Wouldn’t it be amazing to have one language that everyone could speak and understand? That’s what Polish doctor Ludwig Leyzer Zamenhof thought and created when he invented Esperanto in 1887. If you’ve heard of it, you know Esperanto is a language meant to be universal, and if you haven’t, then you can have an idea of how successful the project came out to be – not.
Esperanto is a fruit of its time: an idealistic project that had the ambition of uniting people by uniting them in tongue. This was the golden age of rationalism and liberal democracy, but also of rising national tensions. It drew from Slavic, Germanic and Romance languages to please and fit everyone, and was made ridiculously simple as to encourage its spread across borders.
Today, Wikipedia has about 245,000 articles written in it, there are books published in it, and you can find fluent speakers and defendants of the language (they’re called Esperantists in case you were wondering). And, although the language is still being used today, it never succeeded in actually becoming a lingua franca. Why not?
First, because the idea of having a language artificially constructed and imposed is part of a zeitgeist that is no longer valid today. Imposed systems from the top proved not to work, we’ve learned that.
Second, because Esperanto has no actual land and thus, culture: it’s left hanging in the air. As novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, who first learned it and then quit it, put it:
[….] Esperanto is dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because [its] authors never invented any Esperanto legends.
What did he mean by “legends”? Think of it as “culture.” One might learn French out of love for French food, Italian because “Ciao Bella” will always seduce more than one, or English for the rock songs, etc… But, Esperanto? It doesn’t come with an image, a place, a lifestyle, a concrete inspirational factor. Perhaps, if some famous celebrities learned it, or if it let you experience a place in a special way, it would gain more adepts. But until then, Esperanto is left hoping for more. However, worry not because if you ever find yourself in the situation of exchanging with an Esperantist, we can help you translate this special language, along with hundreds of other ones, no matter how landless or landfull they may be.