Esperanto experiences a popularity boost due to the Internet
Esperanto, a language created 120 years ago by a Polish ophthalmologist, might once again be seeing a resurgence with help from the Internet. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof developed Esperanto in the late 19th century hoping it would serve as a universal second language that fostered peace and international understanding.
While its use has remained marginal, its appeal has nevertheless proven resilient. In fact, Esperanto is nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.Leading Esperantists thank the Internet for thrusting their language back into the spotlight.
“The Internet has opened new possibilities,” said Boris-Antoine Legault, president of the Quebec Esperanto Society. “It allows us to use Esperanto everyday… Esperanto speakers have always been interested in communicating with the outside world. Esperanto is a fantastic tool on the Internet as a bridge language. “Montreal, perhaps due to its own linguistic tensions, is a North American hotbed of the language. This week, it hosts the seventh Esperanto Congress of the Americas – or the Sepa TutAmerika Kongreso de Esperanto – expected to bring together over 200 Esperanto speakers.
Described as flexible and easy-to-learn, Esperanto sounds like a mix of Spanish and Hungarian with roots in Latin, Germanic and Slavic languages. Reliable statistics on Esperanto are hard to come by. The number of fluent speakers is estimated to be anywhere from hundreds of thousands to two million.
But Esperantists agree that interest is growing.
“On these matters most of us work with impressions,” said Probal Desgupta, president of the Universal Esperanto Association, in an e-mail interview.”My impression is that this is indeed true. I would associate the shift primarily with the growing popularity of the Internet.”Until the late 20th century, Esperantists kept in contact primarily through correspondence. New Esperanto speakers often linked up with international pen pals.
“(The Internet) had an incredible energizing affect,” said Steve Brewer, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and president of the Esperanto Society of New England. “A lot of people write Esperanto blogs and a lot of people keep bilingual blogs.”
Yet this resurgence is only the latest high point for a language that has had a tumultuous history. Esperanto first gained popularity in the 1920s, only to face brutal repression during the Second World War by dictatorships in Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union.
In the sixties and seventies, the language again made inroads into popular culture. Now, the Internet allows for easy communication within the Esperanto community and serves as a way to propagate the language internationally. “(The Internet) has been God’s gift to make the movement stronger,” said Jose Antonio Vergara, a Chilean board member of the World Esperanto Association.
He pointed to the popularity of Esperanto on Wikipedia, the web-based free content encyclopedia, as proof of the language’s functional appeal. “The idea of Wikipedia, of working for free for the rest of the world” is what Esperanto is all about, Vergara said. Brewer hopes people don’t overlook the language’s many benefits just because it has yet to become mainstream. “Esperanto works,” said Brewer. “It’s not like you have to wait for some future time for Esperanto to become the dominant language. You can learn it today and use it tomorrow.
“It’s here and ready to use.”