The International Language of Doctor Esperanto

Cxi tiu pagxo en Esperanto

Esperanto is the international language invented by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof in 1887. It was designed to be a bridge language that was easy to learn. Esperanto is a neutral second language which enables all people to communicate with each other as equals, without having the cultural, social, or political underpinnings of a national language. The hope was that this would help people from all countries live and work together in peace. Indeed, the word "esperanto" itself means, "one who hopes." Estimates vary as to the number of Esperanto speakers in the world today. The most conservative put the number around one million, and the optimistic ones place the number over ten million.

My interest in Esperanto began years ago after seeing references to it in various science fiction stories. The idea of a neutral international language appealed to me for philosophical reasons, but it wasn't until about 1979 when I saw a copy of "Teach Yourself Esperanto" by John Cresswell and John Hartley in a Columbus bookstore that I considered trying to learn it. I bought the book, and a bi-directional Esperanto - English dictionary, and started with the first lesson. Unfortunately, at that time I was deeply involved with my studies at Ohio State University for a mechanical engineering degree, so I set the book aside to study later. At the time I had no idea that "later" would be about sixteen years.

A college graduation, two jobs, a child, and three changes of residence later I ran across those books again in a forgotten box of books in my "catch all" room. They were in surprisingly good condition for paperbacks of that age, and I started working on the lessons again. As I write this, I have now been studying Esperanto by myself on an "off and on" basis for a little more than two years, and I can now read it much better than I ever could read French after three years of classroom study. (I usually got Bs with an occasional A.)

I guess the chief reason I enjoy Esperanto is because of the breadth of opportunities for cultural enrichment it offers. For example, I recently read a collection of Croatian Love Poems, and a series of vignettes about Korean traditional culture. There are many such sources available either on the web, or in print if you know where to look. (See the "Links" page.)

Let me put this another way. As an English speaker I have access to a rich diversity of literature in the English language and can talk as an equal to people in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and a few other places. I know some French, so I can communicate with people from France, but not as an equal with someone whose native language is French. As an Esperanto speaker I can talk to people from Germany, Brazil, China, Spain, Serbia, Japan, ... as an equal. This is because in both cases Esperanto is the second language. There isn't as much of a problem of one speaker or the other trying to "talk uphill." It is much easier to learn to be fluent in Esperanto than in other national languages.

Esperanto was specifically designed to be easy to learn. It is probably the only example of a language you really can learn by yourself from a book. At least one study comparing the teaching Esperanto to teaching other national languages concluded that Esperanto can be learned in one fifth the time required for the others. A factor of five might be a bit optimistic, but my own experience indicates that it may not be far wrong, either.

While it's not strictly true to say Esperanto has no irregularities, the exceptions are few and unimportant. Prepositions, for example seem not to follow a set pattern. For the vast majority of the grammar and vocabulary, however, there are none of the irregularities that plague English. Tenses are formed regularly, pronunciation and spelling are consistent, and word roots can be made into pretty much any part of speech in a regular and predictable way.

For example, here is a verb root:
kuri = to run.
Mi kuras = I run
Mi kuris = I ran
Mi kuros = I will run
Mi kurus = I would run (except that...)
Mi kuru! = Let me run! (command form)

ALL verbs follow this pattern, there are no exceptions. You can also have the root make a noun, kuro = a run; an adjective, kura = running, e.g., kura viro = a running man: or an adverb, kure. This last form doesn't translate as simply into English, but it would be perfectly good Esperanto to write, for example, Li kure atingis la sxipon . = "He reached the ship by running."

(The "x" in "sxipo," by the way, is not really an Esperanto letter. It's used here to indicate a super signed letter, in this case, an s with a circumflex (^), which is difficult to show with English keyboards. It sounds like the English "sh" in "she." The use of the "x" in this way is a fairly common convention. Esperanto does not use the letter "x.")

Esperanto is simple to learn, and if you consider the potential advantages, definitely worthwhile. Consider, for example the problems the European Union is having with eleven official languages, the costs translating and printing multiple versions of official documents, or of conducting business across that many languages. Consider the advantages just from the standpoint of cultural enrichment. English is a difficult language to learn if you are not "born into" it. There are works of literature out there in the world that will never be translated into English because of the dearth of qualified translators. It is much easier to become a "qualified translator" in Esperanto than in English.

The whole point of esperanto from the outset, the interna ideo, is to allow communication to occur between people. Not just between nations, or businesses, but between people. This seems, to me, to be a very worthwhile goal.

Dec. 31, 1997
Modified Feb. 14, 1998
Copyright 1998 by Steven K. Smith
All rights reserved.

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