Saturday, August 10, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 1

For those of you who don't know about it, Esperanto is a language, but not like you would think of in the traditional sense. Esperanto was the brainchild of L. L. Zamenhof, a linguist and doctor in the 19th century who had the idea of creating a language that could unite the world.

In its simplest form, Esperanto is a tool that was intended to transcend political boundaries, nationalities, and ultimately, foster peace throughout the world. The idea was that if everybody had the same language, one that was easy enough to learn, then people would eventually stop fighting. You certainly couldn't doubt Zamenhof's ambition.

Esperanto has its own flag but not its own country.
Zamenhof went ahead and created his language, which is known as a constructed language or conlang. Though phonemically-inspired by Slavic languages, the lexicon takes inspiration from mainly Romance languages, and to a lesser extent Germanic languages. Esperanto uses the Latin alphabet and the same diacritics as several other Slavic languages.

In Nazi Germany, the language was singled out as being a tool for Jewish conspirators. Since Zamenhof was Jewish, this led to the language not only being mentioned in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, but also led to Zamenhof's family being targeted.

Fascist Italy was not particularly against Esperanto though, as it shared a lot of phonetic similarities with Italian and was even permitted at the time. However, this was a rare case as Esperanto was viewed by most as the language of spies since Esperanto doesn't hold official language status in any country and could easily be used as a tool to secretly communicate.

The American army even used Esperanto in war games and training exercises in the 50s and 60s, though we'll have more on that tomorrow.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4