ETCETERA / Design dinosaurs: 10 Esperanto
Sunday 03 April 1994
He was an oculist, not a philologist, but Zamenhof knew the stumbling blocks for language-learners: irregular verbs and endless words to remember. So his tongue had no irregularities, and its core vocabulary was based on familiar Latin roots and numbered just 2,000 or so words. These expanded to between 15,000 and 20,000 by the addition of suffixes or prefixes. There were no idioms, no ambiguities, no inconsistencies. This was a Lego language which anyone could assemble. He made spelling phonetic and claimed the 16 rules of grammar could be learnt in half an hour.
Zamenhof used his wife's fortune to publish, under the pseudonym Dr Esperanto (the 'hoping-one'). His language was to be the ending of Babel, the road to international brotherhood, peace, the new Eden.
What happened? Zamenhof's understanding of human motivations was not so neat as his linguistics. Most people learn a new language not by choice, but from sheer necessity: because they crave the business or the culture it opens up. By the late 19th century, English was already the major language of Western trade. There was something else, too. The movement which accompanied the campaign for the adoption of Esperanto had a whiff of cranky idealism. UNESCO recognised the language, but refused to adopt it officially. Today the Esperanto-Asocio de Britujo says world speakers number two million: one million is probably nearer the mark.
As for the world language of the future, today English has about 800 million speakers, Chinese about 1,000 million. English will eventually dominate simply because the politics and technology behind Western popular culture ensures its rapid transmission. For all its idioms and idiosyncrasies, English still has what Esperanto never had: a reason for learning it.-
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove