Se vi povus legi cition, vi komprenas Esperanton.
If the degree of a manifesto’s passion and ardor were any test, the Prague Manifesto would be an important one: “Any system of communication which confers lifelong privileges on some while requiring others to devote years of effort to achieving a lesser degree of ; competence is fundamentally antidemocratic,” it asserts. But grand as it sounds, the manifesto is neither a pronouncement written by first-generation communists during the Revolutions of 1848, nor a decree drafted by besieged uniiversity students while the imperial, third-generation communists rolled their tanks along the Vlatava River in 1968. In truth, the Prague Manifesto has probably had zero influence on radical thinking (in this world, anyway), its primary purpose being to promote Esperanto, the “planned” (and failed) language that was supposed to save us from xenophobia: “The child who learns Esperanto learns about a world without borders, where every country is home.”
Instead, Esperanto — which means “a person who is hoping” — has become a laughing-stock, the stand-in for anything that’s perceived as pie-in-the-sky — like the Euro dollar or world peace. The language, though, has made a mark on other worlds. Did you know that the original 1960s Star Trek television series was supposed to be filmed in Esperanto? For a moment, the series’ producers were impressed by the success of Incubus, the 1965 film (shot in Esperanto) i starring William Shatner as a wounded soldier who falls for a blonde succubus.
Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof invented Esperanto in 1887. Historians have assigned to the Polish doctor many skills; he’s been described as a Wunderkind, a polyglot, a philologist, and an oculist, a fancy-pants word for what he really was — an eye doctor. Zamenhof, who grew up in a society that spoke the world’s most difficult languages — Russian, German, and several Eastern European tongues — believed a common language might overcome the parochialism and ethnic strife that plagued his region. He began work on his planned language, which he would eventually call “Lingvo Intemacia,” when he was in high school; he published the first Esperanto textbook (for speakers of Russian) in 1887.
Esperanto is a systematic language; it has consistent, regular rules. The Guinness Book of World Records (I know, I know) claims Esperanto is the only language in which there are no irregular verbs. French, by contrast, has 2238, and Spanish and German have about 700 apiece. In Esperanto, there are just six endings for verbs, and the present, past, and future tenses are always made by adding -as, -is, and -os to the infinitive. The imperative ending is -u, and the conditional is -us. So from the infinitive for speak, paroli, we make mi parolas, mi parolis, mi parolos, parolu!, and so on. All plurals are made simply by adding -j: akvo means water, akvoj means waters. Betty Manson, a leader in the Esperanto movement, told the New York Tunes, “You can get over the grammar in hours. All nouns end in o, adjectives end in a, and adverbs end in e. It’s phonetic, and there are only 16 rules of grammar with no exceptions.”
The Esperantisti (my word) who wrote the Prague Manifesto claim the language must be implemented universally in order to neutralize the predatory march of English — read Nike, capitalism, etc. — across the globe: “The unequal distribution of power between languages is a recipe for permanent language insecurity, or outright language oppression, for a large part of the world’s population ” But there are three reasons that Esperanto will never be spoken by more than about a million people. First, it’s a geek language, too closely associated with Klingon for a significant portion of the population to take it seriously. Second, most people are perfectly happy with their own language, and those very few who have the luxury to learn another prefer one that allows them to read Italo Calvino, Thomas Mann, or Li Po untranslated. To be blunt, no good literature has been written in Esperanto, and as Fernando de Diego, a Venezuelan who writes in Esperanto, admitted, “Fifty percent of Esperanto translations are lousy translations of useless works, 20 percent are lousy translations of good literature, 20 percent are good translations of useless literature, and only 10 percent consist of good translations of good literature.” Third, Esperanto has become, paradoxically, an emblem of the globalization that its proponents claim to reject. Esperantisti say that making the language the globe’s lingua franca will prevent English from conquering Third World cultures, but critics believe Esperanto would only further standardize an increasingly uniform international culture. Writing in the Nation recently, the critic John Leonard warned of “The uselessness of mermen, the failures of plastic surgery, the Esperanto-like vacuity of much modern art, (and) the Coca-Colonization of the planet.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the New Republic quipped that Esperanto is “the abstract of an abstraction,” something “dreamed up by elites without a whole lot of consideration for how people actually live or what they actually think.”
Nevertheless, supporters of the language say that China’s decision not to use English in official media briefings, and moves by Russia and France to ban foreign languages in public notices, demonstrate that Esperanto may still become the language of choice among diplomats. How do you say “plane” in Esperanto?