What writing system(s) does this language use?
Esperanto uses the Latin alphabet, like English, but with a few differences. The letters q, w, x and y are gone, and new letters ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ and ŭ are added. The Esperanto alphabet looks like this:
Most Esperanto letters sound like they would in English, except in Esperanto the sounds of letters never change. In English, the sound of a is different in fat, fate and father, and the s is silent in island. That does not happen in Esperanto, because there is only one way to spell a sound, and only one way to sound out a spelling.
The major differences from English are that c is pronounced like ts and j is pronounced like y, and the new letter ĥ does not have a sound in English, but is like clearing your throat, or how a Scottish person would say the ch in loch. The missing letters q, w, x and y are replaced with kw, ŭ, ks and j.
How many people speak this language?
The answer is: nobody really knows. There are no exact numbers; Esperanto speakers are hard to count because they are spread all over the world. It is most likely that there are between 100,000 and 2 million Esperanto speakers. Most of them have learned to speak it; only about 1000 people speak Esperanto as their native language.
Every year, Esperanto enthusiasts gather for the World Congress of Esperanto, which is held at different places around the world. Around 2000 people attend these events each year. There are also hundreds of Esperanto clubs all around the world, and a total count of the members of all of these clubs is over 200,000.
A speaker of Esperanto is called an Esperantist.
Where is this language spoken?
Esperanto is spoken all over the world. Really! However, most Esperantists learn Esperanto as a second language, so nowhere is it the language of the majority of people. Esperanto speakers live in the same places as speakers of other languages.
In order to identify themselves to other Esperanto speakers, Esperantists use a number of symbols. The green star of Esperanto, the verda stelo, is the oldest and most commonly used symbol. It is incorporated into the Esperanto flag. A more recent symbol called the jubilee symbol (jubilea symbolo) was designed in 1987. It is common to see all three of these symbols at an Esperanto event.
Esperanto is quite popular on the Internet, which provides a way for Esperantists scattered all over the world to communicate in Esperanto. There are dozens of Esperanto forums and chatrooms. There are even Esperanto versions of Google (Google Esperanta), Wikibooks (Vikilibroj), and Wikipedia (Vikipedio).
What is the history of this language?
Unlike most other languages, linguists know almost exactly when and where Esperanto started. Esperanto is a constructed language invented by Jewish-Russian eye doctor L.L. Zamenhof (1859 – 1917). He grew up in a city now in Poland (then in Belarus) that was divided between groups of people who spoke different languages and didn't get along well with each other; and he hoped that if there were a language that everyone knew, so that they could all understand each other, then people could live together in peace. In 1872, when he was only 13 years old, he began designing a language called Lingwe uniwersala (which meant "universal language" in that language). In 1878, at age 19, he shared his new language with a few close friends, but then had to go to university for medical studies, so he left all of the notes about his language with his father for safe keeping. Unfortunately, while he was at university, his father was afraid that the idea of a universal language would cause trouble with the Russian Tsar who ruled Poland at the time, so he burned all of his son's notes.
constructed language — a language that someone invented. This is unlike English and other natural languages whose rules and vocabulary evolved over hundreds or thousands of years.
Zamenhof only found out that all of his work had been destroyed when he came home from university in 1881. Instead of trying to rebuild an exact copy of what was lost, he tried to build on what he had learned and make a new, improved version of his universal language, which he now called Lingvo universala (which is actually "universal language" in modern Esperanto).
For 6 years he tried to publish his new language, but the censors of the Tsar would not allow him to. Instead of surrendering his dream, he used this time to improve the language, and to practice using it to translate many works. Because of this, when he was finally allowed to publish his language, he was also able to publish a large body of writing already in Esperanto. That meant that even from the first day it was published, there were many things to read in Esperanto, so it was already a useful language right from the very start.
In 1887, Zamenhof published Unua Libro ("First Book"), to describe his universal language. Zamenhof did not use his real name when he published the book because he had already had so much trouble with the Tsar's censors. Instead, he published the book under the name Doktoro Esperanto, which is "Dr. Someone-who-hopes" in the language being introduced. The name "Esperanto" (which means "someone who hopes" in Esperanto), became the name of the language.
Because the language was so simple, and because there were already lots of things written in Esperanto (which Zamenhof had either written or translated while waiting on the Tsar's censors), it caught on very quickly. By 1905, the first World Congress of Esperanto (Universala Kongreso) was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France. By the time World War Ⅰ had started in 1914, Zamenhof had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice, Esperanto was part of the school curriculum in China, Samos and Macedonia, and there was even an Esperanto currency (the spesmilo). Unfortunately, Zamenhof died in 1917, and did not live to see the end of the war in 1918.
It was after World War Ⅰ that Esperanto's popularity began to soar. The horrors of the war had made everyone desire a universal peace, and Esperanto was seen as the best hope for a universal language to foster communication so that war would never happen again. The League of Nations — the precursor to the modern United Nations — officially recommended that its members use Esperanto as a second language, and some of the most important scientific associations were suggesting that Esperanto should be used for future scientific communication. For a while it seemed like Esperanto really would become the international language for communication, science, and, of course, peace. This time, the 1920s, is considered by many to be the golden age of Esperanto.
But then, the great dictators that arose in the early days of World War ⅠⅠ — Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin — declared that Esperanto was banned. Many Esperantists, including members of Zamenhof's family, died in Nazi death camps. The League of Nations, along with many prominent Esperanto associations, did not survive the war.
Slowly the Esperanto movement has been rebuilding, although it is not yet at the levels it was at before World War ⅠⅠ. Although the United Nations has not supported Esperanto in the same way that the League of Nations did, some parts of it — like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) — have provided support for it. The Internet and organizations like Pasporta Servo (which allows Esperanto speakers to travel by staying with other Esperantists around the world) have allowed Esperantists to keep in touch in ways they could not have in the past. In 1987, over 6000 Esperantists attended the World Congress in Warsaw, Poland to celebrate the centennial of Esperanto, and in 1999 Scottish poet William Auld became the first writer to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature for writing in Esperanto.
L. L. Zamenhof (1859 – 1917), Zamenhof himself was the first Esperanto author. While he was waiting for the censors to allow him to publsh his language, he improved it by using it to translate a number of works, including Shakespeare. He also wrote a number of original Esperanto books and poems.
Julio Baghy (1891 – 1967), Hungarian actor who wrote novels and poetry in Esperanto, and was very influential in the early development of the language for poetic use. His most famous novel is Printempo en Aŭtuno ("Springtime in Autumn", 1931), but he is more well-known for his poetry. His most influential work is his collection of poems, Preter la vivo ("Beyond Life", 1922).
Kálmán Kalocsay (1891 – 1979), Hungarian surgeon who edited the literary magazine Literatura mondo ("Literary World"), which was where the most influential writers of the early Esperanto literary movement published.
William Auld (1924 – 2006), Scottish poet who was nominated three times (1999, 2004 and 2006) for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his works in Esperanto. His most famous work is La infana raso ("The Infant Race", 1956).
Claude Piron (1931 – 2008), Swiss linguist who wrote dozens of books on the language, as well as novels, poems and non-fiction books. His most famous work is Gerda malaperis! ("Gerda Vanished!"), which is not only an entertaining mystery novel, but is also written so that early chapters use basic Esperanto, which gets more advanced with each chapter.
What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?
Phrases you can try:
- Kio estas tio nomo? — "What is your name?"
- Mia nomo estas _____. — "My name is _____"
- Kiom jarojn havas vi? — "How old are you? (How many years do you have?)"
- Mi havas _____ jarojn. — "I am _____ years old. (I have _____ years.)" (Try to use Esperanto numbers for your age!)
- Kiel vi fartas? — "How are you?"
- (Mi fartas) bone/malbone/ne malbone. — "(I am) good/bad/not bad."
- Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? — "Do you speak Esperanto?"
- Ne, mi ne parolas Esperanton. — "No, I don't speak Esperanto."
- Ĉu vi parolas anglan? — "Do you speak English?"
- Jes, mi parolas anglan. — "Yes, I speak English."
What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?
|La Espero||The Hope|
|En la mondon venis nova sento,
tra la mondo iras forta voko;
per flugiloj de facila vento
nun de loko flugu ĝi al loko.
|Into the world came a new feeling,
through the world goes a powerful call;
by means of wings of a gentle wind
now let it fly from place to place.
|La Espero ("The Hope") is the traditional anthem of Esperanto. It was written by Zamenhof as a poem and later set to music.
These are the first two verses.
|Ne al glavo sangon soifanta
ĝi la homan tiras familion:
al la mond' eterne militanta
ĝi promesas sanktan harmonion.
|Not to the sword thirsting for blood|
does it draw the human family:
to the world eternally fighting
it promises sacred harmony.
|Brilu, eta stelo||Twinkle, Twinkle|
|Brilu, brilu, eta stel',
Diamanto en ĉiel'!
|Twinkle, twinkle, little star,|
How I wonder what you are!
|Diru, kio estas vi,
Tiel alta super ni?
|Up above the world so high,|
Like a diamond in the sky.
|Brilu, brilu, eta stel',
Diamanto en ĉiel'!
|Twinkle, twinkle, little star,|
How I wonder what you are!