back to

Esperanto: the language that never was


Edward Docx writes a report from the British Esperanto Conference, which seems to be a quite hilariously sad affair. As Docx says, the “blanka elefanta” in the room is English and its widespread global adoption. This kind of leaves Esperanto in a lurch since it was constructed with the hopes of becoming the most common international auxiliary language in the world. Read Docx’s report in partial below, or in full via Prospect Magazine.

Welcome, friends, to the British Esperanto Conference 2016, “emanating” this year from Merseyside. Truth be told, things had not looked promising in the beginning. Sky like a sodden ashtray. Potato juice rain beading on all the windows of the buses going by. People hunched and harried on the pavement hurrying home. None of them going my way. No other writers. No journalists. No news crews. (It can be lonely at the top.) I had been directed to the single most anonymous and forlorn conference centre in the UK. There I had found a forgotten glass door on which was thinly gummed a single blue A4 poster: “Esperanto—Asocio de Britio”; the “o” of the word “Esperanto” having been replaced with a globe.

Once inside though… Once inside, everything turned colour and warm and iridescent. And what a welcome. No doubt about it: these were la belaj homoj. Seventy or so of the most sexy katoj you are ever going to meet in your life. I felt like I’d walked into a shiny multi-coloured electric Kool-Aid dream of an impossible future from long ago. Like it was Buck Rogers’s birthday all over again. (The word “Esperanto” means “a person who hopes”… in Esperanto). Like I’d left behind some terrible 1950s black-and-white nightmare of a purse-lipped Michael Gove-led rump-Britannia and instead entered a joyful Elysian of Enlightenment. Were Boris Johnson ever to re-spawn here, I thought to myself, it would be back in his rightful place—as a chubby eunuch-mute charged with the sole task of silently serving champagne by way of penance for his previous lifetime of deepest disingenuousness.

This was going to be my world. For three days. All good. All more than good. Except, I have to confess, for one thing: I was totally unable to understand a word that anybody said. Or any of the events. Or pretty much anything at all that was happening.

I remember I sat through Kalle Kniivilä (no relation to Evel Knievel—I checked) talking about “Putin—pri la naturo de la rusia re^gimo, la kialoj de ^gia subteno inter rusianoj, kaj la ^san^goj okazintaj lige kun la anekso de Krimeo.” And there was a guy called Guilherme Fians speaking on the subject of “Brazilo: pri la lando kaj ^gia nuntempa Esperanto-movado.” I might have missed Mudie: la pinta pioniro. And the Beatles amika konkursado pri Beatles-kanzonoj. Or I might not have missed it—or them, or something.

But I was back for the Komedia Kvizo because this was something I had a chance of almost understanding. Yes, crucially, the comedy quiz questions were being written up on the projector and, like Gulliver on his travels, I thought I might therefore mobilise an unholy concoction of Latin, Greek and French in the hope of gleaning something of what I was reading. I say “almost” understand because I didn’t have Belarusian, Yiddish, Polish or Slavic. Although, of course, the whole point of Esperanto is that you don’t need any of these languages to learn it or, according to the fundamentalists, any of these languages at all.

*Image of Esperanto books via Prospect magazine