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L.L. Zamenhof was a Jewish ophthalmologist from Bialystock which, at the time, formed part of the Russian Empire and is today situated in Poland. After 10 years of development and driven by a desire to create harmony and understanding between people of different countries and cultures, he published the first grammar of Esperanto ("one who hopes" in that language) under the pseudonym of Dotoro Esperanto in 1887.
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Grammar and Other Elements
As an artificial language, Esperanto has not grown ethnically, but rather, is a mixture of various linguistic elements and influences. Grammar, vocabulary and semantics are based on Indo-European languages, whereas phonetics are basically Slavic. Much of the vocabulary derives from Roman languages and, to a certain extent, from German.
It's written with a modified version of the Latin alphabet, notably making use of the circumflex ^ over the letters c, g, and s to indicate pronunciation. The alphabet does not include the letters w, q, x or y, except in specific names.
Words in Esperanto are formed by stringing together prefixes, roots and suffixes, which allows new words to be created as the speaker goes along and needs them. A "stock" of about 900 roots in Zamenhof's original grammar gives rise to the formation of hundreds of thousands of words. The word order is also quite free.
Some examples which show the influence of the basic language are as follows:
Thank you = Dankon (German: danke)
Good morning = bonan matenon (Roman language influence)
Good night = Bonan nokton (see above)
Congratulations! = Gratulon (German: gratuliere)
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Use of Esperanto
At the beginning, Esperanto was quite successful. The use of this language grew rapidly in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Americas, China and Japan. The first World Congress of Esperanto speakers was held in 1905 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. At the time, Esperanto enthusiasts kept in touch through correspondence, periodicals and magazines.
In 1924, the American Radio Relay League adopted Esperanto as the official language of communication, but the use and influence was minimal. Today, Esperanto is the working language of several non-profit organizations, most importantly the World Esperanto Association, which works closely with UNESCO.
Esperanto was never adopted as any country's official language, but in 1968 an artificial island and self-proclaimed state by the name of Rose Island made Esperanto their official language.
Generally speaking, Esperanto never achieved the intended success as the world's number one auxiliary language, but is still used in travel, correspondence, culture, books, radio, TV and, of course, language courses. It's said that one of the reasons for Esperanto's failure is that the language looks, writes and sounds too artificial.
On the other hand, studies have shown, that, not unlike Latin, the learning of Esperanto considerably facilitates the acquisition of other languages. Approximately 2 million people speak and correspond in Esperanto, but about 10 million have a basic or passive knowledge of the language.
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Learning Esperanto can be a good basis and starting point for learning second and third languages. It's also quite fun as some words and constructions do indeed sound odd. Self study books are available, as are on-line courses. The best source for further information is esperanto.net.
This article gives some additional information about Esperanto and a number of free online resources for learning Esperanto.
This download contains the special Esperanto diacritical characters in a number of common fonts.