Esperanto is a simplified tie that binds.
By Gena Asher, The Herald-Times, Bloomington, Indiana, September 21, 1993.
If you answer ``yes'' to this question, you are an avid fan and, possibly, learned scholar of the international language of Esperanto.
I you don't have any idea it means ``do you know any Esperanto,'' you might be interested in finding out more by attending a meeting of the BLoomington Esperanto group Sunday or might just want to see the display of Esperanto materials at the Indiana Memorial Union Thursday.
Esperanto is a more than 100-year-old language created by a Polish physician who felt a universal language would create a sense of global community as well as eliminate imperfect translations. Esperanto means ``one who hopes''.
``There are now nearly 2 million people who have learned Esperanto,'' said Raymundo Morado, an Indiana University computer student who learned Esperanto by completing a lesson published by the Esperanto Information Center and sending it in to be corrected.
``In a week and a half, you can finish a beginners course and be able to read and write Esperanto. With other languages, this could take months. And, even if you learned eight languages, you still could only speak with about 30 percent of the world population.''
Esperanto is easy to learn, devotees say, because of its simplicity. The vocabulary is a mixture of European root words from both Latin and Germanic sources. The alphabet consists of 28 letters, which are always pronounced consistently. The grammar is regular and simple. For example, all nouns end in ``o'' and all adjectives end in ``a.''
A system of prefixes, suffixes and compound words allows a large vocabulary to be built from a relatively small repertoire of root words. All the major features of the langage are summarized in a set of 16 fundamental rules of grammar.
Even though the language has been around a century, it has had only a few peaks of true popularity.
``After World War I, the League of Nations was interested in using Esperanto but other countries, especially France, were unwilling,'' said Morado. ``During World War II, Esperantists were attacked by many countries, including the fascists of Italy, Nazis of Germany, the Stalinists and the Japanese.'' A country's power was thought to be enhanced by the domination of its language throughout the world, so an international language such as Esperanto was a hindrance.
Esperanto regained popularity in the 1950s, as communication expanded among countries and as scientists, in particular, found it necessary to know more than one language to speak with their foreign counterparts. With a universal language, a person translates his or her thoughts from a native tongue to Esperanto. Then, the person receiving the message translates from Esperanto to his or her language. Translators, who may miss the nuances of one language or the other, aren't necessary. Since Esperanto is clear cut in its structure, there's little misinterpretation during the translation.
If a person already knows more than one language, chances are he or she will pick up Esperanto easily. George Neumann, former member of the Chicago Esperanto Society and now a Bloomington resident, said the converse is true, too. Knowing Esperanto can make learning another language easier.
``In Chicago, a woman taught Esperanto to students at a girls school who had failed Spanish and French, then when they retook those courses they passed,'' said Neumann. He and his wife, Mary, have renewed their interest in Esperanto since local groups have formed.
Neumann said the Japanese and Chinese are supporters of Esperanto because it's much easier for them to learn it than to study each other's complicated languages in order to communicate.
The language has few idioms. Some words are used with a colloquial meaning. For instance, a krokodilo, or crocodile, is one who refuses to speak Esperanto when everyone else is doing so. Legend has it that a prisoner of war during World War I taught his fellow captives, of different nationalities, Esperanto. To illustrate the importance of a universal language, he told them the story of a village of different animals who learned to speak one common language. But the crocodile refused to learn Esperanto and instead spoke everything else.
Ease of communication and usefulness in the science world aren't the only applications of Esperanto. In fact, the only dissertation published on the language promotes it as a creative tool.
``Margaret Haggler, an Indiana University doctoral student, did her dissertation on Esperanto: Language as a Litterary Medium, in the late 1960s,'' said Neumann. ``In addition to original works in Esperanto, many classics and popular works have been translated into the language.''
Mary Neumann has done some translating of her own, specifically Edna St. Vincent Millay poetry, which she thinks translates beautifully.
Videos, audio cassettes, magazines, comic books and children's stories are available in Esperanto, too. Some are translations but many are original works, targeted to Esperantists. IU student Jon Liechty found several Esperanto pen pals by responding to ads in an Esperanto rock magazine.
``I have several pen pals, including Czechs and Ukrainians, as well as some in other countries,'' said Liechty, who is working on his master's degree in music composition. ``I couldn't possibly communicate with all these people if I had to know each language, but with Esperanto, we have a common language and can get to know one another without a translation hindrance.''
Liechty had always been intrigued by Esperanto and studied it intensely while recuperating from mononeucleosis. He also connects with Esperanto friends via an Esperanto computer network, as does Morado.
``I meet with a friend from the physics department every week for lunch and we speak Esperanto,'' said Liechty. ``It's good practice to keep improving our pronunciation.''
The IU group hopes to participate in the world-wide exchange of ideas by publishing an Indiana newsletter, which will describe the history, highlights and people of the state for readers all over the world. ``It's one of our projects we hope to get under way soon,'' said Morado.
Esperanto can lead to more than just computer or paper acquaintances. The Neumanns hosted several foreign visitors while active in the Chicago Esperanto Society as well as attended some Esperanto group meetings while visiting London.
``Esperanto enables you to communicate with people from many places even though you may not be a linguist,'' said Neumann. ``One Japanese woman we met was on her way to Norway to marry a Norwegian man. Neither spoke the other's language but both were Esperantists. A man we met in England was raised with Esperanto as his first language.''
These area Esperantists support the language as an international language equalizer, but aren't optimistic that Esperanto will soon be one of the official languages at the United Nations. Translating is expensive, and there aren't enough countries currently using Esperanto as a main language to merit it as an official UN language.
``If some of the smaller countries proposed to use Esperanto and band together and send out their communiques in the language, it might be more feasible,'' said Neumann. ``But otherwise, with the high costs of translation at the UN, it doesn't look optimistic.''