What is Esperanto?
There are as many answers to this question as there are Esperantists! Esperanto could refer to one of many different, though related ideas; there is of course the language, which is in itself very unusual for reasons described below; but there is also the culture which has grown up around and influenced the language in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the movement that L. L. Zamenhof was originally trying to spark, that of an international auxiliary language — a language that everyone on Earth could speak, so as to ease communications.
Unfortunately, the Esperanto movement has not succeeded to the degree Zamenhof hoped. But it certainly helps to explain aspects of the language and culture. Esperanto the language was designed for facilitating communication, and so it has a 100% regular grammar (see "Characteristics", below); in fact, it has been estimated that one Esperanto root can convey roughly the meaning of 10 words in English!
Esperanto, the culture of Esperantists, has a philosophical bent because of the philosophy behind Zamenhof's invention, that leans towards universal understanding and world peace. Esperantists, as a whole, tend to rank on the moderate-to-liberal spectrum politically, although there is a vocal minority who still cling to an idealistic notion of "world peace." Prejudice and racism against other people is almost entirely absent — both because of the clarity of communication which Esperanto offers between Esperantists, and because those who gravitate towards learning Esperanto are usually not very prejudiced in the first place: Would it make sense to learn a language meant for communication between all peoples except [insert ethnic/religious/etc. group here]?
This book attempts primarily to address the language, but here and there you are bound to find shoutouts to all three definitions.
The basic rules and words of Esperanto were proposed by L. L. Zamenhof at the end of the 19th century. Within a few years, people started learning it and formed a worldwide community. Since then, Esperanto has been in use just like any other language. Although new words are added when required, the structure of Esperanto is to remain, unchanging, forever, as published in L.L. Zamenhof's Fundamento de Esperanto.
Esperanto has a very regular structure. Words are often formed by running other words together, so there are fewer words that must be learned. The language is highly phonetic; you can determine the pronunciation from the spelling and vice versa.
Most Esperanto words are similar to Latin, Germanic and Slavic words. However, Esperanto is not just a mixture of those languages, but also an original language. In several respects, the structure of Esperanto is actually more similar to non-European languages than to European ones.
Why should I learn Esperanto?
Esperanto is most useful for neutral communication. This means that Esperanto does not favour a certain people or culture, and promotes an atmosphere of equal rights, tolerance and true internationalism. This can be seen in Esperanto conferences, books, magazines, music, the Internet, and even in private and family life.
Young people especially can have very meaningful experiences using Esperanto: by staying as a guest in private homes abroad and making direct contact with their cultures, having fun at international festivals, gaining knowledge and skills at seminars, coming in contact with several foreign languages and learning more about them, and eventually actively working with TEJO and gaining valuable experience.
Esperanto is also an excellent way to introduce children to foreign languages. Since Esperanto comes from many languages, the rules are simple and few, conjugation is almost non-existent, and there are no exceptions to be memorized, it can serve as a starting point for young students to pursue other foreign languages. After having mastered Esperanto, learning French, Spanish, Italian, or countless other languages becomes much less intimidating.
What can I do with Esperanto?
There are many ways to use Esperanto. Imagine backpacking across the world. With the Pasporta Servo, you can stay with locals all around the world (over 1350 homes in 89 countries) who host other Esperanto speakers for free. The hosts get the pleasure of meeting people from around the world, and travellers get free lodging.
There is an Esperanto event happening, somewhere around the world, every day of the year and they are more than just people speaking Esperanto. During the day you will find everything from interesting lectures to massage classes. The night comes alive with drinking and dancing. The Universala Kongreso draws anywhere from 2000-3000 people. The largest annual youth gatherings are for anyone under 30 and are attended by 200-400 participants. Whether you are looking to get to know people from around the world or are interested in an international romance, these conferences are a great place to meet others.
You can also use Esperanto right from the comfort of your home computer to enrich the way you experience the Internet. You can use fora, discussion lists and chatrooms to hear the local point of view. Read the deep thoughts and everyday experiences of people living in exotic countries in their web logs. Downloading MP3 files is a different experience in Esperanto due to the vast number of cultures creating Esperanto music. Whatever your interests you will find something for you in Esperanto.
History of Esperanto
A declaration endorsed by the Esperanto movement in 1905 limits changes to Esperanto principle. That declaration stated, amongst other things, that the basis of the language should remain Fundamento de Esperanto ("Foundation of Esperanto", a work by Zamenhof), which is to be binding forever: nobody has the right to make changes to it. The declaration also permits new concepts to be expressed as the speaker sees fit, but it recommends doing so in accordance with the original style.
Zamenhof's approach is why Esperanto is uniquely strong among constructed languages. More generally, there are five primary reasons for its strength:
- Re-thinking it all: Zamenhof started developing his constructed language early, and he had done an enormous amount of work by the time he left for university. When he returned home in 1881, as the legend goes, he found that his father had burned all his notes and work. Thus Zamenhof was forced to begin again, but this time he had the advantage of all that he had learned in his first attempt. He commented later in a letter to N. Borovko, "I worked for six years perfecting and testing the language, even though it had seemed to me in 1878 that the language was already completely ready."
- Tapping innate structures: Zamenhof based his language on a regularized version of natural languages, rather than building a totally novel and abstract structure (an approach used by some others). Not only are the word roots generally from natural languages, the overall structure mimics natural languages. This approach means that Esperanto can exploit desirable features from naturally evolved languages.
- Delay before publication: When Zamenhof was ready to publish his language, the Czarist censors would not allow it. Stymied, he spent his time in translating works (such as parts of the Bible and Shakespeare) into Esperanto. This enforced delay led to continuing refinement and improvement before the language was presented to the world.
- Esperanto belongs to the Esperantists: Developers of constructed languages are usually extremely possessive of their brain-children and reject any attempt by others to contribute or have a significant role in the development of the language. Zamenhof declared that "Esperanto belongs to the Esperantists" and moved to the background once the language was published, allowing others to share in the development and creation.
- Stability: Constructed languages are often destroyed by continual tinkering, with the constant changes making the language impossible to learn and use. Zamenhof, in contrast, published his Fundamento de Esperanto and established it as an unchanging foundation. This gave Esperanto a stability of structure and grammar similar to that which natural languages possess by virtue of their great body of literature and speakers. Thus one could learn Esperanto without having it move from underfoot.
However, modern Esperanto usage may in fact depart from that originally described in the Fundamento. The translation given for "I like this one", in the phrases below offers a significant example. According to the Fundamento, Mi ŝatas ĉi tiun would in fact have meant "I esteem this one". The traditional usage would instead have been Ĉi tiu plaĉas al mi (literally, "this one is pleasing to me"), which, although it differs from the English phrasing in "I like this one", more closely reflects the phrasing in several other languages (e.g. French celui-ci me plaît, Spanish éste me gusta, Russian это мне нравится [eto mnye nravitsya], German Dieses gefällt mir).
Other changes from traditional Esperanto have affected the names of countries, whose endings have changed from -ujo to -io. Also, women's names ending in -a (e.g. Maria) are now recognized although this is strictly an adjectival ending, whereas previously purists would have insisted on the noun ending -o (e.g. Mario).
In addition to these, Esperantists have formed many words to express concepts which have arisen more recently, but where possible these have indeed conformed to the existing style of the language. For example, "computer" is komputilo, (adding the suffix -il- meaning a tool to the root of the verb komputi, 'to compute'). Eŭro is another good example: even though the currency is called euro in all the European Community's official languages which use a Latin script, in Esperanto Eŭro was chosen because it better fits the phonology of the language.
Not all changes meet ready acceptance, however. For example, the neologism ĉipa meaning "cheap" has appeared as an alternative to the more verbose malmultekosta, but remains in minority usage.
Who is this book for?
This book is for everyone who wishes to learn, and become an esperantist, or learn about the language that is Esperanto. This book would also be suitable to someone who is just starting to learn Esperanto and is looking for an introduction.
How to study Esperanto
Aside from this book, there are many ways to learn Esperanto:
Courses and books
They exist in most countries and in many languages. Because Esperanto is easy to learn compared to other languages, you can also learn it with a book or online.
You might be able to find a group or association in your city or country (addresses and other contact information can be found at Esperanto.net)
How to use this book
Dialogs and texts
Throughout the book you will find several dialogs and texts in Esperanto, usually accompanied by a vocabulary list of new terms that you should learn. You should memorize the terms, and read over the text and/or dialog until you understand it. However, don't "over-analyze" the text, especially if you are a beginning esperantist.
There will usually be at least one exercise per chapter. Follow the instructions to complete the exercise, and then check your work.
A word of advice
The most important thing is that you keep with it. If you take several minutes to practice Esperanto each day, you will learn much better than if you go through several chapters in one evening and don't use Esperanto at all for the rest of the week.
To begin, read the pronunciation guide or, continue directly to lesson 1 below.