"Esperanto estas la lingvo por la tuta mondo."
Translation: "Esperanto is the language for the whole world."
On Tuesdays you're likely to find two professors at California Lutheran University engaged in animated conversation over their lunch.
"Kiu havas miajn librojn?" says Spanish professor James Fonseca. "Viaj libroj estas tie," responds his colleague, Myron Bondelid, an assistant professor in the math/physics/computer science department.
"Who has my books?"
"Your books are there."
This mellifluous exchange sounds like Swedish spoken with a Spanish accent. It may stir Proustian memories of French class and bizarre snatches of conversation such as, "The pen of my aunt is in the garden."
Or, if you are like my mother, it may remind you of the Latin you studied in high school but can't speak. In that case, you may associate learning a foreign language with "amo, amas, amat" ad nauseam.
If so, you may be a linguaphobe in search of a language. You've tried French but the silent letters are deadly. Your copy of "501 Spanish Verbs" is still on the shelf. And you thought that Welsh village, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, was tough to pronounce. Until you took German.
Like Fonseca and Bondelid, you might thrive on Esperanto. Devised in 1887 by a physician named Dr. Ludoviko Zamenhof, Esperanto offers a neutral, relatively simple foreign language that is considered an auxiliary language. It is not expected to replace a person's native language. However, because Esperanto is not tinged with cultural traditions or political ideology, it is proposed by many as a universal second language. Many Rotarians are keen advocates, and the British Post Office has recognized Esperanto for inland telegrams since 1908.
For senior citizens thinking about learning a second language but daunted by the prospect of years of studying and nothing to show for it, Esperanto could be the answer.
Fonseca, 66, became interested in Esperanto in 1979. A former board member of the Esperanto League of North America, he has taught beginning Esperanto at Cal Lutheran. He said that about ten million people know Esperanto, one million of whom he described as "strong speakers" of the language.
Esperanto is a family affair for Fonseca. Both he and his wife have attended workshop courses and international conventions. Fonseca's daughter met her husband, who is fluent in Esperanto, while attending the Esperanto Cultural Center in Switzerland two years ago. Although the newlyweds speak French between them, Fonseca said that he communicates best with his son-in-law by using Esperanto.
Bondelid and Fonseca met at Elwin Reed's Esperanto club in Camarillo. Reed, who retired from the civil service twelve years ago, taught himself Esperanto in the Navy. Recognizing its value, he has taught it over the years to adults and even to Boy Scouts. The 75-year-old Reed is listed in the "Dele Jarlibro 1990," a compendium of information about the Universal Esperanto Assn.
"The reason I got interested in Esperanto," Bondelid said, "was I had so much trouble with Latin and later German. My Latin teacher in high school recommended an Esperantist in my home town of Grand Forks, North Dakota." It only took Bondelid six weeks to learn Esperanto.
Using Esperanto makes sense because the grammar is very regular. It contains only sixteen rules and there are no exceptions. Adjectives end in "a." Nouns end in "o." All the endings in a given verb tense are the same so you must use a subject pronoun. Esperanto is designed in such a way that speakers can invent new words. Your high school Latin might finally pay off because the vocabulary is mostly drawn from the Romance languages, which stem from Latin. Actual Latin words are used as well.
"Esperanto also uses a considerable amount of Germanic words, including English," said Fonseca. For example, the Esperanto word for bird is birdo (pronounced BEER-doe). Some Greek words such as kaj ( and ) are employed, but Esperanto contains few Slavic words considering its originator was a Pole.
Zamenhof first published his introductory treatise, La Internacia Lingvo (The International Language), in Russian. Zamenhof's secondary school experiences as a Polish Jew living in the mixed population on the Russian-Polish border motivated him to create a neutral, common language. Zamenhof hoped to avoid the violence and mistrust engendered by strong feelings of nationalism.
People soon called the language Esperanto after Zamenhof's pen name, Dr. Esperanto, "one who hopes." Many people embraced the concept of a neutral, international second language that could be learned easily and could foster communication and understanding. Even the flag of Esperanto is green and white to represent hope and peace.
Efforts are under way to introduce Esperanto into schools in the United States. Just imagine. In ten years we might be singing Reed's translation of the first verse of "Jingle Bells."
Tirate de ceval',
Ridas, kantas ni,
Ce kamp', ce mont', ce val'."
* WHERE AND WHEN
The Ventura County Esperanto Assn. meets the third Friday of each month, 7:30 p.m., in the Community Room at Santa Barbara Savings & Loan, 425 Arneil Road, Camarillo. For details call (805) 484-9122.
An Esperanto newsletter and self-paced correspondence course are available by writing: 4710 Dexter Drive No. 3, Santa Barbara, CA 93110.
Esperanto courses ranging from beginning to advanced levels will be offered by San Francisco State University next summer from June 18 to July 6. For details, write: 410 Darrell Road, Hillsborough, CA 94010.