Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Zamenhofa Bankedo

A few weeks ago, local folks who have an interest (and usually some fluency) in the International Language Esperanto got together at an annual dinner to celebrate the birthday of the language's creator, L.L. Zamenhof.

The language was one of several developed in Europe around the turn of the 20th century, amidst many intellectuals' desire to unite the world into one global community. Some of the strengths of Esperanto over its competitors were its syntactic consistency, lack of unnecessary inflections, rich system of infixes, and semantic roots in Europe's linguistic families: Romance, Germanic and Slavic. The language became reasonably popular throughout Europe during the first half of the 20th century and even gained Hitler's attention - unfavorably.

There are a bunch of interesting articles on Esperanto -- all easily Googlable. One short one is at


One thing that fascinates me about Esperanto is the way you can agglutinate its infixes (no, that's not as painful as it sounds...) and economize words. For example, take the sentence "Duopigxu." There are four parts in this word:

Du- The number two. As in "unu, du, tri, kvar, kvin" -- "one, two, three, four, five"

-op- "in groups of". Since all nouns end in "o" and all adjectives end in "a", we get words like
duopo - a pair, and duopa - paired, occurring in pairs. Similarly triopo, a trio and so on.

-igx- This turns an active verb into a passive one, and when used with nouns or verbs, has the idea of "becoming." Thus, rugxa - red; regxigxa - blushing. So Duopigx- has the idea of becoming pairs.

-u The imperative form of a verb. Infinitives always end in -i, so we have legi - to read and Legu! - Read!

Putting it all together, that one word means "Form up into groups of two." (Ah, the memories of first grade!) One word instead of six. I think that's neat!

There's also an extensive literature in Esperanto, both translations and original works. And there are folks for whom Esperanto is a first language (denaskaj Esperantistoj). These are the children of parents who don't speak each other's language and therefore communicate in Esperanto. I'm not making this up! I knew such a couple a few years ago.

I attended a week-long immersion course in Esperanto one summer at the University of Hartford. Fascinating. Students came from several countries including Estonia and Thailand. My Estonian is about as good as my Thai (which is to say, nonexistent). Their English wasn't much better, but we all had a great time.

At a time when the Internet is truly shrinking the world and many people, believe it or not, don't speak English, Esperanto may yet come into its own. There are even social networks - check out (from amikumi - to make friends). The site uses proper Esperanto orthography, which includes letters with little hats over them: c, g, h, j, and s and a u-breve. When writing on fonts that don't include these letters, many folks (like me) add an "x" to the letter. Here's a translation of the homepage's opening lines. I'll bet you don't need it!

"Welcome to Amikumu
Would you like to find interesting Esperantists among you? ...or see the world through other eyes? Now you can do this through the first get-together website in Esperanto - Amikumu! In picture and writing express yourself and influence the world, the only limit is your imagination. We now have 1029 members in 78 countries and 2166 pictures. Come and make friends with us. Here's more information."


Talentedhands said...

There's a similar "universal sign language" called Gestuno. Unfortunately, only a few people understand it.

Racine said...

That's strange. You'd think sign language, by its very nature, would be universal(except for fingerspelling, of course).

Historical reasons...?