Wednesday 26 July is Esperanto Day and people scattered over the globe will celebrate a language first published 130 years ago and now spoken on every continent.
Its inventor, Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof (1859–1917), dreamed from his teenage years of inventing a new language that would bridge ethnic and national differences — not by replacing native languages, but by becoming a universally shared common language for people around the world to use with each other if they were from different linguistic backgrounds. Esperanto was the result, designed specifically to be simple to learn yet fully expressive.
On 26 July 1887, Zamenhof unveiled his new language in a thin pamphlet published in Russian under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto (Doctor Hopeful), which soon became known as the Unua Libro (First Book). Esperanto has stubbornly survived the naysayers and the attentions of Hitler and Stalin, and today it is spoken by an international community whose members are estimated to number anywhere from scores of thousands to two million.
Many Esperantists open their homes to Esperanto-speaking travellers and mingle at international holidays where they share the foods and cultures of their native lands. And a few of them even raise multilingual children who have Esperanto as one of their native languages, quite often the consequence of people from different linguistic backgrounds meeting through Esperanto and subsequently falling in love.
Online, today’s would-be speakers of Esperanto can study for free with the help of the language-learning app Duolingo, which launched its Esperanto course for English-speakers two years ago. In that short space of time nearly one million people have used it to start learning the language.