History of Esperanto

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The constructed international auxiliary language Esperanto was developed in the 1870s and 80s by L. L. Zamenhof, and first published in 1887. The number of speakers has grown gradually over time, although it has not had much support from governments and international bodies, and has sometimes been outlawed or otherwise suppressed.

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Development of the language before publication

Zamenhof would later say that he had dreamed of a world language since he was a child. At first he considered a revival of Latin, but after learning it in school he decided it was too complicated to be a common means of international communication. When he learned English, he realised that verb conjugations were unnecessary, and that grammatical systems could be much simpler than he had expected. He still had the problem of memorising a large vocabulary, until he noticed two Russian signs labelled Швейцарская (švejtsarskaja, a porter's lodge — from швейцар švejtsar, a porter) and Кондитерская (konditerskaja, a confectioner's shop — from кондитер konditer, a confectioner). He then realised that a judicious use of affixes could greatly decrease the number of root words needed for communication. He chose to take his word stock from Romance and Germanic, the languages that were most widely taught in schools around the world and would therefore be recognisable to the largest number of people.

Zamenhof taught an early version of the language to his high-school classmates. Then, for several years, he worked on translations and poetry to refine his creation. In 1895 he wrote, "I worked for six years perfecting and testing the language, even though it had seemed to me in 1878 that it was already completely ready." When he was ready to publish, the Czarist censors would not allow it. Stymied, he spent his time in translating works such as the Bible and Shakespeare. This enforced delay led to continued improvement. In July 1887 he published his Unua Libro (First Book), a basic introduction to the language. This was essentially the language spoken today.

Esperanto history from publication until the first world congress

At first the movement grew most in the Russian empire and eastern Europe, but soon spread to western Europe and beyond: to Argentina in 1889; to Canada in 1901; to Algeria, Chile, Japan, Mexico, and Peru in 1903; to Tunisia in 1904; and to Australia, the United States, Guinea, Indochina, New Zealand, Tonkin, and Uruguay in 1905.

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