History of Esperanto

The constructed international auxiliary language Esperanto was developed in the 1870s and 80s by L. L. Zamenhof, and first published in 1887. The number of speakers has grown gradually over time, although it has not had much support from governments and international bodies, and has sometimes been outlawed or otherwise suppressed.

Development of the language before publication

Zamenhof would later say that he had dreamed of a world language since he was a child. At first he considered a revival of Latin, but after learning it in school he decided it was too complicated to be a common means of international communication. When he learned English, he realized that verb conjugations were unnecessary, and that grammatical systems could be much simpler than he had expected. He still had the problem of memorizing a large vocabulary, until he noticed two Russian signs labelled Швейцарская ("švejtsarskaja," a porter's lodge — from швейцар "švejtsar," a porter) and Кондитерская ("konditerskaja," a confectioner's shop — from кондитер "konditer," a confectioner). He then realized that a judicious use of affixes could greatly decrease the number of root words needed for communication. He chose to take his word stock from Romance and Germanic, the languages that were most widely taught in schools around the world and would therefore be recognizable to the largest number of people.

Zamenhof taught an early version of the language to his high-school classmates. Then, for several years, he worked on translations and poetry to refine his creation. In 1895 he wrote, "I worked for six years perfecting and testing the language, even though it had seemed to me in 1878 that it was already completely ready." When he was ready to publish, the Czarist censors would not allow it. Stymied, he spent his time in translating works such as the Bible and Shakespeare. This enforced delay led to continued improvement. In July 1887 he published his "Unua Libro" (First Book), a basic introduction to the language. This was essentially the language spoken today.

Esperanto history from publication until the first world congress

At first the movement grew most in the Russian empire and eastern Europe, but soon spread to western Europe and beyond: to Argentina in 1889; to Canada in 1901; to Algeria, Chile, Japan, Mexico, and Peru in 1903; to Tunisia in 1904; and to Australia, the United States, Guinea, Indochina, New Zealand, Tonkin, and Uruguay in 1905.

In its first years Esperanto was used mainly in publications by Zamenhof and early adopters like Anton Grabowski, in extensive correspondence (mostly now lost), in the magazine "La Esperantisto", published from 1889 to 1895 and only occasionally in personal encounters.

In 1894 under pressure from Wilhelm Trompeter, the publisher of the magazine "La Esperantisto", and some other leading users, Zamenhof reluctantly put forward a radical reform to be voted on by readers. He proposed the reduction of the alphabet to 22 letters (by eliminating the accented letters and most of their sounds), the change of the plural to "-i", the use of a positional accusative instead of the ending "-n", the removal of the distinction between adjectives and adverbs, the reduction of the number of participles from six to two, and the replacement of the table of correlatives with more Latinate words or phrases. These reforms were overwhelmingly rejected, but some were picked up in subsequent reforms (such as Ido) and criticisms of the language. In the following decade Esperanto spread into western Europe, especially France. By 1905 there were already 27 magazines being published (Auld 1988).

A small international conference was held in 1904, leading to the first world congress in August 1905 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. There were 688 Esperanto speakers present from 20 nationalities. At this congress, Zamenhof officially resigned his leadership of the Esperanto movement, as he did not want personal prejudice against himself (or anti-Semitism) to hinder the progress of the language. He proposed a declaration on founding principles of the Esperanto movement, which the attendees of the congress endorsed.

Esperanto history since the first congress

World congresses have been held every year since 1905, except during the two World Wars.

The autonomous territory of Neutral Moresnet, between Belgium and Germany, had a sizeable proportion of Esperanto-speakers among its small and multiethnic population. There was a proposal to make Esperanto its official language.

In the early 1920s, there was a proposal for the League of Nations to accept Esperanto as their working language. Ten delegates accepted the proposal with only one voice against, the French delegate, Gabriel Hanotaux. Hanotaux did not like how the French language was losing its position as the international language and saw Esperanto as a threat. However, two years later the League recommended that its member states include Esperanto in their educational curricula. Many people see the 1920s as the heyday of the Esperanto movement.

Starting in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin murdered many Esperanto speakers because of their anti-nationalistic tendencies. Hitler wrote in "Mein Kampf" that it was created as a universal language to unite the Jewish diaspora. Stalin called it "the language of spies". While Esperanto itself was not enough cause for execution, its use was extended among Jews or trade unionists and encouraged contacts with foreigners. The teaching of Esperanto was not allowed in German prisoner-of-war camps during World War II. Esperantists sometimes were able to get around the ban by convincing guards that they were teaching Italian, the language of Germany's closest ally.

Fascist Italy, on the other hand, made some efforts of promoting tourism in Italy through Esperanto leaflets.

The Cold War, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, put a damper on the Esperanto movement as well, as there were fears on both sides that Esperanto could be used for enemy propaganda. However, the language experienced something of a renaissance in the 1970s and spread to new parts of the world, such as its veritable explosion in popularity in Iran in 1975. By 1991 there were enough African Esperantists to warrant a pan-African congress. The language continues to spread, although it is not officially recognized by any country, and is part of the state educational curriculum of only a few.

Evolution of the language

The Declaration of Boulogne [http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/9061/bulonja.html] of 1905 limited changes to Esperanto. That declaration stated, among other things, that the basis of the language should remain the "Fundamento de Esperanto" ("Foundation of Esperanto", a group of early works by Zamenhof), which is to be binding forever: nobody has the right to make changes to it. The declaration also permits new concepts to be expressed as the speaker sees fit, but it recommends doing so in accordance with the original style.

Many Esperantists believe this declaration stabilizing the language is a major reason why the Esperanto speaker community grew beyond the levels attained by other constructed languages and has developed a flourishing culture. Other constructed languages have been hindered from developing a stable speaking community by continual tinkering. Also, many developers of constructed languages have been possessive of their brain-children and have worked to prevent others from contributing to the language. One such ultimately disastrous case was Schleyer's Volapük. In contrast, Zamenhof declared that "Esperanto belongs to the Esperantists", and moved to the background once the language was published, allowing others to share in the early development of the language.

The grammatical description in the earliest books was somewhat vague, so a consensus on usage (influenced by Zamenhof's answers to some questions) developed over time within boundaries set by the initial outline (Auld 1988). Even before the Declaration of Boulogne, the language was remarkably stable; only one set of lexical changes were made in the first year after publication, namely changing "when", "then", "never", "sometimes", "always" from "kian", "tian", "nenian", "ian", "ĉian" to "kiam", "tiam", "neniam" etc to avoid confusion with the accusative forms of "kia" "what sort of", "tia" "that sort of", etc. Thus Esperanto achieved a stability of structure and grammar similar to that which natural languages enjoy by virtue of their native speakers and established bodies of literature. One could learn Esperanto without having it move from underfoot. Changes could and did occur in the language, but only by acquiring widespread popular support; there was no central authority making arbitrary changes, as happened with Volapük and some other languages.

Modern Esperanto usage may in fact depart from that originally described in the "Fundamento", though the differences are largely semantic (involving changed meaning of words) rather than grammatical or phonological. The translation given for "I like this one", in the sample phrases in the main Esperanto article, offers a significant example. According to the "Fundamento", "Mi ŝatas ĉi tiun" would in fact have meant "I esteem this one". The traditional usage is "Tiu ĉi plaĉas al mi" (literally, "this one is pleasing to me"), which reflects the phrasing most European languages (French "celui-ci me plaît", Spanish "éste me gusta", Russian "это мне нравится" [eto mnye nravitsya] , German "Das gefällt mir", Italian "mi piace"). However, the original "Ĉi tiu plaĉas al mi" is commonly used as well.

Other changes include a reduction of the number of inherently masculine words, and an increase in the East Asian-like use of adjectival verbs. Originally all members of a profession, such as "dentisto" "a dentist", all people defined by a characteristic, such as "junulo" "a youth", and all verbal participles used for humans, such as "kuranto" "a runner", were masculine unless specifically made feminine with the suffix "-ino"; currently only some twenty words, mostly kinship terms, remain masculine. More recently, stative verbs have been increasingly used instead of copula-plus-adjective phrasing, following some poetic usage, so that one now frequently hears "li sanas" for "li estas sana" "he is well".

More minor changes have affected the names of some countries named after ethnicities, whose endings have changed from "-ujo" to "-io", and women's names ending in "-a" (e.g. "Maria"), whereas purists once insisted on using the noun ending "-o" (e.g. "Mario" or "Mariino").

Esperantists have also formed many words to express concepts which arose since the publication of the "Fundamento", and these have generally conformed to the existing style of the language. For example, early proposals for the word "computer" included "komputero" and "komputoro", but the word in current use is "komputilo" (from the root of the verb "komputi" "to compute" plus the suffix "-ilo" used for tools and instruments). "Eŭro" is another example: even though the currency is spelled "euro" in official legal documents in all the European Union's languages which use a Latin script, in Esperanto "eŭro" was chosen to better fit the phonotactics of the language.

Not all new coinages meet ready acceptance, however. For example, the neologism "ĉipa" "cheap" has appeared as an alternative to the more verbose "malmultekosta", "inexpensive", but remains in minority usage.

Dialects, Reform Projects and Derived Languages

Esperanto has not fragmented into regional dialects through natural language use. This may be because it is the language of daily communication for only a small minority of its speakers. However at least three other factors work against dialects, namely the centripetal force of the Fundamento, the unifying influence of the Plena Vortaro and its successors, which exemplified usage from the works of Zamenhof and leading writers, and the transnational ambitions of the speech community itself. Slang and jargon have developed to some extent, but such features interfere with universal communication — the whole point of Esperanto — and so have generally been avoided.

However, in the early twentieth century numerous reform projects were proposed. Almost all of these "esperantido"s were stillborn, but the very first, Ido ("Offspring"), had significant success for several years. Ido was proposed by the "Delegation for the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language" in Paris in October 1907. Its main reforms were in bringing the alphabet, semantics, and some grammatical features into closer alignment with the Romance languages, as well as removal of adjectival agreement and the accusative case except when necessary. At first a number of leading Esperantists put their support behind the Ido project, but the movement stagnated and declined, first with the accidental death of one of its main proponents and later as people proposed further changes, and the number of current speakers is estimated at between 250 and 5000. However, Ido has proven to be a rich source of Esperanto vocabulary.

Some more focused reform projects, affecting only a particular feature of the language, have gained a few adherents. One of these is "riism", which modifies the language to incorporate non-sexist language and gender-neutral pronouns. However, most of these projects are specific to individual nationalities (riism from English speakers, for example), and the only changes that have gained acceptance in the Esperanto community have been the minor and gradual bottom-up reforms discussed in the last section.

Esperanto is credited with influencing or inspiring several later competing language projects, such as Occidental (1922) and Novial (1928). These always lagged far behind Esperanto in their popularity. By contrast, Interlingua (1951) has greatly surpassed Ido in terms of popularity.Fact|date=February 2007 It shows little or no Esperanto influence, however.:"See also Esperantido"


* Auld, William. "La Fenomeno Esperanto". Rotterdam: UEA, 1988.
* Lins, Ulrich. "La Danĝera Lingvo". Gerlingen, Germany: Bleicher Eldonejo, 1988. (Also available in Polish [http://esperanto.pl/pagephp?tid=311075] )
*Privat, Edmond. "The Life of Zamenhof". Bailieboro, Ontario: Esperanto Press, 1980.
* Zamenhof, L. L. "Letero al N. Borovko." 1895. [http://gxangalo.com/modules/sections03/index.php?op=viewarticle&artid=15]

Timeline of Esperanto

* 1859: Lazar Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, is born in Białystok, Russia (now Poland).
* 1873: The Zamenhof family moves to Warsaw.
* 1878: Zamenhof celebrates the completion of his universal language project, "Lingwe Uniwersala", with high-school friends.
* 1879: Zamenhof attends medical school in Moscow. His father burns his language project while he's away. Meanwhile Schleyer publishes a sketch of Volapük, the first constructed international auxiliary language to acquire a number of speakers. Many Volapük clubs will later switch to Esperanto.
* 1881: Zamenhof returns to Warsaw to continue medical school, and starts to recreate his project.
* 1887: Zamenhof marries, and with his wife's help publishes "Unua Libro", the book introducing modern Esperanto.
* 1888: Leo Tolstoy becomes an early supporter.
* 1894: Zamenhof, reacting to pressure, puts a radical reform to a vote, but it is overwhelmingly rejected.
* 1901: Zamenhof publishes his ideas on a universal religion, based on the philosophy of Hillel the Elder.
* 1905: The first "Universala Kongreso" (World Congress) is held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, with 688 participants and conducted entirely in Esperanto. The "Fundamento de Esperanto" is published.
* 1907: Twelve members of the British parliament nominate Zamenhof for the Nobel Peace Prize. The "Ĉekbanko Esperantista" (Esperantist Checking Bank) is founded in London, using the "spesmilo", an auxiliary Esperanto currency based on the gold standard. A committee organized by Louis Couturat in Paris proposes the Ido reform project, which provides significant competition for Esperanto until the First World War.
* 1908: "Universala Esperanto-Asocio", the World Esperanto Association, is founded by Hector Hodler, a 19-year-old Swiss Esperantist.
* 1909: The "International Association of Esperantist Railway Workers" is founded in Barcelona.
* 1910: 42 members of the French parliament nominate Zamenhof for the Nobel Peace Prize.
* 1917: Zamenhof dies during World War I.
* 1910s: Esperanto is taught in state schools in the Republic of China, Samos, and Macedonia. (Today it is part of the curriculum of China, Hungary, and Bulgaria.)
* 1920: The first Esperanto magazine for the blind, "Aŭroro", begins publishing in Czechoslovakia. It's still in print today.
* 1921: The French Academy of the Sciences recommends using Esperanto for international scientific communication.
* 1922: Esperanto is banned from French schools. The French delegate to the League of Nations vetoes the use of Esperanto as its working language, leaving English and French.
* 1924: The League of Nations recommends that member states implement Esperanto as an auxiliary language.
* 1920s: Offices of the Brazilian Ministry of Education use Esperanto for their international correspondence. Lu Xun, the founder of modern Chinese literature, becomes a supporter of Esperanto. Montagu Butler is the first to raise Esperanto-speaking children.
* 1933/34: Reorganisation of the international (neutral) Esperanto movement, under the name UEA.
* 1934: Encyclopedia of Esperanto first published in Budapest.
* 1935: Kalocsay and Waringhien publish the influential "Plena Gramatiko de Esperanto" (Complete Grammar of Esperanto).
* 1936: Esperanto-organisations in Nazi Germany prohibited.
* 1937: Leaders of the Esperanto-organisation in the Soviet Union arrested, Esperanto activities made impossible.
* 1938: The World Esperanto Youth Organization TEJO is founded.
* 1939-1945: In World War II many countries are occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union, where Esperanto-organisations often were prohibited or Esperanto activities were limited in other ways.
* 1948: The railway workers' association is refounded as IFEF, the "Internacia Fervojista Esperanto-Federacio" (International Railway Workers' Esperanto Federation) to foster the use Esperanto in the administration of the railroads of the world (so far, of Eurasia).
* 1954: UNESCO establishes consultative relations with the World Esperanto Association.
* 1966: The precursor to "Pasporta Servo" is launched in Argentina. "Pasporta Servo" is a global network of Esperanto speakers who host Esperantists traveling through their countries.
* 1967: István Nemere founds the "Renkontiĝo de Esperanto-Familioj", the first organization for Esperanto-speaking families.
* 1975: The Esperanto movement spreads to Iran, with three thousand learning the language in Tehran.
* 1980: The "Internacia Junulara Kongreso" (International Youth Congress) in Rauma, Finland makes explicit the view of many in the Esperanto movement that Esperanto is a goal in itself.
* 1985: UNESCO encourages UN member states to add Esperanto to their school curricula.
* 1987: 6000 Esperantists attend the 72nd "Universala Kongreso" in Warsaw to mark Esperanto's centennial.
* 1991: The first pan-African Esperanto Conference is held in Lomé, Togo.
* 1992: PEN International accepts an Esperanto section.
* 1999: The Esperanto poet William Auld is nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
* 2001: The Vikipedio project (Esperanto Wikipedia) is launched, resulting in the first general encyclopedia written in a constructed language. It is now one of the most popular websites in Esperanto.
* 2004: The Europe - Democracy - Esperanto party (E°D°E°) contests the European Parliament elections in France, on a platform of making Esperanto the second language of all EU member states, taking 0.15% of the vote.
* 2007 The State of Israel issues a stamp to commemorate 120 years of Esperanto (1887-2007). An image of Zamenhof is designed in a text describing his life, reproduced from the Wikipedia article on Esperanto. The corner of the tab shows the flag of the Esperanto movement.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • History of Wikipedia — Wikipedia in the news redirects here. For an overview of Wikipedia mentioned in other media, see Wikipedia:Wikipedia in the media Growth of Wikipedia redirects here. For mathematical models of Wikipedia s expansion, see Wikipedia:Modelling… …   Wikipedia

  • History of Russian animation — The history of Russian animation is a very rich, but so far nearly unexplored field for Western film theory and history. As most of Russia s production of animation for cinema and television was created during Soviet times, it may also be… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Jews in Poland — The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium. [ [http://polishjews.org/ polishjews.org] ] Poland was home to the largest Jewish population in Europe and served as the center for Jewish culture, ranging from a long period of… …   Wikipedia

  • History of French — This article is part of the series on: French language Langues d oïl Dialects Creoles Francophonie History Oaths of Strasbourg Ordinance of Villers Cotterêts Anglo Norman Grammar …   Wikipedia

  • History of Hindustani — Hindustani, presently represented by the official languages of India and Pakistan, Standard Hindi and Urdu, originated during the Mughal Empire, when the Persian court language exerted a strong influence on the Indo Aryan dialects of central… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Welsh language — The history of the Welsh language spans over 1400 years, encompassing the stages of the language known as Old Welsh, Middle Welsh, and Modern Welsh …   Wikipedia

  • History of Spanish — Spanish language …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Hungarian language — The Funeral Sermon and Prayer . This text, dated to 1192, is the oldest longer Hungarian only document. Earlier, Hungarian sentences and words appeared in Latin context. Hungarian is an Ugric language. It has been spoken in the region of modern… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Irish language — fol. 170r of the Book of Ballymote (1390), the Auraicept na n Éces explaining the Ogham script. The history of the Irish language covers the period from the arrival of speakers of Celtic languages in Ireland to the present day. The earliest known …   Wikipedia

  • History of the English language — English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands. Initially, Old English was a diverse group of… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”