Thursday, November 3, 2016


People can command, dictate, and legislate; however, people cannot consciously create law any more than people can consciously create human language.  Genuine law, like language, evolves; each is the result of human action but not of human design.--Bruno Leoni
L.L. Zamenhof  a Polish physician and inventor had an ambitious idea. He wanted to create a language that anyone could learn easily. In his mind, a simple, universal language would be uniting and communal, would promote harmony and world peace. He wanted to bridge differences between people, especially religious differences.  He designed Esperanto.
Zamenhof had three goals, as he wrote in 1887:
1) "To render the study of the language so easy as to make its acquisition mere play to the learner."
2) "To enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with persons of any nationality, whether the language be universally accepted or not; in other words, the language is to be directly a means of international communication."
3) "To find some means of overcoming the natural indifference of mankind, and disposing them, in the quickest manner possible, and en masse, to learn and use the proposed language as a living one, and not only in last extremities, and with the key at hand." (wiki)

 Zamenhof was Jewish, and many of Esperanto's earliest adopters were also Jewish. They connected with this new language that emphasized equality.
Its international motives inspired opposition and support. In Nazi Germany, there was an effort to forbid Esperanto because Zamenhof was Jewish, and due to the internationalist nature of Esperanto, which was perceived as "Bolshevist." In his work, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler specifically mentioned Esperanto as an example of a language that could be used by an international Jewish conspiracy once they achieved world domination. After the October Revolution of 1917, Esperanto was given a measure of government support by the new workers' states in the former Russian Empire and later by the Soviet Union government, with the Soviet Esperanto Association being established as an officially recognized organization. In his biography on Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky mentions that Stalin had studied Esperanto. However, in 1937, at the height of the Great Purge, Stalin completely reversed the Soviet government's policies on Esperanto; many Esperanto speakers were executed, exiled or held in captivity in the Gulag labor camps. Quite often the accusation was: "You are an active member of an international spy organization which hides itself under the name of 'Association of Soviet Esperantists' on the territory of the Soviet Union."
Until the end of the Stalin era it was dangerous to use Esperanto in the Soviet Union despite of the fact that it was never officially forbidden to speak Esperanto. (from wiki)

There are supposed to be about 1000 native speakers of Esperanto. It is estimated that anywhere between 200,000 and 2 million people speak the language worldwide. Devotees say Esperantists exist all over the globe, with especially large pockets in Europe, as well as China, Japan and Brazil.  Duolingo is planning an Esperanto app.  (Of note, some object to Esperanto because, they say, it was born in the 19th Century and, through its gender assignation of words, is sexist.)

Clearly this is a desirable idea. After all, with such a wonderful and optimistic motive, what could go wrong? We could start by outlawing some words as deviant or divisive. Then progress upward (heaven-ward?) We could insist on Esperanto as a core course in grade school. We could make it the language of the courts, or the news.
But the failure of Esperanto is instructive. Language is not a creation, any more than a culture or an economy is. These things evolve through need, error and success. They evolve. They are a part of the people who represent them and can not be imposed. Troops can not do it; neither can goodhearted academics.

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