Natural and Universal Languages: Esperanto the Artificial Language Part 1

About the artificial language Esperanto developed by Zamenhof, a possible universal language, history, grammar, and rules.

Artificial Languages

Ludwig Zamenhof was a Jew who lived in Bialystock, Poland, a melting-pot city. In the late 1800s, young Zamenhof, still a teen-ager, often saw ill-feeling erupt among Bialystock's people, who spoke many languages--Russian, Polish, German, and Yiddish. Like many people before and after him, the boy could not help but think that some of that ill-feeling was caused by misunderstandings that arose from language difficulties. A common language, he thought, would go far to solve the problem, so he created one. It was a formidable accomplishment, even though Zamenhof was in many ways eminently qualified for such a task. His father was a language teacher. Russian, Polish, and Yiddish were spoken in the Zamenhof household. In school Zamenhof had learned even more languages: German, French, English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

Zamenhof's artificial language was made up of root words from the Indo-European languages. The grammar was logical and simple, with only 16 rules to remember. The pronunciation was easy. And in its 28-letter alphabet, each letter represented only one sound. (Contrast that to English, in which the letter "c," for example, can have the sound of "s" as in "city" and "k" as in "cat," to say nothing of the number of sounds the vowels stand for.)

It was 1887 when Zamenhof completed his language. He then sent out a brochure titled Lingvo Internacia under the name Dr. Esperanto, which meant "one who hopes" in the new language. The response to his mailing was even more than he could have hoped for. In a short time, over 1,000 people had got in touch with him and offered to learn and promote his new language, which soon took on the pen name of its inventor: Esperanto.

Probably the language became popular because it was easy to learn and use. Most Americans and Europeans understand this paragraph in Esperanto without any instruction at all: La inteligenta persono lernas la interlingvon Esperanto rapide kaj facile. Esperanto estas la moderna, kultura lingvo por la internacia mondo. Simpla, fleksebla, praktiva solvo de la problemo de universala interkompreno, Esperanto meritas vian seriozan konsideron. Lernu la interlingvon Esperanto.

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