Sunday, July 20, 2014

Esperanto, a created, living language

I thought it was a kind of dead language, like Klingon. But apparently, it's not:

The creator of Esperanto, L.L. Zamenhoff, was a very interesting fellow:
[...] Zamenhof was born on 15 December (3 December OS) 1859 in the town of Białystok in the Russian Partition (north-eastern Poland) in the age of national insurrections. His parents were of Lithuanian Jewish descent, and his wife was born in Kaunas, in one of the biggest Jewish centres of the time. He appears to have been natively bilingual in Yiddish and Russian,[3] presumably the Belorussian "dialect" of his home town, though it may have been only his father who spoke Russian with him at home. From his father, a teacher of German and French, he learned those languages and Hebrew as well. He also spoke Polish, one of the major languages of Bialystok alongside Yiddish, (Belo)Russian, and German, and it was Polish that was to become the native language of his children. In school he studied the classical languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. He later learned some English, though in his own words not very well, had an interest in Lithuanian and Italian, and learned Volapük when it came out in 1880, though by that point his international language project was already well developed.[4][5]

In addition to the Yiddish-speaking Jewish majority, the population of Białystok was made up of Poles and Belarusians, with smaller groups of Russians, Germans, Lipka Tatars and others. Zamenhof was saddened and frustrated by the many quarrels among these groups. He supposed that the main reason for the hate and prejudice lay in the mutual misunderstanding caused by the lack of one common language. If such a language existed, Zamenhof postulated, it could play the role of a neutral communication tool between people of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.

As a student at secondary school in Warsaw, Zamenhof made attempts to create some kind of international language with a grammar that was very rich, but also very complex. When he later studied English, he decided that the international language must have a simpler grammar. Apart from his parents' native languages Russian and Yiddish and his adopted language Polish, his linguistics attempts were also aided by his mastering of German, a good passive understanding of Latin, Hebrew and French, and a basic knowledge of Greek, English and Italian.[6]

By 1878, his project Lingwe uniwersala was almost finished. However, Zamenhof was too young then to publish his work. Soon after graduation from school he began to study medicine, first in Moscow, and later in Warsaw. In 1885, Zamenhof graduated from a university and began his practice as a doctor in Veisiejai and after 1886 as an ophthalmologist in Płock and Vienna. While healing people there he continued to work on his project of an international language.

For two years he tried to raise funds to publish a booklet describing the language until he received the financial help from his future wife's father. In 1887, the book titled Международный язык. Предисловие и полный учебник (International language: Introduction and complete textbook) was published in Russian[7] under the pseudonym "Doktoro Esperanto" (Doctor Hopeful). Zamenhof initially called his language "Lingvo internacia" (international language), but those who learned it began to call it Esperanto after his pseudonym, and this soon became the official name for the language. For Zamenhof this language, far from being merely a communication tool, was a way of promoting the peaceful coexistence of different people and cultures.[2] [...]
What a fascinating man. Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

I've been reading about Esperanto lately, because I've been reading a book about language learning, Fluent in 3 Months. The author, Benny Lewis, recommends learning Esperanto as your first second language, because it's easy to learn, you make progress quickly, and many studies have shown that people who learn Esperanto as their first second language, have a much easier time learning other languages successfully. Benny talks about this on his website:
[...] I always encourage people to spend just two weeks learning Esperanto, for the purely pragmatic reason of it giving them a boost in their main focus language. There was a great recent TEDx talk specifically about this idea of using Esperanto as a springboard to learning other languages. But moving on from that, those you can use Esperanto with make it all the more worthwhile to learn.

At Esperanto events, I’ve made some fantastic open minded friends, and sang, laughed, argued, flirted (and more…), played, explored and eaten with them there. And while travelling, I’ve met up with other speakers who I know will share the philosophies of the community of open mindedness and friendliness, while being modern and forward thinking.

One way you can meet Esperanto speakers in many cities is via Pasporta Servo, which is kind of like Couchsurfing, only it started many decades before. I also simply use Couchsurfing itself and search for speakers of the language and Google info about the local city’s community. It turns out every city in China has an active Esperanto community, and I’ve met up with several speakers in this trip already!

Of course many of them are into language learning and travel, but we tend to talk about whatever else comes up. In many situations, the structure of the language actually lets you be more expressive than non-constructed languages. [...]
Read the whole page for embedded links, videos, and much MUCH more.


Bill Chapman said...

I enjoyed this! Thanks! Dankon!

I hope you might be interested in a personal testimonial. I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. Over recent years I have had guided tours of Berlin, Douala and Milan in this planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down and in Armenia when it was a Soviet republic, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. I recommend Esperanto, not just as a good idea, but as a very practical way to overcome language barriers.

Chas said...

Thanks for sharing that, Bill.

It's nice to know that it's actually a living language that people use. To have all those conversations with all those people you mention, you would have to have learned all their languages, if it weren't for Esperanto.

Learning that many languages isn't practical for most people. And since Esperanto is an easy language for most people to learn, it seems an ideal alternative. I definitely want to learn it!

neil.nachum said...

People eager to know people of different ethnicity and even religion, often learn Esperanto. The end result is that even if there are less than a million Esperanto speakers you can find more friends via Esperanto than you can using English, who are not motivated by financial gain but rather for being close friends. I have traveled in 36 countries, staying most of the time with Esperanto friends. In 41 years (16 years abroad) I've met some 20.000 people face to face. Hard to believe but I don't think I could do this in English. With the advent of social media I have hundreds of exchanges per day.