Esperanto (eo and epo in ISO 639) is the most widely spoken of the constructed languages. The name derives from the pseudonym (Dr. Esperanto) under which L. L. Zamenhof published the first work on the subject, and literally means "one who hopes". Zamenhof, a Jewish oculist from Bialystok, Poland, published the Unua Libro (first book) of the language in 1887 after working on it for about ten years (see Esperanto history). His intention was to create an easy-to-learn language, to serve as an international auxiliary language, a second language for everyone in the world, rather than to replace all existing languages in the world. Some Esperanto speakers still want this, but most just want to meet foreigners and learn about other countries and cultures. Today, thousands of people use it regularly to communicate with people all over the world.

Esperanto has proven to be a good deal easier for speakers of European languages to learn as a second language than any national language (especially highly irregular and/or non-phonetic languages such as English, French, and Chinese). There is also evidence that studying Esperanto before studying any other second language (especially an Indo-European language) speeds and improves learning, because learning subsequent foreign languages is easier than learning one's first, while the use of a grammatically simple auxiliary language lessens the "first foreign language" learning hurdle. In one study (Williams 1965), a group of high school students studied Esperanto for one year, then French for three years, and ended up with a better command of French than the control group, who studied French without Esperanto during all four years.

A survey of the number of Esperanto speakers was conducted by Sidney S. Culbert, a retired psychology professor of the University of Washington, himself a Esperantist who has attended Esperanto congresses, who has commented regarding the logical structure of Esperanto: "If the world could be structured that efficiently", and whose wife Ruth, who has herself written four plays in Esperanto, has commented "It's the only hope for the world or it will be destroyed" ([1]). Culbert concluded that 1.6 million people speak Esperanto to Foreign Service Level 3 ability. This number is limited to those "professionally proficient" (possessing the ability to actually communicate beyond greetings and simple phrases) in Esperanto. This survey did not seek out speakers of Esperanto specifically, but formed a part of a world-wide survey of many languages. This number also appears in the Almanac World Book of Facts, and in Ethnologue. Assuming nonetheless that this figure is accurate, this means that about 0.03% of the world's population speaks the language, thus far falling short of Zamenhof's goal of a universal language. Ethnologue also states that there are 200 to 2000 native Esperanto speakers.

Esperanto: an ideal choice as an international language?

Some debate occurs over whether Esperanto is the ideal solution for an international auxiliary language.

Arguments against Esperanto as international language

Esperanto has had numerous criticisms, especially from the auxiliary language community. Some of the other planned languages that have emerged in the twentieth century have attempted to address criticisms of Esperanto:

Responses to arguments against use of Esperanto as an international language

This section would be better presented as "arguments in favor" rather than "response to arguments against" (in which case it could be moved up before the "against"), but in order to do so it first requires some rewording.

  • RE: Few progress to a high level of fluency. Esperanto is often presented as easy to learn. It should be rephrased: Esperanto is less difficult to learn than natural languages. The student expectation is that learning Esperanto does not require any effort. Indeed, to learn the grammar (fundamento) takes a maximum of one hour, the basic vocabulary: 2 hours (for English-speaking people), the pronunciation and spelling: half an hour. In theory, the student has now a vocabulary equivalent to 7000 words in English because he can build new words combining the 1000 roots he knows. Speaking requires skills that are not really identified and taught. Many are disappointed when they realize they are incapable of overcoming the last hurdle, and give up too soon, blaming Zamenhof's ill-formed creation, or simply feeling stupid. Esperanto is a good tool to identify the real difficulties in speaking a foreign language; those difficulties would apply to any language.
  • RE: Esperanto contains six letters not included in any standard European character set. This problem can be remedied through the use of the Unicode character set. Zamenhof recommended the use of the digraphs "ch","gh", "hh", "jh", "sh" and "u". Esperantists have also developed a system of using the letter "x" to signify these special characters; this system is called the X-System. Also, this tends to mainly be a criticism among English speakers using the ASCII character set.
  • RE: Esperanto uses sexist suffixes by adding -in to express the female version of the concept, similarly to German. Much of the language was taken from already existing languages and since many languages use gender-specific words as both nouns and adjectives, Esperanto also inherited this trait. This can be seen as not "sexist", but gender-specific. This detail makes Esperanto a more precise language than some others. To solve the "ŝi-li" (she-he) problem when there is a possible confusion, some are using "ŝli" instead of "li"; "tiu" (that one) is another solution and comes directly from the standard grammar.
  • RE: Esperanto is based almost exclusively on European source languages. Although the vocabulary uses the same roots as European source languages, Esperanto's regularized grammatical forms give it some degree of uniqueness. Its shared vocabulary can expedite learning for those who have already studied a European language (even if they can't speak it). Compared to a language with completely unique words, there is no increased difficulty for those who do not speak a European language. Also Esperanto has a large set of affixes, which makes it more similar to Asian languages. (Several Esperanto speakers and linguists also say that this makes the language more flexible and expressive.)
  • RE: Esperanto words are more changed in othography and endings from their etymological cognates than in some auxiliary languages. Ultimately, one may argue that these changes keep Esperanto internally consistent. To illustrate, compare English: two, twenty, one half, one twentieth, four, forty, a quarter, one fortieth with Esperanto: du, dudek, duono, dudekono, kvar, kvardek, kvarono, kvardekono. As a counter-argument to charges that Esperanto has Euro-centric tendencies, one might state that these changes show that Esperanto is not intentionally Euro-centric.

Use of Esperanto versus other planned languages

Some of the other planned languages that have emerged in the twentieth century have attempted to address criticisms of Esperanto. Yet despite its criticisms, no other constructed language has approached the number of Esperanto speakers or has an extensive body of
literature like Esperanto. Some of these other languages are quite different from Esperanto while other languages, like Ido, are based on Esperanto, and enjoyed a period of popularity in the early 1900s. More recent spinoffs from Esperanto include the modified form Riismo which seeks to eliminate sexual inequality from the language. Other alternative languages include Idiom Neutral, Occidental, Novial, and Interlingua; some languages not originally intended as international auxiliary languages are also sometimes suggested, such as Lojban. Because Esperanto is the most well-known of constructed languages, many who have been interested were unaware of these other languages, but the Internet offers information about these languages as well.


The phonemic alphabet of Esperanto has six accented letters: ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ (c, g, h, j, and s with circumflex), and ŭ (u with breve). The alphabet does not include the letters q, w, x, and y.

Therefore the alphabet consists of: a b c ĉ d e f g ĝ h ĥ i j ĵ k l m n o p r s ŝ t u ŭ v z

(See for transliteration of the alphabet into braille. See also the external PDF file The Alphabets of Europe.)

As of December 22, 2003 the Esperanto version of the Wikipedia had 10,380 articles, making it the tenth-largest language in the Wikipedia.

Angoroj (1964) was the first film produced in Esperanto. Incubus (1965, starring William Shatner) is the only known feature film with entirely Esperanto dialogue.

Some phrases

  • Hello: Saluton
  • How much?: Kiom?
  • I like this one: Mi ŝatas ĉi tiun
  • Is it cheap?: Ĉu ĝi estas malmultekosta?
  • Five euros: Kvin eŭroj
  • Do you accept US dollars?: Ĉu vi akceptas usonajn dolarojn?
  • Please give me a receipt: Bonvolu doni al mi kvitancon
  • Thank you: Dankon
  • I love you: Mi amas vin
  • Goodbye: Ĝis revido

Language evolution

A declaration endorsed by the Esperanto movement in 1905 limits changes to Esperanto principle. That declaration stated, amongst other things, that the basis of the language should remain Fundamento de Esperanto ("Basis of Esperanto", a work 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.

However, modern Esperanto usage may in fact depart from that originally described in the Fundamento. The translation given for "I like this one", in the above phrases offers a significant example. According to the Fundamento, Mi ŝatas ĉi tiun would in fact have meant "I esteem this one". The traditional usage would instead have been Ĉi tiu plaĉas al mi (literally, "this one is pleasing to me"), which, although it differs from the English phrasing in "I like this one", more closely reflects the phrasing in several other languages (e.g. French celui-ci me plaît, Spanish éste me gusta, Russian это мне нравится, German Dieses gefällt mir).

Other changes from traditional Esperanto have affected the names of countries, whose endings have changed from -ujo to -io. Also women's names ending in -a (e.g. Maria) are now recognised although this is strictly an adjectival ending, whereas previously purists would have insisted on the noun ending -o (e.g. Mario).

In addition to these, Esperantists have formed many words to express concepts which have arisen more recently, but where possible these have indeed conformed to the existing style of the language. For example, "computer" is komputilo, (using the suffix -il- meaning a tool). Eŭro (as in the above phrases) is another good example: even though the currency is called Euro in all the European Community's official languages which use a Latin script, in Esperanto Eŭro was chosen because it better fits the pattern of the language.

Not all changes meet ready acceptance, however. For example, the neologism ĉipa meaning "cheap" has appeared as an alternative to the more verbose malmultekosta (as in the above examples), but remains in minority usage.

See also


  • Williams, N. (1965) 'A language teaching experiment', Canadian Modern Language Review 22.1: 26-28

External links

copyright © 2004