Esperanto has been spoken in SW19 since 1901
Esperanto speaker Bill Chapman tells us about the history of the 130-year-old language and its links to Wimbledon:
Anniversary of an old, new language
Exactly 130 years ago in Poland, an eye specialist called Dr L L Zamenhof, published a slim book detailing the structure and vocabulary of a wholly new language (which was not given any name in the book). The pen name Zamenhof chose was Doktoro Esperanto - and people who started learning the new language simply called it by the “surname” of its author, Esperanto.
The main goal of the new language was to simplify international communication by providing a common language that is easy to master. It took off slowly, firstly in the Russian Empire, then gaining support throughout the world. There are now Esperanto speakers in about 120 countries. I am one of them.
Early take-up of Esperanto in Wimbledon
From dusty, yellowing directories and old magazines I have been able to discover some the history of Esperanto in Wimbledon well over a century ago. Miss Eliza Ann Lawrence of 5 Norman Road was the first in the area to take up the new tongue, which she learned it in 1901. She was born in Wimbledon in 1852 and was one of a number of people who met at the home of of a Dr O’Connor. This group became the nucleus of the London Esperanto which was formed in 1903. Miss Lawrence was joined in 1903 by a school teacher called Walter Inge of Spencer Cottage. The following year George H. Lovell of 6 Evelyn Road learned the new language. In 1905 someone called W W Hide of 150 Effra Road, Wimbledon learned Esperanto. G H Wilson of 8 Craven Gardens and G Osbond of 14, Kenilworth Avenue, Wimbledon took up the new language in 1906. Finally, Wallace Braby of Gorton, 60 Griffiths Road learned Esperanto in 1907. I have been unable to trace why these people learned the new tongue. Through idealism or a desire for contacts overseas, perhaps. Is Esperanto inferior to natural languages?
Is Esperanto inferior to natural languages?
Some people think that, as it is a constructed language, Esperanto must be somehow “worse” than languages like English or Spanish or German. This is not the case; Esperanto is a fully developed language. Although it started as a theoretical construct, it has had an active community of users ever since its creation, and the language naturally absorbed new words and new ways to express things as people were using it, just like a natural language would.
The Esperanto community strongly supports the concepts of language diversity and language rights. All languages are valuable, and it's important that the bigger languages do not push local and minority languages out of use.
How many Esperanto speakers are there?
The precise number of Esperanto speakers is hard to gauge. It has been estimated that there are a few hundred thousand proficient speakers of Esperanto in the world and up to two million people who are familiar with the language to some extent. In my experience there are enough speakers to make learning the language worthwhile.
Where is Esperanto used?
People use Esperanto every day in various ways: when travelling, at international conferences, on the internet, for work, or in family life. Normally Esperanto is used between people who don't have the same mother tongue. When used in this way, Esperanto acts as a "bridge language" between people from different language backgrounds. That's Esperanto's strength – it works well as a bridge across national borders.
Some Esperanto speakers use the language to actively promote a better, more peaceful world. There are those who use it to read news about events in various countries, written by the very people who live in those countries. And others enjoy books that were originally written in a minority language, which have been translated into Esperanto but not into the reader's mother tongue.
Where can I start learning Esperanto?
There is a wide range of books available, and some courses on line. Duolingo is probably the best free system for learning Esperanto. You certainly won’t regret the time you spend on Esperanto, a very practical way to overcome language barriers. The London Esperanto Club which has been meeting regularly since 1903 can also help learners as well as more proficient speakers. See London Esperanto Club for more information, or email email@example.com.
Bill Chapman said: "I wonder whether readers can add to my knowledge of Esperanto in Wimbledon. I am hoping that someone will say they have their grandfather's diary in Esperanto in the attic! All comments welcome!"
Or in Esperanto: "Mi scivolas ĉu legantoj povas aldoni al mia scio pri Esperanto en Wimbledon. Mi esperas ke iu diros ke tiu havas la taglibron sian avo en Esperanto en la mansardo! Ĉiuj komentoj bonvenaj!"
A crowd of Esperanto speakers from different countries
June 13, 2017