By Razen Manandhar
Esperanto. It’s the language of love, sharing and respecting one another’s identity. Basically, language is the strongest tie that binds two hearts, communities and even countries. And love is what keeps the world rolling.
According to Judeo-Christian mythology, the descendants of Noah settled in a city after the Great Flood and they challenged God’s authority by deciding to build a tower ‘Babel’ that would reach heaven. God then divided the people into different groups speaking different languages. Since the people could not understand one another, their plan to outwit God went down the drain.
There is one language ‘Esperanto”, which is beyond colonialism and linguistic slavery, through which people can communicate. Esperanto is ‘constructed’ and is designed to be used as a second language by people belonging to any community for inter-personal, inter-communal or international purposes. It was never conceived to eliminate the existing languages. Instead, it respects mother languages of all communities.
An optician, Dr Lazaro Ludoviko Zamenhof, who had some knowledge of Linguistics, created the language almost accidentally in 1887. He was born in Bjalistok, a province of the Russian Empire (now it lies in Poland). The people living there spoke different languages and it was one major cause of their conflicts and differences. Each community felt its language to be superior to that of others and refused to use other languages.
The adolescent boy set out to solve this problem. He started to create a language, using some three dozen Indo-European languages he knew. It finally took years to emerge as a language. It is still with us today, a miraculous gift to the world.
When Dr. Zemenhof published his First Book (an introduction to the international language in Russian), he used the pseudo name as Dr Esperanto( the optimist).Eventually the language came to be known by that name.
Unlike other languages, it is a neutral language. It does not belong to any country, political party, community or religion. So everyone is free to adopt it and it is very easy to learn. You can learn in a month or so. The whole language can be summarized into 16 basic rules.
After the release of his First Book, Dr. Zamenhof started promoting the languag. Within two years, a thousand Esperantists (users of the language) were registered. La Esperantisto was the first Esperanto magazine. In 1905, the first Esperanto Congress in Boulogne-sur-Maer. International correspondence, visits, get-togethers gradually breached barriers. However during the world wars, Esperanto had to face some unavoidable problems. But the language has spread through the world.
Political support perhaps contributes a lot to a language’s prosperity. The century-long history of Esperanto has seen both cheerful and bleak days. No government has officially adopted Esperanto but many have encouraged. Least European countries, Vietnam and China have even supported Esperanto financially. On the other hand, both the Tsars' and Stalin’s Russian did not encourage Esperanto. Many Central European countries outlawed it. Hitler considered it as a tool of Jewish domination and Japan though it to be the Communists’ language. China has encouraged Esperanto of official but not for personal use. Ceausescu in Romania banned Esperanto books. A few years ago, an Esperanto teacher was deported from Iraq.
Organizations for the development of Esperanto are on the increase. There are about 100 major associations in various countries, over 80 international clubs devoted to various concerns. Like art, teaching, economy, environment etc. There are radio programmes and libraries for those who need them.
Hundreds of books and magazines are published every year. Most of the World Classics have been translated and original works, dictionaries in Esperanto are on the rise. According to the British Esperanto Association, several tens of thousands of books have been published in Esperanto. There are about 100 periodicals, plus countless local bulletins and newsletters. At one point, there was even a daily newspaper in Esperanto.
The Universal Esperanto Association (UEA, established in 1908) is the Central Office of Esperanto associations in the world. It lies in Netherlands and has 19,169 members from 119 countries (membership fee is quite high). It is in official relations with UN and UNESCO. Every year, it conducts a worldwide congress in which thousands of participants from over a hundred countries meet, discuss and interact as friends wtihout having to use any rich, powerful or influential country’s language. In 1998, the 83rd Universal Congress (UK) in Montpellier, France hosted 3,133 delegates worldwide. Kofi Annan sent an encouraging message to 84th UK. In 2000 July, the 85th UK will be held in Tell Aviv, Israel. Around the same time, the youth section of UEA will conduct the Youth Congress in Hong Kong.
Correspondence, tourism, education, business and bilateral cooperation are Esperanto’s main fields. But using it for getting a life partner, employment or alms from richer countries is considered a great misuse.
Esperanto in Nepal
Esperanto came to Nepal in 1956 when Tibor Sekelj introduced it to some one hundreds students. Its learners then formed the Esperanto-Societo de Katmandu. It later dissolved, but in 1990, Joachim Werden came and taught the language to some 200 enthusiastic learners. Then Nepala Esperanto-Asocio was formed. An Esperanto tourist event tales place here every other year. Volunteers of Esperanto-Domo commenced a correspondence course but it soon stopped. A Nepali-Esperanto dictionary is in the process of compilation. Many people neglect Esperanto because it does not offer prompt opportunities and some Nepali Esperantists now seem more interested in travelling abroad than actually learning, using or teaching it.
[This article was published on 2000-06-18, in The Sunday Post, a supplement of Nepal's national daily The Kathmandu Post]