From time immemorial, until now, there have been several hundred attempts to create planned languages, i.e., languages specifically intended for international communication, but only Esperanto has stood the test of time. It was created by Dr. Ludovic Zamenhof from Warsaw, who published the project in 1887. In spite of two world wars, which obliterated achievements of the pre-war periods, and in spite of totalitarian governments' persecutions, the language continues to function successfully in all fields of science and culture.
Esperanto words are derived from European, mainly Romanic, languages, so many Esperanto words are certain to be familiar to students of Esperanto, e.g., domo - home, teatro - theatre, doktoro - doctor, etc. All nouns have the same ending, "o." Likewise, all adjectives have the same ending, "a," e.g., nova - new, interesa - interesting, teatra - theatrical. The accent is always on a penultimate syllable. Every one who ever studied foreign languages remembers the big listings of irregular verbs at the end of textbooks and dictionaries. Esperanto, meanwhile, does not have irregular verbs, nor special cases of declension, conjugation, or pronunciation. Many new words can be created from a single root, adding suffixes and prefixes. Thus, a study of Esperanto takes only 1/10th or 1/15th of the time that a study of any foreign language requires.
Thousands of compilations of literary classics, both in prose and poetry, have been translated into Esperanto: Shakespeare, Gogol, Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Yevtushenko, etc. There are also literary works initially written in Esperanto.
In spite of the simplicity of its grammar, Esperanto is a very expressive and euphonious language. Esperanto is a language of radio shows, theatrical performances, and international conferences. Songs are sung in Esperanto, people talk, and even professions of love are made. Every year sees a publication of international directories with the addresses of Esperantists clubs and societies around the globe, and hospitality exchange brochures, with thousands of addresses, on all continents.
Esperantists have international organizations. The most influential among them is the World Esperanto Association, with its main office in Rotterdam, Netherlands. This organization maintains official ties with the UN and UNESCO, and holds international congresses of Esperantists annually. UNESCO adopted resolutions in support of Esperanto in 1954 and 1985, recognizing "Esperanto's big potential for furthering mutual understanding and communication between people of different national origins," and recommending the introduction of Esperanto into educational curricula.
The Internet, which already boasts thousands of sites in Esperanto, has given a fresh impetus to the dissemination of Esperanto. There are sites of Esperanto organizations, sites with information about books and journals, and sites with the texts of books and journals, etc. The International Esperanto Association (Uneversala Esperanto-Asocio) has on the Web a permanently updated catalog of its book service (www.uea.org/ktalogo), containing more than 4000 titles in Esperanto. The site www.ais-sanmarino.org has information about the activities of an international academy of science that uses Esperanto as one of its working languages. And the site esperanto.net/ps helps locate a directory with the addresses of Esperantists in 80 countries who are willing to participate in hospitality exchanges. A woman Esperantist from the USA travelled the world for 16 months using this exchange directory, and put her travel stories up on the Web. Many Esperantists, from almost all countries of the world, have e-mail addresses.
Studying Esperanto is not an end in itself. We will tell you, now, about some of the numerous examples of how Esperanto helps conduct a dialog, not only among Esperantists from different countries, but among different national cultures, as well:
A blind Russian Esperantist, Vassily Yeroshenko (1890-1952), came to Japan before World War I where, with the help of Esperantists, he studied Oriental languages, philosophy, music, and medicine. Then he travelled to other Asian countries, participating in projects to organize schools for blind children. He wrote fairy tales in Esperanto and Japanese. And in 1922-1923 he delivered, in BejingUniversity, a course of lectures, in Esperanto, on Russian literature. Yeroshenko got this assignment with the help of Lu Xun, a famous Chinese author and a fellow Esperantist. Yeroshenko taught two groups of students. one group consisted of 300 students who knew Esperanto, who listened to the lectures without translation. The other group, of 200 students, did not know Esperanto, and their lectures were translated by a Chinese Esperantist.
An activist of the Bulgarian workers movement, Trifon Hristovski, corresponded in the 1930s with Esperantists from many countries. Based on these letters, he wrote articles for progressive newspapers and magazines published in the Bulgarian language. Using letters from his Chinese correspondents, Hristovski wrote a book about the workers' situation in China. By the end of his life, he wrote a memoir in Bulgarian that contained a lot of information interesting to ethnographers, historians, and psychologists. The book was translated into Esperanto, and the Esperanto version was translated into Vietnamese and published in Vietnam.
There are many literary works written in Esperanto and translated into national languages. "Hura!", a novel by Hungarian writer and poet J.Baghi, was translated into several languages from Esperanto. Some of his verses written in Esperanto were also translated. Here is one of his poems, translated into Russian by M.Shcherbinin, and into English by M.Solovieva.
Al nia lingvo
Vi bela lingvo Esperanto.
En mi la penso jam ne mutas,
Parolas sentoj en la kanto,
En kiuj vin mi nun salutas
Ho, kie estas via lando? –
Demandas homoj. La respondo:
La lingvoland de Esperanto
Jam estas nia tuta mondo.
Al tuta mond’ vi apartenas.
Al alto levas vi la homon.
Kaj kiu vin en koro tenas,
De vi ricevas belan bonon.
Al tuta mondo venas amo
Per nova sento, kormuziko.
Vi faras pacon el malbono
kaj fraton el la malamiko
Vi donis al mi, Esperanto,
Kulturon novan kaj laboron.
Sed kion donu mi, lernanto?
Akceptu mian tutan koron.
To our language
The language lovely and marvellous,
You are the creation of a skilful master.
I am greeting you with a chant,
Giving a free rein to the feelings that are overwhelming me.
Whoever asks you, "where are you from?"
Will be honored with this answer:
You belong to all nations,
And your homeland is the whole planet.
With you, communication between people is easy,
You multiply friends across the globe.
And we will always be proud of the fact
That you bring together us, strangers.
Your words have a springy sound,
Like a string plucked by a musician,
And I love you as a friend,
The free language, Esperanto.
You gave me the pleasures of light
And the enjoyment of art.
And what should I give you in return?
Well, accept my heart, mind, senses.
Many writers in different countries have been writing prose and poetry in Esperanto. This is a so-called original literature, i.e., created in Esperanto, rather than translated from another language. This literature embraces all genres, prose as well as poetry. Many of the original works are of high artistic quality. The PEN-club's nomination of Scottish writer William Auld for the Nobel Prize drew a lot of attention. And although he did not get the prize, the nomination was covered by the press in many countries. Scottish and British journalists interviewed Auld, and thus, uninitiated readers learned a lot about Esperanto.
The great importance of Esperanto for small nations is well worth mentioning. The works of writers and poets writing in the languages of small nations remain unknown to other nations. But when the translations of these works into Esperanto are published, they are read across the world. Estonian poetess Hilda Dresen translated into Esperanto verses of many Estonian poets, and the poems came to the attention of Esperantists in other countries. And some of the works written by Estonia's leading writers have been translated into Esperanto and published.
Tartu university (Estonia) had an Interlinguistics Department, which published, in Russian, several collections of articles on planned languages. The department's dean, professor P. Ariste, knew 30 languages. But Esperanto was the first foreign language he learned when he was young.
Lithuanian Esperantists are very active, now. Vilnius is to host a new, 90th World Esperanto Congress in 2005. In order to secure the assent of the World Esperanto Association to having Vilnius as the host city, the association's director was invited to visit the city, and following a prior agreement he paid visits to Lithuania's ten highest officials, including the president, prime-minister, Vilnius mayor, the speaker of the Parliament, etc. And Lithuanian Esperantists served as translators.
The geography of these annual congresses, which draw thousands of visitors, is very great. Apart from many European countries, the congresses have been held lately in Australia, Brazil, and Korea. And the local news media in national languages never fails to tell its readers about the gatherings. The congresses usually have a diverse range of events scheduled. They include scholarly lectures, meetings of interest and professional groups, performances by amateur and professional actors, sightseeing tours, different skills courses, such as massage courses, etc. And all participants understand one another without translators. People in Africa lately have been showing a great deal of interest in Esperanto, and an Esperantist from Togo called Koffi Gbeglo was even elected to the board of the World Esperanto Association as the head of the culture section.
In the USSR, some newspapers and periodicals published lessons of Esperanto. The "Chemistry and Life" magazine, in its fourth issues, published Esperanto lessons for chemists, and this caused a big stir. The "Soviet Uzbekistan" magazine, which came out in 11 languages, including Persian, Hindi, and Arabic, published Esperanto lessons, too. In response, the magazine received letters from many countries.
Some literary works written in Russian touch on the subject of Esperanto. The "Zvezda" magazine published a novel by M.Chulaki "The high-voltaged, or Life in Anticipation of Miracles," where one of the characters is an Esperantist. Writes M.Chulaki: "...Esperantist. It is more than a profession - it is a calling, an ideology... It has come to the point where this artificial language became for him real and natural". "Kazaroza," a novel by L.Yuzefovich, against the background of a fictional mystery plot, tells about the real problems that Esperantists faced in the 1920s and 1930s.
Esperantists participate in various arts competitions. In 2002, Finland hosted an international childrens arts competition. Children worldwide sent fairy tales written by them, in any language. The first prize went to a 12-year old girl from Zagreb, who wrote a tale in Esperanto. This event aroused an interest to Esperanto in Croatia, and the girl was awarded the title "Person of the Year." She was greeted on Zagreb's main square, in the presence of a big assemblage of people. Journalists solicited interviews from her.
Visiting foreign countries, Esperantists meet not only fellow Esperantists, but other local residents as well, and Esperantists help along, as translators. For instance, a Danish Esperantist-cosmologist came to St.Petersburg and delivered, to a big audience, a lecture in Esperanto about the philosophy of Danish scholar Martinus. The lecture was translated by a Russian Esperantist. In 2002, Anna Butkevich, the chair of St.Petersburg "Espero" society, which marked its 111th (!) anniversary this year - it is the world's first officially registered Esperanto club, – visited Japan on an invitation from Esperantists from the Japanese city of Osaka. In Japan, Butkevich made a presentation at an Esperanto conference, and afterward toured Japan, sponsored by her Japanese friends. Butkevich met with non-Esperanto audiences as well. She talked about St. Petersburg, Russian culture, and demonstrated a marionette. She gave talks at schools, and in the office of a city mayor, and everywhere, Japanese Esperantists translated.
Not infrequently, Esperantists from different countries get married. These couples adopt Esperanto as a language of interfamily communication, and for their children, Esperanto becomes a mother tongue.
Many cities across the globe have monuments, streets, memorial plaques, cafes, named "Zamenhof" or "Esperanto." There are more than one thousand of these. As for Russia, Kazan has an "Esperanto" street, and Makhachkala has an "Esperanto" cafe.
The Peter and Paul fortress in St. Petersburg has a set of bells that can play tunes. The set is called "Carillon," and it is a gift to St. Petersburg from Belgium. The making of one of the bells was financed by Esperantists, and the bell has an inscription about it in Esperanto.
We have told you about some of the examples of Esperanto use. Such examples are quite numerous. Especially noteworthy are several dozens of professional organizations that have Esperanto as a working language. These are associations of academics and teachers, railroad workers, chess-players, journalists, etc. We have not mentioned, yet, the permanent Esperanto centres focused on study or tourism. We have not told, yet, about doctoral theses on Esperantology, about the study of Esperanto at schools, and many, many other things.
Should you become interested, you may write to Petersburg, to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and we will answer your questions.
Maria Abolskaya, Esperanto teacher, Esperantist since 1956.
Websites about Esperanto: