What is Esperanto?

If you’re a non-Esperantist who’s found your way to this site, welcome! You may be wondering what exactly Esperanto is, and why we’ve chosen it for our project this summer, versus any of the countless other languages out there.

First things first: Esperanto is a constructed language devised in 1887 by a Polish ophthalmologist with the wonderful name of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof. Since then, it’s gone on to become by far the most widely spoken artificial language, with a rich and complicated literature and history. If you’re interested in learning Esperanto yourself, we recommend Duolingo’s recently released course, or else the more old-school Lernu!

You may have heard some of this before, or vaguely remember Esperanto as “the international language”. Dr. Zamenhof designed the language to be easy to learn and to serve to bring speakers of diverse national languages together. This is Esperanto’s interna ideo, the “internal idea” of international brotherhood on a linguistically neutral basis. To this day, some Esperantists believe strongly in this idea; others are more interested in making friends and traveling the world. Studying the extent to which the interna ideo still pervades the modern Esperanto movement (or doesn’t) is one of our key research goals for this project.

This summer is a particularly fascinating time to examine the status of Esperanto in Europe. How does an internationally-focused utopian language hold up in the face of Europe’s current state of political flux? How do Esperantists’ national backgrounds affect their understanding of Esperanto’s ideals? These are the kind of questions we’re looking to ask. All we can tell you for sure is that Esperanto is alive and kicking.

Further reading:

Wikipedia’s article on Esperanto

Slightly outdated but well-written piece by The Verge on Esperanto and the Internet

Linguist Anita Okrent’s essay on Esperanto culture