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What is Esperanto and who speaks it?

Published on 30/05/2022

A common question concerning Esperanto is: “How many speakers are there?” Well, the exact number of speakers, as for many languages, is unknown. Without a global linguistic census, the answer cannot be exact. However, many studies estimate that there are between 1 and 2 million Esperanto speakers in the world.

One reputable study was conducted by Professor Sidney S. Culbert of the University of Washington. He interviewed people from dozens of countries who claimed to speak the language and checked whether they could communicate at a competent level (more than a few basic phrases). The conclusion was that Esperanto has between 1 and 2 million speakers. The study also covered other languages with more than one million speakers.

Esperanto as a language

Esperanto was invented in 1887 by a Polish ophthalmologist named L.L. Zamenhof who was hoping that his creation would bring world peace. Zamenhof saw a troubled world divided by languages and concluded that the situation was too complicated, essentially unfair and ultimately doomed to failure. He believed that the languages people already spoke were oversaturated with history, politics and power, making clear communication impossible. Esperanto was a new beginning, an invention that would allow its speakers to completely bypass the difficulties of natural languages.

He made it as easy as possible for learners. It does not count with any irregular verbs, a vocabulary adapted from the origins of Romance languages and a simple grammar, with no gender. The late 19th century was the heyday of artificial languages, and before Esperanto, an artificial language called Volapük was all the rage, with almost a million speakers across Europe. Zamenhof dismissed it as too difficult to speak (the Esperanto word for “gibberish” is still volapukaĵo), and by the late 1880s, it was beginning to unravel.

In 1887, Zamenhof created the Unua Libro, specifying the language Esperanto. He himself called it internacia lingvo (international language). The name Esperanto actually derives from the pseudonym doktoro Esperanto (Esperanto = the one who waits), under which Zamenhof wrote the first book.

How many people speak Esperanto?

It’s estimated that today there are around 100,000 and 2,000,000 people around the world, who speak Esperanto fluently or actively. Within this number there are approximately 1000 Denaskuloj or native speakers of Esperanto, an interesting fact given that no country has adopted Esperanto as an official language.

Where and how is Esperanto used?

  • Online: Email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums, internet chat, Skype, etc.
  • Face-to-face, at meetings and congresses (local, national, regional, world)
  • Travel (there is a service, called Pasporta Servo, which offers free stays in the homes of Esperantists around the world)
  • Books (hundreds of thousands, both translated and original)
  • Magazines (both print and online, including a monthly magazine on politics and current affairs, often with stories not covered by Anglocentric news services)
  • Music, theatre and poetry

Why learn Esperanto?

There are many reasons to learn Esperanto. Here are some of them: 

  • For equitable international communication (without A having to learn B's language, or vice versa)
  • Because it is a fascinating language (Esperanto is an amazing creative creation)
  • As a stepping stone to other languages (using Esperanto as an introduction to the study of foreign languages)
  • For idealistic reasons (working for world peace, mankind, etc.)

Where do Esperanto speakers live?

Esperanto speakers live in many parts of the world. Most speakers are based in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, the United States, Poland, Italy, Germany, France and the USA. However, there are also many Esperanto speakers in China and Japan. Dr. Zamenhof created this language to fight nationalism and to promote internationalism and mutual understanding. That’s why, the Esperanto-speaking community regularly holds a world Esperanto congress, which is always well attended.

Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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