In 1887, L.L. Zamenhof published Unua Libro in which he detailed a new language of his own creation. His goal was to have this language, since dubbed Esperanto, go global, fostering peace and international understanding in the process. Obviously, he didn’t succeed, at least not yet. But how popular is Esperanto today?
The Invention of Esperanto?
Dr. L.L. Zamenhof’s goal was ambitious – he wanted nothing less than to create a single language which would be used by the entire world. He believed that this would improve communication and break down walls between enemies. Rather than support an existing language, which he considered unfair, he created Esperanto during the late 1870s and early 1880s while living in the Russian Empire.
He published his first book regarding the Esperanto language in 1887. Although based on European root words, it contained its own grammar and vocabulary. It began to grow in popularity and spread across borders. By 1905, there was a World Congress of Esperanto and this event has continued on a nearly annual basis.
Today, there are somewhere between 10,000 and two million speakers of Esperanto, located in 115 countries. While amazingly successful on one level, the movement has fallen far short of Zamenhof’s goals. What went wrong?
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
The biggest obstacle to the growth of Esperanto, as I see it, was already stated by Will Rogers.
“They ain’t gonna do it.” ~ Will Rogers
In other words, the difficulties in learning a new language constituted a barrier that few people were willing to cross. Those who choose to learn a new language often do so for very practical, often economic reasons. That may explain why the English language has “usurped the role of global lingua franca coveted by Esperanto.”
Will Esperanto ever become humanity’s sole language? It seems unlikely. Still, its advocates should be proud. Esperanto is the most popular “constructed language” in history, far outdistancing its many competitors. In addition, it has led to the creation of a unique culture, with publications, music, and even shared traditions. And from where I stand, that makes Esperanto a gigantic success.