Imagine growing up in a village where four separate groups of people speak only their own language, so that they cannot communicate with each other. That was the early life of L L Zamenhof, a Polish Jew who lived in what is now Bialystok, Poland. When he was born in 1859, it was under Russian rule and the language divisions of the Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews who lived there caused misunderstandings and arguments that made Zamenhof very unhappy.

He felt very strongly that animosity between nationalities was largely because they couldn’t talk to each other and felt the need for an international language that would unite people of different backgrounds.

While still a schoolboy, he spoke Yiddish and Russian and his father was a teacher of German and French, which young Zamenhof also learned. He started to invent a language, which eventually came to be called Esperanto, meaning ‘one who hopes’. He hoped for a world where people got on with each other peacefully.

L.L. Zamenhof

The vocabulary of the new language comes from German and Romance languages such as Italian, French and Spanish and the grammar from Slavic languages.

Despite suppression and persecution of Esperanto speakers, by Hitler, Stalin, Franco and others, and being dubbed ‘the aggressor language’ by the US army, the language has survived. In fact it is the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language in the world, with up to two million speakers worldwide.

This is one language that has no irregular verbs, which are the bane of most language students. It has a relatively simple grammar, which also has no exceptions. No irregular past tenses, no irregular plurals, no irregularly used prepositions. Also, the pronunciation is easy and the writing system is completely phonetic, I’m told.

Esperanto Day is held on 26th July this year, a worldwide observance to celebrate the first book in the Esperanto language, published on 26th July 1887, 133 years ago.

Bonan Tagon! (Good Day in Esperanto)