Esperanto: a new international language

An introduction by L. L. Zamenhof for the newspaper The Independent, of New York, in 1904

ESPERANTO is a neutral artificial language the aim of which is give people from different countries a tool for common understanding. Though many wrongly suppose that Esperanto wants to substitute the present languages, it does not want that. At home and in family circles everybody will always use their national language; Esperanto will serve them only as a fundament to communicate with those who cannot talk their language.

To enjoy mail with foreign people from abroad now it is necessary to learn at least four or five other languages. This is so difficult that only a few people can achieve it; and these few lucky people can master just a few languages. The rest of the world is like a book under a seal. On the other hand, if there were an international tool, it would be necessary to learn it in addition to our mother tongue to be able to understand and be understood all over the world.

Learned people have worked on this problem of international language along the last two centuries. A great many tests to create that language have been made, but every project died soon after its birth, since the thing proved to be very difficult. Only at the end of the Nineteenth Century appeared two systems which looked truly practical, and which found many followers. They were Volapük and Esperanto.

But the concurrence between these two systems did not last long, because the great superiority of Esperanto on its rival was too evident for everybody. At present moment Volapük has already been abandoned and all the friends of the international language have gathered round the Esperanto flag.

1 Is the existence of a neutral artificial language possible?

Even now there are many people who do not know about the matter and yet seriously make other believe that such a language cannot exist, as a language is an organic object which cannot be created, and so and so. Facts are the best witnesses to prove that all this has no sense. Everyone who does not shut his eyes on purpose can easily convince himself that such artificial languages have already existed for long, and that hundreds of men, who belong to different countries and nations, write to one another and understand one another very well by mouth about every topic, and they understand one another equally well, as if they used their mother tongue, even if each one cannot understand the national language of his or her partner. It is really nonsense doubting the usefulness of the language in spite of proofs of that kind. That is like the argument of a German association about the ability to build locomotives when in England they had already been in use for years and met any demands on them.

2 Why an existing language, like English, could not be elected as an international tool?

No natural language could ever be chosen for international purposes. Self-respect and survival instincts of all the other peoples would never allow that. The people whose language were elected would gain a real big super strength over the others and soon would eclipse all of them. But even if we agreed that every people wanted on their own will to choose that existing language, nobody would be the winner, because all the natural languages are so difficult that only those who have a lot of free time and money would be able to learn it well.

For centuries hardworking youths have learnt Latin for long years, but who could find many who possess that language? However, if those same youngsters had studied the international language only for a tenth of that time, every person would be able to be understood by his or her partner now. In several weeks one can learn Esperanto well enough to communicate freely his or her thoughts.

3 Would it be wise to learn Esperanto today, since it could happen that tomorrow it appear another, better language which substitute Esperanto, with the result that we must start learning again another new language?

Even if one is really afraid that tomorrow brings a better language than Esperanto it is unwise not learning Esperanto today, as well as it would be stupid to delay the building of the railways because of the fear that somebody finds a better transport means in future. But we mustn't be afraid about the future of Esperanto. Every critic came to the conclusion that the international language of the future must meet the following demands:
  1. Its grammar must be as simple as possible.
  2. Its vocabulary must consist of those roots which are recognizable from its form by the biggest part of the civilized world; in other words, those which are found in most culture language.
These two demands give light exactly on the fundamental principles of the construction of the language Esperanto. What else could bring a new language?

All the Esperanto grammar consists of only sixteen short and simple rules, which you can learn in half an hour. Could the new language possible give a simpler grammar and would the world agree to waste the fully working, tested under any circumstance and widely spread Esperanto on behalf of the new language, the grammar of which could be learnt in twenty-five minutes instead of thirty?

And since every word in its most international form is already built in Esperanto, it is logical to think that those words must form the vocabulary of this ideal language.

We all can be certain, that though Esperanto can be modified for the better in future, there can be no question about the working of a new project.

4 What are the main features of Esperanto like?

It is particularly easy to learn. While the learning of any language demands a lot of year's work, after only some weeks you can know it well enough for an ordinary use. Besides, the learners can often read this language freely after a few hours' study. For example, let's listen to Leo Tolstoy. He said:

Its learning is so easy that six years ago, when I received an Esperanto grammar, a dictionary and an article written in that language, after no more than two hours of occupation I had the ability of, if not writing, at least reading freely in that language.

In any case the effort which everybody in our European world makes when dedicating some time to the learning of this language is so little, and the results which can derive from the fact that we all —at least Europeans and Americans— made this language ours is so huge that we can't just miss to have the try.

The language owes its remarkable simplicity not only to the fact that the grammar can be learnt in half an hour, and that it has no exception, but to the fact that it also has some rules which allow us to build up new words from any root without the need to learn them separately. Thus, for example, the prefix MAL gives the meaning of the exact opposite. ( Bona, good, malbona: bad). So, when we learn the word alta, dika, proksima, luma, ami, estimi, supre, etc., which mean high, thick, near, to love, to esteem, above, etc., nobody needs to learn the words malalta, maldika, malproksima, malluma, malestimi, malsupre, which mean low, thin, far, dark, to hate, to despise, below, etc.. So everybody can devise on his own the opposite form of any already known root by means of the prefix MAL. Also IN is used for the feminine forms. If we know that patro, frato, filo, edzo, koko, bovo, etc., mean father, brother, son, husband, cock, bull, we needn't learn the words patrino, fratino, edzino, kokino, bovino, etc., which represent the completely different English words mother, sister, daughter, wife, hen, cow, etc.

Another example is given by the suffix IL, which means tool by which action something happens. So, after learning that sonori, kombi, kudri, plugi, mean in English to ring, comb, sew, kaj plough, we at once know that sonorilo, kombilo, kudrilo, plugilo mean a bell, comb, needle, plough, respectively. In Esperanto there are about forty of those affixes, which enables us to simplify and shorten the language in an amazing way.

From every word we can for on our own the noun, adjective, the verb, adverb, participle, etc., simply by adding the necessary ending. Let's take, for example, the root mort, which means death. Everybody knows soon that morti signifies to die, morto, death, morta, mortal, etc., since as every noun ends with o, every existing adjective with a, the infinitives with i, etc.

Thus, it is not required to learn every form of the word separately. You can also combine any preposition with any other word and so form any nuance of human thought without learning it. Thanks to that Esperanto, in spite of its remarkable simplicity, is so rich and flexible as any existing language.

Finally, from any root word we can form an endless series of derivative words, being that root word known generally by any educated person, since the vocabulary of Esperanto consists of those words which are used at most important languages (like botaniko, direktoro, telegrafo, portreto, formo, etc).

At the present time esperantists from any nation constantly visit comrades abroad. After studying the language for several days or weeks, many esperantists travel through all Europe, which till then had been closed to them. At every place they find colleagues who accept them like brethren, and who talk with them about any topic.

In addition, one must also remember that one can be understood in Esperanto not only by those who already know that language, but also by those who do not know anything of it! Esperanto is built in such a way that something written in it is understood by the addressee thanks to a little dictionary and grammar printed in a sheet of paper. This is a a unique quality of Esperanto, absent from any national language. Let's take, for example, the German sentence Ich weiss nicht, wo ich meinen Stock gelassen habe (I don't know where I left my stick). After searching the German-Esperanto dictionary, we find: Mi (I)-blanka (white) -ne (no) -kie (where) -i (mark for infinitive) -pensi (think) -bastono aý etařo (stick or floor) -trankvilanime-havaĽo (peace of mind-possession).

This last feature of Esperanto has an invaluable practical meaning, as it enables anybody from anywhere to understand an only esperantist! When the latter needs to write a letter for any foreign country, he does not need anybody who understand the language of that language any more, and ask him to write the letter for him, but he can write it directly in Esperanto, and add in the letter the mentioned sheet of paper, of course printed in the language of the addressee. The latter can immediately understand the letter.

In spite of its purely mathematical construction, Esperanto notwithstanding is nice to the ear. Its sound is very similar to Italian. As an example I will cite the following verses:

En la mondon venis nova sento,
Tra la mondo iras forta voko;
Per flugiloj de facila vento
Nun de loko flugu ři al loko.

TRANSLATION: To the world came a new feeling
Through the world goes a strong call
On the wings of an easy wind
Now it may fly from place to place

5 What is the present state of Esperanto like?

Nowadays there is scarcely any country which has not many esperantists. In many cities there are Esperanto clubs and societies, as well as circles of readers and courses. For example, only in Paris there are not fewer than thirty courses of Esperanto in different parts of the city.

I would suggest those who want to know the present situation of Esperanto in the world to see the leaflet published by the Esperanto Group of Lyon. As result of a research based on reports collected by all esperantist centers, this group published La diffusion de l'Esperanto dans le monde. The committee who made the research consisted of the following people: Monsieur Cledat, Head of the Literature Faculty at Lyon University, Professor on Philology at the university and Director of the Revue de Philologie Française; Dr. Dor, Honorary Professor of the University of Berne; M. Drodin, Professor of Mineralogy; M. Ferouillat, owner of the Lyon Républicain; M. Legouis, Professor on English Language in that unversity and Vice President of the French Mineralogy Society, as well as General Secretary of the Esperanto Group of Lyon; M. Patricot, Director of an insurance society; M. Quinson, silk maker; M. Soulier, Professor of Therapeutics at the Lyon Unversity (Medicine Faculty); M. Toucheboeuf, old silk maker.

Around twenty-five newspapers and magazines are now published in Esperanto, among which one is specifically devoted to scientific affairs, published by the well known company Hachette, under the patronage of the following people and societies: the French Physic Society, the International Society of Electro-Technologists; Professors Adelskjöld (Stockholm), Appel (Paris), D'Arsonval (Paris), Baudoin de Courtenay (S. Peterburgo), Berthelot (Paris), Prince Roland Bonaparte, Professors Bouchard (Paris), Becquerel (Paris), Brouardel (Paris), Deslandres (Paris), Duclaux (Paris), Förster (Berlino), Haller (Paris), Henri Poincaré (Paris), Sir W. Ramsay (Londono), Generalo Sébert (Paris).

Esperanto also owns an already rich literature, which besides the grammar books and dictionaries in nearly all the European languages, contains an important number of original and translated works, among them several translations of Hamlet by Shakespeare, the Illyad by Homer, Caďn by Byron, and many others. The titles of all the Esperanto editions can be found in the world known Adresaro de Esperantistoj (Addresses of esperantists), published by Mr. Hachette in Paris. Though today there are scarcely an only one important land in the civilized world which does not have their Esperanto center and magazine, the United States of America till now is a strange exception. In the USA, who have played a leading role in the officializing of the international key language, now there is not any central society of esperantists. There is an Esperanto section at the exposition in St. Louis, and hopefully this will wake a lot of new interest for the Esperanto affair. Till this is done, everybody in the United States who wants to join this movement, which is so important in relation to the future well-being of Humankind, and also those who want only have a Complete Course book of Esperanto in the English language (price, 40 cents) and The Esperantist Monthly (72 cents a year) should turn to the London Esperanto Club, 41 Outer temple, London W.C.

Added specimen of the Esperanto Language.

Still a contingency made me delay for a long time my public coming out with the language: for a long time there was a problem unsolved which has a great meaning for a neutral language. I knew that I would be said: Your language will be useful for me only when everybody in the world accepts it; that is why I cannot accept it till when in the whole world it is accepted. But the world is not possible without previous individual units, and the neutral language cannot have future till when it can be useful for a particular person disregarding the fact that it is accepted by the world or not.

I thought about this problem for a long time. At the end the so called secret alphabets, which do not demand that everybody accepts them previously but give the unprepared addressee the ability to understand everything written by you, if you give the addressee the key..., took me to the thought of arranging also the language so that not only all the dictionary, but also the grammar in separated elements. This key, totally independent and alphabetically classified, would enable the totally unprepared addressee from any nation to understand at once your Esperanto letter.

Warsaw, Russia

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REMARK.- You can see this grammar and dictonary in http://www.dragonfire.net/~Esperanto/grammar.htm. It is also available in Spanish in http://www.dragonfire.net/~Esperanto/grammatik.htm.. Both are my translations from the original in Esperanto by Zamenhof. If you have any comments on them, please send them to me.

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