Some people are meant to be doctors. Some are meant to be musicians. Some are meant to be astronauts. And some are meant to be polyglot language speakers destined to create the most widely-used constructed international auxiliary language in the world.
That person was Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, born in 1859, and the founder of the language we know as Esperanto. Beginning in secondary school, Zamenhof, who spoke Yiddish, Russian, German, French, Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Aramaic, began constructing a language which he hoped would eventually become the lingua franca of the age. Zamenhof was a pacifist, and believed that it was impossible to form a community without the presence of a language. His idea was that language could foster a sense of community and shared understanding, something that transcended cultural and geographical barriers. Essentially, if we could all communicate, we might all just get along a little better.
Since 1859 and the death of Zamenhof in 1917, our use of language and the way we communicate on a global scale has evolved rapidly, based on a huge variety of societal and technological changes, such as the rapid advancements in how we transport ourselves across the globe and the invention of global communications, most notably the internet. Although Mandarin currently tops the list as the world’s most spoken native language with 1.1 billion speakers, English is now the world’s most widely spoken second language with approximately 750 million second language speakers worldwide. Of the top 10 million websites on the net, over half of those use English as the predominant language.
From these statistics, it would be fairly easy to argue that English is predominantly becoming new age lingua franca between languages, and thus the immediate question becomes: where does that leave Esperanto and do we need it anymore?
We think these are the wrong questions to ask. Whether or not we need Esperanto ignores the simple fact that it is still here, and growing. Its perseverance, longevity and apparent will to survive across the years, is quite remarkable. Despite Esperanto speakers being persecuted in the Nazi Germany and Soviet Union regimes, organisations, publications and events continued to be organised by the speaking community and some of those original groups and still alive and kicking today.
It’s following has increased steadily year-by-year and its speaker base is currently higher than it has been in the past 75 years. Language learning apps such as Duolingo can be partially credited for such a rise in Esperanto speakers – there are over a million people currently learning it through the platform. There have been over 25,000 books translated into Esperanto, with one even winning the Nobel Prize. The sheer individuality of a man-made auxiliary language has given Esperanto a cult-like status, similar to languages such as Klingon, and more recently, the Dothraki language from HBO’s Game of Thrones.
At Lingua-World, we believe the use of language means far more than mere communication. Language would be useless without the community of people who speak it. Esperanto may not have become the universal language, or one with many native speakers. Other languages appear to be fighting for that spot in an ever raging battle, a battle likely to go on for many years to come. But what about Zamenhof’s other aim, namely to bring people together and create multi-lingual communities sharing a common thread. With millions of speakers from every corner of the globe now learning and speaking Esperanto and communities and groups sharing the joy of their man-made language, isn’t that what Zamenhof always wanted?
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