Some Hope: Dr Zamenhof’s Universal Language

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In late 19th century Russia, Ludwig Zamenhof had a dream of world peace. His contribution to the goal was going to be an important one; he would invent the language. His first idea was to use a series of two letter roots such as -pa-, -lo-, -ra-, etc. with a basic meaning, to which he would add prefixes or suffixes to alter the meaning. This was mathematically possible but he discovered that it was extremely difficult to remember what any of the words actually meant. So he switched to more indo-european roots that people could remember but maintained the systems of suffixes and prefixes.

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The first half of the 20th century was a great time for the language. A new book by Roberto Garvia tells the story of George Orwell’s first visit to Paris where he stayed in a flat with Eugene Lanti who refused to speak anything but Esperanto in the house. Orwell left shortly afterwards.

It is not quite a big now and the dream of a universal language is on its last legs, but Esperanto still has its few adepts. I don’t come across Esperanto books in second hand bookshops or charity shops very often but I see them enough to have a few in my collection.

The most common things to see are grammars, dictionaries, and chrestomathies (collections of short passages).

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But you do come across more interesting things. A diligent Esperantist and convert to Ahmadi Islam, Italo Chiussi, translated the Quran into Esperanto.  I have come across several classic novels translated into Esperanto too.

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One adept of the artificial language, Edmond Privat, was particularly prolific composing original works in Esperanto, including this easy reading Esperanto novel for learners:

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Esperanto devotees come in all shapes and sizes but there is something that unites them all. Anyone who takes up the language must be motivated by a strong utopian belief and desire to mould the world into a better place to live. Zamenhof thought that if everyone could communicate with each other there would be no more hatred. Esperantists often manifest this vision in other parts of their lives. Many are adepts of religions like Quakerism, Spiritualism or new ageism.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see a strong socialist current among the esperanto community.   I recently found an Esperanto course that was made and distributed by the Federation of Proletarian Esperantists. They also offered Esperanto translations of several Soviet novels and political works.

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Even up to the 1980s there was a socialist Esperantist community, publishing journals.

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So here’s to Dr Zamenhof and his dream.

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