The Esperanto flag
|Created by||L. L. Zamenhof|
|Date||26th July 1887|
|Setting and usage||International auxiliary language|
|Users||Native: 200 to 1,000 (1996)
L2 users: 10,000 to 2,000,000
|Writing system||Latin (Esperanto alphabet)|
|Sources||Vocabulary from Romance and Germanic languages; phonology from Slavic languages|
|Regulated by||Akademio de Esperanto|
Esperanto is a constructed language that was designed to make international communication easier, and to be easy to learn. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish eye doctor created the language in the 19th century.
At first, Zamenhof called the language La Internacia Lingvo, which means "The International Language" in Esperanto. Soon, people began calling it the simpler name Esperanto, which means "a hopeful person." That name comes from Doktoro Esperanto ("Doctor Hopeful"), which is what Zamenhof called himself in his first book about Esperanto.
There are people who speak Esperanto in many countries and in all the major continents. No one knows exactly how many people now speak Esperanto in the world. Most sources say that there are between several hundred thousand and two million Esperanto speakers. A few people grew up speaking Esperanto as their first language. There may perhaps be around 2,000 of these people. Therefore, Esperanto is the most used constructed language in the world.
A person who speaks or supports Esperanto is often called an "Esperantist".
- Goals of the Esperanto movement
- Esperanto culture
- The language
- Example of text
- Metaphoric use of the word "Esperanto"
- Images for kids
Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof created Esperanto. He grew up in Białystok, a town that was in the Russian Empire, but is now in Poland. People in Białystok spoke many languages. Zamenhof saw conflicts between individual ethnic groups living there (Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews). He thought that lack of a common language caused these conflicts, so he began creating a language people could share and use internationally. He thought this language should be different from national languages. He wanted it to be culturally neutral and easy-to-learn. He thought people should learn it along with national languages and use Esperanto for communication between people with different native languages.
First, Zamenhof thought about bringing Latin back into use. He learned it in school, but he realized it was too difficult for normal use. He also studied English and understood that languages did not need to conjugate verbs by person or number. Once he saw two Russian words: швейцарская (reception, derived from швейцар - receptionist) and кондитерская (confectionery, derived from кондитер - confectioner). These words with the same ending gave him an idea. He decided that regular prefixes and suffixes could decrease the number of word roots, which one would need for a communication. Zamenhof wanted the root words to be neutral, so he decided to use word roots from Romance and Germanic languages. Those languages were taught in many schools in many places around the world at that time.
Creation of the final version
Zamenhof did his first project Lingwe uniwersala (Universal Language) in 1878, but his father, a language teacher, regarded his son's work as unrealistic and he destroyed the original work. Between 1879 and 1885 Zamenhof studied medicine in Moscow and Warsaw. In these days he again worked on an international language. In 1887 he published his first textbook Международный языкъ ("The International Language"). According to Zamenhof's pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto ("Doctor who hopes"), many people started calling the language as Esperanto.
First attempts to change
Zamenhof received a lot of enthusiastic letters. In the letters, people wrote their suggestions for changes to the language. He noted all of the suggestions. He published them in the magazine La Esperantisto. In this magazine, Esperanto speakers could vote about the changes. They didn't accept them. The magazine had many subscribers in Russia. It was banned there because of an article about Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Publishing of the magazine ended after that. The new magazine Lingvo Internacia replaced it.
Progress of the community
In the first years of Esperanto's life, people used it only in written form, but in 1905 they organized the first (1st) World Congress of Esperanto in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. This was the first notable use of Esperanto in international communication. Because of the success of the congress, it is organized each year (except years of the World Wars) to this day.
In 1912 Zamenhof resigned his leading position in the movement during the eighth (8th) World Congress of Esperanto in Kraków, Poland. The tenth (10th) World Congress of Esperanto in Paris, France, didn't take place because of the start of World War I. Nearly 4000 people signed up for this congress.
Times of the World Wars
During World War I the World Esperanto Association had its main office in Switzerland, which was neutral in the war. Hector Hodler's group of volunteers with support of Romain Rolland helped send letters between the enemy countries through Switzerland. In total, they helped with 200,000 cases.
After World War I there was new hope for Esperanto because of the desire of people to live in peace and Esperanto and its community grew in those days. The first World Congress after the war took place in Hague, Netherlands, in 1920. An Esperanto Museum was opened in Vienna, Austria, in 1929. Today it is part of the Austrian National Library.
World War II stopped this progress and many Esperantists were sent into the battle and many others died in concentration camps. Nazis had prosecuted Esperantists because they saw Esperanto as a part of the global Jewish conspiracy. They also persecuted Esperantists in the Soviet Union during Stalin's times.
After the wars
Every year they organize big Esperanto meetings such as the World Congress of Esperanto, International Youth Congress of Esperanto and SAT-Congress (meeting of Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda - World Non-national Association).
In 1990 the Holy See published the document Norme per la celebrazione della Messa in esperanto, allowing the use of Esperanto in Masses without special permission. Esperanto is the only constructed language which received such a permission from the Roman Catholic Church.
Esperanto has many webpages, blogs, podcasts, and videos. People also use Esperanto in social media and online discussions and in their private communication through e-mail and instant messaging. Several (especially open source and free software) programes have their own language version in Esperanto. Internet radio station Muzaiko has been broadcasting 24 hours a day in Esperanto since 2011.
Goals of the Esperanto movement
Zamenhof wanted to make an easy language to increase international understanding. He wanted Esperanto to be a universal second language. In other words, although he did not want Esperanto to replace national languages, he wanted a majority of people around the world to speak Esperanto. Many Esperantists initially shared this goal. General Assembly of UNESCO recognized Esperanto in 1954. Since then World Esperanto Association has got official relations with UNESCO. However, Esperanto was never chosen by the United Nations or other international organizations and it has not become a widely accepted second language.
Some Esperanto speakers like Esperanto for reasons other than its use as a universal second language. They like the Esperanto community and culture. Developing the Esperanto culture is a goal for that people.
People who care more about Esperanto's current value than about its potential for universal use are sometimes called raŭmistoj in Esperanto. The ideas of these people can together be called raŭmismo, or "Raumism" in English. The names come from the name of the town of Rauma, in Finland. The International Youth Congress of Esperanto met there in 1980 and made a big statement. They said that making Esperanto a universal second language was not their main goal.
People who have goals for Esperanto that are more similar to Zamenhof's are sometimes called finvenkistoj in Esperanto. The name comes from fina venko, an Esperanto phrase which means "final victory". It refers to a theoretical future in which nearly everyone on Earth speaks Esperanto as a second language.
German town Herzberg am Harz uses nickname die Esperanto-Stadt/la Esperanto-urbo ("the Esperanto town") since 12 July 2006. They also teach the language in the elementary schools and do some other cultural and educational events using the Esperanto language together with the Polish twin town Góra.
Esperanto is the only constructed language which the Roman Catholic Church recognises as a liturgical language. They allowed to do Masses in the language and Vatican Radio broadcasts in Esperanto every week.
Many people use Esperanto to communicate by mail, email, blogs or chat rooms with Esperantists in other countries. Some travel to other countries to meet and talk in Esperanto with other Esperantists.
There are annual meetings of Esperantists. The largest is the Universala Kongreso de Esperanto ("World Congress of Esperanto"), which is held in a different country each year. In recent years around 2,000 people have attended it, from 60 or more countries. For young people there is Internacia Junulara Kongreso ("International Youth Congress of Esperanto").
A lot of different cultural activities take place during Esperanto meetings: concerts of Esperanto musicians, dramas, discos, presentation of the culture of the host country and culture of the countries of the participants, lectures, language-courses, and so on. At the location of Esperanto meetings there is also a pub, a tearoom, a bookstore, etc. with Esperanto-speaking workers. The number of activities and possibilities depends on the size or on the theme of the meeting.
There are books and magazines written in Esperanto. Much literature has been translated into Esperanto from other languages, including famous works, like the Bible (first time in 1926) and plays by Shakespeare. Works that are less famous have also been translated into Esperanto, and some of these do not have English translations.
Important Esperanto writers are for example: Trevor Steele (Australia), István Nemere (Hungary) and Mao Zifu (China). William Auld was a British writer of poetry in Esperanto and honorary president of the Esperanto PEN Centre (Esperanto part of International PEN). Some people recommended him for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
There is music of different genres in Esperanto, including folk songs, rock music, cabaret, songs for solo singers, choirs and opera. Among active Esperanto musicians is for example Swedish socio-critical (make people think about bad things in the society) music group La Perdita Generacio, Occitan (from the south of France) singer JoMo, the Finnish group Dolchamar, Brazilian group Supernova, Frisian group Kajto or Polish singer-songwriter Georgo Handzlik. Also some popular music writers and artists, including Elvis Costello and American singer Michael Jackson recorded songs in Esperanto, composed songs inspired by the language or used it in their promotional materials. Some songs from the album Esperanto from Warner Bros., which released - all in Esperanto - in Spain, in November 1996, reached a high position in the Spanish record charts; similarly, in 1999, in Germany, hip-hop music group Freundeskreis became famous with their single Esperanto. Classical works for orchestra and choir with texts in Esperanto are La Koro Sutro by Lou Harrison and The First Symphony by David Gaines (both are from the USA). In Toulouse, France, there is Vinilkosmo, which produces Esperanto music. The main internet Esperanto songbook KantarViki has got 3,000 songs in May 2013, both original and translated.
Theatre and film
They play dramas from different writers such as Carlo Goldoni, Eugène Ionesco and William Shakespeare also in Esperanto. Filmmakers sometimes use Esperanto in the background of films, for example in The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin, in the action film Blade: Trinity or in comedy sci-fi television series Red Dwarf. Feature films in Esperanto are not very common, but there are about 15 feature films, which have Esperanto themes.
The 1966 film Incubus is notable because its dialogues are in Esperanto only. Today some people translate subtitles of different films to Esperanto. The website Verda Filmejo collects these subtitles.
Radio and television
Radio stations in Brazil, China, Cuba and Vatican broadcast regular programmes in Esperanto. Some other radio programmes and podcasts are available on the Internet. Internet radio station Muzaiko broadcasts Esperanto programmes on the Internet 24 hours a day since July 2011. Between 2005 and 2006 there was also a project of international television "Internacia Televido" in Esperanto. Esperanto TV broadcasts on the Internet from Sydney, Australia, since 5th April 2014.
On the Internet there are many online discussions in Esperanto about different topics. There are many websites, blogs, podcasts, videos and television and radio stations in Esperanto (see above). Google Translate supports translations from and into Esperanto since 22th February 2012 as its 64th language.
Apart from websites and blogs of esperantists and Esperanto organizations, there is also Esperanto Wikipedia and other projects of Wikimedia Foundation which has got also their Esperanto language version or they use Esperanto (Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikinews, Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata). People can also use Esperanto version of the social networks Facebook and Diaspora and other websites.
Esperanto uses grammar and words from many natural languages, such as Latin, Russian, and French. Morphemes in Esperanto (the smallest parts of a word that can have a meaning) cannot be changed and people can combine them into many different words. The language have got common attributes with isolating languages (they use word order to change the meaning of a sentence) such as Chinese, while inner structure of Esperanto words have got common attributes with agglutinative languages (they use affixes to change the meaning of a word), such as Turkish, Swahili and Japanese.
The Esperanto alphabet has 28 letters. These letters are:
- A in Esperanto is like a in father
- B is like b in book
- C is like ts in lets
- Ĉ is like ch in chocolate
- D is like d in dog
- E is like e in met
- F is like f in flower
- G is like g in go
- Ĝ is like j and dg in judge
- H is like h in honey
- Ĥ makes a sound that vibrates the throat (the sound does not exist in English; it is often written in English as kh or ch in foreign names and words, in Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Russian... ח خ χ х )
- I is like ee in speed
- J is like y in you
- Ĵ is like s in pleasure
- K is like c and k in cook
- L is like l in look
- M is like m in moon
- N is like n in can
- O is like o in note
- P is like p in pie
- R is like r as in road but is rolled (trilled, as in Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Russian)
- S is like s in simple
- Ŝ is like sh in short
- T is like t in tire
- U is like oo in boot
- Ŭ is like w in cow
- V is like v in cave
- Z is like z in zipper.
There is no Q, W, X, or Y in the Esperanto alphabet. The letters ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, ŭ have diacritics, or accent marks. Since x is not used in Esperanto, they can write these letters as cx, gx, hx, jx, sx, ux. They call this way of writing as the "x-sistemo" ("x-system").
Zamenhof invented a way of writing letters with diacritics which uses the letter h as a helping letter (except of u). When people use this, they can write the letters as ch, gh, hh, jh, sh and u. They call this way of writing as the "h-sistemo" ("h-system").
There was problem with writing Esperanto diacritic letters on computers in the past. People had to use either the h-system or the x-system. Since today's programs can use Unicode, there is no such problem anymore. However some people still use these systems to write in Esperanto when they do not have Esperanto diacritic letters on their keyboards.
Examples of words
- from Romance languages
- from Germanic languages
- from Slavic languages
- from other Indo-European languages
- from Finno-Ugric languages
- from Semitic languages
- from other languages
Grammar means the rules of a language. Esperanto's grammar is intended to be simple. The rules in Esperanto never change and can always be applied in the same way.
Esperanto has only definite article la (the same thing as "the" in English) and no indefinite article (the same thing as "a" or "an" in English). They use definite article when they talk about things, about which they have already told something.
Nouns and adjectives
- Mi vidas vin. - I see you.
- Li amas ŝin. - He loves she.
- Ili havas belan domon. - They have got a nice house.
In adjectives and adverbs is comparison made by words pli (more) and plej (most). For example:
- pli granda - bigger
- plej granda - biggest
- pli rapide - faster
- plej rapide - fastest
|First person||mi (I)||ni (we)|
|Second person||vi (you)|
|Masculine||li (he)||ili (they)|
- Personal pronouns are: mi - I, vi - you, li - he, ŝi - she, ĝi - it, ni - we, ili - they, oni - someone/they, si (self). The pronoun oni is used for uncertain subject (like man in German). Pronoun ci means thou but people do not use it much.
- Possessive pronouns are made by adding of ending -a to a personal pronoun: mia - my, via - your, lia - his, ŝia - her, ĝia - its, nia - our, ilia - their. People use possessive pronouns like adjectives.
- Accusative case (the -n ending) is used in pronouns as well: min - me, vin - you, lin - him, ŝin - her, ĝin - it, nin - us, ilin - them.
So, to say how old is somebody in Esperanto, just say:
- Lia aĝo estas dudek = He is twenty (20) years old. (word for word: His age is twenty (20).)
|Indicative mood||Active participle||Passive participle||Infinitive||Jussive mood||Conditional mood|
Verbs end with -as when they are in present tense. English uses I am, you are, he is. But in Esperanto, there is just one word for am, are, is - estas. Similarly, kuras can mean run or runs. Infinitives end with -i. For example, esti means to be, povi means to can. It is easy to make past tense - always add -is ending. To make future tense, add -os. For example:
- kuri - to run
- mi kuras - I run
- vi kuras - you run
- li kuris - he ran
- ĝi kuros - it will run
Many words can be made opposite by adding mal at the beginning.
- bona = good. malbona = bad
- bone = well, malbone = poorly
- granda = big, malgranda = small
- peza = heavy, malpeza = light
Examples of sentences which show the rules:
- Mi povas kuri rapide. = I can run fast.
- Vi ne povas kuri rapide. = You cannot run fast.
- Mi estas knabo. = I am a boy.
- Mi estas malbona Esperantisto. = I am a bad Esperantist.
To make a yes-or-no question, add Ĉu at the beginning. For example:
- Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? = Do you speak Esperanto?
- Jes, mi parolas Esperanton tre bone. = Yes, I speak Esperanto very well.
- Ne, mi estas komencanto. = No, I am a beginner.
Unlike in English, they can answer to a yes/no question only jes (yes) or ne (no).
The numbers are:
Numbers like twenty-one (21) are made by their compounding by order of magnitude. For example: dek tri means thirteen (13), dudek tri means twenty-three (23), sescent okdek tri means six hundred eighty-three (683), mil naŭcent okdek tri means (one) thousand nine hundred and eighty-three (1983).
Prefixes and suffixes
Esperanto has over 20 special words which can change meaning of another word. People put them before or after the root of a word.
These words combined can make very long words, such as malmultekosta (cheap), vendredviandmanĝmalpermeso (prohibition of eating a meat on Friday).
Prefixes are added before the root of the word.
- bo- – means "in-law". Patro means father, and bopatro means father-in-law.
- dis- – means "all or many directions". Iri means to go, and disiri means to go in different directions.
- ek- – means "start" of something. Kuri means to run, and ekkuri means to start running.
- eks- – makes the word "former". Amiko means friend, and eksamiko means former friend.
- fi- – makes the word worse. Knabo means boy, and fiknabo means bad boy; odoro means smell, and fiodoro means bad smell.
- ge- – changes meaning of a word to "both gender". Frato means brother, and gefratoj means brother(s) and sister(s).
- mal- – makes the word opposite. Bona means good, and malbona means bad.
- mis- – means "wrong". Kompreni means to understand, and miskompreni means to understand wrong.
- pra- – means "prehistoric", "very old" or "primitive". Homo menas human, and prahomo means prehistoric human.
- re- – means again. Vidi means to see, and revidi means to see again.
Suffixes are added after the root of the word, but before the ending.
- -aĉ- – makes the word uglier. Domo means house, domaĉo means ugly house.
- -ad- – means continuous doing of something. Fari means to do, and Faradi means to do continuously.
- -aĵ- – means a thing. Bela means beautiful, and belaĵo means a beutiful thing; trinki means to drink, and trinkaĵo menas a drink ("something for drinking").
- -an- – means member of something. Klubo means club, and klubano means a member of a club.
- -ar- – means many things of the same kind. Arbo means tree, and arbaro means forest.
- -ĉj- – makes male diminutives. Patro means father, and paĉjo means daddy.
- -ebl-– means ability or possibility. Manĝi means to eat, and manĝebla means eatable.
- -ec- – means quality. Granda means big, and grandeco means size.
- -eg- – makes the word bigger. Domo means house, and domego means big house.
- -ej- – means a place. Lerni means to learn, and lernejo means school ("place for learning").
- -em- – means tendency. Mensogi means to lie, and mensogema means with tendency to lie.
- -end- – means something which must be done. Pagi means to pay, and pagenda, means something which must be paid.
- -er- – means a bit of bigger group. Neĝo' means snow, and neĝero means snowflake.
- -estr- – means a chief of. Urbo means town, and urbestro means mayor ("chief of a town").
- -et- – makes the word smaller. Domo means house, and dometo means small house.
- -id- – means the child of. Kato means cat, and katido means kitten.
- -il- – means instrument. Ŝlosi mens to lock, and ŝlosilo means key (an instrument for locking).
- -ind- – means worthiness. Ami means to love, and aminda means something which is worth to be loved.
- -in- – changes the gender of a word into female. Patro means father, and patrino means mother.
- -ing- – means a holder. Kandelo means candel, and kandelingo means candelstick ("a holder of a candel").
- -ism- – means an ideology or movement. Nacio means nation, naciismo means nationalism.
- -ist- – means somebody who does something (perhaps as a job). Baki means to bake and bakisto means baker; scienco means science, and sciencisto means scientist. Esperantisto means Esperanto speaker.
- -nj- – makes female diminutives. Patrino means mother, and panjo means mummy.
- -obl- – means times. Tri means three, and trioble means three times.
- -on- – makes fractions. Kvar means four (4), and kvarono means quarter (one fourth of something).
- -uj- – generally means a vessel. Salo means salt, and salujo means salt shaker ("a vessel for salt").
- -ul- – means person of some quality. Juna means young, and junulo means young man.
- -um- is suffix for cases when is not able to do a word from other existing suffixes, preffixes or roots.
Some of the criticism of Esperanto is common for any project of constructed international language: a new language has little chance to replace today's international languages like English, French and others.
The criticism, which is specific for Esperanto, targets various parts of the language itself (the special Esperanto letters, the -n ending, sound of the language, and so on).
Some people say that use of the diacritics (the letters ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, ŭ) make the language less neutral than it would be using only the basic letters of Latin alphabet. They don't use the letters ĉ, ĥ and ĵ in any other language in the world.
They also criticise that most of the words in Esperanto come from Indo-European languages, which makes the language less neutral.
One of the common criticism from the both, non-Esperanto-speakers and esperantists, is that there is language sexism in Esperanto. This is because there are some words, which have their male meaning as default and they have to make their feminine counterparts by adding the -in- suffix. Such a words are words like patro (father) and patrino (mother), filo (son) and filino (daughter), onklo (uncle) and onklino (aunt), and so on. The majority of all Esperanto words have no specific meaning on the basis of sex. Some people proposed the suffix -iĉ- with male meaning in order to make the meaning of the basic word neutral. However this proposal is not widely accepted by Esperantists.
Criticism of some parts of Esperanto language was reason for creation of some new constructed languages like Ido, Novial, Interlingua, Neoslavonic language and Lojban. However, none of these constructed languages have as many speakers as Esperanto.
Example of text
Normal sample: Ĉiuj homoj estas denaske liberaj kaj egalaj laŭ digno kaj rajtoj. Ili posedas racion kaj konsciencon, kaj devus konduti unu la alian en spirito de frateco.
Version in x-system: Cxiuj homoj estas denaske liberaj kaj egalaj laux digno kaj rajtoj. Ili posedas racion kaj konsciencon, kaj devus konduti unu la alian en spirito de frateco.
Version in h-system: Chiuj homoj estas denaske liberaj kaj egalaj lau digno kaj rajtoj. Ili posedas racion kaj konsciencon, kaj devus konduti unu la alian en spirito de frateco.
Simple English translation: All people are free and equal in dignity and rights. They are reasonable and moral, and should act kindly to each other.
Metaphoric use of the word "Esperanto"
People sometimes use the word "Esperanto" in a metaphoric way (not in its literal sense). They use it to say that something is or they plan it to be international, neutral or a mixture. They say the programming language Java is "independent on specific platform like Esperanto is independent on concrete nation" or they call the font Noto as "the Esperanto of fonts".
Images for kids
Esperanto Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.