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Esperanto is the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language. Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto (Dr. Hopeful), the pseudonym under which L. L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, in 1887. Zamenhof's goal was to create an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language that would serve as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding.
Esperanto has had continuous usage by a community estimated at between 100,000 and 2 million speakers for over a century, and approximately one thousand native speakers. It is the only constructed language with native speakers, that is, people who learned it from their parents as one of their native languages. Usage is particularly high in eastern and northern Europe, eastern Asia, Brazil, and Iran. A World Congress of Esperanto was organized in France in 1905, and since then has been held in various countries every year apart from during the world wars. Although no country has adopted it officially, Esperanto was recommended by the French Academy of Sciences in 1921, was recognized by UNESCO in 1954, and is currently the language of instruction of a university in San Marino. There is evidence that learning Esperanto may provide a superior foundation for learning languages in general, and some primary schools teach it as preparation for learning other foreign languages. Esperanto was used during the Spanish revolution by anarchists in the conviction that, after the revolution, all national barriers would fall away and human beings would speak a common language and share a common cultural tradition.
Esperanto was created in the late 1870s and early 1880s by Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, a Russian-Jewish ophthalmologist from Bialystok, at the time part of the Russian Empire. According to Zamenhof, he created this language to foster harmony between people from different countries. His feelings and the situation in Bialystok may be gleaned from an extract from his letter to Nikolai Borovko:
After some ten years of development, which Zamenhof spent translating literature into Esperanto as well as writing original prose and verse, the first book of Esperanto grammar was published in Warsaw in July 1887. The number of speakers grew rapidly over the next few decades, at first primarily in the Russian Empire and Eastern Europe, then in Western Europe, the Americas, China, and Japan. In the early years, speakers of Esperanto kept in contact primarily through correspondence and periodicals, but in 1905 the first world congress of Esperanto speakers was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. Since then world congresses have been held in different countries every year, except during the two World Wars. Since the Second World War, they have been attended by an average of over 2,000 and up to 6,000 people.
Zamenhof's name for the language was simply La Internacia Lingvo "the International Language".
Reception by 20th-century states
As a potential vehicle for international understanding, Esperanto attracted the suspicion of state supporters everywhere. The situation was especially pronounced in Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Capitalist state patriots for the most part used noncooperation and relied on apathy to do the rest, but occasionally took to their most efficient vehicle of prevention, sneering, and appealing to nationalism, war glorification, xenophobia, and ruling class identity:
- Even an endless chain of interpreters is better than this pallid tongue which has no past, no memories, no rich terrible and beautiful associations, which has been taught by no mothers and lisped by no babes, which has never been loved and made immortal by the poets, for whose song and meaning and music men have never died and gone gladly to battle - New York Times
Well, one, as the dolphins say in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, that last part is the very reason we make claim to be more advanced, and two, none of the good things about that are irreparably exclusive to other languages.
In Germany, there was additional motivation to persecute Esperanto because Zamenhof was Jewish. In his work, Mein Kampf, Hitler mentioned Esperanto as an example of a language that would be used by an International Jewish Conspiracy once they achieved world domination. Esperantists were killed during the Holocaust, with Zamenhof's family in particular singled out for murder.
In the early years of the Soviet Union, Esperanto was given a measure of government support, and the Soviet Esperanto Association was an officially recognized organization. However, in 1937, Stalin reversed this policy. He denounced Esperanto as "the language of spies" and had Esperantists exiled or executed. The use of Esperanto was effectively banned until 1956.
Esperanto has never been a secondary official language of any recognized country. However, there were plans at the beginning of the 20th century to establish Neutral Moresnet as the world's first Esperanto state. Qian Xuantong, a Chinese linguist, promoted the replacement of Chinese with Esperanto. In addition, the self-proclaimed artificial island micronation of Rose Island used Esperanto as its official language in 1968.
The U.S. Army has published military phrase books in Esperanto, to be used in war games by mock enemy forces. In the summer of 1924, the American Radio Relay League adopted Esperanto as its official international auxiliary language, and hoped that the language would be used by radio amateurs in international communications, but its actual use for radio communications was negligible.
Esperanto is the working language of several non-profit international organizations such as the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda; most others are specifically Esperanto organizations. The largest of these, the World Esperanto Association, has an official consultative relationship with the United Nations and UNESCO, which recognized Esperanto as a medium for international understanding in 1954. Esperanto is also the first language of teaching and administration of one university, the International Academy of Sciences San Marino.
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