HAVING received a pleasant letter from reader Alan Stewart which you can read on our letters page, we thought our readers might like to know more about the international language of Esperanto.

It is often thought that English is the international language of today, just as Latin was in the days of the Roman Empire and the early Christian church. But just as Latin was only spoken in Empire and Christian countries, so English is not necessarily the second language of the whole world.

One language which could yet develop into a second language for the world is Esperanto which has adherents in dozens of countries worldwide and international associations which try to promote it as a language “sans frontieres” if you’ll pardon the French.


NO, as there are huge differences. Latin took centuries to develop and was not even the original language of the Romans who appear to have created it out of a mixture of Etruscan and Greek. Latin later developed into the Romance languages, such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish.

Latin as well as Greek, High German and French has contributed many words to other languages such as English language. In particular, Latin and Ancient Greek inspire words that are used in English descriptions of science, medicine and law.

Esperanto is a completely invented language and draws on many other languages for its roots. It is the end product of our global mix of languages, not the originator.


IT is important to understand that Esperanto is completely phonetic. Unlike many other languages, each letter can only be pronounced one way, and each sound can only be spelled one way

There are few rules of grammar but importantly there are no exceptions, for example there are no irregular verbs. You only need to think of the differences between British English and American English to see how that rule makes sense.

Because of the way Esperanto works, vocabulary is easy to learn. You just learn 500 word roots and soon you can have a vocabulary of more than 5000 words, including words for concepts that cannot be expressed in other languages – a major selling point for Esperanto associations.


ACCORDING to Universala Esperanto-Asocio (UEA), the international Esperanto Association, the language is booming. They say that rue to the ease of international travel nowadays and the invention of the internet, Esperanto is now seeing great success.

It is spoken by two million people worldwide. Last year, more than 400,000 people started to learn it. UEA has more than 5000 members in more than100 countries across the world. They come together at the Universala Kongreso (Universal Congress) every few years.


AS Alan Stewart says in his letter, Esperanto was created by Ludwig L Zamenhof, a Polish doctor who lived in a country where the different language communities always misunderstood and fought each other.

He was an opthalmologist by profession and a polymath by study.

Apart from his native languages Russian and Yiddish and his adopted language Polish, his linguistic studies saw him master German, have a good passive understanding of Latin, Hebrew and French, and a basic knowledge of Greek, English and Italian.

He developed the concept of a new international language that people could learn quickly in order to communicate better.

He created it in 1887, at a time when few people travelled or spoke with people in other countries, so he was years ahead of his time.

Zamenhof adopted the pen name Doktor Esperanto – basically “one who hopes” – and when people started to learn his “Lingvo internacia” they liked his name and soon it was adopted as the official name.


THE UEA sees the language as much more than a tool for communication.

It wants to promote the use

of the Esperanto as the solution of the language problem in international relation and to

use the language to encourage all types of spiritual and material relations among people, irrespective of differences of nationality, race, sex, religion, politics, or language.

It also wants to to nurture

among UEA members a strong sense of solidarity, “and to develop in them understanding and respect for other peoples” as its charter says.


OF course. The Scottish poet William Auld wrote in Esperanto and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Read about him in Back In The Day next Tuesday.