Sunday, 28 July 2013

Esperanto: Language of hopefuls

Esperanto hopes to eliminate communication barriers

Republished from The Kathmandu Post

On the way to Lao Cai from Kunming, I met an interesting couple. The man was 93 years old and his spouse was in her late eighties. As we stopped mid-way for lunch, he joined our table and initiated a conversation. Sensing that we were not proficient in handling food with chopsticks, he taught us the basics of using them. In return, he learnt a few Nepali words. He then revealed his age and said that his enthusiasm to learn had bounced back since he started learning Esperanto a year ago.

Esperanto is a universal language developed by Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof. Seeing the differences created by languages, Zamenhof set out to create a common language that would bring peace and harmony among different ethnic groups. It is, by far, the most successful of a hundred or so conlangs (constructed languages) invented in the nineteenth century. 

Close-knit community
In Hanoi, three young girls, Nubo, Revo and Cxielo, welcomed us. Their names in Esperanto mean cloud, dream and sky respectively. They took care of all our necessities. They were deputed and instructed by the organisers to ensure that we didn’t face any difficulty during our sojourn. At Wuhan in China, Esperantists travelled more than two hours to welcome our group from Nepal. They offered us a feast, exchanged experiences, took us around the city and treated us to a sumptuous dinner. Esperantists around the world belong to a single family and are ready to help, guide and host fellow Esperantists.  

Easiest to learn
During our journey from Lao Cai to Hanoi, I asked many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans and Mongolians why they learnt Esperanto. The answer was that they found it easier to learn Esperanto than English.

Esperanto is considered the easiest language in the world. Because of its simple grammar and recognisable vocabulary, Esperanto is much easier than other languages. A study by the Institute of Cybernetic Pedagogy in Paderborn, Germany tested how long it took people who spoke French as their first language to learn different languages up to the same level. According to the research, German was the hardest, taking 2,000 hours of study, English required an average of 1,500 hours of study and Italian took 1,000 hours, even though it is similar to French. However, Esperanto learners only needed 150 hours, a tenth of the time required for English. Learning Esperanto helps learn other languages much faster too as learning a second foreign language is easier than the first.

I was amazed to see so many youngsters learning and speaking Esperanto in China and Vietnam. I met many Japanese and Korean Esperantists and the only answer that I got from them was that they loved Dr Zamenhof’s idea to create a common language throughout the world. They liked to travel and wanted to make friends across the world.

Esperantists also arrange a plethora of events throughout the year, making it easier for other Esperantists to travel by participating in such events. Some of the most popular events are the Universala Kongreso, Internacxia Junulara Kongreso and national and regional congresses. Both the Universala Kongreso and Junulara Kongreso are organised in a different country every year. Besides, smaller events take place all year round in different countries.

The Pasporta Servo comprises a list of more than 1,300 hosts in nearly 100 countries who will accommodate travellers for free as long as they can speak Esperanto.

Rising amidst doldrums
During its heyday, Esperanto had as many as two million speakers and produced its own rich literature, including more than 15,000 books. Esperanto survived two world wars and the ascent of global English. Today, Esperanto has more speakers than 6,000 other languages spoken around the world. George Soros is one celebrity who speaks Esperanto. 

Volapük, a language created in the nineteenth century by Johann Martin Schleyer, once had 280 clubs around the world and more speakers than Esperanto. However, it could not maintain its momentum as users were not allowed to coin new words. Esperanto provides freedom to the speakers to come up with new words while maintaining the system and enriching the vocabulary.

Esperanto clubs and societies provide space for people who hope to learn, mingle, explore the world and live in harmony. Like the old couple I met in China, Esperantists across the world hope to create a universal language that leads to a global village where all people speak a single language and there are no communication barriers.

Read the original post here.

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