Ariel Goldberg
Ariel Goldberg

Esperanto ankoraŭ vivas kaj viglas … Huh?

Imagine if you could communicate clearly and easily with people no matter which country in the world you were visiting. Imagine if everybody was on an equal footing when it came to expressing their ideas and opinions. Imagine if language was something that united all of humanity instead of a hurdle we had to cross when reaching out across to another ethnic group.

On the 6th of August 1905 more than 600 people assembled in the French sea-side town of Boulogne-sur-mer to endorse what would later become known as the Declaration of Boulogne, a document written by the creator of Esperanto to define what the exact purpose and intention of the Esperanto movement would be.

His name was L L Zamenhof and he had previously published the language eight years earlier in a book called Lingvo internacia. Antaŭparolo kaj plena lernolibro (International Language. Foreword and Complete Textbook).

Growing up in the town of Białystok (then part of the Russian empire now part of Poland) Zamenhof became frustrated by the many quarrels between the town’s four main ethnic groups and believed that the reason for the hatred and animosity that existed between them was their common misunderstanding and inability to communicate with one another. From as early as secondary school, Zamenhof started working on what would eventually become Esperanto — humanity’s best hope to date of a common auxiliary language.

The ideal behind an international auxiliary language is not to get rid of the incredibly rich and wonderful lingual diversity we have in the world, but rather to provide a secondary common tongue that we all would learn in addition to our own native languages and be able to communicate effectively and easily with. To lose the incredible cultural and lingual wealth humanity has accumulated over the centuries would be a terrible fate and would certainly not happen as a result of us being able to communicate in a common secondary language.

The benefits of being able to communicate with one another in a common secondary language however would be enormous. Language is our interface to the world, to ideas and to other people. If people and nations communicated with one another in a language they both understood, subtle injunctions that can so easily be misinterpreted and cause untold strife would be far more easily resolved and understood.

The richness of collaboration would increase dramatically as scientists and businessmen would be able to communicate effectively. Researchers and educators would be able to share their ideas with ease. Politicians and diplomats would be able to negotiate in languages they are proficient in. Children would be able to learn about how other children grow up. Cooks could share recipes.

In short, everybody would win. From the higher echelons of society down to the most broad-based grass roots aspects. We would expand our field of knowledge and make the task of being a united and common human family much easier to accomplish.

The world congress of Esperanto has happened every year since 1905, interrupted only by the two world wars. There is still an active movement of Esperantists working for the dissemination of their language and a number of high profile individual’s who support the spread of the language. Chiefly among them are the 1994 Nobel laureate in economics Reinhard Selten and 1996 World Chess Champion Zsuzsa Polgar, both of whom speak Esperanto. See the Universal Esperanto Association website for more details.

So what does “Esperanto ankoraŭ vivas kaj viglas” mean you ask? Well, meaningfully translated it is “Esperanto is still alive and kicking”

  • Bill Chapman

    Thanks for a fair presentation of a delightful language – although your headlines needs some working on!

    Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years.
    Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries.

  • russ

    Thanks for the nice article about Esperanto, a wonderful language that certainly changed my life for the better, and which I use every day with my fiancee (whose native language is Polish, not English, and whom I met thanks to Esperanto).

    You translated “still” in the sense of the noun “alcohol distilling equipment”, not “still” the adverb meaning “continually, to this day”. :)

    “ankoraŭ” is the word you want for “still” in this sense.

    Also “Esperanto cu distililo vivanta kaj piedbati” has various grammatical errors, so “Esperanto ankoraŭ vivas kaj piedbatas”, but that’s a too-literal translation of the English expression “alive and kicking” … so “Esperanto ankoraŭ vivas kaj batalas” (Esperanto is still alive and fighting) or “vivas kaj viglas” (is alive and active) might be a more natural sounding translation of the English expression “alive and kicking”.

    (If the diacritical marks don’t show up on this webpage, “ankoraŭ” = “ankorau”.)

  • English

    Its never taken off its never likely to take off. Its a silly idea – English has become a global language more or less. Driven by the economic dominance of the USA underpinned by historical linkages with Britain.

    Travel to any global major urban area and the upwardly mobile – they either speak English or at the least aspire to speak English. Dont think for a moment they are going to be inspired by Esperanto, probably because it sounds Spanish rather than English!

  • Lyndall Beddy

    In times of peace the Western World has had international languages. For a long time it was Latin (spoken by intellectuals everywhere), then French (spoken by the aristocracy from Britain to Russia).

    Now the world has international languages (English, French, Spanish). Most education includes one of them.

    Esperanto, not ever having been a living language with cultural roots, never really caught on.

  • mankso

    Thanks for this. “Esperanto ankorau vivas kaj viglas” might be a better rendering of the headline’s idiomatic English, but nevertheless ‘universal bilingualism’ [YOUR ethnic language + non-ethnic Esperanto for all] is still a goal worth pursuing. Also, the 7 points of the Prague Manifesto:
    provide a more up-to-date rationale.

  • BenzoL

    The idea of a common language is as laudable as the idea that all people could be equally rich. “Learning a language is learning a culture”. Capturing all cultures in one (artificial) language is impossible.
    Languages people learn (mother tongue)come with certain abilities to make sounds particular to these languages (the “click”, more or less guttural and many other).
    Esperanto is a constructed but Latin based language with no or little culture to back it up.
    Language based battles between people have been many. Belgians are still battling, a small province in Holland is still fighting for its language, France has its Bretagne and Savoye struggling to be recognised as languages.
    In SA we have the Afrikaner, the Zulu, the Xhosa and another number of languages to accomodate in the constitution.
    The Esperanto community is as far removed from reality as the planet Mars from the earth. But then….nothing wrong with any old reason to go to a first class resort to discuss another pipe dream.
    Politicians do it the world over.

  • Detlef Karthaus

    Thank you for a very positive article about Esperanto. Unfortunately learning a language is more than just opening a dictionary and substituting words. The word ‘distililo” is a tool (ilo) for distilling (distili), that is not the same “still” we need as in “still alive” . “piedbati” to kick is taken literally and not figuratively in Esperanto. Let me suggest a new translation: “Ankoraux vivanta kaj vigla” (still living and vigorous).

  • Gerry

    It’s a brilliant idea, and I’ve been fascinated by Esperanto since I first heard of it. I like the concept, philosophically.

    But if you consider how hard it is for most people to lean a second language successfully, then it may be a tall order to expect people to learn Esperanto. Most Afrikaans speaking people I know (Friends and family) battle with subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) of English, and English is something they see and hear and speak on a daily basis. To task these people with trying to learn a language which is largely theoretical, may be a tall order. The same can be said of my English friends who cannot string two sentences of Afrikaans together, despite having Afrikaans as a second language for 12 years at school.

    To sum up – it’s an ideal, and like most ideals, will almost certainly never be practically implementable.

    Maybe it makes more sense to allow English to become the “Global language” as most of the world understand it, and almost 100% of all technology runs on English anyway.

  • russ

    Some comments here show typical misunderstandings and prejudices about Esperanto.

    Esperanto has culture and history and a body of literature and music. People talk in Esperanto about everything from philosophy and art and love to what to eat for lunch and what the weather is like. To claim that “The Esperanto community is as far removed from reality as the planet Mars from the earth” is simply ignorant demonizing, and perhaps based on a mistaken belief that Esperantists expect Esperanto to suddenly become widely spoken or replace English. In reality, Esperanto is simply an excellent, enjoyable, and more easily learned language that many people enjoy using. What’s “unreal” about that? Somehow all these Esperanto-speaking Martians seem to actually live here on Earth and carry on with their lives, just like everyone else, except that they have the advantage of knowing Esperanto.

    Of course English is currently the dominant language, and no Esperanto speaker denies that. As one commenter noted, it’s based on the economic (and military!) strength of the US and Britain. That is not a very compelling argument for why English SHOULD be a dominant language, from the viewpoint of fairness. The rich get richer: teaching English is big business for native English speakers, while others are compelled to invest a lot of time and money to compete economically, a huge cost that native English speakers don’t have to spend.

    Esperanto is much easier to learn than English (and other national languages). And it’s a myth that “most people” know English. Many or most people in most countries know some FRAGMENTS of English, enough to perhaps serve tourists. Talk to a non-European who’s actually studied both English and Esperanto, and you’ll hear that Esperanto was much easier for them, despite the word roots being Latin/Euro-centric.

    Most native English speakers are all too selfishly happy to suggest that “of course” English is the obvious choice for an international language. Many non-native-English speakers are happy to go along with this unbalanced situation because they feel it’s economically necessary – and indeed as long as so many people feel that way, they make it true.

    Meanwhile Esperanto speakers will continue using and enjoying Esperanto, and hearing people who have never even explored the language telling them that their language doesn’t work and isn’t real. If others don’t want to enjoy Esperanto, it’s their loss!

  • Nicole

    Esperanto is not a theoretical language but a living language. The good thing is that it can be learnt so much more quickly than other languages because it doesn’t have all the difficulties that other languages have like irregular verbs, etc. The vocabulary can be learnt faster too because of related words using the same root. And that helps a lot even people who don’t speak European languages. That’s the main benefit of Esperanto you can express yourself with extreme precision after a relatively short study and express everything as well as in your mother tongue or sometimes even better as Esperanto enables a flexibility that not many natinal languages allows. I feel that Esperanto is a much more natural language than English is.

  • Griza Leono

    Thank you for this fair article.
    Dankon pro tiu justa artikolo.
    I do not know if you made the title deliberately misterious.
    Mi ne scias, ĉu vi celis fari misteran titolon.
    If you use the translating machine at the input “Esperanto is still alive and kicking” will output: “Esperanto ankoraŭ estas vivas kaj viglas”. The grammatical correct expression is: “Esperanto ankoraŭ estas viva kaj vigla”.
    Se vi uzas la tradukmaŝino ĉe, la enigita “”Esperanto is still alive and kicking” redonas “Esperanto ankoraŭ estas vivas kaj viglas”. La gramatike ĝusta esprimo estas: “Esperanto ankoraŭ estas viva kaj vigla”.
    Thus, next time, you will find a less misterious title, I supose :o)
    Do, venontfoje vi trovos malpli misteran titolon, mi supozas :o)

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Looks like we agree this time.

  • Steve

    Why create a language to be a worldwide medium of communication, when to be honest there already is one – English. English is a lot easier to learn than the majority of the worlds most spoken languages.

  • Elizabeth Stanley

    It’s easy to say that there already is an international language – it’s even true, up to a point. In a sense, there always has been. In Zamenhof’s own day, the international language was French – but who uses French for international communication now? Once it was Latin; before that, Greek. The fact is that whichever country has the greatest military strength and political clout will dictate the dominant language.
    However, we could choose to be part of a worldwide community which is based on equality and respect, not on firepower. Learning Esperanto is a choice. It is easy, it does have a culture, and it’s also a lot of fun.
    So why not give Esperanto a try? You have nothing to lose except your prejudices.

  • James R. Piton (Brazil)

    Congratulations for the fair article on this subject, Ariel!

    One of the comments reads: “The Esperanto community is as far removed from reality as the planet Mars from the earth.” Hmm… if one thinks that what you doesn’t know, that doesn’t exist at all, or that English is easy to learn just “because I was born speaking it”, it’s not the Esperanto-speaking community who is far from the reality…

  • Else

    As we can see here, Esperanto is not that easy to learn.
    The few people do do manage are not enough to make it a ‘world’ language. Instead, invest money in teaching people English. At least it comes with culture!

  • Craig

    I propose that Esperanto is simply not representative – that is why it should be replaced with Fanagalo 😉

  • Ariel

    English is only the 4th most spoken language in the world today. See the information below from the encarta website

    Chinese 1,212,560,000
    China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Macao, Cambodia

    Arabic 366,000,000
    Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Palestinian West Bank & Gaza, Israel, Iran, France, Oman, Turkey, Argentina, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Chad, Bahrain, Niger, Tanzania, United States, The Netherlands, Belgium, Eritrea, Mali, Qatar, Nigeria

    Hindi 422,039,637
    India, South Africa, Bangladesh, Yemen, Uganda

    English 341,000,000
    United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Barbados, Singapore, Namibia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Germany, Puerto Rico, Japan, Liberia, Ecuador, Bermuda, Papua New Guinea, Zambia, Philippines, Italy, Guam, Venezuela, Honduras, Malawi, Denmark

    Spanish 322,200,000
    Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, United States, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Panama

  • Ariel Goldberg

    Ironically my attempts to come up with an Esperanto title demonstrate the subtleties and complexities that all languages inherently possess…
    It seems as if i managed to say something more along the lines of “Esperanto is distilled and has a lively kick” :-) Oh well.
    Thank you everybody for your help in getting a better one. I went with russ’s initial suggestion of “Esperanto ankoraŭ vivas kaj viglas”
    It’s wonderful to see how many people there are out there who can actually speak the language.

  • Tim Morley

    People above saying “nobody speaks it” or “it never really caught on” should be hastily adding the words “as far as I know”, because the experience of millions of people says they’re wrong.

    To paraphrase the Esperantist Don Harlow, “You can fill your bucket from a pond, or you can fill it from the Pacific Ocean, but you’ve still only got one bucketful.” In other words, there might well be a hundred times or a thousand times more English speakers than Esperanto speakers in the world, but who cares? Esperanto speakers are easy enough to find in thousands of towns and cities in over a hundred countries, and I couldn’t possibly meet them all even if I devoted the rest of my life to the task.

  • BenzoL

    @Else – “Instead, invest money in teaching people English. At least it comes with culture!”

    That is taking it a little too far. Most countries on the EU continent might bag to differ.

  • dominiko

    > Why create a language to be a worldwide medium of
    > communication, when to be honest there already
    > is one – English. English is a lot easier to
    > learn than the majority of the worlds most
    > spoken languages.

    English is indeed easier than many languages. But it’s still not an easy language. Esperanto is an order of magnitude easier. And easier does not mean less rich. In fact I’m convinced it’s just the opposite.

    The fact is, many people don’t speak English and it’s very hard for them to learn it. It’s easy to not realize how difficult it is, if you’re a native English speaker.

    Let’s imagine that one day in the future, Chinese replaces English as the de-facto international language, perhaps you would then realize and agree that learning esperanto, is actually much easier than learning Chinese.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    There is something wrong with those figures for China. I read that China had 500 different languages/dialects – all however written the same (although spoken differently), because the written language is pictoral. Does that really count as one language?

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Another error in those stats of yours off the net – they seem to record only first languages. Most urban populations speak two or more languages. There are, for example over 100 languages in India, and also over 100 languages in Nigeria. That is why the constitution of India is written in English, and English is one of India’s official languages – yet India does not show as an English speaking country on your link. Maybe because English is for most Indians a second language?

    Bill Bryson in his book “Mother Tongue” says the most spoken languages in the world are English, French and Spanish (in that order).

  • Ariel

    Hey Lyndall

    I think you are actually right about those figures i put up being a bit squiff. I was thinking about it the other day and the USA alone has 300 million people which would account for most of the english speakers in the world.

    I don’t know whats wrong with them – like i mentioned they are from the msn encarta site and found similar figures from other sources – but i suspect that they are talking about first languages only.

    English it would seem is the most commonly spoken second language – being the foundation language behind most technology and modern day science. The huge market in the east for english teachers would support this…

    This sentence is from an article in the Economist in Dec 2001 entitled “the triumph of english”

    “IT IS everywhere. Some 380m people speak it as their first language and perhaps two-thirds as many again as their second. A billion are learning it, about a third of the world’s population are in some sense exposed to it and by 2050, it is predicted, half the world will be more or less proficient in it”

    That would suggest 380 million (first language) + 120 million (second language) = 500 million people speak english.

    Let’s forget about Chinese (and whatever that might mean as a language… i also don’t think there are 1.2 billion people there speaking the “same” language) and just reflect on the fact that 500 million people is only one twelth of the world’s population… whether english is the most spoken language or not – it certainly isn’t being spoken by the majority of people on this planet… and as for the claim of half the world’s population will speak it in 2050…?

    Well, more than forty years is a looooooooooooooooooooong time. Just think how much the world has changed since the early 90’s with the advent of the internet… and that’s only 20 years.

    Alot could shift in that amount of time…

    I think the point is this:

    An international auxillary language would be an AMAZING thing for humanity… whether it be english or esperanto or funagalo… it would be fantastic.

    As it stands at the moment, despite our very anglo-centric mindset… english is not that language. There are a hell of alot of Chinese people speaking something very different, not the mention the Arabic, Spanish and Hindi speaking worlds… as well as the combination of everyone else. We might think English is universal because “we” speak it, but go walk around in Paris for a day and i think you will very quickly discover that it is not… and even if you do go somewhere where alot of people can communicate in English… it is clearly their second language and they are clearly at a disadvantage when needing to communicate as compared to if they were speaking their own mother tongue.

    A common auxillary language would be something everybody in the world could speak proficiently because we would all learn it from childhood and we would all be equally equipped when speaking to each other.

    Whatever that auxillary language might be, it would be a great source of unity to all humanity

  • Michael Graaf

    Esperanto may be easier than most languages to learn, but the problem is it is easier for some than for others – namely those whose already-known language/s (especially mother tongues) are in the indo-european group. In other words, a minority of humans. This element of “unfairness” is the biggest obstacle to Esperanto’s acceptance.

    It is also unfair, but a fact, that English is increasingly the most widely useful lingua franca. Its absurd spelling system should erefore be rationalised as a matter of decency towards non-native speakers – and dyslexics.

    A project in the same spirit as Esperanto, but with a slightly different goal, would be to promote the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Although this is based on the roman alphabet (the one we are using now) and therefor unfair to native users of other alphabets, at least the roman one is the most widely used – and again, increasingly so due to the internet amongst other things.

    Just as we learn (well we should learn) second, third and further languages, we would benefit from learning a second script – to the extent that others all over the world were also learning it. So this is also a project requiring widespread buy-in before commencement.

    The IPA is commonly found in dictionaries as an unambiguous guide to pronunciation, so it is already deployed in important databases in many languages, and could be imported from them to others.

  • Bernard

    I dropped Esperanto, after having learned it reasonably well, because I thought it was “too european”.

    Then at the Calgary Winter Olympics, I by chance met a dozen or so esperantists from Japan, China and Korea, who not only described why they felt that it wasn’t so, except in a limited and purely lexicological sense, (and gave good arguments why my suggestions for “improvements” wouldn’t work well), but pointed out that since Asian and African esperantists didn’t consider this a problem, I was just making excuses.

  • Tim Morley

    Michael Graaf suggests that it would be good to “promote the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet”, presumably as a general means of writing English down.

    Since the idea of IPA is to accurately reflect *pronunciation* in writing, I can’t see how it would help things to have Australians, South Africans, Brits, Americans and Indians spelling the same words each in their own ways, simply because they pronounce them slightly differently.

    The only alternative would be to choose one particular variety of English and try to standardise the IPA spelling of that, but then unless you happen to speak in that precise way, the new IPA spellings would be just as difficult to memorise as traditional English spelling.

    Non-starter, I’m afraid, unless you can explain to me otherwise.

  • Bill Chapman

    I would still argue the caser for Esperanto.

    All the best

  • Spock

    It is strange that someone criticizes the biggest obstacle to Esperanto’s acceptance being that as a language in the indo-european group it unfairly represents a minority. This person then bizarrely goes on to promote phonetics based on the roman alphabet, saying “at least the roman one is the most widely used”. This person does not understand that the latin alphabet is not even the most used in the indo-european group – consider Russia, Eastern European countries and India that use different alphabets. Then consider all the other types of script used around the world.

    The development of a universal set of ideograms, pictograms and logograms could result in a system written and read in any one language and yet understood by all other language users. Because it uses symbols for ideas or words, and not sounds, it could be read in any language. It would be possible using such a writing system that every person on earth could read it in her own language.

    Another candidate for universal communication would be widespread use of deaf sign language.

    Lojban is worth investigating as a spoken universal second language. It is phonetic, unambiguous, logical and based on the the most common roots from the most used natural languages.

  • Mike Jones

    The best way for someone to learn English is to learn Esperanto first. To read up on this concept, google for “springboard to languages”. In support of this concept, I have started creating a dictionary of (Mercan) English, using Esperanto as the interface language. You can find it by googling for “Deep Dictionary of Mercan English”.