Language focus | 25.07.2012

The Bavarian State Library opens a new exhibition on constructed world languages: 125 years of Esperanto

Up until 9th September, the Bavarian State Library in Munich will be home to an interesting new exhibition which will cover the theme “Utopia and reality, constructed languages for the globalised world”. The exhibition will not only celebrate the 125th anniversary of Esperanto, but also the 100th year anniversary of Johann Martin Schleyer’s death. Johan Martin Schleyer was the German Catholic priest who invented Volapuk, another constructed language.

By illustrating how understanding can be simplified through an easy-to-learn language, common to all, the inventor of the artificial language Volapuk paved the way for the much more successful language Esperanto. Volapuk spread quite rapidly from southern Germany to other countries in Europe and even overseas. This led to the formation of associations, magazines and books in Volapuk and even the use of the language at international conventions.

However, following its initial triumph Volapük did die a quick death, this was due to language reform and Schleyer’s regimented development of the language. Even if his constructed language featured regular pronunciation, grammar and word formation, it was still relatively difficult to remember. Before Esperanto became popular, Volapuk’s time had already passed.

In 1887 the Polish physician Ludwig Zamenhof Lejzer published the first ever textbook for a universal world language: Esperanto.  Zamenhof wanted constructed language, as Schleyer did, to end the Babylonian confusion of words. His first dictionary contained 1000 word roots that emerged from different languages. Unlike Volapük, Esperanto is formed of a simple combination of easier to remember words and sounds like a mix of Italian and Russian.

Although Esperanto has disappeared from the consciousness of most people, this language is still not dying out as quickly as you might think:

• According to a recent EU report between 200,000 and three million people Esperanto, worldwide.

• Vatican Radio broadcasts in Esperanto, Firefox is translated into Esperanto , and with more than 135,000 Wikipedia articles in Esperanto, the language is in 22nd place out  of the 272 Wikipedia languages.

If you are interested in learning more about Esperanto, The Esperanto Association offers a wealth of information.

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