THAILAND - ESPERANTO FRIENDSHIP CONFERENCE / SPEECH
[salutations and practical information about the conference]
Language is more than a tool for communication. Language constitutes, to a large degree, the very reality we exist in.
When the inventor of Esperanto, Ludwik Zamenhof, grew up in Bilyastok, he was very troubled by ethnic rivalries between the different speech communities. The East Polish city of Blyastok belonged to the Russian Empire, and its diverse population would either speak Polish, Russian, German or Jiddisch.
Already at the age of 12, Zamenhof got the idea to make a new language. This language should not substitute the existing ones. It should be a second language, that was easy to learn, yet capable of expressing all nuances present in the existing ones. Zamenhof’s basic idea, was that such a language, if used between different language groups, could contribute to peace.
1887, after many years of hard work, Zamenhof launched the language in an instruction book written in Russian. With the publication of this book, Zamenhof gave up all his rights to the language. Esperanto would belong to everyone who choose to speak it. Esperanto is thus an early example of the open code concept, which we today see more and more in the field of computer software.
Soon news of the new language spread. People started to learn it. In 1905 the first world Esperanto congress was conducted in Boulogne-sur- Mer. For many of 600 attendants, it was the first time they actually spoke the language. What was experienced then, and what is still experienced by Esperanto speakers today, is the democratic aspect of the language when used in international communication. No one has the privilige of using his or her native tongue. The language, and thus the social reality itself, is truly shared.
This one of the two important qualities of Esperanto. Its ability to transcend national chauvinism. The other important quality, is the elegance of its construction, which makes it easy to learn and use, without compromising complexity.
The way English dominates international communication today, is a reflection of the political realities of the world that evolved out of the second world war. It has nothing to do with English per se being an idealy suitable language of international communication.
When we promote Esperanto, which we have to admit that we do, we do not propose that people stop speaking English. There is no question that the importance of English as a lingua franca will increase within the foreseeable future. All around the world, ambitious people busy themselves learning English. However, several studies show that people who have studied Esperanto will spend less time learning another foreign language, even if one includes the time that was spent on learning Esperanto. Esperanto teaching in Thailand would thus not only give students access to a democratic and efficient communication tool, but would also facilitate the learning of other languages. That does of course include English
Since the mid 20th century and the growth of English, the international language of Esperanto has more and more come to be seen as a failed utopian project. But this is changing. With the internet Esperantists around the globe can communicate on a daily basis. The internet offers Esperanto news, culture, education, radio and TV. A Google search on ‘Esperanto’ generates 92 million results.
It is estimated that around 2 million people around the world speak Esperanto. If Thai tourist facilities could offer service to Esperanto visitors, one would be able to attract new groups of customers. That would not only add growth, but also diversity. The attractiveness of Thailand as a travel destination, also makes it an ideal place to establish schools for tourists who want to study Esperanto in pleasant surroundings.
During our stay here in Thailand, we have been impressed by the country’s culture of hospitality and tolerance. Such values are of great importance when the world is becoming more international. If globalism means that one culture expands at the cost of all others, everyone will lose out in the end. As we see it, Esperanto today has a more important role to play than ever. The world does not only need more communication. It needs democratic communication.
Olsson & Salomon