What would the world be like if everyone spoke the same language? Would we understand each other better and be more sympathetic to each other’s causes? I’m not talking about everyone sharing the same first language but sharing the same second language. And I’m not talking about English but Esperanto.
What are the facts about this artificial language? Well, it was invented in 1887 by a Polish doctor, Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof. The vocabulary comes mainly from western European languages and the grammar is similar to Slavic languages. It sounds like Italian. From the learner’s point of view, it has the advantage that there are no exceptions to rules. It is spoken all over the world by approximately 8 million people, and there are many who would like Esperanto to be the official second language of the world.
I spoke to Professor Desmond Nesbit of the University of Edinburgh for more information and asked him: “Hasn’t the world got enough natural languages – so why make an artificial one?”
“I prefer the term ‘planned’ to ‘artificial’. Esperanto means “hope for”, and it was Zamehof’s hope that a common language would promote a friendship and understanding amongst all people of the world. This inspiration is summed up by the Esperanto term ‘interna ideo’, which means ‘central idea’ and it is an idea of human peace and justice.”
“What are the advantages that you see of Esperanto as a world language?”
“I see many. The advantages of the world being able to talk freely to each other about business, politics, culture, sport, hobbies… are obvious. The costs of translation at any international conference are staggering. Did you know that 55% of the EEC’s budget in Strasburg is taken up by translation costs. The main advantage that I see is that Esperanto is a neutral language. It doesn’t have the national, political and cultural bias that all others of course have. If everybody has to learn a second language, then everybody is equal.”
“But isn’t it making a difficult situation even more difficult? I mean there are already so many people who speak English throughout the world. Why should they have to learn another language? Why not English as the world language?”
“I think I’ve partly answered that question already. Why should people have to learn English? For many it’s a waste of time, energy and money. The other thing that must be said is that English is by no means an easy language to learn. There is the problem of spelling or the large number of exceptions to any rule. It is very idiomatic, and the prepositions are terrible! English is one of those languages which to many seem easy at the beginning but then the bridge between basic knowledge and mastery takes a long time to cross. And many people give up.”
“On the subject of ease of learning – how does Esperanto compare?”
“Esperanto is a very easy language to learn. The tense system has none of the complications of English. And the grammar is based on just 16 rules which have no exceptions. There are 5 vowel sounds…”
“How many vowel sounds does English have?”
“20. The most remarkable thing is that after a very short time learners find that they can express quite sophisticated ideas – I would say such ideas that they would want to say in their own language.”
“That’s remarkable! But, professor, do you really see Esperanto becoming the world language? There is quite a difference between 400,000,000 speakers of English and the 8,000,000 speakers of Esperanto.”
“I think it will happen, yes. I think it’s happening now! Esperanto is taught in many schools in Yugoslavia and Hungary; China is very interested. It has such internal logic that it could become the international computer language. And that would really establish it.”