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How an artificial language from 1887 is being enthusiastically adopted by internet users

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Esperanto, a language invented by Polish physician and linguist LL Zamenhof in the late 1800s, is finding a new life online in 2016.

Zamenhof wanted to create a language that was easy to learn and politically neutral, one that could transcend nationality and bring about world peace. Esperanto means “one who hopes”.

It is estimated that from 200 000 to 2 million people speak Esperanto, including around 2 000 native speakers who learned Esperanto from birth.

The internet has been a mixed blessing for Esperanto – with the increase of online communities eating away at the traditional real-life meetings – but speakers believe it signals a new growth spurt for the language. In 2001, computer programmer Chuck Smith founded the Esperanto version of Wikipedia – Vikipedio – and it became only the 11th language to have its own version of the collaborative encyclopedia.

In December last year, Esperanto debuted on Duolingo, a virtual learning app with 20 million active users. It became the 13th language to be offered, chosen over others with must larger speaking populations, which may sound unfair, but in fact Esperanto was the number one most requested new language for the program.

Read an article on Esperanto’s forays into the digital world by Sam Dean for The Verge:

How an artificial language from 1887 is finding new life online

On a recent Friday evening, the Esperanto Society of New York convened in a rowhouse on Manhattan’s East 35th Street. The upper floors of the building seemed to house a bilingual preschool, going by the many large surfaces covered in multicolored paint handprints; the ground floor was made up of multipurpose meeting rooms administered by the Unitarian Universalist church down the block.

Four people had been listed as “attending” on the Facebook page for the event, but by the time the meeting began, eight Esperantists were sitting in a rough semicircle of dormroom couches and hard plastic chairs. The exuberantly mustached Neil Blonstein, president of the Society, was presiding behind a folding banquet table, wearing a white T-shirt printed with the word “ESPERANTO” and a photo of a group of Esperantists at a convention. There were grapes and crackers by the door.

That night, the Society consisted of seven men, including Neil, and one woman (though Neil’s girlfriend, also an Esperantist, did show up later). Some were young, most were not. The agenda for the evening included two speeches, each followed by discussion. The talks were difficult to follow if you didn’t know any Esperanto, but a rusty background in French allowed for an understanding of the broad strokes.

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