Ludvig Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was born 1859 in the Polish city Bialystok, which was then under Russian rule. He was exceptionally talented in languages and spoke Polish, Russian, German, French, English, Latin and Greek. Bialystok was composed of four ethnic groups; Poles, Russians, Germans and Jews, all of whom spoke separate languages, a situation that often resulted in misunderstandings and strife. Due to these circumstances, Zamenhof began to ponder on a common language from an early age. In 1887 he published his textbook in Lingvo Internacia, which was later given the name Esperanto. The language soon attracted enthusiastic supporters and spread to different countries. Zamenhof created a foundation on which the language could be built. He created a grammar from borrowed elements from different languages and borrowed the words from several languages, especially Latin and Romance languages. The language contains international structures to a very large degree. Those who study Esperanto quickly grasp that it is a real language and that the uncomplicated grammar gives a sense of security.
As Ludvig Zamenhof, from the beginning and forever, rejected all his personal rights to Esperanto, the language is not anyone’s possession. It belongs to everyone.
The first Esperanto association was formed 1888 in Nürnberg. The first textbook in English was published in 1889 as was the first monthly magazine, La Esperatisto. A multitude of Esperanto associations sprung up in different countries in Europe, Asia and South America during the years that followed. The first Esperanto World Congress was held in 1905 in the French town Boulogne-sur-Mer, attracting 700 participants from 20 nations. The fact that no interpreters were necessary attracted much attention.
From 1906 many new nation-based associations were established, for instance in Japan and USA. A World Congress was held in Cambridge, England in 1907. After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, 10 000 textbooks in Esperanto were sent from France to medical staff and the international organisation of the YMCA distributed thousands of textbooks in Esperanto to prisoners on both sides. A world Congress was held in the USA in 1915.
The League of Nations (a predecessor of the UN) underlined in a 1920 resolution that all students should learn Esperanto as well as their mother tongue. The Chamber of Commerce in Paris recommended the use of Esperanto in 1921. That same year, the French Academy of Science recommended that Esperanto be used in scientific circumstances. 1923 a world congress was held in Nürnberg with 4963 participants.
The Universala Esperanto Asocio delivered a petition to the UN in 1950. The petition was signed by 895 432 people from trade unions and other organisations in 76 countries, representing 15 454 780 members. The petition included, amongst other things, a proposal to teach Esperanto in schools. It was signed by for instance the French President Vincent Auriol, four ministers from the Netherlands, Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia, 405 Members of Parliament, 1607 language teachers and others who were professionally educated in foreign languages, 5262 university teachers and other scientists, 40 000 educators, as well as workers and ordinary citizens from different countries.
In 1966 the Japanese Government received a petition signed by 250 000 citizens asking to introduce Esperanto teaching in their schools. In 1973 a parliamentary group of 45 members was formed in the House of Commons to work in promoting Esperanto. The opinion was expressed that the English language was unsuited to the international role it had been given. In 1973 the Socialist International received a suggestion from its Italian friends that Esperanto be used as its internal working-language. The Socialist International was also encouraged to work to promote Esperanto as a school subject. François Mitterrand, later to become the French President, supported the proposal. In 1974, the Austrian President Dr. Rudolf Kirschläger, wrote to the Austrian Socialists in support of their attempts to introduce Esperanto.
1986 an Esperanto World Congress was held in Beijing and China with participants from 54 nations.
What is Esperanto?
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Why do some oppose Esperanto becoming the EU's only Working-language?
© Hans Malv, 2004