What if everyone spoke the one language? What if this was done on an equal level instead of one culture dominating all others? What if there was a language designed so that it was easy to learn? What if there was a language without all the pointless and confusing grammar? What if there was a language to unite the world? There is, and it’s called Esperanto.
Esperanto was invented by Ludwig Zamenhof in the 1880s. Zamenhof lived in Bialystok, a town in modern Poland (at the time part of the Russian Empire), which had a mixed population of Jews, Germans, Poles and Russians. He noticed that each group had their own language and was therefore separated from each other. He believed that if people could speak the same language then they could understand each other better. So he invented Esperanto which was a combination of most European languages, particularly Romantic, Germanic and Slavic languages.
The driving force of Esperanto (and part that appeals to me the most) is that of equality. It aims to unite the world with one language allowing all people to communicate freely with each other. However, it does this with a level playing field. As Esperanto has no native home or ethnic group, it is equally new for everyone. Unlike the rise of English as a global language, no one culture dominates another. The spread of English is great if it is your native tongue, however it puts you at a disadvantage if it isn’t. Last summer I travelled around Europe and while I was impressed that English was spoken almost everywhere, I felt guilty that locals had gone to such effort to learn the language I spoke, while I couldn’t speak a word of theirs.
A brilliant thing about Esperanto is that it is designed to be as easy as possible to speak. While it often seems that the grammar of most languages is spat out of the pits of Hell (at least that’s how I felt about trying to learn daft grammar that seemed to be confusing on purpose), Esperanto has no irregular verbs or bizarre grammar rules. In fact Zamenhof claimed that the grammar of Esperanto could be learned in one hour. Every letter has only one sound, instead of English where letters have different pronunciations at random. All present tense verbs end in –as, future –os and past –is. That’s it. No illogical rules that take hours to learn and you never use, Esperanto is a language made to be easy, not one designed to make students suffer.
A study of French students examined how long it took them to learn certain languages. It found it took on average 2,000 hours to learn German, 1,500 hours to learn English, 1,000 hours to learn Spanish and 150 hours to learn Esperanto. This is because Esperanto is designed to be as easy as possible. It has also been found that learning Esperanto makes speaking other languages much easier.
I only started learning Esperanto a few days ago and I’m surprised how quick I’m picking it up. This is especially surprising as languages were my weak spot in school. Unlike a lot of other Esperantists (people who speak Esperanto and are passionate about it, the equivalent of Gaelgoirs) I am not fluent in a multitude of languages, I have only the basics of Irish and French. Everything is simple, straight forward and logical and I recognise some words from French. To me, Esperanto reminds me of Spanish, both in how it looks and sounds (though mind you I don’t know any Spanish so this is a guess). For example in Esperanto you roll the letter “r” when pronouncing it, something I can’t get the hang of. There is a certain hint of Eastern European languages that you occasionally pick up.
No one knows how many people speak Esperanto worldwide. There are estimates between 100,000 and 2,000,000 but because Esperantists are dispersed all over the world it is impossible to properly measure them. If you pick a random 5 or 6 digit number, that’s as good an estimate as anything else. There are hopes that Esperanto could be adapted as the language of the European Union or the United Nations (a role it would be perfect for). It could become a second or third language in school.
Esperanto has an Irish link. The first English-Esperanto dictionary was written by an Irishman Richard Geoghan who also designed the Esperanto flag (a green star on a white background). James Connolly was an Esperantist as was another 1916 leader, Joseph Plunkett. There was an Esperantist conference in Ireland last July and President Michael D. Higgins sent his regards. There is an Esperanto Association of Ireland.
English is currently becoming a global language, but many people resent the loss of their local languages as part of this. A language is part of only one culture and worldview and the dominance of English reinforces the dominance of America and England. This is great for people have English as their native tongue (like myself) but a large disadvantage to the rest of the world. Whereas Esperanto allows everyone to communicate equally. It’s just as easy/hard for me as it is for anyone else (except perhaps people with Asian languages, though apparently Japan has one of the strongest Esperanto movements).
Esperantists have always been cosmopolitan internationalists and have promoted what unites humanity rather than what divides us. This view was a victim of the rise of nationalism in the 1930s and Esperantists were persecuted as traitors by Hitler and Stalin. Speaking an unusual foreign language was often viewed with suspicion, but the internet has given Esperanto a huge boost. Not only does it make it far easier to learn the language but it is easy to speak the language either through Skype or chat rooms.
While Esperanto suffers from the same problem all minor languages do, few speak it because they have few to speak with (a chicken and egg problem), I’m optimistic. I think it’s such a great idea with huge potential and I’m willing to play my part. If you want something to happen do it yourself, be the change you want to see in the world. I’m going to start learning Esperanto.