Book Review: Esperanto: Learning And Using The International Language

Esperanto:  Learning And Using The International Language, by David Richardson

As someone more than a little bit fond of foreign languages [1], it should come as little surprise that my attention should eventually be turned to Esperanto.  Honestly, I’m not sure why this didn’t happen a long time ago.  Esperanto is, after all, a quirky international language that does not have any sort of nationalistic baggage and that has the impossibly ambitious goal of reversing the curse of Babel on humanity through the use of a “neutral” language that ran afoul of both Communists and anti-Communists as well as Nazis over the course of the 20th century.  Despite being the native language of only a few children born of Esperanto-speaking couples with no other language in common, the language is spoken by somewhere between 1 and 10 million people (making it among the most commonly spoken languages in the world) and has some quirky appeal.  So yes, it was only a matter of time before a language this odd and with such colossal ambitions and such a strange history should find its way into my own reading list, and that moment has come.

How does this book stack up?  At more than 300 pages, this book manages to combine several different types of books in one.  The first 60-odd pages of this book with four chapters make up the pitch of the author to learn Esperanto, talking about the trouble with language, the need to solve the language problem, the search (in vain) for a common language, and the potential of Esperanto today and tomorrow.  The second part of the book, which takes up about 100 pages or so, consists of ten lessons in basic grammar of Esperanto, and by basic I mean that someone who is reasonably skilled at recognizing patterns can gain at least some familiarity in speaking and writing Esperanto at a basic level without much trouble at all, and can apparently gain a great deal of skill within the course of only a few months.  As far as a language is concerned, Esperanto is very straightforward for being among the oddest languages of the Indo-European language family.  If one knows Spanish or Italian, for example, a lot of Esperanto will look and sound very familiar.  The third part of the book, which takes up a bit more than 100 pages, consists of an Esperanto reader with 4 reading exercises for the student of the language.  The book then closes with another section that includes a key to the dialogues and exercises within the book as well as a select bibliography and a small Esperanto-English vocabulary which largely repeats the various Vortolistoj (word lists) within the book.

This book is one that could have been an immense chore to read given its difficult linguistic material, but it ended up being a greatly humorous book to read.  How did it manage to accomplish this?  Well, the dialogues are quite funny, as they form a series of encounters where an American gentleman manages to find a cab driver who speaks Esperanto along with many other random people.  This seems at least a little bit contrived, but the very silliness of the framing of Esperanto being a language widely spoken so that one could have random encounters with other speakers all over the world is one that adds a sense of lightheartedness to the book in general that only makes it more enjoyable to read.  The fact that the language is already at least somewhat intelligible for those who know other Romance languages and can learn a few rules allows for a learning curve that is less steep than many foreign languages would be.  This book is sufficiently odd and quirky to be a good introduction for an odd and quirky language like Esperanto is, and even if it never becomes a language used for UN documents to ease the burden of translation, it represents a language that offers at least a chance at intercultural communication as well as some pretty impressive literature, and that is enough to make it an enjoyable and worthwhile read that I will likely return to as a reference.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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