An Update on Esperanto

In a world that is more and more electronically linked, the international language Esperanto is experiencing a large growth of interest, especially among young people who are looking for alternative methods of international communication...Zamenhof, the initiator of Esperanto, was born in 1859; the 150th anniversary of this event was celebrated worldwide, among other things, by holding a Universal Congress of Esperanto in Bialystok, the city of his birth...During that congress, formal acceptance was given to a new national Esperanto association of Mongolia, where the next Asian Esperanto Congress will take place...Interest about Esperanto is growing in Africa: national Esperanto associations have been founded or re-founded in Angola, Benin, Burundi, Chad, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, and Zimbabwe... The city of Herzberg, in Germany, is now officially called the "Esperanto city": Esperanto activities are concentrated there, under the auspices of the city authorities... Recent achievements of Esperanto culture are, among other things, the launch of the literature magazine Beletra Almanako, and a large English-language encyclopedia of original literature in Esperanto ()... Here are some additional facts about the current state of Esperanto.

Goals and Origins. The foundation of what became the international language Esperanto was published in Warsaw in 1887 by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof. The idea of a planned international language was not new. His goal was not to replace ethnic languages, but to create a language to serve as everybody's second, auxiliary language. Zamenhof acknowledged that the language must evolve through collective use. In order to do that, he limited his initial proposal to a minimal grammar and a concise vocabulary. Esperanto is now fully developed, with a global community of speakers and the ability to express everything possible. Many of Zamenhof's ideas where ahead of those of the founder of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure (whose brother René spoke Esperanto).

Characteristics Esperanto is both spoken and written. Its vocabularly comes mainly from Western European languages, but its syntax and morphology shows strong influences from Slavic languages. Esperanto's morphemes do not change form and thus can be recombined almost limitlessly into different words. In this way, the language also has much in common with languages such as Chinese, whereas its internal word structure has similarities with Turkish, Swahili and Japanese.

Development. At first the language consisted of about a thousand roots, from which 10 to 12 thousand words can be formed. Today, Esperanto dictionaries often contain 15 or 20 thousand roots, from which hundreds of thousands of words can be formed. The language is still evolving, as the Academy of Esperanto stays apprised of current trends. Through the years, the language has been used for nearly all imaginable purposes, some of them controversial or problematic. The language was forbidden and its users persecuted, both by Stalin, who considered it a language of "cosmopolitans", and by Hitler, to whom it was a language of Jews. (Zamenhof, creator of the language, was a Jew).

Users. The number of people who can speak Esperanto has already grown to the point where it's no longer possible to count all of them, just as no one knows exactly how many people in the world speak English or Chinese. A simple Google search for Esperanto returns 67 million hits. The numbers of books sold, of active users of various Esperanto websites and member statistics from Esperanto organisations show that there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of people with some knowledge of the language. It's a large and truly international community. For example, the Universal Esperanto Association has national branches in more than 70 countries and individual members in nearly twice as many. There are also many who speak Esperanto as one of their native languages, as it's often the case that their parents came from different countries and use Esperanto as their home language. Today there are perhaps a thousand speakers who have grown up with Esperanto at home.

Teaching of Esperanto. You can start communicating in Esperanto quickly, so it serves as an ideal introduction to the study of foreign languages. Within weeks, students can use Esperanto for correspondence, and within months for class trips abroad. Experimental and informal observations show that prior learning of Esperanto has positive effects on the study both of one's first and second languages. Although it's taught at some schools and in courses for adults, most take it up on their own through correspondence and online, for instance using the web course lernu!, which offers Esperanto courses in more than 30 languages. There are text books and autodidactic materials in more than 100 languages. There is an Esperanto translation of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has developed official standards for the teaching of Esperanto. It's also one of the recognised languages of the state examination system in Hungary. The website features information on current initiatives in Esperanto education.

Official recognition. In 1954 the General Conference of UNESCO acknowledged that the accomplishments of Esperanto are in accordance with the goals and ideals of the organisation, and official relations were established between UNESCO and UEA. Cooperation between the two organisations continues. In 1977 the General Director of UNESCO, Mr. Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow addressed the 82nd World Congress of Esperanto. In 1985 the General Conference of UNESCO called upon the member states and international organisations to advance the study of Esperanto in schools and its use in international affairs. UEA also has active formal relations with the United Nations and other international organisations.

Conventions and meetings. More than a hundred international events and countless group and club gatherings occur every year in Esperanto — without translators or interpreters and with participation that varies from a few to thousands of people. The largest is the World Congress of Esperanto which takes place in a different country each year (2007 Yokohama, 2008 Rotterdam, 2009 Bjalistok [Poland], 2010 Havana, 2011 Copenhagen). There are also many conferences and seminars in Esperanto organised around specific themes, for example, "Human rights" or "Esperanto and the Internet.

Research and libraries. Many universities include Esperanto in linguistics courses; some offer it as a standalone subject. Especially noteworthy are the University of Poznań, Poland, offering a diploma in interlinguistics, and the University of Amsterdam. The bibliography of the Modern Language Association records more than 300 annual specialised publications on Esperanto every year. The library of the Esperanto Association of Britain has more than 20 000 titles. Other libraries with large Esperanto collections are the International Esperanto Museum (part of the National Library of Austrlia in Vienna), the Hodler Library of the World Esperanto Association in Rotterdam and the Esperanto Collection in Aalen, Germany. Those in Vienna and Aalen are accessible online and via the international library loan system.

Professional contacts and special interests. Organisations for Esperanto speakers include professional associations of doctors, writers, railway workers, scientists and journalists as well as organisations for the main world religions. They often publish their own reviews, organise conferences and help expand the language for professional and technical use. The Centre For Research and Documentation on World Language Problems facilitates cooperation among universities. The International Academy of Sciences San Marino organises courses in Esperanto and awards diplomas. Original and translated works are often published in the fields of astronomy, computer science, medicine, biology, law and philosophy. There are also organisations for various special interest groups such as scouts, the visually impaired, and players of chess and Go. There also exists a great number of discussion lists and blogs.

Literature. The flourishing literary tradition in Esperanto was acknowledged by International PEN, which accepted an Esperanto branch in September 1993. Notable contemporary Esperanto writers include novelists Tevor Steele (Australia), István Nemere (Hungary) and Spomenka Štimec (Croatia); poets Mauro Nervi (Italy), Mao Zifu (China) and Abel Montagut (Catalonia); and essayists and translators Probal Daŝgupta (India), Humphrey Tonkin (USA) and Kurisu Kei (Japan). The Scottish Esperanto author William Auld (1924-2006) was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his contributions to poetry.

Translations. Recent literary translations include Shakespeare's "The Winter’s Tale", Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", García Márquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude", Eliade's "Bengal Nights", Grass's "The Tin Drum", Machiavelli's "The Prince", and Cao Xueqin’s great family saga "Dream of the Red House". Familiar children's characters Asterix, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tin-Tin and Pippi Longstocking have been joined on the web by the complete Moomintroll books of Finnish author Tove Jansson and the complete Oz books of American author L. Frank Baum. Among translations out of Esperanto are "Maskerado", published in Esperanto in 1965 by Tivadar Soros, father of the financier George Soros, detailing the survival of his family during the Nazi occupation of Budapest. It came out in English translation in Britain (2000) and the United States (2001), and later also in Russian, Hungarian, German and Turkish. Roman Dobrzynski's "La Zamenhof-strato" was translated into more than ten languages, most recently Italian (2009) and French (2008).

Theatre and Cinema. Plays by dramatists as diverse as Goldoni, Brecht, Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn have been performed in recent years in Esperanto. Many of the plays of Shakespeare exist in Esperanto translation. Although Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, used Esperanto-language signs, feature-length films with dialogue in Esperanto are less common. A notable exception is William Shatner’s cult film Incubus, whose dialogue is entirely in Esperanto.

Music. Muscial genres in Esperanto run the gamut from popular and folk songs through rock music, cabaret, solo and choir pieces, and opera. Popular composers and performers in a number of countries have recorded in Esperanto, written scores inspired by the language, or used it in their promotional materials, including Elvis Costello and Michael Jackson. There are several orchestra and chorus pieces that include Esperanto, most notably Lou Harrison’s La Koro-Sutro and Symphony No. 1, by David Gaines, both of the USA. Numerous examples of music in Esperanto can be found on-line, including several sites devoted to Esperanto karaoke.

Periodicals. More than a hundred magazines and journals are published regularly in Esperanto, many of which also offer electronic editions. Among other periodicals are scholarly publications in medicine and science, religious magazines, national Esperanto journals, periodicals for young people, educational periodicals, literary magazines, and numerous special-interest publications.

Radio and television. Radio stations in Brazil, China, Cuba, Korea, Poland, the Vatican, and many other countries broadcast regularly in Esperanto. Many programs are also accessible online, and Esperanto podcasts have become popular in recent years. Television stations in various countries broadcast Esperanto courses, including the 16-part adaptation of the BBC's "Muzzy in Gondoland" on the Polish TV network Channel One.

Internet. The online community of Esperanto speakers is large and growing rapidly. There are hundreds of mailing lists in Esperanto that deal with topics as diverse as family use of the language and the theory of general relativity. Esperanto is widely used for chatting on ICQ, IRC, MSN, Skype and others. Websites in Esperanto number in the hundreds of thousands. There are also computer programs originally created in Esperanto, e.g. various spelling and grammar checkers and keyboard layouts. Software such as Open Office, Firefox, IrfanView, KDE and Ubuntu are also available in Esperanto. Websites like Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and Ipernity also have Esperanto versions.