Chapter 2
From a Dream to a Reality

Copyight © 2002 Sylvan Zaft.  Here is the 2nd chapter of Esperanto: A Language for the Global Village.  You may make electronic copies and paper copies for your personal use, and you may freely distribute verbatim copies which include this notice provided that you do not charge for these copies.  You may not post this material to any site. You are invited to insert links to this site. For any other use, including publication, you must first get permission.

A Boy’s Dream

In the town of Bialystok in the 1860’s and the 1870’s a boy was growing up who found himself in a city that was like this global village of ours, a city in which most of the people did not really understand each other’s languages. At that time Bialystok, which is now situated in northeast Poland, was part of the Russian Empire. The population mainly consisted of members of four ethnic groups, Russians, Germans, Poles and Jews, each speaking their own language. The boy was grieved at the way the members of these groups did not get along. He thought that if they all could speak one neutral language, a language that was not the property of one group but of all mankind, the amount of discord that he saw around him would be diminished.

This boy, Lazar Zamenhof, a Jew who spoke Russian at home and prayed in Hebrew at the synagogue, had a special gift for languages. At school he studied Russian, Latin, Greek, German, French and later English. He also learned Polish and Hebrew. At first he thought that one of the ancient languages, Latin, Greek or Hebrew, should be taught as the international language, but finally he rejected that idea because those languages were very complicated. He wanted a language that ordinary people, people who had no special gift for languages, could learn easily. He was not interested in a language that was so tough that it could be mastered only by a well-to-do elite which could devote a great many years of study to learning it.

Zamenhof began to seriously work on his project when he was fifteen. For more than a decade he continually tested and revised his ideas. Only when he felt he had developed a living language, one in which he could think and write, was he ready to send his proposal for what he called the “International Language” out into the world.

In 1887, when Zamenhof was in his late twenties, he published a modest brochure of some forty pages in Russian in which he put forth his proposal for the new language. Within a short time he brought out Polish, French and German versions of the brochure. English versions followed.

In this small work, which he put out under the pseudonym of “Dr. Esperanto”, Zamenhof provided a preface which explained why an easy-to-learn international language was both necessary and possible, a modest grammar of sixteen essential rules, an initial small Russian-International Language vocabulary of about 900 words and a few written examples.

The brochure made its way to people in a large number of countries, and letters soon started coming in, some of them written in the International Language. The Secretary of the American Philosophical Society expressed interest in Zamenhof’s project.

The new language was on its way. People called it “Dr. Esperanto’s International Language.” Eventually they shortened its name to “Esperanto.” A year after he put out his first brochure, Zamenhof published a list of the names and addresses of a thousand supporters of the project, supporters who were found mostly in the Russian Empire but also throughout Europe and parts of America, Africa and Asia.

In Nuremberg, Germany, members of the World Language Club put out a magazine in Esperanto. Books came out. The language spread. By 1905 the Esperanto Movement was strong enough to hold its first Universala Kongreso (Universal Congress) at Boulogne-sur-Mer, a French city on the English Channel. Zamenhof made a speech in Esperanto for the 688 Esperantists who had come from 20 different countries to get together and talk to each other in the new tongue.

These early Esperantists shared a vision, a dream, that dream which was sketched out in the first chapter. Zamenhof realized that their dream would not be realized in a day. It would take a very long time, but he believed that some day the world would see what he called “the final victory of Esperanto.”

As I write this, in the year 2000, it is ninety-five years since the first Universal Congress of Esperanto and one hundred thirteen years since the first little brochure came out. The dream has not been realized. The final victory of Esperanto has not occurred. Many Esperantists still dream of that victory and they work towards it, but somehow it seems as far away as ever.

Throughout its history Esperanto has faced a lot of difficulties. The first of these came when some early advocates of the language decided that it should be changed. When the majority voted to keep Esperanto the way it was, these “dissidents” broke off and created a variant which they called “Ido”. The Idists kept changing their new language until, in time, most of the people who supported their variant realized that they could never really master it because it never would stop changing. After a few decades, the number of speakers of Ido decreased and kept decreasing until there were practically none left.

A great opportunity seemed to arise for Esperanto when, in the 1920s, the Iranian delegation to the League of Nations proposed that it be adopted for use in international relations. In the ensuing debate there were vicious attacks on Esperanto. The French representative was particularly vociferous in arguing against this proposal. From his point of view French was the international language. The proposal was defeated.

In Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union Esperantists faced persecution. Hitler had mocked Esperanto in Mein Kampf. Stalin called Esperanto “the language of spies.” Both Hitler and Stalin had large numbers of Esperantists killed. The whole tragic story of the persecution of the Esperantists has been told by a German scholar, Ülrich Lins, in La Danĝera Lingvo (The Dangerous Language).

So Esperanto has not won out. And yet it has not faded away, as Ido has. While some experts in the area of languages have dismissed it out of hand without studying it, others such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Mario Pei and Umberto Eco, after taking an honest look at the language, have strongly endorsed its dissemination and wide use. While the Communist dictator Joseph Stalin worked to eradicate Esperanto, another Communist dictator, Marshall Tito, not only advocated its use but spoke it. One of the winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for 1994, Reinhard Selten of Germany, is a fluent Esperantist who has published in the language. Original literature in Esperanto has developed to the point where the international organization of authors and editors, PEN, now has an Esperanto chapter.

Translations into Esperanto appear continuously. A few years ago a translation of War and Peace was published in Russia. The first two volumes of an anthology of works originally written in Latin have come out. Ruĝdoma Sonĝo, a three volume translation of a Chinese classic has appeared. (The Esperanto title means Red House Dream.) The translators of the Russian and Chinese works were native speakers of the original language, not foreigners who learned Russian and Chinese in school.

Original novels, poems and short stories written in Esperanto appear in books and in reviews devoted to literature such as Fonto and Literatura Foiro. (Fonto means a spring and Literatura Foiro means “Literary Fair”.)

A monthly news magazine, Monato (Month), presents articles on topics of current interest written by citizens of dozens of different countries. Esperanto rock groups put on concerts at gatherings of young Esperantists in Europe and put out compact discs of their music. Rok-Gazeto, an Esperanto magazine devoted to rock music, appears regularly.

A very large amount of Esperanto literature, original literature and translated literature, has been put on the Internet. Go to: and you will have access to information in and about Esperanto in more than forty languages. Click on English and you will be able to visit the web sites of Esperanto organizations in various English-speaking countries. Click on Français or Español or any of the other languages listed, each identified by a little flag as well as the name of the language in that language and you will be able to do the same for countries where those languages are spoken.

Those who read Esperanto can go to (for Virtuala Esperanto-Biblioteko which means “Virtual Esperanto Library”) and find sites devoted to Esperanto en Radio,

Esperanto Literature en la Reto (Esperanto Literature in the Internet) maintained by Don Harlow, provides links to an enormous number of poems, stories, novels or excerpts from novels and essays translated from a wide variety of languages as well as a great many original literary works in Esperanto.

Here are the translated authors whose family names begin with the letter M. (The family names are given in capitals. In some languages, like English, the family name comes last. In other languages, like Chinese, the family name comes first. Esperanto usage follows the usage of the original language. Capitals are customarily used to indicate the family name. There is no assumption made that English usage or Chinese usage is universal.)


Harlow lists many more translated works than original works. Here are the authors he gives for original works in Esperanto by authors whose family names begin with the letters K, L and M. (These names all come from a search made on September 26, 2000. Names are being added all the time and, of course, pages vanish from the Internet all the time.)

Kajto, KALOCSAY Kálmán, Anja KARKIAINEN, Stanislaw KAROLCZYK, Edwin de KOCK, Abraham KOFMAN, Hannes KOIVU, Hannelore KONDOR, Jiri KORINEK, M. KOROTJ), B. KOSTINEK, Czeslaw KOZLOWSKI, KRAYG, Nikolajs KURZENS, E. LANTI, Lucien LAURAT, LAŬLUM, Max LECHIEN, R. LEGER, L. LEVENZON, Tarcísio LIMA, Erika LINZ, Nikolaj LOZGAĈEV, LU Jixin, Franko LUIN, H. A. LUYKEN, Dalia Horta LLUCH kaj Olga Lidia MENESES DUARTE, B. A. R. MALEJ, MAO Zifu, Aleksandro MARTAKOV, António MARTINS, António MARTINS, Ulrich MATTHIAS, Geraldo MATTOS, G. E. MAŬRA, Matthew MCLAUCHLIN, Getúlio MEDEIROS, Michiel MEEUWISSEN, Valentin MELNIKOV, Eŭgeno MIĤALSKI, MIJAMOTO Masao, Mireille, Miroslav MITROVIĈ, Julian MODEST, Ju. MURAŜKOVSKIJ.

A Small Global Village

No one in the world knows precisely how many Esperantists there are just as no one knows how many chess players there are. Like chess players or bridge players or stamp collectors, the speakers of Esperanto are scattered throughout the world, and there is no way to take an accurate census of them. Because the number of Esperantists is not known, human nature being what it is, propagandists for Esperanto sometimes make highly optimistic statements such as “there are fifteen million speakers of Esperanto in the world today.”

But there are hard figures about attendance at particular events. Each year since 1905, except for interruptions due to the world wars, Esperantists from all over the world have gathered together in their week-long Universal Congresses. The largest of these took place in 1987 in Warsaw, Poland where 5946 Esperantists came from nearly sixty countries to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the language. Other congresses in the nineteen eighties and nineties were held in such cities as Brasilia, Vancouver, Beijing, Rotterdam, Havana, Vienna, Seoul and Warsaw. The Universal Congress for 2000 took place in Tel Aviv.

The number of Esperantists enrolled in each of the Universal Congresses from 1985 to 1999 is:

1985 Augsburg, Germany 2311
1986 Beijing, China 2482
1987 Warsaw, Poland 5946
1988 Rotterdam, Netherlands 2321
1989 Brighton, England 2280
1990 Havana, Cuba 1617
1991 Bergen, Norway 2400
1992 Vienna, Austria 3033
1993 Vanencia, Spain 1863
1994 Seoul, Korea 1776
1995 Tampere, Finland 2443
1996 Prague, Czech Republic 2972
1997 Adelaide, Australia 1224
1998 Montpellier, France 3133
1999 Berlin, Germany 2712
1985-1999 Average Attendance 2568

Although those attending these congresses speak many dozens of different native languages, they speak to each other, entertain each other, joke with each other and commiserate with each other in the language of their small global village.  They have no need for interpreters or translators and never have to put up with a pair of uncomfortable headphones in order to understand what someone else is saying.  Newcomers to the language carry a dictionary with them so they can look up the occasional word that they might need and do not know.

There are precise numbers that tell us how many Esperantists engage in particular activities.  We know that in most years more than 2000 of them gather for their Universal Congresses.  We know that every day in the year scheduled meetings are taking place among Esperantists all over the world.  We know that the 2000 Jarlibro de la Universala Esperanto-Asocio (Yearbook of the Universal Esperanto Association) lists nearly 2000 delegates who live in hundreds of cities in 101 different countries, countries which include not only the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and Germany, but also Cameroon, Costa Rica, Kenya, Benin and Nepal.  (There are six delegates in Katmandu.  Their special areas of expert knowledge include astronomy, Buddhism, journalism, television and poetry.)  These delegates have taken on the responsibility to assist foreign Esperantists who run into some difficulty in their country.  The delegates make themselves available to answer written requests in Esperanto about their particular areas of special interest and expert knowledge.  About eighty special interest organizations that function in Esperanto are described in the yearbook for the year 2000.  The section describing these areas covers eighteen pages in the yearbook.  The areas range from “agrikulturo” to “vivstilo” (life style).

The number of fluent Esperantists in the world today is some multiple of the 5946 who attended the 1987 Universal Congress of Esperanto.  (That congress, the largest in the history of the language, celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of Esperanto.)  The number of fluent Esperantists is some multiple of the nearly 2000 delegates listed in the current yearbook.  If the multiple is 10 we come up with tens of thousands of speakers.  If the multiple is 100 we come up with hundreds of thousands of speakers.  If the multiple is 1000 we come up with a few million speakers. However, no one knows what that multiple is.

Every year the Tutmonda Esperantista Junulara Organizo (World Youth Esperanto Organization) puts out a book called La Pasporta Servo (The Passport Service).  The edition for the year 2000 lists 1075 Esperantists in more than seventy-five countries around the world who have agreed to host fellow Esperantists for a few days, either without any charge at all or for a very nominal fee.  Because of this network, fluent Esperantists of all ages can travel around the world staying very inexpensively with hosts in such cities as Pretoria, Paris, San Francisco, Montreal, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Munich, Seoul, Moscow, Zurich, Helsinki, Lima, Dakar and Kalamazoo.

Although Esperanto books come out all the time, they generally sell in very small numbers, perhaps a few hundred.  If a book sells a thousand copies, people start to get excited.  Unfortunately a large portion of the world’s population of Esperantists live in countries where their income is so low that buying a postage stamp for foreign correspondence is a major expense.  For such people buying an Esperanto book from another country is simply beyond their means.

There is an Esperanto presence on the Internet.  A search made on for pages that include both “Esperanto” and “Zamenhof” came up with about 6230 pages.  A search for “Esperanto” came up with over a million pages but this, of course, includes many pages that mention Esperanto peripherally.

Compared to the dreams of Zamenhof the present number of Esperantists, whatever it might be, is very small.  However, the fact that Esperantists have created an international community spanning the globe, a community that is based on their easier-to-learn common second language, is unprecedented in human history.  These Esperantists studied and learned their new language, often on their own, and use it to maintain contacts with their fellow speakers all over the world.

The members of this small world village of Esperantists belong to a great many different religions, and some of them have no religion.  For instance, Esperanto is used in Japan and in other countries by members of the Shintoist religious organization Oomoto, by spiritualists in Brazil, by non-nationalists who belong to the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (a worldwide non-nationalist organization concerned with the class struggle) and by Catholics celebrating mass.  The Vatican broadcasts in Esperanto.  Young Christians, Catholic and Evangelical, use Esperanto in international gatherings in Europe.  Esperanto services are held regularly in a Methodist church in London.

The members of this world village belong to a wide variety of professions, and, as we have seen, the list of their areas of expert knowledge is very long.  The members of the village include professors of linguistics, college presidents, railway employees, businessmen, lawyers, composers, authors and so on.  They include sedentary people and athletes, scholars and farmers, chess players and go-players, vegetarians and nudists, preschoolers and college students, acupuncturists and librarians, honest people and con artists.  At times they have included heads of state and Nobel Prize winners. In short they span a great range of human achievement and of human interests. By the nature of their interest in Esperanto, most of them tend to be idealistic and they are all, of course, at least bilingual. In fact many of them know more than two languages. 

Chapter 3    The Ultimate Authority in Esperanto