Some may think that made-up languages are only for fictional worlds, such as Game of Thrones. As it turns out, a surprisingly large number of people speak invented languages, and they go to great lengths to keep these languages alive. In this post, we’ll introduce you to Esperanto – the most widely spoken invented language in the world. We’ll cover its backstory, a few of its rules, and its enduring appeal to a diverse group of followers.
The Hopeful Origins of Esperanto
Esperanto was the late nineteenth-century brainchild of Dr. L.L. Zamenhoff, a Polish physician, linguist, and polyglot. From the time he was a boy living in Russian-occupied Poland, Zamenhoff was troubled by the ethnic divisions and segregation around him. He thought that an international auxiliary language could break down cultural barriers and accelerate progress and that an easy-to-learn supplementary tongue could put new immigrants on more equal footing with existing residents and make it easier for groups to communicate. The language he created was eventually called Esperanto, which means “hopeful.”
Characteristics of the Language
Esperanto was designed to be quickly and easily learned, with an emphasis on consistency.
Its spelling is completely phonetic – each letter has a single pronunciation, and each sound can only be spelled one way.
It’s a streamlined language, with only sixteen simple grammar rules and no exceptions (no tricky irregular verbs). Consider the rule for how verbs are formed:
Rule: Verbs do not vary with person and number. The verb endings are: present tense “-as,” past tense “-is,” future tense “-os,” conditional tense “-us,” imperative tense “-u,” and infinitive tense “-i.”
Labori (to work, infinitive)
Mi laboras en oficejo. (I work in an office.)
Mi laboris in oficejo. (I worked in an office.)
Mi laboros en oficejo. (I will work in an office.)
Mi laborus en oficejo. (I could work in an office.)
Laboru en oficejo. (Work in an office.)
For many ESL writers of English, indefinite articles can be crazy-making. You might notice in the above examples that Esperanto sidesteps them completely:
Rule: There is no indefinite article. There is only one definite article, “la,” which is the same for all genders, cases, and numbers.
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
Sofia ne estas en la oficejo.
(Sofia is not in the office.)
Rule: The suffixes -o, -a, and -e indicate that a word is either a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.
amike “in a friendly manner”
The Esperanto Association’s website claims that by applying these rules to just 500 root words, you can develop an initial vocabulary of 5,000.
The biggest influence on the language is Latin, but Esperanto also draws from Russian, Polish, English, and German. Echoes of these influences are heard in common words, such as:
dankon “thank you”
This strong European flavor makes the language accessible to Westerners, but some say it may put speakers of Asian languages at a disadvantage in learning it.
While Esperanto was created with a vision for global unity, its spread was ironically impacted by global wars and prejudice. It aspired to be a lingua franca, but the global popularity of English has far surpassed Esperanto.
Still, since 1905, its followers have held an annual global conference with only a few exceptions. The internet has enabled speakers of Esperanto to connect in new and creative ways through meetups, online conversation groups, and couch-surfing offers for fellow speakers.
There are more ways than ever to learn Esperanto. In fact, it is the only invented language to have its own course on the popular language learning app Duolingo. At this time, there are 299,000 active learners on that site alone.
The big draw for learning this language seems to be the community, which offers friendship and connection in a language that’s independent, neutral, and without the political and cultural filters of dominant languages, such as English.
Esperanto is an invented language born of a hope to connect to fellow human beings quickly and easily, as well as create a more tolerant world. With its manageable grammar rules, consistent spelling and pronunciation, and welcoming community, Esperanto might also offer you a fresh new adventure. While we don’t offer professional proofreading services in the fascinating invented language of Esperanto, we’ve got you covered in English. Submit a free sample today.