Benny Lewis — Irish Polyglot — Part Two What is Esperanto?

One of the languages Benny Lewis studied was Esperanto.  Esperanto was the brain child of  by Ludwig Zamenhof, according to this article in Wikipedia:

300px-Flag_of_Esperanto.svgEsperanto was created in the late 1870s and early 1880s by Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist from Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire. According to Zamenhof, he created the language to foster harmony between people from different countries. His feelings and the situation in Białystok may be gleaned from an extract from his letter to Nikolai Borovko:[14]

“The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Białystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind, although many people may smile at such an ‘anguish for the world’ in a child. Since at that time I thought that ‘grown-ups’ were omnipotent, so I often said to myself that when I grew up I would certainly destroy this evil.”

—L. L. Zamenhof, in a letter to Nikolai Borovko, ca. 1895*

So Esperanto began in the mind of a very brilliant doctor who wanted to make a better world free of stress and conflict.  Dr. Zamenhof thought the evil of mankind was rooted in linguistic and ethnic differences and if people all spoke the same language, then we could all become one “human family” again.  Many like minded idealistic people In Europe formed Esparanto groups in the decades before World War I.  Not surprisingly, many of those groups were located in areas that later became the battleground.

Their worst fears were realized.  After World War I, there was another push to adopt Esperanto, but most of the major powers of Europe took turns in killing the idea.  France opposed Esperanto as a threat to French as the traditional language of diplomacy.  When Hitler came to power, noting that Zamenhof was Jewish, Hitler thought Esperanto was part of the international Jewish conspiracy.  Members of Zamenhof’s family along with other Esperantists were murdered in the Holocaust.  Esperanto was encouraged and supported in the early days of the Soviet Union.  Even Stalin studied Esperanto. By 1937, Stalin turned and denounced Esperanto as the language of spies and its supporters were executed or sent to the gulag.

Ironically, it was the English Speaking World, which neither encouraged nor discouraged Esperanto, that provided the international language.  English had many advantages over other languages and Esperanto.  English is a Germanic language, but almost half of its words have their origins in French and Latin.  It easily adapts words from other languages and readily sloughs off old words.  Most importantly, as long as the United States retains its international power, English will be a must learn international language.

Finally, advocates for Esperanto have is  a poor understanding of human nature.  We hear idealists talking about “all men are brothers” but that doesn’t mean anything really.  As a child, I remember visiting my friends and watching how brothers and sisters fought with each other all the time.  I was an only child so this was all new to me.  They fought over everything but one thing they shared in common was the same language.   I expect that Esperanto will survive more or less as it has in the past.  But it will not become the dominant international language Dr. Zamenhof had hoped it would become.  In short, Esperanto is a rational planned solution.

Note:  Bialystok is now in Poland.

About Richard Rollo

I am a retired Community College Instructor. I taught Political Science 1 American Government for 22 years in Southern California. I am originally from Northern Minnesota. My earliest years were spent in the living quarters of a rural Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway Depot. Then my family joined the great 1950's migration to Southern California where I joined up with fellow baby boomers in overcrowded schools.
This entry was posted in A Series about learning, Do It Yourself Learning, Learning a Second Language, rational planned solutions, Second Langauge. Bookmark the permalink.