What is Esperanto?
Esperanto is the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language. Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto, the pseudonym under which L. L. Zamenhof (1859 – 1917), a Jewish eye doctor, published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, in 1887. The word esperanto means “one who hopes” in the language itself.
Zamenhof was born in Białystok, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire), which was home to a multi-ethnic mixture of Poles, Russians, Jews, Lithuanians, and Germans. He believed that much of the distrust and misunderstanding between the different ethnic groups was a result of language differences, so his goal was to create an easy and flexible language that would serve as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding.
Esperanto is not meant to replace national languages but rather to supplement them. It is considerably easier and faster to learn than any national language as its design is far simpler and its grammar is completely regular. Esperanto is most useful for neutral communication, and it has even been described as a “linguistic handshake.” When two people shake hands, they both reach out halfway. Similarly, when two people speak Esperanto, they have both made the effort to learn a relatively easy, neutral language, instead of one person making the huge effort to learn the other person’s difficult native language, and the native speaker making no effort at all except to correct the non-native speaker’s errors. Thus, communication through Esperanto does not give advantages to the members of any particular people or culture, but instead promotes the spirit of equality of rights, tolerance, and true internationalism.
Esperanto has had continuous usage by a worldwide community estimated at between 100,000 and 2 million speakers for over a century, and approximately one thousand native speakers. However, no country has adopted the language officially. Esperanto is employed in world travel, correspondence, language instruction, literature, cultural exchange, international conventions, music, radio broadcasts, the internet, and also in private and family life. At least one major search engine, Google, offers searching of Esperanto-related websites via an Esperanto portal. The Esperanto Wikipedia contained over 118,000 articles as of September 2009.