By Kamil Wiśniewski Aug 27th, 2007

Esperanto started its career at the beginning of the twentieth century as an artificial language. As it has gained a speech community and had to some extent undergone the process of creolization it can no longer be called artificial. Its creator – Ludvic Lazar Zamenhof, a Polish Jew – intended it to be a politically neutral international language. Thanks to the ease of learning Esperanto was quickly taken up in some European countries: France, Germany, however Stalin and Hitler perceived it as a threat and launched persecutions to its users and supporters.

Despite the persecutions Esperanto has been used in many parts of the world, although at the turn of the century the exact number of speakers remains unknown and the estimates are that from about one or two hundred thousand to several million people speak it. Although its career as an international language seems to be settled, in certain parts of the world it is used between people who do not share any common language. The majority of Esperanto users speak it as a second language, yet there are many speakers to whom it is a mother tongue, which results in some discrepancies in the level of proficiency of its speakers.

The primary aim of Zamenhof was to create an international language so in order to do that he wanted the language to follow two principles: it had to be easy to learn and politically neutral. To make it easy to learn Esperanto is totally regular in that there are not any exceptions from grammatical rules. Additionally, thanks to the agglutinative morphological structure the acquisition of vocabulary is fast, some scholars claim that it takes three to ten times less time to learn Esperanto than other languages. Furthermore, due to the fact that Esperanto does not belong to any ethnic group or nation it is politically neutral and thus a good choice for international language.

To make it even easier the rules of Esperanto are not confined only to grammar, but also to orthography and pronunciation. The phonemic system of Esperanto consists of 5 vowels and 23 consonants and the word stress always falls on the last but one syllable. The writing system is based on the Latin alphabet and the orthography is totally phonemic. The morphemes in this language are not variable and enable unlimited variants of combination in different words. The most usual word order in Esperanto is SVO and adjectives precede nouns. There are only three tenses: past, present and future. Vocabulary initially chosen by Zamenhof also had to be as international as possible and it is estimated that more or less three-fourths of lexis is of Romance origin. When new words are adopted by Esperanto their morphology and phonology are adjusted to the rules of language so as not to create any exceptions from those rules.

Esperanto as an international means of communication has often been criticized for its lack of cultural background and because it was created and thus it is ‘artificial’. However, there are numerous books and poems written in Esperanto and the argument that the language is artificial is challenged since certain differences in the written system and spoken language indicate that the language is ‘living’ as such differences are visible in all the ‘living’ languages.

Brown K. (Editor) 2005. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.

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