Esperanto is a constructed language developed by an ophthalmologist, Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, in the late 1870s. Esperanto is a planned language intended for use between people who speak different native languages. It was designed with the intention of being both simple to learn and unambiguous. It is spoken by some hundreds of thousands, perhaps several million, people in all parts of the world. The New Testament was first published in Esperanto in 1912, and the Bible in 1926. The language's creator, Dr. Zamenhof, was the main translator of the Esperanto Old Testament.
Grammar and vocabulary
Esperanto has 16 concise grammatical rules. Most significantly for English-speaking learners, several difficult features of foreign languages are absent from Esperanto. Nouns have no gender, and there are no irregular verbs. Esperanto does not have different words for "you"; the same word, "vi", is used to address any individuals or groups of people, regardless of their status.
The language has a primarily Latinate vocabulary, but has agglutinative aspects in its syntax. In keeping with its purpose of being as logical and simple to learn as possible, there are no irregular forms.
kiu estas en la ĉielo,
sankta estu Via nomo,
venu reĝeco Via, estu volo Via, kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.
Panon nian ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ kaj pardonu al ni ŝuldojn niajn kiel ni ankaŭ pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoj;
ne konduku nin en tenton, sed liberigu nin de la malvera, ĉar Via estas la regado, la forto kaj la gloro eterne.
(The Lord's Prayer, as translated by Zamenhof.)
One of the main criticisms of Esperanto is the use of the accusative case. All accusative nouns, together with their adjectives, must bear the -n ending. Critics point out that many languages do not use the accusative (for example English and French, except for pronouns), and its inclusion might create a difficulty for native speakers of these languages. However, Zamenhof felt that the lack of an accusative case led to ambiguity in certain instances.
Another criticism relates to the use of the accented letters Ĉ, Ĝ, Ĥ, Ĵ, Ŝ, and Ŭ. Several of these are unique to Esperanto and until the advent of Unicode, computer users needed to install special fonts. Zamenhof suggested the use of ch, gh, hh, jh, sh and u, when no suitable typeface was available. Another common work-around is to use cx, gx etc; this has the advantage that X (along with Q, W and Y) are not used in Esperanto words.
Furthermore, many linguists criticized Esperanto for combining elements of only proto-European languages. Asiatic languages were largely ignored in creating the language, making it exceptionally difficult for native speakers of such languages to learn Esperanto.
Many speakers of Esperanto take a conservative view of proposals to change the language. They point out that arguments over the language have led to splits, most notably the creation of Ido. Despite these strong opinions, some changes such as the addition of extra affixes, have been accepted.
History and current status
The first significant international gathering of Esperanto-speakers was was the Congress of 1905, in Boulogne, France. The main international organization, Universala Esperanto Asocio (World Esperanto Association, generally known by its Esperanto abbreviation), was founded in 1908. UEA has a policy of strict neutrality on matters of religion and politics. It organizes two annual congresses, one for all members and one for young people.
The other major international organization is Sennacieca Associo Tutmonda (World Non-Nationalist Association) which attracts people of various left wing persuasions. Aside from its main aims, SAT also publishes Plena Illustrita Vortaro, the language's most prestigious dictionary.
From the outset, Esperanto publications were subject to censorship by the Russian Empire, which ruled the part of Poland where Zamenhof lived. In the 1930s, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin both persecuted users of the language. Many were arrested and sent to concentration camps or the gulags.
Following World War II, the number of speakers grew. Esperanto has been taught as a formal subject in Hungary and Bulgaria. It is one of the languages used by the official broadcasters of Poland, Cuba, The Vatican and the People's Republic of China.
The intended role of Esperanto as a lingua franca has yet to be realized - English has become, to all intents and purposes, the language of international politics and commerce. Nevertheless, national Esperanto organizations exist in all English-speaking countries.