Today, English has no rival as an international lingua franca. However, things could have been different if Esperanto, an artificial language invented in 1887 by Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, a Jewish doctor from Bialystok (modern-day Poland but then part of the Russian Empire), had become a common language. Esperanto is made up of key structures from different linguistic families (Latinate, Germanic, Slavic and Semitic). The word Esperanto derives from Doktoro Esperanto (“Esperanto” translates as “one who hopes”), the pseudonym under which Zamenhof published the first grammar of Esperanto. Zamenhof’s goal was to create an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language that would transcend nationality and encourage peace and international understanding between people with different languages.
In a letter to a friend, Zamenhof explained why he was worried about human communication: “The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Bialystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. Living in such a town made me feel the misery caused by language division. The diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist. I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews.”
In 1905, Esperanto’s first international congress took place in Boulogne-sur-Mer, in France. Then, in 1920, the League of Nations (the precursor of the United Nations) recommended that its member states incorporate the language, despite misgivings in France, as at that time French was the dominant international tongue. However, the advent of the Second World War and Nazi expansion put an end to the possibility of the language, which was invented by a Jew, from becoming the new international lingua franca. Nevertheless, more than a century since Zamenhof published his first grammar enthusiasts of Esperanto continue to promote the usefulness of the tongue. “Esperanto is much easier to learn than English,” says Ramon Perera, a member of the Associació Catalana d’Esperanto and a teacher of the language for the past 20 years. “Esperanto,” he says, “is a fairer language because none of its speakers have an advantage over the others.” Perera says that up to two years are needed to learn the language, “depending on the capabilities of each person, the hours dedicated to it and the level they want to reach.”
Perera began learning the language some 38 years ago when a friend lent him a book written in Esperanto. He took a four-week intensive course, which left him captivated by the language’s “simple and logical” grammar. From that moment on, he became a dedicated “Esperantist” and has since met speakers from all over Europe, something that has been aided by the advent of the Internet. “It is a language that works and that could solve the world’s communication problems,” he says. In fact, the French economist François Grin, in 2005, presented a report to the European Parliament that proposed adopting Esperanto as a common language in the European Union, which would save the Union 25 million euros every year. For the moment, that report has been filed away somewhere, but according to estimates by the World Esperanto Association, there are as many as two million Esperanto speakers who hope that one day their adopted language will take root and a new era of universal communication will begin.
Text adapted from Catalonia Today (October 31, 2013)
- struggle: lluita / lucha
- misgiving: recel / recelo
- filed away (to file away): arxivar / archivar
- estimate: valoració / valoración
- take root (to take root): arrelar / arraigar
Choose the best answer according to the text. Only ONE answer is correct.
[4 points: 0.5 points for each correct answer. Wrong answers will be penalized by deducting 0.16 points. There is no penalty for unanswered questions.]
1. Who was Doktoro Esperanto?
- The leader of an organization in favour of international languages.
- The pseudonym of a novelist of Slavic origin.
- The inventor of an artificial, neutral language.
- The title of the first published grammar of Esperanto.
2. According to the text, Zamenhof was
- an idealist in favour of international understanding.
- a believer in the impossibility of human dreams.
- an idealist in favour of translation for peaceful purposes.
- a believer in the benefits of speaking many languages.
3. As a child, Zamenhof quickly realized that language division
- was a necessity in the Russian Empire.
- makes people better informed about others.
- makes people more sensitive to differences.
- creates barriers to common humanity.
4. At the time of the first Esperanto international congress, the French were
- clearly against the fact that it was held in French territory.
- not enthusiastic about a new international language.
- worried about the use of French as an international language.
- against the use of a single language for international communication.
5. The text implies that the Nazi regime would not favour Esperanto because
- Zamenhof was a poor speaker of German.
- it would put an end to the Second World War.
- it had been created by a Jewish person.
- it was a tool that could be used against Germany.
6. According to Ramon Perera, a good thing about Esperanto is that
- it was created by speakers of different cultures.
- it began to expand in the Russian Empire.
- it will make people learn other languages.
- it is not the language of any particular community.
7. The French economist François Grin argued that the use of Esperanto in the EU would
- reduce many travelling expenses.
- make state members more efficient.
- help save a great amount of money.
- increase people’s interest in languages.
8. The text suggests that the European Parliament has
- shown little interest in the use of Esperanto.
- denied that there are many Esperanto speakers.
- said that Esperanto is a useless language.
- said that Esperanto could become a common language.