Is Esperanto a Real Language?

by Nedelina Payaneva

Yes. Yes, it is. Esperanto is perhaps what might be thought of as a constructed language. But it is very much a real language; a language of internationalism. Moreover, it's a language which was created with a specific purpose in mind: to unite the human race.

In this article, we'll take a look at how Esperanto was created and its history. We'll then consider some of the basic technical aspects of the language before pondering its future.


Who was the creator of Esperanto?

The creator of Esperanto was a man called Ludwik Zamenhof.

Zamenhof himself was born in 1859 into the Jewish community in Bialystok, Poland. The Bialystok of the time was a real melting pot of languages and cultures, with Yiddish, Russian, Belarusian and German as well as Polish all being commonly spoken by the sometimes disparate parts of the community. The young Ludwik grew up with a clear understanding of how languages could both bring people together and divide them. He himself spoke at least nine modern and classical languages by the time he reached adulthood!

Helped by his upbringing, Zamenhof became a firm believer in the need to bring down barriers between people of different nations and cultures. He thought that a single world system of government, built somewhat along federal lines, was the way humanity ought to develop in the future.

A useful and necessary step towards this would be a single universal language. One which, rather than replacing the languages of individual national or societal groups, would serve to keep all other languages equal by allowing everyone to communicate on neutral ground. No one would have the upper hand as far as language went.

To this end, even before he left secondary school in Warsaw, Zamenhof made his first attempts to create a universal language - what he thought of as a "bridge of words", an "international auxiliary language."


How was Esperanto created?

Zamenhof had already finished much of the work of creating his international language before he graduated from university. But, partly due to a lack of funding and partly thinking his work wouldn't be taken seriously because of his young age, he didn't publish it until 1887 (with a little financial assistance from his soon-to-be father-in-law). Zamenhof's International language: Introduction and complete textbook was published under the pseudonym "Doktoro Esperanto", or "Doctor Hopeful."

It was by this name that the language soon came to be known by those who began to learn to speak it.

Esperanto was created as a neutral language to promote peaceful cooperation between all nations and peoples. It is one of a number of constructed or artificial languages designed to serve the purpose, but it is almost certainly the most popular.


Esperanto alphabet and grammar

Esperanto is an artificially constructed language. Thus, it belongs to no linguistic family. Most of its vocabulary, however, comes from the Romance languages. This makes it relatively easy for most Europeans to learn.

There are five vowels, twenty-three consonants, and many of the rules it follows are both simple and logical:

Esperantists are continually expanding the vocabulary to take into account new technology and the phrases in common usage by an increasingly globalised world community. The system of expansion seems to happen experimentally but logically. For example:


Is Esperanto the language to unite humanity?

Esperanto is seen by many of its speakers not only as a useful tool for communication but also a step towards an egalitarian ideal. In fact, taken as it is from Zamenhof's original pseudonym, the word Esperanto itself means "hope" or "the hopeful one."

After all, when two people who originally have different mother tongues choose to converse, usually only one of you can be speaking the language in which you are most comfortable. With Esperanto, the playing field is even. Both of you chose to learn the language, often as a deliberate decision in later life.

There is a strong global Esperanto community, perhaps best exemplified by the Pasporta Servo. this is a worldwide network somewhat like a free Airbnb for Esperantists. If you fancy visiting a part of the world and need to be put up, simply ask the community - someone living in the area may offer you a room for up to three days. Handy!

All that said, sadly the language has yet to achieve the widespread use which would put the very worthy goals of its originator into common practice. The Esperanto community is estimated to number only from several hundred thousand to 2 million people worldwide...


The future of Esperanto

But the number of speakers of Esperanto is growing, just as the language itself continues to develop. It is already on school curriculums in China, Bulgaria and Hungary. Two religions - the Baha'i faith and Japanese Oomoto - promote conversing in either Esperanto or another of the less successful international auxiliary languages.

There is also the Esperanto Movement - an organisation created to further the spread of the language. Not every member of the worldwide Esperanto-speaking community is a member, but quite a few are. Plus, Esperanto is:

Perhaps because of its associations with the single global society message of its creator, many people who speak Esperanto find themselves viewed as being a little eccentric. But in the modern world, in which there is a real need for people to start coming together rather than be divided by politics or language, perhaps the unifying message which often goes along with the deliberately neutral Esperanto is a good place to start.

About the writer

Nedelina Payaneva is a Marketing Specialist at Asian Absolute, a translation and interpreting company focusing on East Asian languages services. Main areas of her interest are languages and marketing.


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