Learn the Language of the World

Esperanto is an international language that has been spreading its roots in the city. A Giridhar Rao shares his expertise

Published: 19th May 2014 08:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2014 08:40 AM   |  A+A-


HYDERABAD: If you wish to be a true global citizen, knowing at least two foreign languages is mandatory. The more you travel and meet people, the more languages you’ll need to master. If the thought seems daunting, don’t worry. For global citizens themselves are realising how cumbersome that can be and are shifting to the alternative -- Esperanto.

The literal meaning of the word ‘Esperanto’ is one who hopes. A planned language for international communication, it was devised in the year 1887 by one Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof. He published the basic textbook in Esperanto called Unua Libro ( First Book). Zamenhof’s aim was to come up with a politically neutral language that would transcend language barriers and unite the people belonging to different parts of the world. The language was created so that ordinary people and not just aristocrats or professors, could converse with each other easily without investing 10 years or more trying to learn each others’ languages.

Interestingly, the language is not a cultural property of any nation; it is considered as humanity’s common resource.

Bringing the language to the city is A Giridhar Rao who has been actively involved in spreading the Esperanto word since 2000.

Rao learnt the language in the summer of 1994 when his mentor and friend, Professor Prabal Dasgupta introduced him to science fiction in Esperanto. For Rao, the combination of science fiction and the new language proved to be a heady mix, with him getting hooked on to both. Ease of learning and mutual fairness in communication are qualities that are unique to Esperanto, something that Rao found very motivating.

He says, “You would be surprised to know that basic Esperanto takes a maximum of 40 hours to learn. If you analyse how much time it takes to learn English, then you would be amazed to know the glaring difference. English requires as much as 10,000 -15,000 hours of learning. Thus, Esperanto comes across as a cost and time effective language. Moreover, it it is unfair when one is forced to master someone else’s language. Esperanto not only allows you to be yourself but also enhances linguistic democracy.” 

Taking his learning to a professional level more than a decade ago, in 2000 he formally began teaching the language  at the International Institute of Information and Technology (IIITH), Hyderabad. Rao who has lived in Hyderabad for the last 30 years, moved to Bengaluru recently and is currently teaching at the Azim Premji University. 

Talking about how Hyderabadis responded to the language, he shares, “The few who have learnt Esperanto enjoy the experience. Like any other language, it requires regular practice. It is universally proven that Esperanto is easier to learn when compared to other foreign languages.”

Such has been the essence of the language that Esperanto actually opens up new avenues for other languages. As it turns out, one fluent in Esperanto finds quite easy to grasp other languages like French and German.

A catchy name for a language, many also tend to confuse it with Spanish. Understandably so as the two share roots in Latin. Sounding similar to Italian as well, Rao explains that for Indians, picking up the language isn’t a task. “Esperanto helps broaden one’s horizons particularly in the Indian context. In India, we have a multi-lingual culture which is part and parcel of one’s life. The prevalence of multilingualism promotes knowledge and respect for other cultures. In the same manner, Esperanto encourages its speakers to broaden their perspective.”

Although there are ----- native speakers of the language in the world, in the city just about 10 can. Coming over to the significance of the language in the current scenario, Rao says, “In a globalising world, we need all the resources to understand its complexity and diversity. As a language, Esperanto plays an important role in creating global citizenship. This is as important for Hyderabadis as for others.”

Esperanto World Congresses are held every year. Over the years, Esperantists from Brazil, Japan, Nepal, France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and the US have paid a visit to Hyderabad.

IIIT-H has a special group of Esperantists that meet regularly. Whenever, people form other countries visit India, all the Esperantists get together. Rao is hoping to do wonders with the language in Bengaluru.

For him, it is a treat to see people conversing in Esperanto. He feels delighted when people realise that Esperanto is easy to learn. For him, conversations around the idea of Esperanto is an added enrichment.

He has been delivering lectures on Esperanto at various platforms in the city ranging from universities, schools, cultural centres and radio too. There is growing awareness among people that language barriers are real barriers. For Indians, Esperanto may be a second or third universal language, but its global significance and its ease of learning are making the language quite sought after. Rao ends the conversation by citing online resources like learnu.net that can motivate people to explore the nuances of the language.

Comparative studies

In his essay, ‘Esperanto: The Language of Friendship’, Rao cites the example of ‘Cevalo’ which is a horse or a stallion in Esperanto. He explains the root word and says that to get the female form, Esperanto adds the suffix -in-, so Cevalino is a female-horse, a mare; the suffix -id- indicates ‘offspring of’, so, Cevalido gives us a foal or colt. If we combine the two affixes -id- and -in-, we get Cevalidino, that is, a female-offspring of horse, called a filly in English. Apparently, word formation is quite economical in Esperanto. With just one root, one can produce six words: cevalo, cevalino, cevalido, cevalidino, cevalejo and cevala.  In contrast, in English, if one claims that one knows the word Horse, one also needs to know the whole word-family of a horse: Stallion, Mare, Foal, Colt, Filly, Stable, and Equine - eight words with eight different spellings and etymologies. This would surely drive anyone crazy! But English is not the only culprit. Telugu, Hindi, French, Japanese -- in fact, all ethnic languages, as Esperantists call them -- demand a huge investment of time and effort in memorising words. The Esperanto word-making strategy, in contrast, cuts down your learning time to a fraction of the time you need for any other language.

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