A Global Language

by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor

A theme of the Christmas/Hanuka/Kwanzaa/Solstice and New Year's Day holiday season is good will towards humanity. One way to demonstrate good will to all is to stand ready to communicate with any human being on earth. We can do this by becoming conversant in an international language that anyone can easily learn.

Although the English language dominates the world today, only about ten percent of the world's population speaks and writes it fluently. While English is often used in international conferences, this places a burden on non-English speakers. Moreover, in international forums such as the United Nations, the speeches and documents are translated into several languages, and multi-language organizations such as the European Union spend large amounts to translate documents into many languages.

A English-speaking student who learns a second language will spend much time learning to speak and write it, and then this will only be useful in a small part of the world. Even then, if the language is not practiced, one tends to forget it. And because natural languages are so complex and difficult for foreigners to learn, people often speak it poorly. In Eastern Europe, I met Russians who had studied English, for example, who were hardly able to communicate with me. I tried to learn a bit of Latvian and Russian while in Latvia, but it was quite hopeless. There I was amidst thousands of people I could not talk to. What an absurd situation, human beings not able to communicate with one another!

Fortunately for me, I had learned an international language, Esperanto. I was able to communicate with Esperanto speakers in Latvia as well as in Hungary and Poland. Not only that, but because the international Esperanto movement is organized and publishes a list of global contacts, I was able to find Esperantists in advance of my arrival, who were very happy to take my wife and me on personal guided tours.

There have been a number of attempts to construct an international language, and Esperanto has been the most successful and lasting. The language was constructed by Ludwik Zamenhof in 1887 and now has several million speakers. The success of Esperanto was due not just to the simplicity and flexibility of the language, but to its aim at fostering global peace. Zamenhof thought that if people could at least talk to one another in a neutral language, it would eliminate one barrier to world peace. Another reason for its success was that Zamenhof created a language that is both simple and elegant. The beauty of the language makes it fun to learn.

Esperanto is based on root words, to which prefixes and suffixes are added. Nouns end in the letter o, adjectives end in a, and adverbs end in e, with the plural j (pronounced like the y in yes) added afterwards. The language is entirely phonetic - each letter has one sound and each sound one letter (the alphabet includes some diacritical marks over letters (^) for sounds such as ch and sh, "c" being pronounced "ts"). The grammar is regular and simple, yet more precise than English.

For example, the word for cat is kato. A kitten is katido, the "id" ending indicating the child or offspring. A female kitten is katidino, "in" being the feminine ending. A tom cat is virkato, "vir" being the masculine prefix. Catlike is kata, and kate does not have an exact English equivalent, the adverb meaning "in a catlike way". To get you started, "hello" is "saluton" (sa-LOO- ton), with the accusative or object ending "n". The accent or emphasis is always on the next-to-last syllable. The vowels are pronounced as in Spanish, making the pronunciation rather easy for all. An example of a sentence: Mi parolas la internacian lingvon. I speak the international language.

Besides the international and national Esperanto organizations, there are many special-interest groups which publish periodicals and have internet web sites, such as a Georgist group in Western Australia (). Many major cities have local Esperanto clubs. The U.S. organization can be contacted at elna@esperanto-usa.org. Lessons are available online.

Esperanto is a peace movement as well as a language. Let me close then by wishing all happy holidays and a peaceful new year: Felic^ajn feriojn kaj pacan novan jaron!