason, many people see the 1920s as the heyday of the Esperanto movement. Anarchism as a political movement was very supportive during this time of anationalism as well as of the Esperanto language.
Esperanto attracted the suspicion of many states. The situation was especially pronounced in Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain up until the 1950s, and in the Soviet Union from 1937 to 1956.
In Nazi Germany, there was a motivation to forbid Esperanto because Zamenhof was Jewish, and due to the internationalist nature of Esperanto, which was perceived as "Bolshevist". In his work, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler specifically mentioned Esperanto as an example of a language that could be used by an international Jewish conspiracy once they achieved world domination. Esperantists were killed during the Holocaust, with Zamenhof's family in particular singled out for being killed. The efforts of a minority of Esperantists to expel Jewish colleagues and align themselves with the Reich were futile and Esperanto was legally forbidden in 1935. Esperantists in German concentration camps taught the language to fellow prisoners, telling guards they were teaching Italian, the language of one of Germany's Axis allies.
In Imperial Japan, the left-wing of the Japanese Esperanto movement was forbidden, but its leaders were careful enough not to give the impression to the government that the Esperantists were socialist revolutionaries, which proved a successful strategy.
After the October Revolution of 1917, Esperanto was given a measure of government support by the new workers' states in the former Russian Empire and later by the Soviet Union government, with the Soviet Esperanto Association being established as an officially recognized organization. In his biography on Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky mentions that Stalin had studied Esperanto. However, in 1937, at the height of the Great Purge, Stalin completely reversed the Soviet government's policies on Esperanto; many Esperanto speakers were executed, exiled or held in captivity in the Gulag labour camps. Quite often the accusation was: "You are an active member of an international spy organisation which hides itself under the name of 'Association of Soviet Esperantists' on the territory of the Soviet Union." Until the end of the Stalin era it was dangerous to use Esperanto in the Soviet Union despite the fact that it was never officially forbidden to speak Esperanto.
Fascist Italy allowed the use of Esperanto, finding its phonology similar to that of Italian and publishing some tourist material in the language.
During and after the Spanish Civil War, Francoist Spain forbade anarchists, socialists and Catalan nationalists for many years, among whom the use of Esperanto was extensive, but in the 1950s the Esperanto movement was tolerated again.
Esperanto has not been a secondary official language of any recognized country, but it entered the education system of several countries such as Hungary and China.
There were plans at the beginning of the 20th century to establish Neutral Moresnet as the world's first Esperanto state. In addition, the self-proclaimed artificial island micronation of Rose Island used Esperanto as its official language in 1968, and another micronation, the extant Republic of Molossia, uses Esperanto as an official language alongside English.
Esperanto is the working language of several non-profit international organizations such as the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda, a left-wing cultural association, or Education@Internet, which has developed from an Esperanto organization; most others are specifically Esperanto organizations. The largest of these, the World Esperanto Association, has an official consultative relationship with the United Nations and UNESCO, which recognized Esperanto as a medium for international understanding in 1954. Esperanto is also the first language of teaching and administration of one university, the International Academy of Sciences San Marino.
In the summer of 1924, the American Radio Relay League adopted Esperanto as its official international auxiliary language, and hoped that the language would be used by radio amateurs in international communications, but its actual use for radio communications was negligible.
Zamenhof's goal to "enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with persons of any nationality, whether the language be universally accepted or not", as he wrote in 1887, has been achieved as the language is currently spoken by people living in more than one hundred countries.
On the other hand, one common criticism made is that Esperanto has failed to live up to the hopes of its creator, who dreamed of it becoming a universal second language. In this regard it has to be noted that Zamenhof was well aware that it may take much time, maybe even many centuries, to get this hope into reality. In his speech at the World Esperanto Congress in Cambridge in 1907 he said, "we hope that earlier or later, maybe after many centuries, on a neutral language foundation, understanding one each other, the nations will build ... a big family circle."
The Esperanto alphabet is based on the Latin script, using a one-sound-one-letter principle, except for [d͡z]. It includes six letters with diacritics: ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ (with circumflex), and ŭ (with breve). The alphabet does not include the letters q, w, x, or y, which are only used when writing unassimilated foreign terms or proper names.
The 28-letter alphabet is:
All unaccented letters are pronounced approximately as in the IPA, with the exception of c. Esperanto j and c are used in a way familiar to speakers of many European languages, but which is largely unfamiliar to English speakers: j has a y sound [j~i̯], as in yellow and boy, and c has a ts sound [t͡s], as in hits or the zz in pizza. The accented letters are a bit like h-digraphs in English: Ĉ is pronounced like English ch, and ŝ like sh. Ĝ is the g in gem, ĵ a zh sound, as in fusion or French Jacques, and the rare ĥ is like the German Bach, Scottish Gaelic, Scots and Scottish Standard English loch, or how Scouse people sometimes pronounce the 'k' in book and 'ck' in chicken.
Even with the widespread adoption of Unicode, the letters with diacritics (found in the "Latin-Extended A" section of the Unicode Standard) can cause problems with printing and computing, because they are not found on most physical keyboards and are left out of certain fonts.
There are two principal workarounds to this problem, which substitute digraphs for the accented letters. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, created an "h-convention", which replaces ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, and ŭ with ch, gh, hh, jh, sh, and u, respectively. If used in a database, a program in principle could not determine whether to render, for example, ch as c followed by h or as ĉ, and would fail to render, for example, the word senchava properly. A more recent "x-convention" has gained ground since the advent of computing. This system replaces each diacritic with an x (not part of the Esperanto alphabet) after the letter, producing the six digraphs cx, gx, hx, jx, sx, and ux.
There are computer keyboard layouts that support the Esperanto alphabet, and some systems use software that automatically replaces x- or h-convention digraphs with the corresponding diacritic letters (Amiketo for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux and Esperanta Klavaro for Windows Phone and Gboard and AnySoftKeyboard for Android are examples).
Criticisms are made of the letters with circumflex diacritics, which some find odd or cumbersome, along with their being invented specifically for Esperanto rather than borrowed from existing languages; as well as being arguably unnecessary, as for example with the use of ŭ instead of w.
The phonology, grammar, vocabulary, and semantics are based on the Indo-European languages spoken in Europe. The sound inventory is essentially Slavic, as is much of the semantics, whereas the vocabulary derives primarily from the Romance languages, with a lesser contribution from Germanic languages and minor contributions from Slavic languages and Greek. Pragmatics and other aspects of the language not specified by Zamenhof's original documents were influenced by the native languages of early authors, primarily Russian, Polish, German, and French. Paul Wexler proposes that Esperanto is relexified Yiddish, which he claims is in turn a relexified Slavic language, though this model is not accepted by mainstream academics.
Esperanto has been described as "a language lexically predominantly Romanic, morphologically intensively agglutinative, and to a certain degree isolating in character". Typologically, Esperanto has prepositions and a pragmatic word order that by default is subject–verb–object. Adjectives can be freely placed before or after the nouns they modify, though placing them before the noun is more common. New words are formed through extensive prefixing and suffixing.
Esperanto words are mostly derived by stringing together roots, grammatical endings, and at times prefixes and suffixes. This process is regular, so that people can create new words as they speak and be understood. Compound words are formed with a modifier-first, head-final order, as in English (compare "birdsong" and "songbird," and likewise, birdokanto and kantobirdo). Speakers may optionally insert an o between the words in a compound noun if placing them together directly without the o would make the resulting word hard to say or understand.
The different parts of speech are marked by their own suffixes: all common nouns end in -o, all adjectives in -a, all derived adverbs in -e, and all verbs in one of six tense and mood suffixes, such as the present tense -as. Nouns and adjectives have two cases: nominative for grammatical subjects and in general, and accusative for direct objects and (after a preposition) to indicate direction of movement.
Singular nouns used as grammatical subjects end in -o, plural subject nouns in -oj (pronounced [oi̯] like English "oy"). Singular direct object forms end in -on, and plural direct objects with the combination -ojn ([oi̯n]; rhymes with "coin"): -o- indicates that the word is a noun, -j- indicates the plural, and -n indicates the accusative (direct object) case. Adjectives agree with their nouns; their endings are singular subject -a ([a]; rhymes with "ha!"), plural subject -aj ([ai̯], pronounced "eye"), singular object -an, and plural object -ajn ([ai̯n]; rhymes with "fine").
The suffix -n, besides indicating the direct object, is used to indicate movement and a few other things as well.
The six verb inflections consist of three tenses and three moods. They are present tense -as, future tense -os, past tense -is, infinitive mood -i, conditional mood -us and jussive mood -u (used for wishes and commands). Verbs are not marked for person or number. Thus, kanti means "to sing", mi kantas means "I sing", vi kantas means "you sing", and ili kantas means "they sing".
Word order is comparatively free. Adjectives may precede or follow nouns; subjects, verbs and objects may occur in any order. However, the article la "the", demonstratives such as tiu "that" and prepositions (such as ĉe "at") must come before their related nouns. Similarly, the negative ne "not" and conjunctions such as kaj "and" and ke "that" must precede the phrase or clause that they introduce. In copular (A = B) clauses, word order is just as important as in English: "people are animals" is distinguished from "animals are people".
This is most often noted in regard to the vocabulary, but applies equally to the orthography, phonology, and semantics, all of which are thoroughly European. The vocabulary, for example, draws about two-thirds from Romance and one-third from Germanic languages; the syntax is Romance; and the phonology and semantics are Slavic. The grammar is arguably more European than not, but Claude Piron among others argues that the derivation system is not particularly European, though the inflection is.
Esperanto is frequently accused of being inherently sexist, because the default form of some nouns is masculine while a derived form is used for the feminine, which is said to retain traces of the male-dominated society of late 19th-century Europe of which Esperanto is a product. There are a couple dozen masculine nouns, primarily titles and kin terms, such as sinjoro "Mr, sir" vs. sinjorino "Mrs, lady" and patro "father" vs. patrino "mother". In addition, nouns that denote persons and whose definitions are not explicitly male are often assumed to be male unless explicitly made female, such as doktoro, a PhD doctor (male or unspecified) versus doktorino, a female PhD. This is analogous to the situation with the English suffix -ess, as in baron/baroness, waiter/waitress etc. Esperanto pronouns are similar. As in English, li "he" may be used generically, whereas ŝi "she" is always female.
Esperanto has 23 consonants, five vowels, and two semivowels that combine with the vowels to form six diphthongs. (The consonant /j/ and semivowel /i̯/ are both written j, and the uncommon consonant /dz/ is written with the digraph dz, which is the only consonant that doesn't have its own letter.) Tone is not used to distinguish meanings of words. Stress is always on the second-last vowel in fully Esperanto words unless a final vowel o is elided, which occurs mostly in poetry. For example, familio "family" is [fa.mi.ˈli.o], with the stress on the second i, but when the word is used without the final o (famili’), the stress remains on the second i: [fa.mi.ˈli].
The 23 consonants are:
The sound /r/ is usually trilled [r], but may be tapped [ɾ]. The /v/ is normally pronounced like English v, but may be pronounced [ʋ] (between English v and w) or [w], depending on the language background of the speaker. A semivowel /u̯/ normally occurs only in diphthongs after the vowels /a/ and /e/, not as a consonant /w/. Common, if debated, assimilation includes the pronunciation of nk as [ŋk] and kz as [ɡz].
A large number of consonant clusters can occur, up to three in initial position (as in stranga, "strange") and four in medial position (as in instrui, "teach"). Final clusters are uncommon except in foreign names, poetic elision of final o, and a very few basic words such as cent "hundred" and post "after".
There are also two semivowels, /i̯/ and /u̯/, which combine with the monophthongs to form six falling diphthongs: aj, ej, oj, uj, aŭ, and eŭ.
Since there are only five vowels, a good deal of variation in pronunciation is tolerated. For instance, e commonly ranges from [e] (French é) to [ɛ] (French è). These details often depend on the speaker's native language. A glottal stop may occur between adjacent vowels in some people's speech, especially when the two vowels are the same, as in heroo "hero" ([he.ˈro.o] or [he.ˈro.ʔo]) and praavo "great-grandfather" ([pra.ˈa.vo] or [pra.ˈʔa.vo]).
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The following short extract gives an idea of the character of Esperanto. (Pronunciation is covered above; the Esperanto letter j is pronounced like English y.)
Below are listed some useful Esperanto words and phrases along with IPA transcriptions:
|Good morning||Bonan matenon||[ˈbo.nan ma.ˈte.non]|
|Good evening||Bonan vesperon||[ˈbo.nan ves.ˈpe.ron]|
|Good night||Bonan nokton||[ˈbo.nan ˈnok.ton]|
|Goodbye||Ĝis (la) revido||[ˈdʒis (la) re.ˈvi.do]|
|What is your name?||Kio estas via nomo?||[ˈki.o ˌes.tas ˌvi.a ˈno.mo]|
|My name is Marco.||Mia nomo estas Marko||[ˌmi.a ˈno.mo ˌes.tas ˈmar.ko]|
|How are you?||Kiel vi fartas?||[ˈki.el vi ˈfar.tas]|
|I am well.||Mi fartas bone||[mi ˈfar.tas ˈbo.ne]|
|Do you speak Esperanto?||Ĉu vi parolas Esperante?||[ˈtʃu vi pa.ˈro.las ˌes.pe.ˈran.te]|
|I don't understand you||Mi ne komprenas vin||[mi ˌne kom.ˈpre.nas ˌvin]|
|You're welcome||Ne dankinde||[ˌne.dan.ˈkin.de]|
|Forgive me/Excuse me||Pardonu min||[par.ˈdo.nu ˈmin]|
|I love you||Mi amas vin||[mi ˈa.mas ˌvin]|
|One beer, please||Unu bieron, mi petas||[ˈu.nu bi.ˈe.ron, mi ˈpe.tas]|
|Where is the toilet?||Kie estas la necesejo?||[ˈki.e ˈes.tas ˈla ˌne.tse.ˈse.jo]|
|What is that?||Kio estas tio?||[ˈki.o ˌes.tas ˈti.o]|
|That is a dog||Tio estas hundo||[ˈti.o ˌes.tas ˈhun.do]|
|We will love!||Ni amos!||[ni ˈa.mos]|
|I am a beginner in Esperanto.||Mi estas komencanto de Esperanto||[mi ˈes.tas ˌko.men.ˈtsan.to de ˌes.pe.ˈran.to]|
The core vocabulary of Esperanto was defined by Lingvo internacia, published by Zamenhof in 1887. This book listed 900 roots; these could be expanded into tens of thousands of words using prefixes, suffixes, and compounding. In 1894, Zamenhof published the first Esperanto dictionary, Universala Vortaro, which had a larger set of roots. The rules of the language allowed speakers to borrow new roots as needed; it was recommended, however, that speakers use most international forms and then derive related meanings from these.
Since then, many words have been borrowed, primarily (but not solely) from the European languages. Not all proposed borrowings become widespread, but many do, especially technical and scientific terms. Terms for everyday use, on the other hand, are more likely to be derived from existing roots; komputilo "computer", for instance, is formed from the verb komputi "compute" and the suffix -ilo "tool". Words are also calqued; that is, words acquire new meanings based on usage in other languages. For example, the word muso "mouse" has acquired the meaning of a computer mouse from its usage in English. Esperanto speakers often debate about whether a particular borrowing is justified or whether meaning can be expressed by deriving from or extending the meaning of existing words.
Some compounds and formed words in Esperanto are not entirely straightforward; for example, eldoni, literally "give out", means "publish", paralleling the usage of certain European languages (such as German). In addition, the suffix -um- has no defined meaning; words using the suffix must be learned separately (such as dekstren "to the right" and dekstrumen "clockwise").
There are not many idiomatic or slang words in Esperanto, as these forms of speech tend to make international communication difficult—working against Esperanto's main goal.
Many Esperanto speakers learn the language through self-directed study, online tutorials, and correspondence courses taught by volunteers. More recently, free teaching websites, like lernu! and Duolingo, have become popular.
Esperanto instruction is occasionally available at schools, including four primary schools in a pilot project under the supervision of the University of Manchester, and by one count at 69 universities. However, outside China and Hungary, these mostly involve informal arrangements rather than dedicated departments or state sponsorship. Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest had a department of Interlinguistics and Esperanto from 1966 to 2004, after which time instruction moved to vocational colleges; there are state examinations for Esperanto instructors. Additionally, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland offers a diploma in Interlinguistics. The Senate of Brazil passed a bill in 2009 that would make Esperanto an optional part of the curriculum in public schools, although mandatory if there is demand for it. As of 2015[update] the bill is still under consideration by the Chamber of Deputies.
Various educators have estimated that Esperanto can be learned in anywhere from one quarter to one twentieth the amount of time required for other languages. Claude Piron, a psychologist formerly at the University of Geneva and Chinese–English–Russian–Spanish translator for the United Nations, argued that Esperanto is far more intuitive than many ethnic languages. "Esperanto relies entirely on innate reflexes [and] differs from all other languages in that you can always trust your natural tendency to generalize patterns. ... The same neuropsychological law [—called by] Jean Piaget generalizing assimilation—applies to word formation as well as to grammar."
The Institute of Cybernetic Pedagogy at Paderborn (Germany) has compared the length of study time it takes natively French-speaking high-school students to obtain comparable 'standard' levels in Esperanto, English, German, and Italian. The results were:
Four primary schools in Britain, with some 230 pupils, are currently following a course in "propaedeutic Esperanto"—that is, instruction in Esperanto to raise language awareness and accelerate subsequent learning of foreign languages—under the supervision of the University of Manchester. As they put it,
Studies have been conducted in New Zealand, United States, Germany, Italy and Australia. The results of these studies were favorable and demonstrated that studying Esperanto before another foreign language expedites the acquisition of the other, natural language. This appears to be because learning subsequent foreign languages is easier than learning one's first foreign language, whereas the use of a grammatically simple and culturally flexible auxiliary language like Esperanto lessens the first-language learning hurdle. In one study, a group of European secondary school students studied Esperanto for one year, then French for three years, and ended up with a significantly better command of French than a control group, who studied French for all four years.
Esperanto is by far the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. Speakers are most numerous in Europe and East Asia, especially in urban areas, where they often form Esperanto clubs. Esperanto is particularly prevalent in the northern and central countries of Europe; in China, Korea, Japan, and Iran within Asia; in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in the Americas; and in Togo in Africa.
An estimate of the number of Esperanto speakers was made by Sidney S. Culbert, a retired psychology professor at the University of Washington and a longtime Esperantist, who tracked down and tested Esperanto speakers in sample areas in dozens of countries over a period of twenty years. Culbert concluded that between one and two million people speak Esperanto at Foreign Service Level 3, "professionally proficient" (able to communicate moderately complex ideas without hesitation, and to follow speeches, radio broadcasts, etc.). Culbert's estimate was not made for Esperanto alone, but formed part of his listing of estimates for all languages of more than one million speakers, published annually in the World Almanac and Book of Facts. Culbert's most detailed account of his methodology is found in a 1989 letter to David Wolff. Since Culbert never published detailed intermediate results for particular countries and regions, it is difficult to independently gauge the accuracy of his results.
In the Almanac, his estimates for numbers of language speakers were rounded to the nearest million, thus the number for Esperanto speakers is shown as two million. This latter figure appears in Ethnologue. Assuming that this figure is accurate, that means that about 0.03% of the world's population speak the language. Although it is not Zamenhof's goal of a universal language, it still represents a level of popularity unmatched by any other constructed language.
Marcus Sikosek (now Ziko van Dijk) has challenged this figure of 1.6 million as exaggerated. He estimated that even if Esperanto speakers were evenly distributed, assuming one million Esperanto speakers worldwide would lead one to expect about 180 in the city of Cologne. Van Dijk finds only 30 fluent speakers in that city, and similarly smaller-than-expected figures in several other places thought to have a larger-than-average concentration of Esperanto speakers. He also notes that there are a total of about 20,000 members of the various Esperanto organizations (other estimates are higher). Though there are undoubtedly many Esperanto speakers who are not members of any Esperanto organization, he thinks it unlikely that there are fifty times more speakers than organization members.
Finnish linguist Jouko Lindstedt, an expert on native-born Esperanto speakers, presented the following scheme to show the overall proportions of language capabilities within the Esperanto community:
In 2017, doctoral student Svend Vendelbo Nielsen has estimated around 63.000 Esperanto speakers worldwide, taking into account association memberships, user-generated data from Esperanto websites and census statistics. This number, however, was disputed by statistician Sten Johansson, who questioned the reliability of the source data and highlighted a wide margin of error, the latter point with which Nielsen agrees. Both have stated, however, that this new number is likely more realistic than some earlier projections.
In the absence of Dr. Culbert's detailed sampling data, or any other census data, it is impossible to state the number of speakers with certainty. According to the website of the World Esperanto Association:
Native Esperanto speakers, denaskuloj, have learned the language from birth from Esperanto-speaking parents. This usually happens when Esperanto is the chief or only common language in an international family, but sometimes occurs in a family of devoted Esperantists. The 15th edition of Ethnologue cited estimates that there were 200 to 2000 native speakers in 1996, but these figures were removed from the 16th and 17th editions. As of 1996, there were approximately 350 attested cases of families with native Esperanto speakers.
Facebook has about 350,000 users who indicated Esperanto as one of their languages.
Esperantists can access an international culture, including a large body of original as well as translated literature. There are more than 25,000 Esperanto books, both originals and translations, as well as several regularly distributed Esperanto magazines. In 2013 a museum about Esperanto opened in China. Esperantists use the language for free accommodations with Esperantists in 92 countries using the Pasporta Servo or to develop pen pals through Esperanto Koresponda Servo.
Historically, much Esperanto music, such as Kaj Tiel Plu, has been in various folk traditions. There is also a variety of classical and semi-classical choral music, both original and translated, as well as large ensemble music that includes voices singing Esperanto texts. Lou Harrison, who incorporated styles and instruments from many world cultures in his music, used Esperanto titles and/or texts in several of his works, most notably La Koro-Sutro (1973). David Gaines used Esperanto poems as well as an excerpt from a speech by Dr. Zamenhof for his Symphony No. 1 (Esperanto) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (1994–98). He wrote original Esperanto text for his Povas plori mi ne plu (I Can Cry No Longer) for unaccompanied SATB choir (1994).
Detractors of Esperanto occasionally criticize it as "having no culture". Proponents, such as Prof. Humphrey Tonkin of the University of Hartford, observe that Esperanto is "culturally neutral by design, as it was intended to be a facilitator between cultures, not to be the carrier of any one national culture". The late Scottish Esperanto author William Auld wrote extensively on the subject, arguing that Esperanto is "the expression of a common human culture, unencumbered by national frontiers. Thus it is considered a culture on its own."
Some authors of works in Esperanto are:
Esperanto has been used in a number of films and novels. Typically, this is done either to add the exotic flavour of a foreign language without representing any particular ethnicity, or to avoid going to the trouble of inventing a new language. The Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator (1940) showed Jewish ghetto shop signs in Esperanto. Two full-length feature films have been produced with dialogue entirely in Esperanto: Angoroj, in 1964, and Incubus, a 1965 B-movie horror film. A language school teaching Esperanto is featured in Graham Greene's novel The Confidential Agent, which was made into a film starring Charles Boyer and Lauren Bacall (1945). Other amateur productions have been made, such as a dramatization of the novel Gerda Malaperis (Gerda Has Disappeared). In Stamboul Train, Greene used Esperanto as the language on signs at the main train station in Budapest. A number of mainstream films in national languages have used Esperanto in some way.
Esperanto is used as the universal language in the far future of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat and Deathworld stories. Poul Anderson's story "High Treason" takes place in a future where Earth became united politically but was still divided into many languages and cultures, and Esperanto became the language of its space armed forces, fighting wars with various extraterrestrial races.
The opening song to the popular video game Final Fantasy XI, "Memoro de la Ŝtono", was written in Esperanto. It was the first game in the series that was played online, and would have players from both Japan and North America (official European support was added after the North American launch) playing together on the same servers, using an auto-translate tool to communicate. The composer, Nobuo Uematsu, felt that Esperanto was a good language to symbolize worldwide unity.
In the geek fiction novel "Off to Be the Wizard", Esperanto is programmed as the language that triggers all of the wizard's spells. Philip, Martin's teacher, explains that this is because "no one really speaks Esperanto and it's easy to learn".
Esperanto is also found in the comic book series Saga as the language Blue, spoken by the inhabitants of Wreath. It is rendered in blue-colored text. Blue is generally only spoken by inhabitants of Wreath, while most other cultures use a universal language that appears to be simply named "Language." Some Wreath inhabitants use translator rings to communicate with those who don't speak Blue. Magic seems to be activated via the linguistic medium of blue.
In the television show Red Dwarf, which begins in the late 22nd century, crewman Arnold Rimmer constantly spends his time trying to learn Esperanto and failing, even compared to his bunkmate Dave Lister who only maintains a casual interest. Additionally many of the signs around the ship Red Dwarf are written in both English and Esperanto. The novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers states that, although not required, it is widely expected that officers in the Space Corps be fluent in the language, hence Rimmer's interest.
In 1921 the French Academy of Sciences recommended using Esperanto for international scientific communication. A few scientists and mathematicians, such as Maurice Fréchet (mathematics), John C. Wells (linguistics), Helmar Frank (pedagogy and cybernetics), and Nobel laureate Reinhard Selten (economics) have published part of their work in Esperanto. Frank and Selten were among the founders of the International Academy of Sciences in San Marino, sometimes called the "Esperanto University", where Esperanto is the primary language of teaching and administration.
Esperanto business groups have been active for many years. The French Chamber of Commerce did research in the 1920s and reported in The New York Times in 1921 that Esperanto seemed to be the best business language.
Zamenhof had three goals, as he wrote already in 1887: to create an easy language, to create a language ready to use "whether the language be universally accepted or not" and to find some means to get many people learn the language. So Zamenhof's intention was not only to create an easy-to-learn language to foster international understanding as a general language, but also to create a language for immediate use by a (small) language community. Esperanto was to serve as an international auxiliary language, that is, as a universal second language, not to replace ethnic languages. This goal was widely shared among Esperanto speakers in the early decades of the movement. Later, Esperanto speakers began to see the language and the culture that had grown up around it as ends in themselves, even if Esperanto is never adopted by the United Nations or other international organizations.
Esperanto speakers who want to see Esperanto adopted officially or on a large scale worldwide are commonly called finvenkistoj, from fina venko, meaning "final victory". It has to be noted that there are two kinds of "finvenkismo"–"desubismo" and "desuprismo"; the first aims to spread Esperanto between ordinary people ("desube", from below) aiming to form a steadily growing community of Esperanto speakers. The second aims to act from above ("desupre"), beginning with politicians. Zamenhof considered the first way to have a better perspective, as "for such affairs as ours, governments come with their approval and help usually only, when everything is already completely finished".
Those who focus on the intrinsic value of the language are commonly called raŭmistoj, from Rauma, Finland, where a declaration on the short-term improbability of the "fina venko" and the value of Esperanto culture was made at the International Youth Congress in 1980. However the "Manifesto de Raŭmo" clearly mentions the intention to further spread the language: "We want to spread Esperanto to put into effect its positive values more and more, step by step (...)"
In 1996 the Prague Manifesto was adopted at the annual congress of the World Esperanto Association (UEA); it was subscribed by individual participants and later by other Esperanto speakers.
The earliest flag, and the one most commonly used today, features a green five-pointed star against a white canton, upon a field of green. It was proposed to Zamenhof by Irishman Richard Geoghegan, author of the first Esperanto textbook for English speakers, in 1887. The flag was approved in 1905 by delegates to the first conference of Esperantists at Boulogne-sur-Mer. A version with an "E" superimposed over the green star is sometimes seen. Other variants include that for Christian Esperantists, with a white Christian cross superimposed upon the green star, and that for Leftists, with the color of the field changed from green to red.
In 1987, a second flag design was chosen in a contest organized by the UEA celebrating the first centennial of the language. It featured a white background with two stylised curved "E"s facing each other. Dubbed the "jubilea simbolo" (jubilee symbol), it attracted criticism from some Esperantists, who dubbed it the "melono" (melon) because of the design's elliptical shape. It is still in use, though to a lesser degree than the traditional symbol, known as the "verda stelo" (green star).
Esperanto has been placed in many proposed political situations. The most popular of these is the Europe–Democracy–Esperanto, which aims to establish Esperanto as the official language of the European Union. Grin's Report, published in 2005 by François Grin found that the use of English as the lingua franca within the European Union costs billions annually and significantly benefits English-speaking countries financially. The report considered a scenario where Esperanto would be the lingua franca and found that it would have many advantages, particularly economically speaking, as well as ideologically.
Russian Esperanto writer Nikolai Nekrasov was arrested during the Stalinist repressions of the late 1930s, accused of being "an organizer and leader of a fascist, espionage, terrorist organization of Esperantists", and executed on 4 October 1938. Another Esperanto writer Vladimir Varankin was executed on 3 October 1938.
The Bahá'í Faith encourages the use of an auxiliary international language. The Baha'i's believe that it will not be the language of the future, although it has great potential in this role, as it has not been chosen by the people. L. L. Zamenhof's daughter Lidja became a Bahá'í, and various volumes of the Bahá'í literatures and other Baha'i books have been translated into Esperanto. In 1973, the Bahá'í Esperanto-League for active Bahá'í supporters of Esperanto was founded.
In 1908, spiritist Camilo Chaigneau wrote an article named "Spiritism and Esperanto" in the periodic La Vie d'Outre-Tombe recommending the use of Esperanto in a "central magazine" for all spiritists and esperantists. Esperanto then became actively promoted by spiritists, at least in Brazil, initially by Ismael Gomes Braga and František Lorenz; the latter is known in Brazil as Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz, and was a pioneer of both spiritist and Esperantist movements in this country.
The first translation of the Bible into Esperanto was a translation of the Tanakh or Old Testament done by L. L. Zamenhof. The translation was reviewed and compared with other languages' translations by a group of British clergy and scholars before its publication at the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1910. In 1926 this was published along with a New Testament translation, in an edition commonly called the "Londona Biblio". In the 1960s, the Internacia Asocio de Bibliistoj kaj Orientalistoj tried to organize a new, ecumenical Esperanto Bible version. Since then, the Dutch Remonstrant pastor Gerrit Berveling has translated the Deuterocanonical or apocryphal books in addition to new translations of the Gospels, some of the New Testament epistles, and some books of the Tanakh or Old Testament. These have been published in various separate booklets, or serialized in Dia Regno, but the Deuterocanonical books have appeared in recent editions of the Londona Biblio.
Christian Esperanto organizations include two that were formed early in the history of Esperanto:
Individual churches using Esperanto include:
Chick Publications, publisher of Protestant fundamentalist themed evangelistic tracts, has published a number of comic book style tracts by Jack T. Chick translated into Esperanto, including "This Was Your Life!" ("Jen Via Tuta Vivo!")
Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran called on Muslims to learn Esperanto and praised its use as a medium for better understanding among peoples of different religious backgrounds. After he suggested that Esperanto replace English as an international lingua franca, it began to be used in the seminaries of Qom. An Esperanto translation of the Qur'an was published by the state shortly thereafter. In 1981, its usage became less popular when it became apparent that followers of the Bahá'í Faith were interested in it. However, during the recent decades, specially after the establishment of the Sabzandishan (Green-Thinkers) Institute in 1996, the first official Esperanto institute in Iran ever, and publication of its 56-page organ, called Payame Sabzandishan (Message of Green-Thinkers), a seasonal (quarterly) magazine in Esperanto and Persian from the autumn of 2002 till now, and recognition of the Iranian Esperanto-Association by the Universal Esperanto-Association (which enjoys official relations with UN and UNESCO) as its Iranian official branch in 2005, a new era started in Iran for spreading of Esperanto Movement as vastly as possible. During this new era, i.a. there have been speeches, lectures, seminars and courses in different cultural centers, universities and schools; publication of original and translated books and articles on Esperanto and specially its neutrality (politically, religiously, nationally, racially, etc.) by diverse publishers and in varied Persian newspapers and magazines; ... E.g. in the Persian translation of William Auld's book, called The Phenomenon Esperanto, 14 annexes were added to show more the history and neutrality of Esperanto language: as example, in the first annex, called The Views of World Celebrities on Esperanto, the Persian readers can read the positive views and opinions of 15 acclaimed and famous leaders and writers on Esperanto from different countries, religions, political backgrounds, languages and races, like Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Romain Rolland, Umberto Eco, Rudolf Diesel, Rabindranath Tagore, Helen Keller, Lu Xun, J. R. R. Tolkien, ... (William Auld was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, 2004, and 2006 making him the first person to be nominated for works in Esperanto.)
Though Esperanto itself has changed little since the publication of the Fundamento de Esperanto (Foundation of Esperanto), a number of reform projects have been proposed over the years, starting with Zamenhof's proposals in 1894 and Ido in 1907. Several later constructed languages, such as Universal, were based on Esperanto.
In modern times, attempts have been made to eliminate perceived sexism in the language, such as Riism.
There are some geographical and astronomical features named after Esperanto, or after its creator L. L. Zamenhof. These include Esperanto Island in Zed Islands off Livingston Island, and the asteroids 1421 Esperanto and 1462 Zamenhof discovered by Finnish astronomer and Esperantist Yrjö Väisälä.
But in terms of invented languages, it's the most outlandishly successful invented language ever. It has thousands of speakers—even native speakers—and that's a major accomplishment as compared to the 900 or so other languages that have no speakers. – Arika Okrent
Hitler specifically attacked Esperanto as a threat in a speech in Munich (1922) and in Mein Kampf itself (1925). The Nazi Minister for Education banned the teaching of Esperanto on 17 May 1935 ... all Esperantists were essentially enemies of the state, serving through their language Jewish‑internationalist aims.
Based on the number of textbooks sold and membership ..., the number of people with some knowledge of Esperanto is in the hundreds of thousands and possibly millions. ... In 1954 ... UNESCO ... recognised that the achievements of Esperanto match UNESCO’s aims and ideals, and official relations were established between UNESCO and UEA.
Esperantists speak of the fina venko, or ‘final victory’. The concept is that eventually every moderately educated person ... will know Esperanto enough to ... order a cup of coffee....
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