Learning any language requires study, time and practice. However Esperanto has no irregular verbs, nouns, spelling or anything else. It builds words in a logically consistent intuitive way, yet is expressive and sonorous.
Esperanto is a supra-national language, designed to be easy to learn and use. It belongs to no single country, so no national language or group of countries gain any political, commercial or cultural advantage from its use.
The Esperanto Association of Ireland was founded in Dublin in 1905. It represents speakers in the whole of island and promotes the study and wider use of the language. It publishes currently a bi-monthly bulletin.
It is used by at least a million people but they are spread thinly across a hundred countries. Despite two separate recommendations by UNESCO only Hungary teaches it officially in schools. The bigger languages oppose this.
The current EU constitution promotes only languages belonging to member countries. It will need a special decision by EU institutions to allow any trial of Esperanto and that will require member countries to agree first.
How Esperanto Works as a Language
Keep in mind . . . Esperanto is intended for world-wide use. It is a ‘second’ or ‘additional’ language for everyone. It has a simple construction but unlimited possibilities for creative communication. It belongs to nobody. It is not a threat to any current languages, but rather a promoter of their survival. In many countries (especially in Africa) Esperanto may be a third, fourth or even ‘more-th‘ language for its users. It has no imperialist past, but it does look and sound very ‘European’, rather like Italian. Please do not put your big toe into Esperanto. The name is Ehss-peh-RAN-taw, i.e. it has no ‘toes’!
Some people look down on Esperanto, saying it is ‘artificial’, in some sense not a ‘real’ language. But all languages are human constructs. Sanskrit and classical Latin were literary languages, not really intended for every day use. In many ways ‘national’ languages today – as distinct from their dialects – are similar. Standard Irish is a well-documented modern example. Esperanto only differs from all the above because we know for certain that one talented man constructed it in the1880’s using the languages around him. Now it gets ‘developed’ just as other languages do – adapted by its users (speakers and writers) to changing times and needs.
Vocabulary . . . English speakers will recognise a lot of Esperanto vocabulary, especially when written down . They will recognise even more if they have studied at school a language like French or Spanish. They will recognise nearly everything they find in an Esperanto dictionary if they also know some German. Well, some Latin would also help for biological terms etc as that language has been used internationally for scientific terms for centuries. Esperanto’s creator was a qualified medical doctor, specialising in eye conditions.
But . . .
Esperanto is designed to be a global language. It has to work for more than just the speakers of European languages like English, French, Spanish or Russian. Currently it has a very thin presence in nearly every country in the world, despite having almost no promoters at all. The EU say they cannot touch Esperanto as it is not used officially in a member country. UNESCO recommends its use, but it is powerless. And yet whatever their background people in any country who make the effort to add Esperanto to their existing languages report that it does not feel to be somebody else’s but one very much their own.
So . . .
Esperanto’s non-European side? Esperanto users build up their words from small independent unmodifiable ‘bits’. In Europe, for example, Hungarians speakers do something similar (though they do modify their ‘bits’ at times). Their language is not related to its neighbours. Esperanto is put together more like languages such as Turkish or Chinese, where ‘bits’ are unchangeable, i.e. they cannot be modified. Only added together. Don’t be alarmed! If you can handle Lego’s building blocks, you’ll be fine. English and other European languages do have word-building to varying degrees. However the greater freedom Esperanto users have to build up words is a key factor in giving speakers a ‘sense of personal ownership’ of the language. They can feel they are building it as they go along! On the other hand new users need to gain some expertise in this freedom, as their first languages may include word-building but not encourage or exploit its creativity. Indeed Esperanto users may not be able to find in their dictionaries all the words they could create! Look at ‘more-th‘ in the first paragraph above. That’s not really allowed in English. Its equivalent in Esperanto would be unremarkable. ‘Umpteenth‘ comes close, but it is not created in true Lego-style. There is no independent bit ‘ump‘ available in English! ‘Ump-hundredth is not an acceptable term .. yet.
Don’t worry . . .
In practice most Esperanto speakers are anxious only about the vocabulary side, i.e. learning words. They usually just take Esperanto’s word-building side as a refreshing challenge, indeed as unexpected fun compared to English, Irish or French. And they certainly don’t need to know anything about how Hungarian, Turkish or Chinese works. With respect, that’s for Hungarians, Turks, Chinese and students of these languages.
And the fun . . . English cannot move from ‘dine’ to ‘dinner’ without adding an extra ‘n’ and changing how it pronounces the ‘i’. Unlike moving from ‘coal mine’ to ‘coal miner’ for example. English users cannot use the model of ‘I whitened my shoes last night’ to create the sentence ‘I will blue-en my boots tomorrow night’. Esperanto users can do just that! Esperanto encourages playing with its ‘bits’, having fun with them. If the rules are followed, Esperanto will not let players down. And you will be understood. Maybe you’ll even earn a smile. And it’s also just as important to avoid embarrassment. So Esperanto avoids idioms almost entirely. In this respect Esperanto is quite unlike English, Irish, French or modern Greek for that matter. So if you say in Esperanto that someone ‘has dug his own grave‘, you would mean just that. In a transnational context such ‘a spade is a spade’ plainness is important for unambiguous communication. That is Esperanto’s purpose. So its grammar also seeks unambiguity. Who does what to whom is clearly marked! Questions are clearly distinguished from statements. Verbs have a much narrower range of meanings than in English. Yet talented people have created much-loved and admired poetry in Esperanto. Its creator did not consider himself a poet, but he showed some of what could be done in his few poems, in his translation of the psalms and creation of proverbs.
Following the rule of one?
There’s just only one way to pronounce each letter (vowels are as in Italian). Each sound used in Esperanto is represented in its own unique way. There’s only one place to put the stress accent in a multi-syllable word (the last syllable but one. There’s one single letter / sound to make a plural. There’s only one way each for making nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Users not confident with grammar need not worry. Esperanto has been called the language that makes such terms unnecessary.
Traditionally there are just sixteen rules. However in practice Esperanto speakers over the years have explored ever more fully the implications of these 16 rules. Esperanto develops just like any other living language! Since the earliest days there has been just one influential authority to advise on best practice. At first this was Esperanto’s creator, Zamenhof himself. Nowadays there is just one authority, an academy just as in France and elsewhere. How many French people consult theirs? The latest ‘full’ grammar of Esperanto – created by a highly respected influential member of the Esperanto Academy, working cooperatively while posted on the internet – had over 700 pages when printed in 2020! But that is for grammarians. The rest of us do not need to worry. Just read some magazines and books and listen to a variety of speakers on the internet.
Creativity . . .
Esperanto is a recognised member of PEN International and has in its short life already produced two outstanding poets. Top novelists take longer, though interesting novels etc do regularly appear. There are excellent translations, songs, the lot.
Esperanto has a group of 45 inter-related words, called correlatives. Sometimes these words give newcomers some bother, as no other language has such a complete system, logically constructed. However one can admire such a system without rapidly acquiring mastery of it!
Leaners need to be patient and persistent. Their own languages have equivalents but usually not as compact or elegant.
Other descriptions of Esperanto