Esperanto is the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. And it's got some pretty interesting roots in Nottingham...
Esperanto – window on a wider world
As a young man many years ago, I wondered what life was like on the other side of the Iron Curtain which then divided Europe. I had heard of Esperanto, the planned international language, and I learned it in 1967, beginning very soon to write to pen friends in Poland, the then Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and so on. I have never regretted learning Esperanto. It has allowed me an insight into the lives of ordinary people in so many countries. I won’t easily forget my first hesitant conversation with a foreigner in Esperanto, in Tours, France in 1968. Despite all the time I had spent on learning French, conversation in Esperanto flowed more easily.
Roots in Nottinghamshire
Esperanto has a long history in the Nottingham area. The honour of being the first speaker of Esperanto in the city belongs to one Cecil Price who learned the language in 1903. The following year, three people – T. Levy of West Bridgford, and J. A. Hodges and J. Brookes of Southwell – took up the new tongue. Humphrey Parry, and Will Potter learned Esperanto in 1906. An Esperanto Society in Nottingham was founded in July 1905. I wonder whether early books of the Nottingham Esperanto Group’s activities have survived.
Esperanto may not be perfect, but it works. Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I've made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. Over recent years, I have had guided tours of Toulouse, Copenhagen, Berlin, Douala, Havana and Milan in this planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I've discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, retirement age and pensions. It’s always interesting to go inside the homes of Esperanto speakers in other countries as it is to host Esperanto-speaking visitors here in Britain.
Esperanto hasn't yet gained the recognition it deserves. However, all things considered, it has actually done amazingly well. In exactly 130 years, with no big money behind it and almost no public funding, Esperanto has managed to grow from the drawing-board project of Dr Zamenhof to a complete and living natural language with around two million speakers in over 120 countries and a rich literature. Esperanto has achieved this with little or no official backing and even bouts of persecution. It hasn't taken the world by storm yet, but it's slowly but surely moving in that direction, with the Internet giving it a significant boost in recent decades.
What are the advantages of Esperanto?
Firstly, it is much easier to learn than other languages. The grammar and the spelling are both very regular. Esperanto makes a wide use of suffixes and prefixes to considerably reduce the number of words that the learner has to memorise. It is still a real language, enabling its speakers to express anything. There are even Esperanto poets.
Who speaks Esperanto?
People in many different countries do. It is a voluntary speech community. A wide variety of people are interested in Esperanto; lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers, civil servants, people who have a flair for languages and speak several, and people who are not gifted at languages at all, but, thanks to Esperanto, find they can become bilingual.
How can I learn?
There are a lot of materials available for learning Esperanto. A good place to start is the free course on Duolingo. You certainly won’t regret the time you spend on Esperanto, a very practical way to overcome language barriers.
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